lola, baxter, suki & the shadow

I’m taking photos of a bricked-up window when a woman calls out to me from higher up the path.
I say! she says, then Hello? You there with the camera. Is your dog alright with puppies?
I turn to look.
It’s a woman in her late middle-age, dressed like a countess, lacquered hair and Alice band, navy-blue twinset, the cardigan draped over the shoulders and fixed by a button, the only concession to the walk being a pair of blindingly white court shoes. Her left arm’s crooked up for balance, presumably, the right extended straight out in front, attached to the lead of a porcine little pug, madly scrabbling its paws in its eagerness to make time. I know that pugs’ eyes bulge, but these seem particularly alarming. I put it down to the effort it’s making pulling the woman along.
‘She’s fine!’ I say, hoping to God it’s true. Lola doesn’t seem bothered, though. The pug makes a bunch of strangled yippy noises, describing a perfect arc in the dirt, but Lola lopes by safely out of reach with barely a glance.
‘What about cats?’ the woman says as she draws nearer.
‘Cats? Well – she lives with one. They get along. Why?’
‘Suki follows me when I go out.’
I can see a large, marmalade cat sitting on its haunches in the middle of the path, such an air of self-possession I wouldn’t be surprised if it produced a pair of field glasses and called in an airstrike by walkie talkie.
‘She’s so cute!’ I say.
‘She isn’t. Sometimes she turns and goes back. Sometimes she disappears. For weeks.’
I nod, like – yes – this is definitely something to bear in mind with cats.
‘She’ll be alright with her, y’think?’
‘I think so.’
In fact, Lola hasn’t even seen the cat. I’m not surprised. Last week she walked right past an adult deer over the woods: didn’t even look up. And once, when an entire herd of black and whites fell into line behind me all the way across the field, Lola walked calmly in front, like she expected exactly this to happen all along, and was actually a little disappointed.
I bend down to offer my hand to the pug, which it takes as an invitation to climb all over me.
‘Don’t encourage him,’ says the woman. ‘He’s already much too excited about these things. C’mon, Baxter…’

It’s certainly a day for meeting posh dog walkers.

Cut to: a tall, stooped figure in a tweed gilet and corduroy trousers, standing at the edge of the woods leaning on a rustic walking stick, one hand draped over the other, watching a stately black labrador sniffing around in the long grass. The man has a wide, thin-lipped mouth that barely moves when he talks, and the slightly fuddled demeanour of someone who’d woken up, dressed and made five miles before he knew what was going on.
‘Nice reprieve from the hot weather,’ he says when I draw level. ‘Not that I’m complaining, of course. One just needs time to aclimatise to these things.’
I agree with him and stand there a moment, catching my breath after the climb. Lola goes over to the labrador. They swap cards.
‘Good boy, Shadow,’ says the man, then raises his chin and stares off across the field.
‘Where are the brown cows, d’you think?’
‘Over that far side. Lying down under the trees.’
‘Ah!’ he says. ‘Good! Not that Shadow is troubled by them overmuch. Or they he’
‘No. He looks pretty solid.’
‘The black and whites are the worst,’ the man says. ‘Have you met those chaps?’
‘Absolutely! On the back field. They’re so inquisitive.’
‘Yes. They fell into line and followed us the other day. I think they thought I was going to milk them.’
He takes off his cap, scratches his head, replaces the cap.
‘I shouldn’t think there’s much to it, though. Do you?’
‘Probably not. You’d just have to watch the legs.’
‘Yes! I think I’d be a little twitchy in the old trouser department if someone started fiddling around with my udders.’

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of birds and buds

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.

