On Thursday evening, on what felt like the hottest day in human history, a dog somehow got onto the tracks at London’s Waterloo station. The dog’s owner jumped off the platform and headed in pursuit of his distressed canine friend.
For the many thousands of commuters sitting on trains just outside the station or at waiting to leave from one of the twenty four platforms, the dog-owner’s decision meant that serious delays and unpleasant inconvenience in searing heat lay ahead. The power had to be shut down and the air conditioning turned off, our guard explained. The power to all twenty four commuter lines out of Waterloo was out, during rush hour.
The minutes passed and the temperature on stranded trains climbed steadily. This being England, at first no-one said anything to their fellow passengers. Then there was some huffing and puffing on our carriage. A few youngsters swore in exasperation. Several older passengers appeared to be struggling to cope. One elderly gent sitting near me, his shirt dripping wet, mopped his brow and looked as though he might expire on the spot. Someone offered him water.
Our delay lasted almost an hour. Others waited longer it seems. The guard, clearly angry at the random stupidity of the whole situation, was apologetic and informative. Tens of thousands of people were having their evenings interrupted or plans ruined.
In the olden days, in the ancient 2000s before the invention of Twitter, this might have been picked up as a page lead for the next day’s Evening Standard. Dog causes rail chaos nightmare, and so on. Now, people have Twitter and other bigger social media sites on their mobile phones. During such a delay, or a more serious event, we tune into social media to see if there is news about our situation. Someone will have some video or a clue. Sure enough, several commuters had filmed footage of the dog running along the line out to Vauxhall. Some way behind was running the thirsty-looking owner.
Frustration with the situation was building. I like dogs, I was raised with dogs. I don’t mean I was raised by dogs in a Tarzan Lord of the Jungle way. During my youth, our family always had tremendous dogs, although cats are obviously far superior to dogs.
But who on earth thinks it a sensible idea to take their dog to one of the busiest stations in the land, at rush-hour, on the hottest day of the year, and then failing to control the dog on a lead, and having to chase off down the tracks, shutting down all the services to and from the station?
After a decade using Twitter I should have known not to mention the incident online. I’m Scottish though, and heat of 38 degrees is discombobulating.
I tweeted the following and initially thought little more of it:
“Well done to the person at Waterloo who on the hottest day of the year jumped onto the track in pursuit of their dog, requiring all 24 platforms to be shut down and all power and air con turned off on waiting trains packed with people. Well done.”
I might as well have been advocating the ritual murder of dogs in an ITV live special presented by Piers Morgan. To say that dog-lovers took my comment badly would be an understatement
At the time of writing, some 1600 people have replied to the tweet. Some 2300 people have “liked” the comment. That doesn’t mean that they liked it, as in approved. It suggests they were saving my tweet for later to add their voice to the outrage about journalists being critical of canines. One irate dog-lover even tried to get Ricky Gervais involved, the comedian and Twitter-using animal rights campaigner.
From an anthropological point of view, the comments on Twitter in response were extraordinarily interesting and thought-provoking.
These new spaces created in the digital revolution offer us novel ways to project virtue, lash out in annoyance, display communal interest on behalf of our tribe, and generally fall out. The effect when it kicks off is akin to being involved in a fractious ten way conversation in a very crowded pub. Asides are misheard or over-interpreted. It gets out of control quickly. And so it did last night.
Initially it was all rather jolly, though. John Crace from the Guardian responded to my original tweet.
To be fair… I’d have probably chased after my dog too!
The historian Paddy Docherty chimed in.
Are you saying you *wouldn’t* save your dog? That tells us all we need to know.
I don’t have a dog. If I had a dog I wouldn’t take it to Waterloo station at rush hour.
Pretty soon, the mood darkened. Others appeared with their comments.
If it was between you and a dog on the tracks I know who I would save and its definitely not you.
