I ran out of dog food yesterday.
It happens often, and I am full of ingenious ways to solve the problem. But there was little to help as I gazed desperately round the kitchen, seeking some dog-food substitute as two limpid brown eyes flanked by triangularly expectant ears looked unwaveringly up at me.
The gaze is something akin to mind control, and no-one can stand it for long. Thus, under its insistent influence, my powers of decision-making are impaired.
Which is why my eyes came to rest on the gently casseroling best steak, the very expensive beef which simmered gently in a mustard gravy in the slow cooker.
Today I was making a pie: a glorious pie for my mother and father to enjoy as my mother convalesces at home.
I eyed the beef. The dog eyed me. There was a moment of excruciating indecision.
And then I grabbed his bowl and the ladle and scooped in a generous portion. Robbing the sick to feed the insistent, so to speak.
Here in Britain, if you speak to a certain generation – the one born during or just after World War II – I dare you to get them talking about wasting food. They will get on their soapbox, whoever they are, and sermonise better than Wesley himself. They can’t bear waste, they tell you accusingly, as if you get your kicks by buying food from the supermarket and throwing them directly onto a food mountain in the back garden so it can decompose gently.
I have a private theory that Churchill’s propaganda hit its mark most of all with the young children of the time, and they are all irrevocably brainwashed.
Howsomever, if any member of that generation knew that Macaulay the dog had had a large bowl of best steak casserole, the sermon would last a week.
I watched guiltily as the dog eyed the steak with undisguised admiration. This is more like it, he emanated. It was a tad hot: he danced a little ballet round his bowl, testing one piece, nibbling another in an ecstasy of anticipation. And much, much later, when he had finished, I have never seen a cleaner bowl.
However, on reflection, I have come to look upon the decision to give the dog best steak as a dud one.
One clear reason to avoid giving steak to dogs.
We have come a long way since Victorian reformist and sewer king, Sir Edwin Chadwick, pronounced that “all smell is a disease.” The theory that ‘bad air’ could spread pestilence existed at least since the ancient Chinese believed their southern mountains harboured air packed with pestilence.
Officials which had offended the state, and members of the criminal fraternity were banished to the miasma of the south in much the same way that Russia exiled people to Siberia.
The poet, Han-Yu, writes of his exile:
“The clouds gather on Ch’in Mountains, I cannot see my home;
….But I know that you will come from afar, to fulfil your set purpose,
And lovingly gather my bones, on the banks of that plague-stricken river.”
Man was utterly convinced that illnesses like cholera travelled by miasma -through bad smells – until a rather clever GP used his bonce.
Dr John Snow served the district in and around Soho when a horrifying outbreak of cholera claimed some 616 people in 1854. It shocked London to the core; yet in the midst of all the panic, Snow was talking to patients. And what he learned led him to believe the sufferers all had one thing in common.
The Broadwick Street pump. Everyone got their water from the pump: it was popular because the water tasted better, locals said. Some even ignored nearer pumps and went that extra mile for the flavour.
But the sewer systems had not yet reached Soho and things were rather grim. The public well had been dug just three feet away from a leaky old cesspit: into which the nappies of a baby who had died from cholera had been washed.
Dr Snow vanquished the Bad Air Theory. Cholera, the Black Death, both had another source, he concluded. And while airborne droplets can travel from one human to another through coughing or even laughing, a bad smell holds little fear.
But I’m not convinced.
Because just hours after the dog had feasted on mustard steak, it was bedtime. And the wages of feeding the dog steak were the worst of air. How any small dog can produce so much miasma is beyond scientific reasoning. He was a veritable miasma factory.
And so, like those unfortunate Chinese exiles, I, too, got my come uppance. I have spent the night with the worst of air, and have experienced feeling really quite unwell.
Miasma is alive and well, and residing in the small barrel-tummied miasmatron on the cushion at my feet.