I had a phone call from a man at Newham Council. It was not Mr Singh, who had been so helpful when Mr Putin got stuck in my chimney: it was another.
“You are the owner of the dog Bella?”
“Are you aware,” he said, “of the LBGTQ rally to be held in West Ham Park on – April?”
“No,” I said, “but what does West Ham Park have to do with Newham Council? It’s not owned by Newham Council. It’s the Corporation of London.”
I was teasing. This is a sore point. A friend once worked on the magazine published by Newham Council and she told me that the two subjects that they were never allowed to mention were Boris Johnson and West Ham Park. They were the twin elephants in the municipal room.
“Newham Council and the Corporation of London are joint-venturing on the LBGTQ rally. ‘Working Together to Amenitise Newham Folk.’”
“’Working together to amenitise Newham Folk’. It’s our joint-venture strapline.”
“That’s interesting,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to ask someone who knows about straplines. ‘Working together’: is that a participle or a gerund? Do you mean, ‘We are working together …’, or ‘Working together would be nice…’? The Police used to say on the sides of their cars ‘Working together for a Safer London’. Did that mean they were, or was it like ‘Working together for a Safer London: Don’t Make Me Laugh’? ”
“And ‘amenitise’: what sort of word is that?”
“Obviously it means providing amenities, or, as we say here, providing amenity: a singular, wholesome and ultimately indivisible concept; a civic concept. But I want to talk about your dog.”
“I’m pretty sure that, if it means anything, it means turning something into amenities, or, as you say there, amenity.”
“Your dog is on our Register.”
“Our register with regards to racism awareness around pets.”
“She was cleared of all charges,” I shouted.
“Nonetheless she is on our Register.”
“I’ll sue,” I said.
“Mr Alablague,” he said, “your attitude is inappropriate. We are talking softly softly here. A softly softly approach is the order of the day. Question marks have been raised with regards to your dog’s – ah, Bella’s – attitude with regards to racism awareness. I say no more about that now, it is a closed book, it is dead. What my concern is at this moment in time is does she also have a negative attitude as regards the LBGTQ community. We have seen that you visit West Ham Park every day with her …”
“What do you mean, you’ve seen that I visit West Ham Park every day with her?”
“Mr Alablague, surely you’re familiar with our ‘If You’re Doing Nothing Wrong, You Won’t Mind Being Snooped On’ programme?”
“Are you joint-venturing that too?”
“Oh yes. And we have sponsorship. From News International. They have first call on any juicy pictures, know what I mean? Does she – ah, Bella – harbour negative or inappropriate feelings for members of the LBGTQ community in any way, shape or form?”
“I can’t speak for her feelings. We don’t discuss them.”
“But does she growl?”
“She treats our gay and lesbian friends in exactly the same way as she treats anyone else.”
The man from Newham Council’s voice was getting raised.
“And the members of the transgender community? The trannies! When they come to your house! As if!”
“You’re right,” I said. “Our friends who are members of the transgender community rarely visit us in our home. We found that they tended to fight with the lesbians. An unfortunate phrase, ‘cis-gendered scum’, was once used. So instead we meet them in a café nearby.”
“A café! In Plaistow! As if!”
“You’re right, of course. There’s few of them. We tend to go to Fat Chaps in Plaistow Road. Do you know Fat Chaps? They’re excellent. We and the transsexuals buy a kebab each and eat it at the bus stop. My point is that Bella is not allowed with us in Fat Chaps, being, as a dog, a health and safety issue. But she’d be fine. Why not?”
The man from Newham Council lowered his voice again.
“The point is, Mr Alablague, that the particular rally to be held in West Ham Park will be rather specialised. They will be celebrating not the culture of the LBGTQ community as a whole but the values of the BDSM community.”
“BDSM. Leather chaps. Spanking. May not of course have anything to with the LBGTQ community at all.”
“And you want to be sure that Bella will not take fright at the leather masks…”
“You’ve got it: the masks, the whips.”
“She is sensitive.”
“Oh yes. Jumps at her own shadow.”
“Yes. ‘If You’re Doing Nothing Wrong, You Won’t Mind Being Snooped On.’ You see my point?”
I had to agree. It is hard enough to proclaim your sexual values in West Ham Park without risking the teeth of a frightened medium-sized terrier puncturing your latex.
“I could keep her away for the day…”
“Oh, Mr Alablague, you’re too good, but no, no. Acclimatise her, that’s my advice; acclimatise her to BDSM values.”
“Yes, clothes mainly, and whips and so on. Those little things that go under the chin and fit so snugly. The tight trousers and those cruel, cruel zips.”
“Do Newham Council by any chance offer training?”
“Ah, Mr Alablague, the cuts, the cuts: we did until fiscal 2012/2013. But there are practitioners in the private sector who can help and assist. Try one of the websites that offer unwanted furniture and personal services, where you are. As a search term I recommend ‘domination’.”
“Oh, no, Mr Alablague, that would in my judgment be most imprudent.”
I promised that one way or another we would not spoil his rally.
“A word to the wise, eh?” said the man from Newham Council.