We are creatures of routine. The earth rotates and swings around the sun which gives us day and night and seasons and we sleep and wake and eat and act and dress accordingly. Routine is good and natural. It gives succour and renewal. Only the mad are free of it and they scream down the days for its want.
For close to 30 years I've woken, drunk coffee and taken the dog or dogs out. And the place I've taken them, wind or shine, sleet or power-cut, heat-wave or hoar frost, hungover or not is the Lyttelton Recreation Ground. There the dogs have run, rejoiced and sniffed and I have walked, rejoiced and looked - at the birds and the sky and the hills and the port and the restless waters of an ocean that covers half the globe. Perspective, you see, and all before breakfast.
So when last month, after perhaps 10,000 early morning jaunts to the rec, jaunts that have brought health and pleasure to the dogs and me alike, and inconvenience to no one but the slower type of rabbit that used to live beneath the groundsman's shed before they knocked it down, so when, I say, last month the council put up a bright new metal sign, I paid it no regard.
Of course I read it. I took in the meaning of its words. It said that anyone found walking unleashed dogs upon this recreation ground would be fined $300. But I ignored it as absurd. As unthinkable. It might as well have said, no smiling on this recreation ground, no breathing even. I carried on as I had for those 10,000 innocent mornings.
And so it was this morning a little after dawn that I ran smack into the force of puritan repression in the form of a man in a council car with a council badge and the stain upon the human soul that comes from being vested with a little brief authority.
Out from his pocket came the booklet of official forms. Up to the lips went the official pencil. The man was revelling in his power to punish.
My ancient dog, who truly loves all people as Christians claim they do, and who truly does not judge by colour, class or creed as Christians claim they do, approached the man with swinging tail and hopeful mien.
The man - this tells you all you need to know - ignored him. Rather he looked at me triumphant, his pencil raised above the blank official form. And then he spoke, a thin and mewling nasal whine that resonated with self-righteousness.
"This is your dog?" he said.
"This is my dog," I said, and I spoke so loudly that a flock of gulls rose clamouring from a petrol storage tank and wheeled about the lightening sky with cries of maritime lament, "and yes, he's off the leash because I do not have a leash."
The man looked down and sneered and licked his pencil once again and was about to speak.
"But he is not alone, this dog of mine," I said. "Beside him run the leashless ghosts of all the dogs I've owned, of Abel, Baz and Jessie, and this ground on which you're trespassing is hallowed with remembered pleasure, with sticks and rabbits chased, with frolics had, with pleasures of the sapid vital blooded world that quite transcend your notebook and your petty rules.
"Look up and all about you, man" - and here I gestured at the old volcanic hills, the wrinkled sea, the dome of the empyrean - "and smell the salty air and see the seagulls wheel and feel the blessing of the rising sun upon your skin and know that we are specks of sensate matter, man and dog and council functionary alike, specks of sensate matter in a random hungry world and that your rules and fines and uniforms, your footling rules and gruesome uniforms, are like the threads with which the Lilliputians tried to tie down Gulliver.
"Go ahead, man, fine me, whip me, bind me in chains and fling me in the council dungeon, but you will never tame the world, never."
So saying I held out my hands for the cuffs and a remarkable thing happened. The council officer began to shake. He shook and shivered. And as he shook he shrank. He shrank to waist height, knee height, shin. He shrank and shrivelled till I had to bend to see him in the sprouting grass and then he vanished. It was as if he'd never been, as if, indeed, I'd just imagined him. The dog and I walked on.