Monday, 13 July 2015
When ISIS captured Palmyra from the Syrian army the BBC knew it had a story. Not about the 200 to 400 innocent civilians who were executed. Not the women and children who lost their lives. No, something far worse: an animal was threatened during the bloodbath.
Yes. I know. The ransacking affected the bald ibis of Palmyra, an earth-shattering event that was covered in detail by BBC World, who also graciously remembered to give a passing nod to the hundreds of human beings who’d just been butchered. That’s the kind of unbiased journalism we pay the fee licence for, eh? Proportionality and all that. Like reporting the massacre of the World Trade Center as a threat to pigeon populations.
None of this surprises me. As a person who feels most of the time like a baffled witness to the modern world, a mystified gawper with his face pressed up against the glass of the twenty first century, I’ve long failed to understand the veneration we show towards the animal kingdom even as we foul up the human one. Here’s a fact: the country’s most successful dog walkers are now paid more than nurses. Yep. It’s true: after twenty odd years of the “meritocratic” enterprise economy we’re a country that values saving someone’s life substantially lower than the shitting regime of an oligarch’s poodle.
But it gets worse at ground level. Leaving aside the genteel enclaves of the rich, I encounter the drooling and gnashing of snarling feral beasts – or “pets” as they’re sometimes identified – everywhere I go. Take a bike ride and I find the cycle path’s been unofficially re-designated as an outdoor dog pound. Take a stroll across the park and I find the grass is knee deep in the scattered limbs of toddlers. My neighbourhood is chiefly characterised, apart from by high crime rate and low employment, by shit. The streets are covered in shit. The alleys are covered in shit. If something could stand for modern Britain – the way red telephone boxes and verdant meadows once stood for posh England – then it would be shit, in all its varieties, cracked and stinking and coming to a child’s emergency eye operation near you.
Because this is not just about aesthetics. Toxocariasis – infections spread from animals to humans via faeces – has led to multiple stories of kids getting blinded or damaged for daring to play in their local park. If only someone had informed them that as human beings they were strictly subordinate to whatever quadruped felt like using their playpen as a toilet.
Shit Britain: it's everywhere. You see that curly turd, sunbathing on the tarmac there? That’s a Salford Shiner. See that one that’s just infected that screaming child? That’s a Dudley Special. In parts of east Manchester, where I live, the locals have 148 words for faeces. And I don’t mean that wholesome, fertilizing, rural shit either. I mean urban shit, proper, hard-as-nails dogshit. Dogshit that cracks and festers and fossilises. Cheers.
But strangest of all, to me, is the way that despite their mounting crimes against humanity pet owners actually act like it’s you that’s got the problem. So much as bat an eyelid at a dog-lover as they watch their slavering Pitbull defecate over a child’s face, and they look at you like you’re some kind of inveterate animalphobe, a maladjusted sadist with a fridge full of murdered puppies. Look, it’s licking you. Ha. Look. It’s gnawing at your new jeans. Don't get all uptight, I mean don’t you like dogs or something?
If I got on to public transport and started caressing a stranger's leg, you know what would happen? I'd get arrested. And quite rightly too. So the next time I’m on a train, or a bus, and some sabre-toothed defecator bounds towards me and proceeds to slobber all over me, you know what I’m going to do: I’m going to stand up, walk towards the owner, and give them a good lick. Yep. A good, long lick. Come on, don't get all uptight about it; I mean don’t you like humans or something?