Day 1 – I try to save a stolen pitbull
6am and I wake up.
Day 1 of my ‘year to help’. It’s begun!!!!
11am….and I get out of bed.
What a disaster.
I have just laid in bed for 5 hours blinking at the ceiling. On my first day! It’s because I feel utterly depressed at the enormity of the open space ahead of me. Negative thoughts swirl beneath my sweaty scalp. I should be excited. I should be motivated. Instead I’m in a ball of fear. Where do I **@@* start? . Ann is away in the US, my assistants are away, the house is empty apart from two dogs, I’ve wrapped up my work, I feel rudderless. For 5 hours I hug Moose and Bug … Martin, in the last 5 hours 50 rare hedgehogs have probably been runover, get UP!
Excuse me dear reader, I have let you down. The next year should be an open space of opportunity. Instead I see a wasteland
and on the far horizon…
I’ve worked for 6 months, nay a year, to clear my desk, to make the space and the money to take the year off to do this project, to file my tax return, to floss my teeth, to balance my books, to shut down my family photography so I can storm out into the world wearing the furry cape of compassion and save those flamingoes/mice/rhinos/dinosaurs and what do i do?… I lie in bed like a beached whale.
Who’s going to save me?
I don’t feel proud of this. And nor do I exaggerate. I hate how much anxiety I feel in the mornings. My psychiatrist has told me to up my anti-depressants and I have done so but now my mouth feels as dry as a peach in the sun.
How do you start to save animals anyway? I wanted just to start… from a complete standing position. But not from a horizontal position. GET UP MARTIN! What if I lose money and help nothing? What will happen to my photography? Do I walk out of the door with a first aid kit and catch the no.55 to the nearest elephant in distress? ‘Please, stand back,I know how to save that elephant trapped on the underground/in the Paul Smith changing rooms – I’m writing a blog about such predicaments’ Piss off you middleclass loser.
Don’t listen to the negative thoughts, Martin. Get up: the slugs are waiting for you. This is your moment to heal.
At midday I finally get to my desk. I look at the copy of yesterday’s Hackney Gazette. I bought it because there is an article I wanted to read after I saw the following newstand on Broadway Market.
Apparently a woman in Clapton (5 minutes north of me) had her ‘pitbull-type’ dog stolen when her son who was walking it was mugged at knife point in broad daylight. The two youths who did the mugging thought the dog looked worth having – perhaps to fight with or breed from. I recently heard that illegal dogfighting has gone up 500% in the last few years. That’s why I thought pitbulls were illegal. Hmmm. I’m no mood to get involved with dangerous dogs and gangs thank you very much. But I have a promise to help.
I reluctantly ring the newspaper and ask to speak to the dog journalist. Amazingly I get put straight through.
‘Hi, this is the newsdesk, what can I do for you?’ says a calm but disinterested female voice on the phone.
‘Hi, I’m ringing about the pitbull that was stolen’
‘ Do you have any information as to its whereabouts?’
‘Er…none at all…I was wondering if I could help. I mean.. I think I can help. .’
‘In what way?’
‘Well, I plan to write a blog for a whole year about helping animals. Flies, snails, elephants…that sort of thing.’
‘Yes, maybe you’d like one day to write an article about me. Saving things.’
‘Er… …how many animals have you helped so far.. in Hackney, that is?’
‘I’m just starting’
‘Well when you do perhaps you’d like to ring back.’
‘But I’d like to help this dog now. I mean, I lost my dog once. It came back about 5 minutes later but I know the feeling. It’s awful. Can you give me the woman’s number?’
‘I can’t do that I’m afraid’
‘I can call her and tell her you rang. If you give me your number’
I give her my number.
A few hours later and I’ve heard nothing back. I go for a run, I watch wimbledon, I’m sure the dog is just fine. Right? Then in my mind, the guilty, depressed part of my mind I see it in the hands of some gang members in some estate, they are extinguishing benson and hedge cigarettes on its backside. You’re almost 40 Martin, you have to make a difference.
Finally I ring back. ‘Any luck with reaching the woman?’ I ask
‘Yes, I spoke to her and gave her your number … she’ll be in touch. I know she has put posters up around the area, if you go to Springfield park you’ll see them, they have her number on it, but I can’t help any more. Good luck’
And just when I thought this was a perfect get-out…now i have to go to the park. Not long after this I get a phone call. It’s the dog owner. A young woman named Claire. Now there is no way out. She seems nice enough. She’s a little hesistant of what I’m all about but I tell her I genuinely want to hel and she comes round She tells me more information: the two youths that took the dog are not from the estates where she lives, she says the dog won’t be any use for fighting, it’s a pitbull, yeh, but a pussycat really. The dog is a bitch but has been spayed, she won’t be good for breeding with either. What are they going to do with her? Her son, who was there when it happened, won’t tell her the full story. She says if I want she can show me where it all happened, she’s put some posters up but there’s not been any response in the last two weeks
‘Two weeks ?!!’
