A Walk in the Park (Part II) by Emily Smart

It’s been a week of rules. Spoken, unspoken and broken.  It’s got me thinking about how we cope in our daily lives with the myriad of ethics, morals and standards that we and others impose, without even thinking about them. I’m not talking about laws. Obviously it isn’t a good idea to go around killing people and, whilst I am still unsure what coveting my neighbour’s wife means, I probably wouldn’t recommend that either. No, it’s the smaller things I’m talking about. I found myself repeating for the umpteenth time to a friend the other day, ‘Well, it’s an unspoken rule, isn’t it, that you don’t tell off other people’s children.’  Tempted as I have been to race over and chastise the child beating one of my kids, I refrain and look to his mother to take action.

Catherine was very upset this week about her best friend’s dog. Apparently he is the size of a pit pony but twice as dribbly. He is harmless but huge and has a habit of leaving gargantuan turds in the garden (another unspoken rule amongst dog owners: always clean up after your mutt). Anyway, the dog, accompanied by his owner, bounded in and frightened the living daylights out of Catherine, causing her to let out a huge scream and rush to the bedroom to change her knickers. The dog’s owner announced that it was clear they were not welcome and headed for the front door. Catherine shouted out that of course that was not the case and that they were welcome, but could they just respect the dog visiting rules they had all agreed on when the same situation occurred a year ago.

These rules seem pretty sensible to me. The dog should be taken straight to the back garden upon arrival, giving the home dwellers the chance to pop out and say hello and gradually get accustomed to the pooch being there.

I can’t help feeling that when it comes to dog etiquette, shouldn’t all dog owners assume that  it’s not okay to take their pets with them when visiting friends? I speak as a dog owner. I love dogs, but I don’t take Magnus with me to my mates’ houses. I am also aware that if people visit us, not everyone likes dogs or having a snout shoved up their bum (is that just our dog?), and so I am happy to put the dog in his crate. He is a dog not a person. He eats his own vomit, poos in public and licks his nob. We know his place in the pecking order.

From regulating dogs, we moved on to book clubs. I have never been part of a book club, although I am quite surprised by this, given my understanding of how they work. You meet every couple of weeks, pretend that you have read something deep and meaningful, have a glass or three of wine and a good gossip and bitch. Not so for Emma’s book club. She keeps getting in trouble for not finishing or, in some cases, starting the selected book. Apparently, the group has now ‘laid down some ground rules’ for ‘members’, including imposing fines for not reading the book. How has this happened? A group of friends gather for what should be a pleasurable experience and a catch up, but, somewhere along the line, the fun police have been called to break up the party.

I’m sure that there’s a wealth of psychological and sociological literature on the human need to create rules and punish those who can’t uphold them. But I’m with Emma; I can’t be fagged to read the books, and reckon a good old-fashioned gossip over a glass of vino, without the red tape and bureaucracy, is time better spent.

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