Rain (Again) – Just A Short One – Best Laid Plans – Holiday Memories – Best Dressed Dog Walker 2020 – First Hazard – And the Second – The Basic Idea Behind Horses – The Disappearance – The Mysterious Thing Up the Tree – Ball Madness – Greece Is Still Much Nicer
It’s raining. Again.
Not the kind of tempest that would get Turner stuffing his shirt tails in his breeches, throwing some brushes in a bag and hurrying out the door.
Not the kind of cataracts that would get Noah tutting in the cabin of his ark while a giraffe gently nudged his arm for toast.
Not the kind of CGI catastrophe that would have the lead actors turn round slowly before they snap out of their funk and fight their way through the disposable crowds up to higher ground, or the library, or the mall, or wherever. The kind of photogenically apocalyptic weather that’s accompanied by drums and brass and buckets of popcorn.
Not that kind of rain.
No – this is that peculiarly British, mediocre, bargain-basement, own-brand kind of rain that makes you shrug and dream about Greece. A miserly drizzle. A so-so soaking. Whatever kind of weather. A non-soon.
The dogs stand at the back door as unenthusiastically as me.
‘Just a short one,’ I tell them.
They stare up at me in silent protest.
If only I’d listened.
I figure at least no-one else will be out. They’ll have taken a more balanced view. They’ll have listened to the forecast, for God’s sake, which I think I’m right in saying promised this whole damned thing will have cleared away by midday leading to sunny periods and ‘spits & spots’ of rain (which I hate as a description – it sounds too medical – the meteorological equivalent of ‘moist’). But of course, that wouldn’t fit in with the plans I have for my day off. I’d decided already. One: Walk the dogs. Two: Breakfast. Three: Write. Four: Lunch. Five: Supermarket shop. Six: The rest of the day’s my own (as if everything else hadn’t been). There’s nothing to say I couldn’t do it all in reverse order and stay dry at the same time. But no – a plan’s a plan – which probably proves I’m British more than my bad teeth or my Raynaud’s. A state of mind cold-forged by years of holidays on the North Norfolk coast, shivering in and out of the sea, followed by a rough towelling off, gritty sandwiches huddled behind a windbreak, then out again for a round of French cricket in the middle of a hurricane.
I can’t find the stuff to wear that I want to wear, so I end up in a flat brown cap, green waterproof with a broken zip, too-tight trackie bottoms with a red stripe down the sides, and a pair of ten pound wellies. When I put the little bag of treats over my shoulder, bookended left and right by two glum lurchers, I look like a minor character in a naff suburban sitcom.
Just as I reach the beginning of the alley that leads onto the estate, I see two girls coming towards me with a bow-legged Staffie, like they’re taking an old footstool for a walk. The girls are as crazily dressed as I am, so I don’t feel too bad.
‘Which way are you going?’ I say to them.
They stop and hold their hoods away from their faces to get a better look. Even the Staffie seems confused.
‘Which way are you going – right or left?’
They look uncertain about me, and I really can’t blame them – except, Stanley barks, and then they understand what I mean.
‘Right!’ says the older one in a panic.
I move to the left and distract Stanley with a treat whilst they exit and hurry on.
‘Good start!’ I say to him.
Lola looks at me. She could’ve predicted all of this. I give her a treat, too, which she snaps down with a scornful little snap like a bent cop trousering a bribe.
When we reach the gate into the first field, I see a woman coming towards us with a Border Collie. If Stan has an internal list of dogs he likes to bark at, a Border Collie comes second (below a French Bulldog, his nemesis, still at number one, and just above a Jack Russell, which I think he’s more worried about as a choking hazard).
‘Sorry!’ I say, moving off to the left as soon as I’m through the gate. ‘He barks!’
The woman is dressed in thoroughly sensible, all-weather gear. The kind of gear you’d put on if you were at the North Pole and just stepping out of the hut to drill some ice cores. She waves a Gore-Tex mitten at me. Stanley barks – but she doesn’t react. She’s used to polar bears.
Further on, and the Hole-in-the-Hedge gang are gathered around the furthest gate. There’s a big oak there, giving shelter from the rain. I suspect they don’t mind the rain all that much, though. It’s just an excuse to loiter round the gate and intimidate the passing trade.
Lola trots towards them obliviously, but Stanley bridles. I don’t think he understands the basic idea behind horses, and I have to say I’m with him on that. I think he thinks horses are just oversized French Bulldogs. To get him past I have to feed him a whole tripe stick – the treat equivalent of a stat dose of mirtazapine. It works. We make it through the gate into the next field. I start to feel more optimistic about the walk. I let Stanley off and the two of them chase each other around through the wet grass. We move on to the next field.
Stanley disappears through a fence into a private area of scrubby woodland.
‘He’ll be back,’ I say to Lola.
She’s not convinced.
Stanley is gone for ten minutes or more. Just as I wonder whether I should go look for him, I hear him barking. Not the usual thing – a worrying combo of distressed howl and urgent woofing. It sounds as if he’s in pain. I picture him hung up in barbed wire, or maybe his foot jammed in a hole or something. So I crawl under the fence and head that way. Finally I see him, standing under a tree, staring up. He’s so rapt, he doesn’t even glance back as I approach. I put the lead on and try to tempt him away with a tripe stick. But whatever it is up the tree (I don’t know, a deer probably, because I’m sure even an elephant would find some climbing capability if they heard Stanley barking), it has a hold on him that totally trumps tripe. I’m forced to drag him away inelegantly, all the time imagining what Adina the dog trainer would say. Probably nothing. She’d just shake her head slowly from side to side, a single tear sliding down her cheek.
I can’t risk letting him off the lead yet, so I have to negotiate the fence the best I can – which, as it turns out, is not very well. I manage it, though, sliding out the other side muddied and soaking wet, but still with Stanley safely in custody.
I straighten my hat. We carry on with the walk.
I find a tennis ball. I let the dogs off and throw the ball. Lola scoops it up mid-run, but Stanley overestimates and blows past her in a chaotic mess of legs. Then he scrambles upright again and starts chasing her round the field, making up in noise what he lacks in coordination. After a while I put him back on the lead. Lola waits until we’re at a safe distance before she drops the ball in a place she’ll remember for next time, then comes panting after us.
The horses have moved on, so that’s something. Now that the rain is coming down harder and with more conviction, it looks like we’re the only things out on the field. Probably the world.
‘Good dogs!’ I say to them. ‘Let’s get home for a nice, rough towelling off.’
And with the three of us standing there, muddy and wet-through, it feels like we’re home already.