‘Yeh, the police haven’t done much’
‘But two weeks? I thought this just happened?’
‘No, it was a while back. There was CCTV footage, but its gone now. It only lasts two days and then they re-record it. I missed it. I don’t know what to do anymore’
We agree to meet at 7pm that evening. I tell her I’ll do whatever I can but I’m not expert. This is not a lie. A few hours later and I’m waiting for her outside the park in Clapton where it happened. It’s a beautiful summer evening, orthodox jews are wandering through the park chatting quietly, birds are singing, its hard to imagine too much trouble around here. There are a few estates over the road but they seem quiet enough. But then that’s the thing about Hackney, trouble and violence can pass through the neighbourhood with disarming speed and invisibility. You sip your chardonnay whilst a gun crime happens over the road. The bar on one side of the square is a hipster hangout, on the other’s its a crack den. Last year I heard there was a broad daylight shooting in London Fields whilst a kid’s party was going on. Apparently the kids only stopped playing for a little while and then carried on. When the riots happened last year just up the road, a few hours later Ann and I drove off looking for the remains of the carnage. We spent an hour driving around but only found a single tipped-over bin on Mare street. Not for teh first time did I ask myself: am I too middleclass?
A car pulls up and a young woman gets out, dark skinned, pretty, too young to have teenage kids I think to myself. What do I know? It’s Claire. We shake hands and she walks me a few yards to exactly where it all happened, right outside a synagogue, this same time of the evening.
‘It was at knife point?’
‘Yeh, right there’ she says pointing to the side of a busy road. People are chatting in the evening sun. ‘Hard to imagine’ I said. ‘
I wonder what I should tell her, I thought. What would I do if Moose was stolen? Panic, that’s the first thing. No, that’s no good. I tell her I think the best option is to put up a reward sign.
‘You think you should pay those people? The ones who stole the dog?’
‘I probably would’
I remember not long ago seeing David Miliband when he was Foreign Secretary – he was in Hoxton square having a cappuccino the day after a British hostage had been decapitated, or something like that, I can’t remember where that happened. I walked Moose past him REALLY slowly and sure enough David asked me what dog it was ( I get stupidly star-struck). I chatted to him a little. Only the day earlier I had been thinking how hard it must be to not give in to hostages with all that emotional pressure and how awful he must feel that the guy was killed. And so I got into this weird place in the conversation where I was sort of congratulating David Miliband for not doing anything about the man who had his head cut off. Well done, David, you let him die. How is your cappuccino? But it’s true, you can’t negotiate with terrorists. And yet here I was with Claire saying that we should pay the people to return the dog. But that is what I would probably do. I wouldn’t be a good foreign secretrary.
‘And I also Claire, I think that I could try and go to some of the Estates… ask some simple questions’ MARTIN WHAT ARE YOU SAYING??? You were bullied at secondary comprehensive school for being too posh.
‘Yeh, maybe that’s a good idea’ Claire said. ‘I’m sure someone would know someone’
‘I don’t want to cause any trouble, but maybe I could just ask if anyone knows anything. We coudl offer a reward on a no-questions basis. I’ve no interest in getting anyone into trouble, i’ve no interest in helping the police or shopping anyone, I just want to help the dog. I don’t want trouble’ I tried to speak with a bit more of a ‘street’ accent. But if you haven’t guessed I’m as street-wise as a blind lollypop lady.
She told me about all the estates around the area and how she knew a few people in the various locations.I nodded. Some of them had gangs she said. I nodded some more shuffling my feet slightly. I said I’d think about how I could approach them. In a really nice way of course. She said maybe we could get another article in the Hackney Gazette, it might help pass the word around in the gangs. I said I don’t think many gang people read the newspaper. She said they did, it was a way of them staying in touch with the violence of other gangs. Oh I see, I nodded again with interest. We’d make a plan I said. I gave her my email and asked her to send me some pictures of the dog and I’d make up a reward leaflet.
I did feel bad for the dog, I really did. And I wanted to help. And strangely I wasn’t feeling so down any more. Maybe this helping thing is already doing me some good. And then I read that andy murray won through to the final. Go you pit bull!
To be continued…..