Sometimes the realisation that you’ve been completely wrong for decades creeps up on you slowly, and at other times it’s a revelation, a light illuminating the entirety of your foolishness all at once. I had a revelation of this second sort on the London Overground train.
It was just days before poor 68-year-old Esther Martin was mauled to death by two XL Bully dogs in Clacton-on-Sea. Beauty and Bear, the dogs were called. The train had just pulled out of Haggerston station and my son was with me. He was hanging from an overhead bar and I was pretending not to notice, so as to be with my phone. In my peripheral vision I saw him drop from the bar then sink into a squat, stretching out his arm, offering the back of his hand to a dog to sniff.
In as much as I was aware of it, I felt pleased. Almost from birth I’ve taught him the right way to approach a dog: don’t grab, let them come to you; don’t bring your hand down on them from above, let them sniff. No British boy should cower from a dog. It gives me the illusion that I’m teaching my city child country ways, and helps with the guilt that he has neither a sibling nor a pet.
It took me a few seconds before I realised that my son was inches from an unmuzzled XL Bully. Bullys are popular in my part of town. Some 40,000 are now licensed across the UK, and I’ve seen a fair few in the month since the ban became law. I see signs of them too: the plastic seats of the swings in the local playground are pocked with toothmarks.