Good Dog

South Devon. I'm walking up a hill, back to where my car is parked. High hedges on each side of a narrow country road. It is a clinging day, not hot exactly, and not humid, but my shirt seems to cling as I walk up the hill. My camera is in my hand. Halfway up the hill, walking surprisingly nimbly, is an old man, dressed in green wellington boots, black leather jacket, and a hat. His dog is with him. As I approach the man my instinct is to overtake, not to talk. I've just come here to remember my childhood. We used to come here once or twice a year to see our grumpy grandfather and fussy grandmother. Inside was drab Sunday formality every day. Outside was constant adventure.

As I draw level with the man he says 'not many photographs today.' 'no' I reply 'weather's not too good is it?' Ignoring my remark, he continues I'll tell you something, if you want to take photographs, you should take some of the driving around here, 'cause it's bloody terrible, only the other day there was a... around these country lanes... bloody terrible... 50mph! I couldn't believe it... blind bend, didn't slow down through the tunnel there... I'm amazed there hasn't been a major accident... 60mph down the hill here, when I got down the bottom all 4 doors were open... no parking here... illegal... ignored... cowboys'

It's a tirade against traffic, but the man does at least broaden out on to wider social issues. 'I tell you, I think society today is worse than its ever been' adding another 'worse than its ever been' while shaking his head. He looks at me through the thick lenses of his glasses. I can't help thinking that society seems to have treated him rather well. I try to explain what I am doing here. 'I used to play here, 20 years ago...' I offer, but the man isn't interested in my past. What are the local council going to do about the poor standard of driving? There should be signs, barriers, people to stop the offenders. More police.

The dog begins to strain on his leash, sniffing the hedge, and then jumping up and barking at his owner. 'get down Skipper' the man says to his dog, and then turning to me he says 'he's not aggressive, just boisterous you know, just boisterous. He's a good dog.' He does seem like a good dog.


September 2002