The Writing on the Sidewalk of a Cornish Village

Either I’m engaging in antisocial behavior or I’m the last defender of decency in Cornwall. Some days it’s hard to tell.

Wild Thing and I live on what’s called the estate. If you’re American, that sounds all grand and Downton Abbey, but what it really means is “the subdivision.” We live in a tiny fragment of suburb, even though we don’t have a city to be suburban to. Our village is spread out—a village without any center—so this is the most densely populated bit. By dogs as well as humans.

Irrelevant Photo: A view of the south coast and St. Michael's Mount

Irrelevant Photo: A view of the south coast and St. Michael’s Mount

Yes, dear ones, I’m writing about dog shit, and I’m not going to call it poo because I just can’t. When I first moved to Minnesota, I heard a wonderful phrase: “She wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful.”

Well, I don’t have a mouthful, but I did skid through the stuff and come away with a shoeful, and I can’t see why I should call it anything else. It’s not a beautiful word, but then the shoe wasn’t looking so good either.

Shit was the mildest word I yelled. I’m sure someone was behind a window saying, “Oh, that’s one of the Americans.”

Never mind the language, though. The important point is that somebody hasn’t been cleaning up after their dog.

I know two things about this dog: It’s large and it likes to spread its bounty as far as it’s physically able. I walk with my eyes on the sidewalk these days, the way I did as a kid in New York, before dog owners were expected to clean up after their dogs. My family had a dog. We thought we were being good citizens because we got him to shit between the parked cars. In fact, back then the city put up signs saying “Curb your dog.”

After the shoe incident, I bought myself a box of chalk. Then I waited.

Several days later, I found another deposit. Right by the red metal box that everyone (even me) calls the dog poo bin. I knelt on the sidewalk and chalked, “Clean up after your dog, please.”

I stepped back to admire my work. I’d forgotten the your, so it actually read, “Clean up after dog, please,” as if a computer translation program had written it. I used to work as an editor, so that missing word bothers me, but it did get the point across. And at least I hadn’t forgotten the please.

Good manners are more important here than good grammar. No matter how ungrammatical—or, for that matter, rude—a note you tack up somewhere, you can make it okay if you write “Polite Notice” at the top. I can’t tell you how many signs I’ve seen that declare themselves Polite Notices. Even if you were to say, “Pick up after your dog, you miserable, lazy, unclean excuse for a human being,” if you also said it was a polite notice, it would be okay.

And even if the rest of your wording is polite, you still have to open with “Polite Notice.” Actual politeness isn’t what matters. You have to remind everyone that you’re being polite.

I didn’t open with “Polite Notice.” I didn’t figure a chalked notice on the sidewalk had to, but then (as I’m often reminded) I’m not British. Wild Thing’s sure that what people mean when they say that is that we just don’t get certain things, and that the speaker feels sorry for us. I’m not sure she’s right. I tend to hear it as a statement of fact: We really aren’t British. Or we are—we’re citizens—but on some deeper level we never can be.

I don’t necessarily want to know how the speaker feels about this.

So it’s hard for me to be sure how significant that missing “Polite Notice” is. I may have offended someone other than the dog walker, but I can’t tell. I’m not British.

22 thoughts on “The Writing on the Sidewalk of a Cornish Village

  1. Excellant post. Fully behind your thoughts on said ‘Dog Shit’. However, we ‘Brits’ tended to use the words ‘Polite Notice’ because it sounds (and looks) a little like ‘Police Notice’ which only the Police were allowed to use.

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    • Wow, “Police Notice?” That went right over my head.
      I have noticed horseback riders wearing reflective vests–or what we call vests; not sure what the British is–that make polite look like police when you’re in a car and presumably not taking time to read too carefully. Clever devils.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. They’re everywhere, Ellen, as you know. We camp often in the Virginia State Parks and are appalled at the deposits made right smack dab in the middle of the trails. Really? Is it so much effort for you to scoot your dog off to the side if you can’t be bothered to pick it up?

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    • I can’t explain this, but a certain number of people here will use a plastic bag to clean up after their dog, then hang the plastic bag on the tree. And they think the doghshit fairies come through after them and cart them away?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yep – totally dozey. We have the same problem in my local country park in N London. In many ways it’s worse to leave the dog poo in a plastic bag than to just let the animal poo on the ground. I do wonder whether the perpetrators have any thoughts in their heads at all. I did recently see a poster in a park that said “There is no poo fairy! Clean up after your dog.”

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Go Ellen. I’m going to buy some chalk And figure out how to say “dog shit causes blindness” in the local lingo. I’m on a mission. There are a lot of people here who do collect the brown evil in little pink plastic bags but there are those who do not. Power to the people!

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  4. We bought our property because it was just a sneeze away from the small, undeveloped park where we like to launch our boat on the river. There’s a bit of beach, and a lagoon, and it’s quite pretty; a popular place for picnickers but still somewhat out of the way.

    Come to find out that literally hundreds of said picnickers shit in the bushes. I know this because a friend I met AFTER moving here worked for the health dept, and one of her jobs was to go out at intervals and, I kid you not, photograph the shit and estimate how bad it was. They then file this information away and forget about it. I asked her why they didn’t just dig some pit latrines, since there’s no plumbing out there and we all know yahoos will push over portable toilets. She said that was against health codes because it’s insanitary.

    I’m wondering if a “polite notice” would help. Not sure that it would work with non-British people, though…

    Needless to say, I no longer swim in that stretch of river…sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excuse me, but I’m about to turn into a ten-year-old: Oooh yuck! That’s really disgusting.
      Also the bit about taking pictures, carefully estimating the situation, and then doing nothing is really funny, in a depressing sort of way.
      One of the things that impressed me when I first visited Britain was that public toilets were widely available. Gee, a culture that recognized that people do actually need something like that! I was impressed. Now, with the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition government’s endless budget cutting, many of them are closing. When the politicians first started talking about cutting waste, I had no idea that was what they had in mind.
      I’ve got to write a post about that.

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  5. In the hostel of the medical college I studied in , these ” so-polite” ( not) notes were called ” stinkers”. Woe betide anyone who found one stuck on their doors with scotch-tape when they got back after a bad day at work or class.

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