Diary of a Dog-walker

Diary of a Dog-walker by Edward Stourton Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: Diary of a Dog-walker by Edward Stourton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Edward Stourton
about berating or praising you for what they have heard you say.
    But a column is, I have discovered, even ‘hotter’: readers take what you write very personally indeed. I got into terrible trouble for the column on Covehithe ( see here ): my flippant comment about allowing the ‘casual canine desecration of several ancient gravestones’ did not go down at all well, and a local landowner tracked me down through my agents with a furious letter. I had to write her an abject apology, and it was upsetting because I really had thought Covehithe to be a magical place. It was a good lesson in the importance of weighing words carefully.
    For the most part, however, I have found the sense of a very direct relationship with readers a rewarding one. Most of the feedback reached me through the paper’s website, where readers are encouraged to express their views. The blogosphere is a wild and violent place: people seem to feel released from the sort of conventions that would inhibit them if they were writing for the printed page (I was once described as ‘a symptom of the moral degeneracy of modern Britain’ in the blog of a writer who would certainly never have said such a thing in her national newspaper column). But dog-owners are, by and large, gentle folk, and there has been remarkably little abuse.
    Some people simply have odd or eccentric dog jokes they want to share with a wider audience. Thus this: ‘My uncle had a dog named Bob. This was so spooky since everyone knows that normally Bob’s your uncle! In fact my uncle was named Arthur.’
    And there has been a fairly steady flow of good dog stories, some of which I incorporated into columns, some of which I just chuckled over, or shared with my family. The column became a conversation.
    Know thy President by his choice of pooch
    17 October 2009
    It is a journalistic commonplace that ‘dog bites man’ is not a story, but ‘man bites dog’ absolutely is. But try this: dog bites ex-president as punishment for moving him out of a palace with one of the most desirable gardens in the world.
    The facts are these. Jacques Chirac’s miniature Maltese Terrier, Sumo, had to be treated for mental health problems after leaving the Élysée and its glorious stretch of lawn. The Chiracs now live in a huge flat, courtesy of the late Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri (imagine what this newspaper would make of a similar arrangement for one of our ex-prime ministers), but this is apparently not grandenough for Sumo. He began ‘routinely’ assaulting his master, and recently savaged Monsieur Chirac’s stomach, causing great distress to Madame Chirac: ‘I was extremely frightened by all the blood,’ she said. ‘It’s awful, those little teeth!’ Sumo has been sent to the country in disgrace.
    For a dog columnist with an interest in international politics and a spell as Paris correspondent on the CV, this is as close as it gets to the perfect news story. Politics, the French culture of public life and the impenetrable oddness of the French doggy mind, all these things suggest themselves for comment. What riches for rumination during the walks on this week’s glorious autumn days! And I think that Kudu and I have reached a similar conclusion – although we approach the matter from different angles.
    My instinct is that to mine a moral from the story we should begin with the politics. And here is a spooky thing: George W. Bush’s Scottish Terrier Barney became a biter during his last days at the White House too. Could it be that unsuccessful presidents make bad dog-owners?
    All dog-owners know that their hounds can pick up their moods, and Barney’s victims were members of the press corps. A Reuters correspondent tried to give him a pat a few days after the Republican defeat in the presidential election, and Barney gave him a nasty nip in the finger. Is it too fanciful to suggestthat he was

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