Of course the teacher reported us. He had some sort of app on his iPhone and it had identified Bella through the chip placed into her fur by Battersea Home for Dogs. We received a recorded delivery letter from some organisation requiring to me to assist in the performance of what they called a ‘racism awareness assessment’ on her.
I called the number.
‘Is this Newham?’ I said.
They said that on the contrary they were an independent body engaged by central government.
‘Action for the Elimination of Racism and Sexism in Pets,’ they said. ‘AERSIP.’
‘More sense, Newham,’ I said under my breath.
The better half had advised me to ignore the whole thing, but I didn’t want to see Bella branded as a fugitive from justice, with all the consequences that that might have, so I made an appointment.
‘When,’ said a fierce woman wearing a jumper bearing the words: ‘Civil Enforcement Officer: Interspecies’, ‘did these racist tendencies first manifest themselves?’
‘What tendencies? I thought that this was to be an assessment.’
She sighed and wrote the word ‘Noncooperative’ on her pad.
‘We have two complaints. A,’ she said, ‘discriminatively avoiding the feet of modest Moslem women at bus stops, and B…’
‘That’s nonsense. It’s nothing to do with being Moslem…’
‘Or women, I suppose.’
There was an unmistakable note of sarcasm in her voice.
‘Indeed. It’s nothing to do with being Moslem or women. It’s to do with avoiding swinging feet, irrespective of colour, gender or creed.’
‘AERSIP will be the judge of that,’ said the fierce woman.
So a row of chairs was assembled in the corridor outside her office to resemble a bus stop, a variety of volunteers sat on it and I led Bella past each of them and the degree by which she deviated from a straight line was calibrated, not by the fierce woman but an assistant, as the fierce woman was taking what she called a ‘high-level view’ of the process. Islam was represented, of course, but in the interests of fairness there were also groups of Poles and members of the Afro-Caribbean community. The results appeared to be completely random. The fierce woman looked very stern.
‘The dog under investigation is obviously attempting to muddle the data.’
I suggested that my theory should be tested, and that each of the groups should be put through their paces both with and without feet swinging beneath clothes.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said to the volunteers, who were milling around at the side of the room. ‘It must be very boring for you, but my dog has been accused of racism and sexism among pets. Her reputation is at stake here.’
They said that that was fine by them: they were paid by the hour.
To cut a very long story short, my theory was born out. Bella was fine with feet that were visible, but avoided them where they were under clothing.
‘Inconclusive,’ said the fierce woman.
‘It’s not inconclusive at all…’
‘And, B, the complaint that the dog was aggressive towards members of the Afro-Caribbean student community.’
‘That’s nonsense. First of all they weren’t all black. They were all sorts. Secondly, she was goaded by them, and I was goaded by them too, and she responded entirely naturally, and I may say, entirely harmlessly. The boys didn’t mind and she didn’t mind. Only the teacher minded, and he was too far behind to see what happened.’
The fierce woman sighed, and put on a voice suitable for explaining things to an idiot.
‘The fact is,’ she said, ‘that the dog under examination behaved aggressively towards members of the Afro-Caribbean student community. Whether there were also present members of the student community who were not members of the Afro-Caribbean community is irrelevant. Any aggression directed towards you or the dog under investigation was due to you are both part of the ruling class and part of the patriarchy, so any action in response is justified.’
‘She’s dog, a female terrier,’ I said. ‘How can she be a member of either the ruling class or the patriarchy? She’s a bitch.’
The fierce woman looked horrified at me, and wrote ‘Said Bitch’ on her pad.
‘What do you mean?’
‘She’s female,’ I said. ‘If there’s a victim here, it’s her. She goes to West Ham Park, accompanying a pensioner in a caring and non-ageist fashion, and she is spoken to in an abusive and discriminatory manner by men: men with whom you, as an instrument of the state, are now acting collusively.’
‘What pensioner?’ she said, temporising.
‘How kind of you to say so.’
‘I didn’t mean ‘Nonsense, you’re not a pensioner’, I meant that irrespective of age you are a member of the white ruling class, a tool of the patriarchy, and that your dog is infected by that, whatever her gender or breed.’
‘Infected,’ she repeated.
‘That’s just silly,’ I said.
She wrote ‘Used abusive language’ on her pad.
‘I think I’ve had enough of this,’ I said. ‘I’m going home. Via West Ham Park. And I’m taking my bitch with me.’
And I gathered her up and we made for the exit.
‘I’ll return a negative assessment having regard to racism and sexism.’
‘Pft,’ I said.
‘You’ll be saying ‘Pft’ on the other side of your face when I enter a negative assessment,’ said the fierce woman. We had got to the door by this stage. ‘I’ll put in a recommendation for forcible retraining. You and your dog. And termination in the event of non-positive outcomes.’
Her voice had risen to a shriek. I was glad to hear ironic cheers from the multi-faith chorus of bus stop volunteers. We passed into the street.
‘Better lie low for a bit,’ I said to Bella.
She flopped onto the ground and looked up expectantly. Unlike the fierce woman, Bella is unable to take high-level views. I gave her a complementary pet product.
‘Savour it,’ I said.
She looked at me quizzically.
‘Let me put this in as positive a way as I can. Have you seen The Diary of Ann Frank? It’s under the floorboards for you.’