The Sharp End
[Published in Omega, 1999]
Harold Wilson once claimed a week was a long time in politics; had he spent an hour on the stump with Baldrick, he’d have narrowed his timeline considerably.
It’s not as if the bugger doesn’t enjoy a walk. Fifteen-plus years old by our reckoning (pulled from beneath a passing car in November 1988, he was at least four then) and selectively deaf as a post, Baldrick (aka “The Fossil”) bursts into a hairy flamenco whenever he spots his lead looming into view. Trouble is, it lasts as long as a Mayfly’s teabreak.
This, mind you, is now irreparably intertwined with my current political sidebar. Once a member of the Ecology Party before it mutated into the Greens (no sniggering at the back, puh-lease), then (and still) a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (so sidelined, it seems, by the Reagan/Gorbachov circus that one – somewhat younger – fellow worker recently claimed never to have heard of CND), I finally took the party plunge a year or two back and became a card-carrying Liberal. (Yes, I do realise it’s officially the Liberal Democrats these days, but no one in Olton – a Lib stronghold even pre-1974, when councilors didn’t have to publicly declare their affiliations – was ever that convinced by Roy Jenkins and his Gang of Four).
The main drawback is that I let myself be talked into taking over one of the local newsletter routes (the previous volunteer having become too crumbly for the task). This wouldn’t be so onerous if I were a Conservative or Labour supporter, but Liberals publish almost as regularly as Ansible editor Dave Langford – more so in the run-up to an election – and I frequently find myself lumbered with an issue fresh off the press before I’ve actually had a chance to drop off the one previous.
Baldrick, on the other hand, thinks these door-to-door distributions are the best invention since the bark. The moment he sees me reach for my trainers, he springs into semi-action, lethargically dragging himself across the carpet towards me, cleverly combining a purposefully nebulous sign of interest with the casual indifference of continental drift. After all, if Baldrick chooses to let me take him out for a walk, he wants to underline the fact that he’s doing me the favour.
If only. Just before the May local government elections, I ended up with a bundle of leaflets to stuff into my neighbours’ letterboxes. (At this point, I’ll spare you all a lengthy discourse on the cretins who install said slots about three inches off the ground and compound this by fitting a wire brush immediately behind it tough enough to snare a cruise missile, let alone a humble duplicated flyer.)
Come Saturday night, shoulderbag stuffed and beer can packed (one of the boons of a semi-pro camera bag is the abundance of pockets), we hit the pavement. Baldrick does his customary war dance and I resign myself to his terrierist demands, much to the amusement of our next-door neighbours David and Chris (who, coincidentally, do the Liberal leaflet drop in our own road). Hey, it’s only 150 or so houses, I tell myself.
Trouble is, my shaggy companion enjoys the chase far more than the catch. No sooner have we left our own road, Baldrick operates with as much enthusiasm as a tram which has taken a wrong turning and slipped the overhead wires. A block on, and I’m forced to unclip the lead and let him amble along in the background whilst I walk up folks’ front paths. Eventually, even that’s too much bother for the old scrote and he begins to catch up on the installment plan; the overall effect is like running full-motion video on a 286.
There’s a danger of this changing, however, when I spot a couple of labradors being escorted into view. In common with all small dogs, Baldrick exhibits a frothy-mouthed desire to assert his authority upon any four-legged beast with a head bigger than his entire body; it’s genetic, almost Glaswegian. Eager to avoid bloody conflict and UN troops having to walk the streets of Olton, I scoop the hirsute horror up with my one free arm and head down the next path out of peril.
The woman in the house is watching me through her bay windows, particularly the juggling act I perform in order to prevent Baldrick plummeting Earthwards whilst simultaneously extracting the latest mailing from my bag to drop it into her porch.
Suddenly it struck me. For years, the Liberals’ small membership size relative to the Tories and New Labour resulted in our being ridiculed as the party of “one man and his dog”. And there was I, on the stump, hound underarm, the living embodiment of the joke. No wonder she viewed the entire operation with an expression of bemused condescension.
I wonder if the Monster Raving Loonies have any vacancies…