Thursday, 19 September 2013

Thoughts from a Recreational Walk, of Toddlers, Dogs, and Bottom

The recreation ground today, the sort of space with which Barton, like all of Oxford, is well-furnished. It's probably used more by dog-walkers than any others, but there are many of them, so it is rarely quiet for long, and there are other strange souls too, like me, who sit on the most uncomfortable, ancient, benches, and watch the world go by. My attention was caught by a gentleman with two delightful, and very tiny, toddlers, surely no more than two or three, and only a year apart, wearing the lovely bright colours that children seem to have a right to, and adults have to make a statement to merit. They seemed really to be amusing themselves (and mostly laughing their socks off), as their father (I assume; he might have just kidnapped them, I suppose, but if so, he was very relaxed about it) spent the entire time, and it must have been a good forty minutes, with a mobile telephone clamped to his ear. The children meandered about all over the place, and fortunately I could see he was paying attention as they got close to the Bayswater brook (see what an old mother hen I am!). Of course, when you watch a scene like that, you can't help speculating who's on the other end of the line, and I don't suppose it was the children's mother. But no matter, they were having a great time, and he was there.

And then a lot of dogging happened all at once. No, not THAT kind! There was a lady with a very lively black bull terrier, that was having rather a jape, running round in wide circles, until it espied a big fat old labrador. Then it was action stations, as she fumbled for his lead and shouted anxiously in warning "Not friendly!". I'd never heard this before, although obviously I've come across dogs that weren't good with particular sorts of other dog - it's nearly always males being aggressive with each other, but I suppose that is the tragic way of the world, which is why we should aim to have rather fewer of them in charge of things. Mr Fat Labrador seemed to have the Polari on this, and was quite affable about it, put his own dog on a lead, and they cordially passed, Mrs Bull Terrier expressing her gratitude. And just before she was able to depart, another walker appeared, this time with two dogs, a sort of whippet lurcher (rather handsome, I thought) on a lead, and a big fluffy retriever, which was loose. The same exchange ensued "Not friendly!", and Mrs Lurcher-Retriever had got the Polari too. Finally, Mrs Bull Terrier was able to leave the field, and the retriever and the labrador played very nicely together.

And whilst this canine soap opera was playing out, a hefty young couple - teenagers, I think, maybe early twenties, it's so hard to tell - plodded ponderously by, evidently salad-dodgers and strangers to any faster form of exercise, knock-kneed by the sheer force of gravity. I'm no body fascist, but I notice bodies, and am always a little surprised to see the lardy young - I thought you need to get to my sort of age to have the sort of weight your doctor has a word with you about. But these two suited their bodies, and, it is not the purpose of all bodies to be slim, despite what the telly tells us. In the eighteenth century to be a person "of bottom" was a compliment: it implied sturdy stoutness of mind, means, and purpose. These two would have been highly regarded in the eighteenth century. The boy had draped his broad posterior in jeans slung at mid-buttock, in the modern, inexplicable style. The girl wore pale pink leggings (I think they're called) which didn't leave imagination as an option. As the Dog Saga came to its quiet and peaceable end, these two were just moving out of my focus on the path, but I noticed Mr Jeans casting a confidently caressing hand over Mrs Leggings's bottom.

And I thought, everyone has been rather nice to one another this evening, and we'll all go home, having rather enjoyed our walk.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater
September, 2013

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