I WAS halfway up the road before I remembered my lunch. “Fiddlesticks,” I said, or words to that effect.
I pivoted on the spot, turning a smooth 180 degrees. I did not mean to pivot quite so smoothly on the spot. A combination of shoes with an ineffective tread and the slime of long-fallen leaves helped me on my way. I was lucky I didn’t do a triple axle.
I was pushing my luck anyway. My bus was due at any moment. But my wife had kindly made me a ham roll for my lunch, and I do like a ham roll.
So I dashed back, picked up my sandwich, threw it into my shoulder bag, and tore back out again.
And, with my mind concentrated on the task of walking without landing on my backside, I only vaguely noted the cat prowling along the wall just ahead.
So it was only when I was a few feet away that I realised it was not a cat. It was a Staffordshire bull terrier.
I do not know much about dogs. In fact, I basically know three things about dogs: 1) that we don’t call some dogs Alsatians these days as they have been re-branded German Shepherds, presumably for the same reason Marathon became Snickers, with an eye for the international market; 2) that the original Lassie was actually a male; and 3) that Staffordshire bull terriers have a grip that is best described as tenacious and persistent.
And this particular Staffordshire bull terrier was within sniffing distance of my throat. That unsettled me somewhat. It occurred to me that a stray dog is often a hungry dog, and that I am made primarily of meat, so I crossed the road.
But I am inexplicably fascinating to stray dogs, and this dog – let us call him Rocky – decided I was worthy of closer inspection. I am generally uncomfortable around unfamiliar dogs, but if anything Rocky was over-familiar, and I was equally uncomfortable.
“Walk,” I thought. “He will lose interest and go away. As long as I don’t antagonise him.”
It was at that point that my heavy bag slipped from my shoulder and clouted Rocky on the nose.
The dog was singularly unimpressed. He started to growl and bare his teeth. Somehow I managed to use my bag as a shield and grab hold of his collar. Rocky was prevented from attacking me, but it was a little like holding a dead man’s trigger. At some point I was going to have to let go, and then there would be a reckoning.
As I was pondering my next move, I saw my bus sail past just ahead of me. If I hadn’t gone back for my sandwich…
The ham roll! I opened my bag, and pulled out the roll. I waved it under Rocky’s nose to pique his interest, then flung it as far away as I could. Then I ran, like the not-wanting-to-be-mauled coward I am.
I discovered later that it was a ham and English mustard roll. This probably explains why 10 seconds later Rocky was back at my legs in a state of confusion. He did not know what to make of the man who, on the one hand gave him food, but on the other gave him food which actually hurts.
He raced towards my bus stop, where a terrified teenage girl was standing alone. He sniffed around her legs. “I don’t like dogs,” said the girl, as calmly as she could.
And so, once again, I took Rocky by the collar. “Erm, you walk to the other bus stop,” I said. “I’ll keep him here.”
“Are you sure?” asked the girl. I wasn’t.
“Yes, go on,” I said, my eyes sweeping the area for Rocky’s no-doubt tattooed, bull-necked, and hostile owner.
But before she could walk away, the next bus arrived. The girl boarded it, and I pushed the dog away and jumped on.
“Shut the…” I said to the driver, but too late. Rocky also boarded the bus.
“Look, mate,” said the driver. “I can’t let you on if you haven’t got a lead.”
“It’s not my dog,” I whimpered. Once more I grabbed Rocky’s collar and wrestled him off the bus, virtually flinging him into the bus shelter. The driver was quicker this time, Rocky threw himself at the closed doors, and the bus sped away.
As I sat down, I remembered I now had no lunch. “Fiddlesticks,” I said, or words to that effect.