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wheaton mess

I hear her
long before I see her
striding along the woodland path
blowing her whistle
over and over
like a furious referee
Have you seen him?
she says, breathlessly.
Wheaton terrier?
Toffee-coloured?
So high?
No, I say, but there’s
a golden retriever
over by the badgers
Badgers? she said.
What badgers? Where?
I turn to point
just as a toffee-coloured dog
comes trotting towards us
Isn’t it? I say
I’m not an expert
Golden retriever? she says
I’m not wearing my glasses, I say.
No? she says. Well. Never mind.
Meanwhile, the wheaton retriever
or whatever the hell it is
cuts straight past us
moving like some wanton wheaton machine
in the direction of a nearby stream
Oh for goodness sake! she says
hurrying after it
blowing her whistle
I half expect to see her
pull out a red card
and wave it in the air, too
and who knows? maybe she does
I couldn’t really say, because, well –
I’m not wearing my glasses

elegy to a cemetery crow

walking with Lola out to the woods
we cut through the cemetery straight
find a plastic rose from one of the graves
blown over by the churchyard gate

I guess they used a plastic bloom
so they didn’t have to come so often
even though they look quite cheap round a tomb
and tacky as hell on a coffin

but these are the dodges you use around death
to keep the whole thing more tractable
it makes the dead seem closer to home
and not quite so non-contactable

oh – what would they say if these bones could talk?
would they tell of their loves and caprices?
would they fling back the stones and struggle to walk
or immediately fall into pieces?

No. They are dead. The End is the End.IMG_8605
(I’m sorry to burst your bubble
but better you hear it now, from a friend,
and save yourself decades of trouble)

because death is neither a sleep nor a bourn
– the euphemisms I could mention –
and this plastic flower you brought to mourn
marks a truly natural dimension

It’s a part of life, I’m happy to say
as real as that cemetery crow
everyone has to go through it some day
– so that’s reassuring to know

 

a rose by any other name

I went on a dog walk this morning. For a change, we went to a nature reserve further west. There’s a stream that runs along the bottom of the valley there, dammed in places with branches and sticks and stuff, gnarly old trees with exposed roots along the bank, unexpected encampments in thickets of holly, shrines to dead pets, and – well – generally speaking, if you can’t get a picture there, you can’t get a picture anywhere.

It was whilst I was exploring the woods that I started to think what I might call them. I mean – they’ve got a name already, of course. Blunts Wood, no doubt because a while ago they were owned by someone called Blunt. Unless they were making some more general comment about the place. According to Webster’s, blunt means having an edge or point that is not sharp; being abrupt in speech or manner; straight to the point; slow or deficient in feeling; insensitive or obtuse – none of which particularly comes to mind when I’m watching Lola sprint ahead through the trees.

But whether it’s Blunt the family or Blunt the obtuse, (which sounds like an ancient and not particularly likeable ancestor), I think there might be better names out there.

IMG_7848Many of the trees have fallen over, lost to soil erosion, and the action of the stream that obviously floods quite regularly. And I think it’s that, along with the fantastically contorted root patterns, the thick ivy that flourishes in these dank conditions, the mud and the low light, that combine to give the place a spooky atmosphere, mossy and kind of magical. In fact, today it looks less like a nature reserve and more like a witch’s garden, exactly the secret and sacred place a tree might want to sneak off to when it felt a stirring in its sap. Maybe if I camped out long enough over there I’d see them by moonlight, slithering and rustling across the fields, then collapsing by the stream and throwing their roots into the water.

So thinking about all this, I thought I might call it the Wood of the Wayward Oak. Although there are other trees there, too, so that’s not fair. Maybe Forest of the Beguiled. Although that sounds like the trees were tempted there under false pretences – which may be the case, I don’t know. Lola certainly seems a little lost.

It’s a work in progress.

IMG_7816I have to admit, though – it was easier naming Broken Tree hill. The iconography was so much clearer: a hill with three pines on top – one of them fallen down, one of them standing up (but dead), one of them growing normally. Broken Tree hill seemed to fit straight away.

