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Tram Diary: On Alsatian Wolf Dogs and Being Incontinently Happy

During my morning commute I found myself trailing behind a hulking 4x4 of some obscure pedigree, the only identifying marker being a custom decal pasted to the rear door proudly declaring it to be a ‘hillbilly edition.’ This moniker was not without merit, as whomever was driving had clearly taken the not inconsiderable time to remodel the car in the style of someone who might, should the need arise, launch himself over a swollen river to escape a hapless local sheriff. It even had one of those improbably long CB radio antennae fixed to the centre of the roof by a large bouncy spring, which amply contributed to backwoods aesthetic as it excitedly flopped about. Had he got out to shake the trail dust from his hair I would have fully expected the driver to be wearing bib overalls and no shirt.

Next to the hillbilly decal there was a series of four metal hooks of the kind you might use to pin a tea-towel to a kitchen cabinet, and from which hung what was clearly and inexplicably a bag of dog shit. It took me a few moments to take this in, initially thinking that the lightly straining bottle green plastic bag was some kind of joke scrotum in the style of the so-called ‘Truck Nuts’ that caused Stephen Fry to linger, just fractionally longer than strictly necessary, at a Truckstop display stand during his Fry in America series. But no, any confusion on this matter was immediately addressed by the accompanying sticker that warned anyone so careless to make a closer inspection to ‘watch out for the poo!’ How intriguing.

As we waited together at the lights I wondered if the poo bag was strictly ornamental, perhaps even an excremental fuck you! to the nanny state (it seemed like that kind of vehicle). Or maybe it was simply a convenient and hygienic way for the driver to stow the most recent of his dog’s leavings outside the manicured interior during the ride home on hot and humid summer morning. There would be a kind of logic to this at least. Either way I was much happier with this outcome than leaving the bag prominently suspended from branch somewhere along an otherwise idyllic rural pathway, as is the infuriating habit of dog walkers who visit our local wood. Stroll along any number of leafy retreats close to the entrance of Martinshaw Woods and you’ll see dozens of these little Satanic baubles thoughtfully arranged in a variety of colours. I can only speculate that some people do this to save them from having to carry a warm dog turd around for the duration of their walk, fully intending to collect on the way out only to then forget all about it. But even this seems unlikely in the extreme, especially when the Tree of Turds and Dog Egg Alley that meet you upon arrival are so replete with baggies that anyone with at least three functioning senses would be hard pressed to ignore it. Truthfully I think people do it because they are awful and selfish, so suspending the morning’s deposit from the back of your car might not be so silly after all, even if we are forced to agree that it was a touch eccentric.

The other side of the 4x4s rear was similarly adorned, several of which I realised were connected by a theme. The most prominent and largest of these proudly proclaimed ‘I’m so happy I COULD SHIT!’ in four inch high letters with a little smiling freshly steaming turd emoticon used to complete the exclamation point. Now, I would confidently say that I have known a few fluttering moments of truly exquisite joy in my life, but never was I so overcome, so completely filled with rapturous delight that I felt compelled to soil myself. Never. And I think the use of the word ‘could’ is actually quite telling in that regard since it suggests a modicum of choice on his part. Then again, might just as easily suggest an element of brinkmanship - a delicate threshold having been reached that could so easily tip over into a fully-fledged trousers-in-the-wheelie-bin event. This leads one to wonder whether my earlier dalliances with happiness were not the real thing at all, and were merely the outer suburbs of an as yet unknown wonderland, the only true measure of the thing being the total loss of bodily control. In other words, incontinently happy. At least it’s something to aim for I suppose.

As I sat wondering if the driver in front had in fact discovered the secret to a happy and rewarding life, another sticker snatched away my attention to inform me that he was above all else a German Shepherd enthusiast of the highest order. This too I considered, asking myself why he had opted to go with this older and I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, discontinued name for what are now known as Alsatians. My understanding was that the brutish use of Alsatians by a certain well-known fascist party in twentieth century Germany had dented the breed’s reputation somewhat, hence the rebranding, and for that reason it struck me as rather odd that someone would choose to ignore this and use the original more problematic name. I imagined the driver, who in my mind was already growing in stature as one of the world’s leading idiots, grasping at this thoughtful rebranding as simply the worst kind of canine cancel culture and taking an impassioned stand one bumper sticker at a time.

A quick spell on Wikipedia has since informed me that while my initial instincts were close to the mark they were also off by the degree of one World War. The re-branding was in fact due to a xenophobic reaction following the First World War rather than the Second, which in turn led to UK Kennel Club coining the no less problematic and confusingly redundant name: Alsatian Wolf Dog. The inclusion of ‘wolf dog’ immediately and for obvious reasons became a point of contention amongst breeders fearful of the dog’s declining public image and, one assumes, revenue potential, and was eventually dropped. Then in 1977, following a lengthy campaign, German Shepherd was once again permitted as a registered breed. Unlike ‘wolf’ I can only imagine that the UK Kennel Club considered ‘shepherd’ to be more evocative of rustic man-and-dog camaraderie and that by 1977 public concerns about Germany’s expansionist ambitions were no longer as pressing, and neither of which were likely to rip your face off any time soon. Quite how much of this featured in the driver’s decision to choose German Shepherd over Alsatian I couldn’t possibly say, but I still find it rather odd that someone would opt for the one that that has the more troubling footnote. For one thing I remember Muhammed Ali talking about how boxing fans in Zaire took an immediate disliking to George Foreman during the iconic 1974 Rumble in the Jungle because upon arrival he exited the plane with his Alsatian, Dago, the same breed used by the Belgians to brutalise people during colonisation. It’s not the dog’s fault of course, but it’s an interesting linguistic choice nevertheless.

