A WALK IN THE PARK
"The strangest communication breakdown is when I say 'morning!' loud and clear to people who ignore the idea that it's even happened. For all my disabilities, I will never be that disabled. They don't just fail to reply, they panic a visible, pathetic, inner panic -- the grief without the pang. They squirm, and all because they've been offered the olive branch of a friendly passer-by with a smile. And you feel like love is dead."
By George Berger
COPYRIGHT © 2005, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The one daily ritual that keeps me sanest is walking my two wonderful dogs in our (also wonderful) local park every day. Particularly at this time of year -- spring -- when the various cycles of nature are at their most lively and colourful. Life explodes into a glorious celebration of itself and you can't help but join in. All the local dog walkers do -- I know because we talk about it. We talk. Like you do.
Of course, there are other people in the park as well, at least when the weather is good. A cold rainy Tuesday in February doesn't exactly bring them out in their droves, but any sunny Sunday will find the part-timers out. They unwittingly introduce a two-tier system because they are completely unaware of the etiquette that has built up. But that's fine. Especially when it's sunny and just walking is a treat. The dogs forage excitedly in perpetual optimism -- my Ollie enthusiastically walks over to sniff a bush for unknown answers…
And then, hungover and haunted, she leaps out of those same bushes and back into my memory, where she has been squatting and agitating ever since she left in the early 90s. 'One day you'll write a book about me and be famous' she said once as we lay in bed, the clear inference being that she wouldn't be around to share it. And she won't. And I won't. At least, I think not.
We all say hello to each other, the dog walkers.
I, and others, take this further and say hello to everyone. The varying responses are eye-opening: often the non-dog people just stare at the floor as they approach: the body language screaming that they don't want any communication. The Situationist inside feels completely (and tragically) vilified in the notion that alienation has got this far -- that once-normal human friendliness has become something the vast majority have started to consider unusual behaviour. An alien nation stuck inside our nuclear families watching telly and disassociated from our neighbours to the point where we don't even consider them potential friends.
And you, you're reading this on a computer screen rather than talking to your neighbour or making love with them or rowing with them. And me, I'm writing this instead of the same. Communication breakdown, it's always the same.
Always the same: I can't talk about her in more than riddles because the truth is too enormous and too heavy and stuff like that only happens to someone else. In this case, me. She became unmentionable to my friends and I became the one who mentioned her less and less because I didn't want to unnerve people I liked.
The strangest communication breakdown is when I say 'morning!' loud and clear to people who ignore the idea that it's even happened. For all my disabilities, I will never be that disabled. They don't just fail to reply, they panic a visible, pathetic, inner panic -- the grief without the pang. They squirm, and all because they've been offered the olive branch of a friendly passer-by with a smile. And you feel like love is dead.
But then dogs remind you this could never be the case. It's a great leveller, walking a dog. You become entwined in a pseudo-community that knows few normal barriers but constructs wildly different others. I talk with judges and football hooligans, fools and kings. And we maintain a strange distance… in some ways we know each other's deepest feelings, but we rarely know each other's names. I am Muttley & Ollie's owner / dad -- it's all anyone needs, or desires, to know.
Then people you see most days for maybe years suddenly don't come anymore. Marion, where are you? Heart-surgery woman? Retired teacher? Jamaican lecturer? Fleet's mum? Where? Why?
You wonder what has happened. Are they dead? Is the dog dead? Have they moved house? Or just started going somewhere else? All of the above have doubtless been the case in my experience and I dare say all of the above have been thought about me when I've left areas.
Where have the glorious possibilities gone? They're where they always were -- right in front of you -- just a brave decision away. All the wondrous experiences we might make of life if we weren't so shit-scared of life itself: if we didn't accept the false rules and false boundaries and suddenly returned to our natural state.
She left. And in amongst the chaos-mosaic-like thoughts that flutter through my oft-hungover mind during the solitude of my daily stroll, she returns often. She is in the birdsong and the wind blowing the reeds. Mostly, she is in me. Hungover? Yes, she hangs over me.
George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George is the founder of Flowers in the Dustbin. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.