Conor Pope: I get into blazing rows. They happen a lot in my world

A recent row in Dublin Zoo involved a child feeding broccoli to the sealions.

I got into a blazing row with a woman over broccoli at the sea lion enclosure in Dublin Zoo last weekend and I’m still cross about it.

Everything about the day until then was grand. It was warm and sunny and the Popes had done a circuit of the African Plains, eaten Magnums and were heading to the pink flamingo enclosure to say hello to babies born there recently, when we heard a commotion coming from the sea lions. It sounded like the watery beasts were killing each other but they were just fooling around.

As we walked around the enclosure’s edge, I saw a child throwing food into the water. The zoo goes to great lengths to tell the one million people who come through its gates every year that feeding animals is off the table. You just do not do it. Ever. It’s always bad for the animals and can sometimes have deadly consequences.

So when I saw the child throw a second piece of broccoli , my sense of injustice rose up. I approached her mother and, in a polite fashion, alerted her to the fact that her child was doing something she shouldn’t be doing.


“So what?” she asked.

It caught me off guard. I’d presumed the child was acting alone and once alerted to the situation her mother would stop her in her tracks.

“Well, it’s not allowed,” I explained. “You can’t feed the animals. Look at that sign,” I said helpfully. “And that one, and that one over there,” I pointed pointedly in a fashion that wasn’t remotely passive aggressive.

She scowled at me like I’d just smeared pink flamingo droppings into her hair. “Well the sea lions like it and if they don’t eat the food then the birds will,” she responded.

Questioned her qualifications

I explained, less politely, that her ignorance was endangering animals and I questioned her qualifications to determine the dietary requirements of sea lions. She stormed off calling me something which sounded suspiciously like “a scaldy stick”.

I was taken aback but I shouldn’t have been. Such rows happen a lot in my world. I’m forever getting involved in altercations with randomers over injustices I perceive. Just days after the zoo row, my distractedly happy 11-year-old walked into the wing mirror of a white van parked carelessly on a footpath in my neighbourhood. So, after consoling her, I obviously went in search the van driver to berate him over his carelessness. That was a long row so it was.

But I never felt like I might die. I did a couple of years back, when I was in Barcelona with my much better half. As we strolled along Las Ramblas we saw a crowd watching a bloke who looked like he had been plucked straight out of casting call for dodgy criminals.

He was doing a three card trick and encouraging punters to find the queen. On the face of it he didn’t look too good at his game and three or four times in a row he lost, handing over €50 each time. The men he lost to looked and sounded suspiciously like him and you’d almost have thought they were in cahoots.

An unfortunate Japanese man standing beside me harboured no such thoughts as he placed a €50 note on the street. Amazingly, the three-card trickster suddenly became good at the game and the tourist lost . He tried again. And lost again. As he readied himself to hand over another note, I couldn’t stand for it. I stood between him and the con artist and explained that it was a trick and that all the people winning were, in fact, related. He looked befuddled.


Next thing you know me and a bunch of seriously annoyed Eastern European criminals were having a full-blown row as the Japanese man melted into the crowd. They looked like they wanted to kill me and it dawned on me that they might actually kill me. I fled, relieved not to have been hurt.

Sometimes my resolve to tackle petty injustices does get me hurt. I’m often irrationally annoyed by impatient motorists who park in pedestrian crossings and have perfected a scowl for them. Not long ago I added finger wagging to my repertoire and it was all going swimmingly until, on Dublin’s north quays, as I wagged my finger and looked back in anger at an errant motorist I walked headlong into a lamppost.

I can still hear his laughter ringing in my ears.

It’s not the only time my sense of injustice has brought shame upon me. Recently I was cycling down O’Connell Street, obeying the rules of the road to the letter, when a taxi driver beeped at me. The injustice mist descended and I did something I’m not proud of. I gesticulated at him using a finger which – sometimes – is used to indicate displeasure. He pulled up alongside me and said: “I just wanted to tell you that €20 was about to fall out of your back pocket you f**king Muppet.”

It was hard to argue with that.