For years I used to take my afternoon breather along a little Essex valley among the bat willows, to cross a plank bridge and stop respectfully under a grand tower of an oak. Bluebells crowded under it in spring, and sometimes I watched fox cubs jumping in and out of their holes.
Now it’s Kensington Gardens, the Round Pond, the fountains in the Italian Gardens (also their tea house) and all the trees in between. The entertainment is the dozens of dogs and their followers. I constantly find myself stopping with a broad smile on my face as an unlikely-looking hipster hauls along a tiny shi-zou that has its eye on a hound five times its size, or a pair of Hungarian Vizslas, bunched muscles sheathed in shining bronze, sprint back and forth around their little high-heeled owner. There is no proportionate link between owner and dog: not in size; not in temperament (though that’s harder to judge). Small dogs have more energy – or is it just that their little legs have to move much faster? Tall dogs that lope languidly along can explode into lightning acceleration. Every owner these days carries a sling (if that’s the word) for chucking a ball; off goes the dog like a rocket to fetch it; persuading their dog to drop it is still beyond them.
Is there a majority dog? Small and fluffy outnumbers tall and athletic – but then most of them live in flats. It’s the congregations plodding along with professional walkers, ten leads in hand, that fill me with wonder. I suspect those chocolate drops are sometimes doped.