A thesis on faeces

In Cardiff in 2010 a grand total of 10 people were fined (£75 on-the-spot fixed penalty) for not picking up their dog’s shit. Given that Cardiff is home to 30,000 dogs, that the entire city  is smeared in the stuff, that a walk down any street is a dodge-the-turd obstacle course, and that there are not sufficient numbers of either waste enforcement officers or dog wardens to impose the by-laws anyhow, my first reaction is to marvel at the sheer unluckiness of the 10 lazy anti-social dimwits who were caught.

My second reaction, as a novice still learning the ropes, is There But For The Grace Of God Go I – because on two occasions (not bad in four months) I failed to pick up after my West Highland Terrier. Once because it was bucketing with rain so heavily the crap was being swept towards the drains and down to Cardiff Bay anyway, and once because she had deposited it in a most awkward spot, tight up against a pebble-dash wall, and what’s worse it was a little, er, runny. Most of the time she dumps in the back garden, so there’s no issue other than the adjustment of plans for ornamental parterres, vegetable plots, butterfly-luring borders and scented herberies: a few hardy shrubs around a squelchy bog will have to do. When she does squeeze one out in one of the parks where she drags me, I rush to the scene of the crime and remove the offending item before any passing spinster has a fit of the vapours. Yes, despite the fact that clearing away a couple of stools in Tremorfa Park is as helpful as a pack of elastoplast at a motorway pile-up, I am that heralded paragon of the ‘big society’: the responsible dog-owner.

My third reaction is puzzlement that the word “shit” is still taboo in the mass media. It’s not a swear word, it’s not an obscenity, it’s not blasphemous, it’s not sexist, racist, insulting or prejudicial, it’s not even declassé colloquial jargon; it’s simply an ancient anglo-saxon monosyllable that does what it says on the tin (can). Why the prissy pussyfooting over a word with all the shock value of “snot”? We’re in the farcical position whereby a routine bodily function experienced by everybody on the planet everyday of their lives requires a lexicon of coy euphemisms to be expressed. From the pathetic “s***” via the puerile “poo-poo”, the affected “mess”, the cringeworthy “powder my nose” and the priggish “go to the cloakroom”, all the way through to the hipster striving of “shite”, the graphic joshing of “there’s a monkey in the elevator” and the knowing irony of “I’m going to drop the kids off at the pool”, we omnivorous mammals find countless ways to deflect from the so-what ho-hum realities of excretion.

Yet “shit”, as a medium-impact oath, is heard daily in all walks of life. When airline pilots realise their plane is about to crash “oh shit” are usually the last words recorded by the black box; when Charles Windsor searches for a scathing put-down of an enemy, more often than not the hidden microphones pick up a sentence containing the word “shit”, and when you stub your toe, don’t try to tell me you bellow “drat”. The problem is the chasm between life as lived and life as presented by the cultural conservatives and uptight prigs who run newspapers, websites and TV channels. A mature, intelligent society would have no taboo words.

Of course, for a select few, shit is an alien concept. The Queen is far too posh to push (a lady-in-waiting removes it manually with gold-plated tweezers), Jane Fonda swears by warm saline enemas, Joan Rivers eliminated the problem with a surgical by-pass and Justin Bieber hasn’t yet graduated to solids. As for me, I’m lucky: I never need to do it. Every once in a while a small lavender bag pops out of my belly button and I chuck it in the pot pourri.