Now that they have taken down the ‘to let’ sign from the house next door, I have difficulty finding my house. I used to use the black and yellow Naish and Co sign as a marker to aim for, as a kind of bookmark. I have no such trouble finding the back of my house (although the back yard gates are just as identical as the front doors), because the space of the back alley, between the back of my terrace row and the one which backs onto it, is defined by dog poo. I know which gate to stop at because I recognise the particular piece of dog poo nearest to it. My short journey by bike up the alley to my back yard is defined by having to avoid various little piles of poo, some of which are easier to circumvent than others. Some form little constellations, which, nevertheless, maintain a unity – and identity as one ‘poo’ – and which I have to pass through rather than round, rather as a boat might pass through, rather than round, a group of islands. Some poo lies in single outposts, like Bishop Rock, or in isolated pairs, like Midway Atoll in the Pacific. Some poo is out of the way and I merely note its presence and position every day, without having to make any decision as to how to avoid it. I do end up noting it, though, and this fact means that avoiding the poo is a daily ritual; one which lives in my consciousness only during the time I am actually cycling up the alley, since I invariably forget about the poo immediately after I leave its domain, or zone. (I have remembered it today, and am hence able to write about it, because I took a conscious decision to remember it and write a blog entry about it). Dog poo is an apt metaphor for all filthy and abhorrent things since it flags itself up in our consciousness like road signs do, every time we walk (or cycle) down a pavement with our eyes down, but we blot it out of our minds as immediately as we can, without taking in its message or meaning.
The island metaphor extends only as far as the impression of the spatial arrangement of the poo, since poo isn’t as permanent as most islands. The pooscape is a constantly shifting one, yet it changes slowly enough that it can still be used as a navigation aid: it may be a different piece of poo from week to week, but I always know which one is nearest my gate. Only volcanic islands appear and vanish as suddenly as dog poo. The pattern is one of figure and ground and reminds me a little of the pattern of shapes in some Raoul de Keyser paintings, which seem to be derived from landscapes, maps or aerial photos. My wife once stuck little flags with messages to dog-owners in the dog dirts on the street in Bucharest where she worked.