On the tube the other day, a blind gentleman chose to sit in the seat directly opposite to my friend and I. His guide dog curled up obediently at his feet and consequently also at the feet of your humble narrator.
I knew that this would eventually pose a problem for me as the sizeable hound was blocking my my path to the doors. Even if I maintained a polite silence with this dog at my feet for the duration of the journey, I would have to trouble the man sooner or later in order to get past. At the same time, however, I didn’t want to question the guy’s sense of space by saying “there’s a man sitting here” in the clumsy fashion of The League of Gentlemen’s Mr. Foot.
A blind girl once told me that she was annoyed at how “the world is constantly leaping out of [her] way”. So with this in mind I decided to engage in friendly discourse with the guy on the tube by stroking his dog. Surely this would simultaneously alert his attention to my existence and start a friendly conversation.
But he didn’t notice I was there until he too went to stroke the dog and ended up stroking the back of my hand.
“Oh!” exclaimed Senior Wringham and immediately apologised.
“Do you mind not stroking my dog please,” said he sotto-vox.
Behaviour is learned, my friends. I have seen plenty of people stroking guide dogs in the past. When I worked in a public library, a partially-sighted reader would frequently come in and revel in the kids and librarians petting his dog. On another occasion, a man on the Glasgow-Renfewshire train seemed quite happy for passersby to stroke his dog. When I was a kid, a blind lady actually visited our scout hut periodically with the sole intention of letting us pet her dog.
Yet I still suspected I had committed a horrible and unforgivable social faux-pas.
“Does my scent interfere with him doing his job?”
“You shouldn’t stroke working dogs,” said my travelling companion.
I had never heard the term ‘working dog’ before so accepted that I must be out of the etiquette loop on this particular issue. (Is ‘working dog’ a new job title for guide dogs in the same way that librarians are now ‘information professionals’ or does the term apply to sniffer dogs or beer-carrying Saint Bernard dogs or indeed to any canine engaged in legitimate employment? Personally I think the new title makes them sound like dog whores who hang around on street corners until a randy businessman approaches with a glint in his eye and a bag full of Bonio.)
“It’s just that when you think about it, he is my eyes”.
This crushing blow forced me to apologise again and accept my mistake for a third time. But I felt annoyed at his closing statement. He was basically suggesting that I didn’t know what a guide dog does at all and that I wouldn’t have stroked it if I did. What I should have said is: “Well fucking hell, pal! I had no idea! I mean I’ve seen blind people with dogs before but I never realised there was a correlation”.
I wasn’t touching his eyes. I stroked his dog. Touching his eyes would have been unpleasant for both of us.
The event shook me up so much (in that I pride myself on being a thoroughly moral person but was unable to tell whether I had been in the wrong or not) that the walk from the tube station to the train station bizarrely turned into a walk from the tube station to another tube station. I was so distracted by what had happened that I’d walked to the entirely wrong part of town. Suddenly the moral of the story appeared, “Who is the real blind man?”
Enjoying a coffee after the event, my friend Stef (who always seems to be involved in these escapades – she is the Boswell to my Johnson except for the twin facts that I chronicle my own adventures and have sex only with myself) pointed out that at least this would make a good episode for my diary. She added the caveat, however, that while good blog fodder, the event would also provide hours of mental torture. How right she was.
This diary entry is not available in large print or braille.