Spring is here and London is regenerating. Crocuses protrude from verdant edges and daffodils burst with pride, birds' song drown out urban expletives and passers-by...well, their lips part and actually smile.
However, owning a dog in Central London is more of an arduous process than at first imagined in this supposed pet-enamoured nation, particularly on public transport. I am often met by vigorous shakes from the bus driver when attempting to board with my pooch, a cleaner and sparklier version than those of human extraction with permission to travel in the same vehicle. One rejection too many and I once turned into Dirty Harriet: "Excuse-me?" I hissed while squinting with mild rage. I'd had enough so I swiped my payment card and boarded anyway, rasping under my breath "ridiculous!". The rumbling of the engine came to a stop, early morning fluorescent lighting plunged grey faces into gun-metal darkness and all was silent, for approximately ten seconds after which a chorus of passenger-led grammatical endings of the F word flew my way, their resplendently rich permutations echoing from top tier down to the very back of the bus where I sat, blinking in disbelief. Tears welled up to the rims with the distinct possibility that I might be dismembered until a bus inspector jumped on board and embarrassingly pointed out that dogs were allowed on buses at the discretion of the driver. I guess a vomiting beer lout with incontinence, with whom I've had to share a bus journey or two, is preferable to a dog.
So London, I conclude, is increasingly displaying the behavioural consequences of a modern city; losing its tolerance to the constraints of too many people, and too much money living side by side with too little. I feared all was lost when Peter Jones, the Sloane Square department store and bastion of all things good with Middle England, (store's logo:"Never knowingly undersold"), finally closed its doors to pet pooches. No more elegant ladies clutching their Yorkshire Terriers while ordering window treatments, no more mothers with Labradors choosing school uniforms and no more wire-haired Dachshunds tripping up unsuspecting customers.
But before we give up on a once great city of eccentrics, London living with a dog has one exceptional joy and that is access to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, particularly during the months of meteorological misery when one can pretty much have this oasis to oneself.
Trudging through ice, rain, wind, snow and descending darkness can just about be endured when watching the freedom of a city dog running off the lead and chasing squirrels, oblivious to the discomfort of their owner's freezing fingers and dribbling nose. And for those of us who still harbour thoughts of central London being remotely Mary Poppinesque, (nannies, bowler hats, happy cockneys, decency and 'doing the right thing old chap'), there are nuances. We still have a bird lady for instance. She doesn't sing "Feed the birds, tuppence a day" though she does have an alluring whistle. She tells you to bugger off and spits at anyone bold enough to point out the impossibility of crossing the only path she has filled with two thousand cawing crows, seagulls and pigeons.
It is in these gorgeous swathes of parkland that reside the idiosyncrasies of the English and their cousins; the mutt with his master, the perfect gentleman who lifts his hat upon passing, the hip-replaced biddy draped in the moth-eaten fox fur with her ancient, hairless poodle, the Barbour-clad couple with three soaking cocker spaniels after their prohibited swims in the Serpentine lake, the appreciative, well-adjusted American with the appreciative, well-adjusted Labradoodle and the Louis Vuittoned French, who have to be reminded that dog defecation is not out of sight even if it's out of theirs. Other assorted owners whose choices in dogs (rescue/cockapoos/their busy sister's) and dog names (Molly, Minky, Peanut, Trevor) give hope that love for our pets in Central London is alive and well. Even though the fatigued park police refer to Kensington Gardens as "London's toilet".