Peter Rhodes on shouting at dogs, free school meals and a lesson in knee-jerk politics

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Wolf in waiting?
Wolf in waiting?

Remember Fenton? He was the Labrador and former guide dog caught on video chasing a herd of deer through Richmond Park in November 2011 as his distraught owner yelled “Fenton, Oh, Jesus Christ!” In the fields near us I've seen two owners in similar anguish in the past week, each trying to control the uncontrollable.

Your dog may behave perfectly in the local park and pass obedience tests. But nothing can prepare him – or you – for that moment on a country ramble when a rabbit, hare or muntjac breaks cover.

As Fenton proved, even guide dogs have an inner wolf. We puppy-walked a black Labrador called Georgia for her first ten months. On the day before she left to begin Guide Dogs for the Blind training I took her for a last walk and she behaved perfectly - until a rat dashed across the lane. Georgia shot after it like a greyhound, dragging me into the ditch. And they were seriously contemplating giving this beast to a blind person?

To our astonishment, Georgia breezed through her training and served faithfully as a guide dog for years. We taught her a lot and she taught me that, even in the countryside, a dog should be on a lead. Unless, that is, you fancy being on YouTube, screaming the name of Our Saviour as your mutt heads for the horizon.

The row over feeding schoolkids in holiday periods offers a useful lesson about the knee-jerk nature of modern politics. It is that, no matter how untruthful the headlines are, no matter how misleading, how unsupported by the facts and how unfair and savagely political they become, anything resembling “Let children starve” is best avoided. Especially if there's a bright, young, personable footballer on the other side. Throw in the towel, smile brightly, hose money at the problem. And do it on day one.

As the row over hungry pupils rages on, I write (you may fancy you hear a violin at this stage) as a former free-meal schoolboy. I recall the weekly humiliation of the teacher calling out the names of free-meal kids, snarling “Rhodes” in a particularly unpleasant manner. My getting free mash and mince offended his socialist soul. Rightly so.

For back in the 1960s, the rules on free meals were as bewildering as they are now. In my case, I qualified because my parents had five children in school. For some reason, that ticked the “poverty” box and the fact that my father had his own successful building company and we lived in a big house didn't change a thing. He tried to pay for my meals but the system wouldn't accept his cheque. Strange, isn't it, that 50-odd years on, in a country transformed by computers and led by great minds, the authorities still can't get the right food to the right people?

Spot the ironic four words in the above item.

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