What a heartless, selfish miserable excuse for a human being you must be! Note to all, if Iain ever finds himself on a train track, just shrug your shoulders and don’t engage in any kind of heroism that may cause a delay.
Brian thought the owner chasing down the track shutting down the network was brave. I responded that:
Taking his dog (a rescue dog) to one of the busiest stations in the country at rush hour on the hottest day in history? Stupid rather than brave comes to mind.
Lorna was appalled.
If it was a Rescue Dog that just makes your attitude even worse! How many human lives has that dog saved? I would stop now Iain #HoleGettingDeeper
Jon pointed out that Lorna had got hold of the wrong end of the stick on the rescue dog business.
When he says a rescue dog he means a dog that’s been rescued…
Lorna sought clarification.
He doesn’t make that clear though..Perhaps Iain could clarify.
Gladly. I’m happy to clarify. In this case, rescue dog means a dog that has been rescued. On the train tracks on Thursday evening there was no sign of the runaway dog, though. It needed rescuing again.
KB got back to the heart of the matter, my by now notorious anti-dog activities.
What a TOSSER. I would gladly be late, or sit on a sweaty train, if it meant somebody had gone onto the tracks to save their dog. Prick.
As is so often the case, the journalist Jamie Ross put the best question.
Hi Iain, out on interest what’s the maximum number of dogs you would have killed to ensure a smooth journey home?
The correct answer is four
Andy Kirby weighed in with his view.
1 dog is worth a thousand people
Is that true? Is the life of one dog really worth the death of 1000 humans? How would we enact this in law? The committee stage of the Bill in Parliament would be a nightmare. Then, on the floor of the House imagine the amendments from cat-owning MPs. What if a hamster escapes onto the railway tracks? How many dogs would that be worth? In the animal hierarchy are three hamsters worth one dog, giving us a definitive hamster to dog to human ratio of…
Anyway. As we stewed, new streams of discussion arose, fresh tributaries of argument flowing away as people debated the situation and kept me copied in. Why did the air conditioning on the trains have to be turned off in such a situation? Someone pointed out that we had put a man on the moon, so why could we not fix this escaped dog and air con crisis?
The answer is that the trains get their power from the “third rail” and for energy efficiency reasons only have a small battery for backup that enables the doors to work in an emergency. A passing entrepreneur on Twitter observed that it was a disgrace that Britain has not developed better batteries capable of powering hours of air conditioning when poor dogs get on the line.
One extremely “woke” Twitter user had to apologise to other politically correct Twitter users for appearing by accident to support my position, after she had observed that elderly and disabled passengers may have struggled particularly in the heat.
There was some genuine support for my position. Claire Calladon criticised the owner, but, sensibly, not the dog.
Have the dog on a lead for starters. Control the dog. Not run after the bloody dog. Not difficult really.
John Tipper told me to stop complaining, because it could be worse and I could be in a war zone.
Aw, bless, 37C. Wow, so hot. How about wearing body armour, a helmet and gloves in a non-air conditioned vehicle in Afghanistan, where the temperature inside the vehicle is around 60C and it’s a cool 48C in the shade outside. Do this all day. Then repeat for months. In combat.
I admire people who signed up to be helicopter pilots in Afghanistan, but I didn’t sign up to be a helicopter pilot there or here. Having paid for a rail journey I was simply trying to get home for dinner.
According to his John’s logic, and I do see his point about the need for perspective, the retort to any contemporary and consumerist complaint – about wages, or public services, or health, or crime – can be that we should shut up and be grateful because we are not living in the time of the Black Death or the Plague.
You want to know what happened to the dog. Yes, yes, yes. Of course, that’s the key question. Was the dog okay? Luckily, this shaggy dog story has a happy ending.
South Western Railway tweeted:
There’s a picture of Delilah. More pictures posted during the hunt are here. I agree, she looks extremely cute.
Let’s hope the British Transport Police encourage the owner to avoid taking her near railways stations at rush hour.