The Jury Room  (Week 2)                                                                                                                                      Posted 24th March 2014

Bruce turns up a three card trick                                                                    From The Herald : Sat 28-Mar-1998

In the second part of this innovative new series, the regulars of  The Jury Room consider what drives people to treat their pets as if they were human, and what this creeping insanity bodes for the wellbeing of the species that should be dominant. 


Bruce only got three birthday cards this year.

The speaker is Harry Kari, the barman who tells you his troubles. There is obviously a page missing from his copy of the Bartenders' Manual - the one about being just a pair of ears and a series of sympathetic noises, punctuated occasionally with deeply interested questions.

Harry can't resist telling you how sad his life is. He will interrupt an utterly compelling story of how your budgie fell off its perch a year ago today, never to talk again, to tell you some irrelevant trivia, like how he hasn't had sex for 12 years.

It is his one major flaw. Apart from this, he is that rarity these days: a bartender who knows what the hell he's doing, who isn't just filling in between raves or augmenting a student loan or using the fact of being behind a bar as primarily an extension of his own social life.

Thus, he doesn't look at you every time you come in as if the one thing wrong with working in a pub is that customers occasionally want to be attended to. You don't have to set off a flare to get his attention. He doesn't have to deliver the drinks, go to the till and wander back to the counter before he can tell you what it costs. And you won't have to wait, as with some female bartenders, until he finishes chatting up three young men with the testosterone coming out their ears before you are served. But he will insist on interrupting your riveting narratives with news bulletins of his own.

Just three, Harry says. How about that?

The group he is addressing in The Jury Room is not wildly responsive. Gus the Guru is lost in private thought. Perhaps he is meditating. Greyman looks as if he would prefer to be back at the comprehensive school that traumatised him into early retirement. The rest of us just stand, hiding in our drinks. A stranger might take our silence for rudeness but it is really embarrassment.

It isn't until Harry has moved to the other end of the bar to serve a new arrival that anyone speaks.

Who's Bruce? a stranger asks.

The questioner is a tall, mild man with a very vague expression, a gentle piece of life's flotsam that has briefly beached itself here.

Bruce, Greyman says, is Harry's dog.

Oh, the stranger says. What kind is it?

Gus the Guru looks at the stranger for the first time with interest, rather like a zoologist who has discovered a new species.

It's a black labrador, Gus says.

The stranger nods and smiles.

It's a black labrador, Gus says, that's just received three birthday cards. The breed isn't the point. It could be a chihuahua or a Great Dane. The point is it got three birthday cards. There's a fact to brood on.

As we brood, Tequila Sunset speaks without disengaging her eyes from the optical conversation she is having with a man across the bar. She knows, she says, a woman who sends Christmas cards from her cat, with pawmarks on them. Her contribution doesn't lighten the spirits.

Who sends these things? Gus asks darkly.

Postmodernism, Greyman says in a whisper.

He says that a lot.

I am thinking that he doesn't actually mean that the concept of postmodernism has assumed an animate form and is working through a mailing firm. I think he means that one of the effects of postmodernist thinking has been to separate a lot of people from their commonsense. (But then that is a familiar spin-off of more or less every big idea.)

We are all agreed that we like animals well enough. There are even several suggestions as to why pets can sometimes be preferable to humans.

Dogs don't squeeze the toothpaste in the middle (Greyman).

Cats aren't given to correcting the details of a story you're trying to tell (OU Wilson).

Hamsters rarely stay two hours longer in the pub than they said they would (Tequila Sunset).

Stick insects don't fart in bed (Tequila Sunset).

But these are hardly reasons for giving them a status at least equal to human beings. Something is seriously wrong in our society, we decide.

Gus mentions a man he knows who, while he would die for his alsatian, would also happily execute all homosexuals. He isn't saying the man is typical of anything but himself but he is wondering if a disproportionate compassion for animals may not result in a disproportionate lack of it for people.

I can't help recalling an Alan Whicker programme many years ago on telly. One item concerned a birthday party for a dog in California. All the dogs sat on chairs round the table, wearing pokey hats and eating off paper plates. The climax of the party was the arrival of a singing telegram, who duly serenaded the birthday bitch. I remember hoping, given the dogs' growling response, that they would eat the singing telegram and have their owners for afters.

But the owners were so full of crap, I say, that they would probably have been indigestible.

Now it seems to all of us that this kind of emotional imbalance (Shiteheadery, Matt the Mesomorph prefers to call it) has crossed the Atlantic.

Greyman is expanding on his favourite theme of the chaotic effects of postmodernism on society. If there is no such thing as quality or superiority but only difference, he reasons, all values implode. Any old crock of nonsense somebody writes is as valid as Shakespeare's sonnets. Parents are no more entitled to judge behaviour than their children are. Some pensioner who has contributed a lifetime of honesty and decency to society is no more worthy of respect than a teenage mugger. Living in a world as crazy as that, some people might come to consider that having a relationship with a dog is as meaningful as having one with a person.

I have to admit Greyman is getting to me. My panic at the state of things goes into overdrive when Harry Kari comes back along the bar.

Harry, Gus says. Just one thing. Who sent the birthday cards?

Harry smiles and winks knowingly.

Sheena, Fifi and Trixie. They're three nice wee bitches.

That does it. People are according rights to dogs they wouldn't accord to humans. I've never heard of anybody sending a birthday card to Harry. (Mind you, I can understand that.) A dark revolution is happening. The animals are taking over. They have to be opposed. But how?

As my first counter-revolutionary act, I decide not to feed the goldfish when I get home. But I have to admit to myself that some people may see this as gesture politics, since I don't have a goldfish.