No doubt it’s already got a name. I mean, I know for a fact the land is owned by an actual farmer. He uses it as stand-by pasture for his cows in the summer, or a place to shift them over to safety when they shoot fireworks in the air in the grounds of the manor house on Bonfire Night. So I’m pretty sure it’ll already be officially catalogued in an office drawer somewhere: Farmer Whatever’s field.

It’s probably worth pointing out, though, that whether it’s Farmer Whatever’s field or Broken Tree hill, neither of them are actually true. Neither of them have anything to do with the thing itself.

For example, my parents christened me James. If you google ‘James’ you’ll find it comes from the Hebrew name Jacob, meaning supplanter or one who follows. Which is an odd couple of descriptions, by the way, because if you look up the definition of supplant in Webster’s, you get to supersede (another) especially by force or treachery. So I’d definitely be feeling anxious if the James of the First definition was doing some following of the Second.

To be fair, I think my parents called me James not because they thought I looked untrustworthy (or lost), it was more because they knew someone called James they liked, and it seemed to fit. (They gave me a middle name, too: Edward. Which together with James starts to look a little delusional, as if they had some supplanting ambitions of their own).

Anyway, truth is, I’m neither a James nor an Edward. In the same way that the parenchyma cells of the living pine, busily trying to stop it going the same way as its neighbours, would do just as good a job without a name at all, in the same way that the osteocytes maintaining my upright position at this desk couldn’t give a greater or lesser trochanter if the whole outfit ending up being called Derek. I’m a composite, an entity, a nameless thing – especially on days like today, when I’m patently using any old excuse to avoid working on the book.

So – to sum up. It’s not Broken Tree hill, it’s not The Wood of the Wayward Oak, I’m not Jim, and who the hell are you?

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the difficulty thereof

Well. He certainly liked his walks.
I’m sorry if that makes him sound like a dog
but it’s true.
Anyway. What can I say?
He took a lot of pictures.
There. A positive.
Shared them on Twitter. He Tweeted.
Was a Twitterer.
Between you and me
I don’t see much difference
between that and those crazy people you see over the park
hunched over with a bag of crusts, covered in pigeons.
Still, it gave him a sense of purpose.
To be honest, and this doesn’t go any further,
I think it’s a crying shame.
All those plans he had, all those Big Ideas.
And in the end, what did it come down to?
A scattering of snaps on some virtual table.
Each one with a cutesy title, of course,
for ease of identification, I suppose,
like those tags you see
tied on toes in the mortuary.
I mean, honestly:
sticks & stones
the rag tree
coppice storm
guardian of the way
you take my point
(That last one’s me, btw, rofl).
I mean – look at this one:
a shovel, broken in the handle
dropped in the woods.
‘Like it died and hadn’t been able to bury itself’
That’s what he told me. I said Okay Right Hmm
But isn’t that just a teensy bit morbid?
He was like that, though.
A bit dry for some.
He couldn’t just close his eyes
and feel the sun on his face.
D’you know what I mean?
He had to root around in all that shadowy shit
Bring things down
to the flare of light in a horse’s eye
or the dance of a rag tied on the lowest branch of a tree.
Or, for heaven’s sake,
a broken shovel someone tossed.
I mean, honestly.
Where’s the joy? The simple common sense?
It just goes to show,
you can lead a horse to water
but you can’t make it stop banging on
about words, art, life
and the difficulty thereof

IMG_7005

tell tails

A drive out to see Alistair for another dog walk. It’s been a while since I was here – August, in fact – and even though it’s still something of a building site, they’ve accomplished a lot. He shows me the brick reservoir they’ve renovated in the middle of the land, how they’ve organised things so that everything drains into it. He shows me the pipes they’ve run from the tank to the raised vegetable beds off to the side, and the solar pump that’ll keep a trickle supply running. It’s all very organised and admirable. He’s even using rocks they’ve scavenged from all the clearance to landscape the area around the tank and make it good.

‘You have to use your imagination’ he says, but really, it’s not such an effort.