What was more curious still was the juxtaposition of the ‘I’m so happy I could shit!’ sticker with the unfettered outpouring of affection for German Shepherds and the little bag shit gently swinging back and forth from its hook, which I now I come to think about it was encircled – you might even say guarded by – four German Shepherd stickers. However you choose to look at it that’s a lot of poo references for one car door. It’s certainly a record for me, and I say that as someone who makes a special effort to remember such encounters and then write them down in my notebook.

And besides, what if the bag somehow worked itself loose while travelling at high speed? What if its sun-warmed fermented contents splattered across someone’s windscreen? YOUR windscreen! Under those circumstances I think all of us would be entirely justified in committing roadside murder, the driver’s bloodied quivering hand reaching up from the tarmac in a final gesture of defiance to point at the lowermost of his stickered warnings before spluttering: “but…but…I told you to watch out for the poo!”

This I contemplated as we made our way onto the M1, utterly convinced that the hunched figure I could see behind the headrest was not someone whose company I could ever be persuaded to enjoy socially. As if to illustrate this point further he suddenly pulled out into the middle lane without signalling as I was about to pass, forcing me to pump the brakes and reaffirm my lifelong conviction to instantly dislike anyone who uses car bumpers to make cryptic political statements. Hillbilly Edition indeed. Funnily enough, the other example I have of this is predictably yet another black 4x4 that used to live a few doors down from us when we lived in Coventry. In the space where you would normally find the spare tyre affixed to the rear door there was a large decal of Great Britain painted in pure brilliant white. Bellowed underneath were the words “WE’RE FULL! END IMMIGRATION NOW” picked out in gaudy Union Jack colours that made me feel enough burning collective shame to illuminate Coventry’s pot holed streets over a twenty-five mile radius every time I saw it. I couldn’t help but imagine that these two would have a lot in common.

Putting some distance between myself and the coprophiliac German Shephard devotee I made my way up to the Park and Ride where I found the tram welcomingly empty. Having taken my usual seat we ambled along for a few stops before a man got on whose physical age was a complete mystery. He could have been anything from early thirties to late fifties, his face an Ordinance Survey map of creases and worry lines. What threw me off was that he moved like a teenager, even slumping across the bench beside mine like a surly adolescent arriving late to class without books, a pen, or any of the other essentials that a person might slip into a bag or pocket when heading off to school. Along with the ill-fitting mannerisms he was also dressed like a much younger person, and this too was itself immediately off-set by the appearance of a cigarette rolling machine with which he began to manufacture Nottingham’s daily tobacco quotient.

Such is my ever diminishing connection with the notion of childhood I can’t honestly say if teenagers roll their own cigarettes anymore, especially when most of them seem perfectly content with vapes and e-cigarettes. I instinctively associate roll-ups with skint teens and thrifty students and I haven’t seen a rolling machine out in the wild since the 90s. At any rate he made a fistful of tightly rolled smokes and in time honoured tradition tucked one behind his ear to be enjoyed within seconds of departure. Cigarettes taken care his attention then turned to morning ablutions in the form of a suffocating cloud of Lynx antiperspirant. Can there be a more triggering, more repellently odorous olfactory assault than Lynx body spray? It’s hilarious but also entirely fitting that the long-running TV ad campaign features a man relentlessly pursued, in the style of Benny-Hill, by a hoard of erotically enflamed females having recklessly spritzed his underarms earlier that morning. It’s the pinnacle of male delusion and one that appears to sell a lot of Lynx. In my own now distant youth a can of Lynx Afrika was considered the centrepiece of every discerning male’s daily groom kit. And it wasn’t enough to just lightly mist your nooks and crannies, rather you had to aspire to beacon-like extremes of perfumed excess, devoting entire minutes to establishing a scent cloud that could be smelled a quarter of a mile away and through walls. All of this unwanted nostalgia came rushing back as my nicotine deficient friend emptied the better part of a can into his cavernous hoodie seconds before stepping off at the station platform. Now, why couldn’t he have done that outside? Why did he have to instead leave us with the foetid stink of boys’ changing rooms for the remainder of our onward journey, temperatures already climbing and wits fraying?

I often like to imagine what I would do if an alien super race anointed me with special powers. Perhaps I would start with eliminating world hunger or take a crack at reversing climate change. What is infinitely more likely, however, is that I would spend a large chunk of each day ridding the world of inconsiderate morons. If nothing else the tram would be a lot emptier and there would be fewer 4x4s on the road.



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