It's a very distinctive month, May. Probably my least favourite in the calendar, with its increasing heat and humidity, high pollen counts, and two pointless bank holidays at just the wrong time of year... The muggy month of May. Worst of all, these adumbrations of the dog days of summer to come also announce the transformation of the countryside into a leisure resource; one in which entitled fools in shorts light their smoky portable barbecues, dump picnic litter and leftovers everywhere, and lay claim to stretches of the meadows and riverbanks as if they were at some Mediterranean beach resort. What's not to dislike?
I really should know better by now, but I have a particular dislike of the sort of own-brand alpha-minus / beta-plus male you find polluting the summer landscape in rural Hampshire, all sports sandals, rugby shirt, and loud, braying voice. If Jeremy Clarkson and Nigel Farage have a natural constituency, these guys are it. They're the kind of chap who uses the word "chap" and – above and beyond the usual pieties of family, country, and Tory Party – adores and identifies with his damned dog. I resent these dogs as much as their complacent owners – "Don't worry, he's just friendly, he doesn't bite!" – and, now I come to think of it, I have rarely met a dog I didn't dislike.
The Dog Thing is quite alien to me. It's hard to be definitive about most things in life, but I have never, ever wanted a dog, something for which my daughter will never, ever forgive me. I may have inherited this aversion from my mother, whose childhood kitten was savaged to death by two greyhounds, but then that's dogs, isn't it? Deceitful predators – he's just being friendly! – emboldened by pack behaviour. Yes, he does bite, given a little encouragement. My partner was nipped on the leg only last year in a field near the viaduct. Come on, he's only being playful! Someone's Staffordshire bull terrier recently bit eleven (eleven!) children in a playground, putting three in hospital. I expect its owner thought it was just a little over-excited. Perhaps one of the children had been foolish enough to tease the animal? Asking for it! Luckily, dogs don't carry guns in this country, though enough of them have been weaponised, intentionally or by neglect, to warrant universal mistrust.
So. I imagine that little outburst may have lost me a substantial chunk of readers. So be it. Certain other, rather more popular blogs with a photographic focus are certainly very dog-friendly indeed. But if you think that was a bit of an anti-canine rant, have you ever come across this extract from that venerable cyclist's maintenance guide, Richard's Bicycle Book?
If the dog attacks: one defense is aerosol pepper sprays made for this purpose. They have a range of about ten feet and are light enough to clip to your handlebars. A water pistol loaded with a water-ammonia solution will also work, but is a good deal less convenient. If you have neither of these and can't or won't climb a tree get a stick or a large rock. No? The bicycle pump. Try to ram it down his throat. In any event, don't cower or cover up, because the dog will only chew you to ribbons. Attack. Any small dog can simply be hoisted up by the hind legs and his brains dashed out. With a big dog you are fighting for your life. If you are weaponless try to tangle him up in your bike and then strangle him. Kicks to the genitals and which break ribs are effective. If you have got a pump or a stick hold it at both ends and offer it up to the dog horizontally. Often the dog will bit the stick/pump and hang on. Immediately lift the dog up and deliver a very solid kick to the genitals. Follow up with breaking the dogs ribs or crushing its head with a rock. If the worst comes to the worst ram your entire arm down its throat. He will choke and die. Better your arm than your throat.Now that's a rant.
Richard Ballantine, Richard's Bicycle Book, 1972