Every time I see Friendly Bald Guy With Two Rescues I want to ask his name, and each time I don’t it makes it harder. Why, I don’t know. I expect he feels the same, every time he sees Smaller Guy Of Similar Age With One Rescue. (Real names would be so much easier. Although guys can be problematic. There are only so many Robs and Jims and Daves and Petes you can meet before they start blurring into one amorphous check shirt and cargo shorts).
Today doesn’t help.
I’m standing on a path in the middle of the woods, head tipped back, listening to a bird singing high above me in an ash tree. I’ve no idea what sort of bird it is. The variety of its song is so astonishing, so flamboyant, you could tell me it was a Bird of Paradise and I’d believe you. The bird produces short bursts of piercingly beautiful song, pausing just long enough to catch a response from deeper in the wood, then launches itself into another, virtuoso phrase.
I think Lola’s still with me, so it’s a surprise when I look back down to find FBG’s two dogs sitting at my feet, their heads tipped back like mine. At the same moment, FBG comes striding along the path.
‘Hi!’ he says, tugging out his ear buds. (I think there may have been a slight, name-sized gap just after the hi, but if there was, he generously covered it with a smile).
‘I was just listening to this amazing bird’ I say. ‘No idea what it is.’
‘You put me to shame,’ he says. ‘I should be listening to nature rather than this podcast.’
‘Nah!’ I say, backtracking on the bird. ‘Podcasts are great, too.’
We stand like that for a while, a little awkwardly, either side of the path. Lola has reappeared, thrilled to find that the bird-watching episode has segued into something altogether more interesting. The three dogs chase after each other through the undergrowth, whilst FBG and me do that tentative, exploratory conversational thing, teasing out any correspondences. (They’d been away in Norfolk / Norfolk! I was brought up round there / Were you? Where? / Wisbech – on the border / I know Wisbech! I was further over, Norwich way / I know Norwich – I saw Jim Bowen in Mother Goose …). But for all the progress we make and everything we find out about each other, it still doesn’t stretch to a name. Later on, after he’s screwed his earbuds back in, called the dogs away and walked off down the path, it strikes me how much sweeter and more efficient the bird’s method of communication is than ours.
An hour later I’m slogging up Broken Tree Hill. I’ve taken more pictures of the pines at the top of this hill than anything else – so much so that when I tweet the pictures and come to write the caption, it autofills on the first letter. Anyway, today I’ve come armed with a bin bag, because the other day I’d been annoyed to find a scattering of drinks cans and fast food wrappers, and I thought after all the pictures I’d taken I owed it to the place to tidy up a little. I’ve just started litter picking when FBG appears at the bottom of the hill, his two dogs racing towards me. He pulls out his ear buds, waves – and then hesitates. And I really want to sing a burst of notes along the lines of: Hey! It’s not what it looks like. I’m not normally this conscientious. You’ve just caught me on an odd kind of day. But of course all I do is wave, too – forgetting that I’m still holding the bag, which he probably interprets as Look at me, busy litter picking. He shakes his ear buds, as if to say: And here I am, still listening to my podcast, then screws them back into place, and carries on up the hill.