We head down to a gap in the fence at the bottom, and out onto the neighbouring field where a dozen horses in quilted jackets stand and stare at us, their breath steaming around them in the brisk morning air. Ailsa lies down and stares back, obviously wanting to round them up, but Alistair whistles for her to come, which she does, so quickly it’s as if she materialises from one spot to another.
‘Good girl’ says Alistair.

Meanwhile, Lola has chased after Dexter, heading for the woods. Lola would’ve caught him a few years ago, but these days she’s slowing up. Dexter leaves her behind, galumphing into the undergrowth and disappearing.
‘Dexter’s staying for a while,’ says Alistair discreetly, like he’s describing a guest at a rehab facility. ‘There’s something going on at home,’ he adds, darkly.
Ailsa has already overtaken Lola as they both chase after Dexter into the woods. Lola’s in love with Dexter. It wouldn’t surprise me if a little later we found their names carved by claw into a tree. A heart with an arrow, initials, kisses.

‘I’ve been getting into coding’ says Alistair, ducking under a wire fence. ‘It’s amazing how everything’s come on. It wasn’t so long ago you’d be struggling with a big old text book that was out of date as soon as you opened it. Now you can log onto forums and watch people explain it all on YouTube. It’s so much easier.’
‘I know! When I think how hard origami used to be, trying to figure out those drawings – dotted lines for a valley fold, a kinked arrow for a squash fold. Half the time I’d give up. Now you just watch a clip on YouTube. We had a whole series of origami books written by Robert Harbin. Is that how you say it? Harbin? It’s funny – I’ve never said it out loud before. It sounds made up.’
‘No, no. I think Harbin’s right.’
‘I bet no-one’s publishing origami books anymore.’
‘Or code books.’
‘Or any books!’

It suddenly strikes me. We are almost certainly the biggest nerds ever to walk through these woods. It’s probably a good thing duck season hasn’t started.

Alistair yawns whilst I stop to take some pictures of a derelict railway bridge, the tracks IMG_6633gone, the brick parapet breached by thick stems of ivy.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘I got up so early this morning.’
‘Why? Couldn’t you sleep?’
‘No – it was just that when I went to bed I was trying to figure out a tricky bit of code, and then about four o’clock, I sat up straight from a dream, and I was convinced it was telling me the answer. So I went downstairs and tried it out.’
‘Did it work?’
‘No,’ he says. ‘Complete garbage. I’ve been yawning ever since.’
‘I remember reading about this chemist who was trying to figure out the molecular structure of benzene, and he had a dream about a snake with its tail in its mouth, and that’s how he figured it out.’
‘I read that, too’ says Alistair. ‘Bastard.’

The dogs appear again, Dexter first, closely followed by Lola and Ailsa. We come to another stile. There’s an elderly woman the other side, rattling a bag of treats and shouting Arthur! All three dogs leap through the gap and sit around her.
‘You’re not Arthur,’ she says, but they carry on sitting anyway.
‘Lost your dog?’ says Alistair, climbing over.
‘I’ve only had him two weeks,’ she says.
The woman is strangely dressed for the muddy conditions. She’s wearing a red two piece suit with a fur trim, soft leather boots, and a pointy, green velvet hat. In fact, it’d be easier to think she she was on her way to an audition for Robin Hood than taking a dog called Arthur for a walk. But who knows? Maybe this is all a last minute decision.
‘Are your dogs okay with other dogs?’ she says.
‘Fine’ says Alistair. The worst Ailsa will do is round him up.’
‘And Lola’s too busy with Dexter to notice anyone else.’
The old woman cuts across us.
‘There!’ she says, pointing with the treat bag. ‘Arthur!’
We all turn to look (including the dogs).
Arthur turns out to be a heavy Alsatian, warily hanging back on the brow of the hill. I must admit I’m shocked. I was expecting something smaller. I can’t imagine the woman being able to hold onto a hound as substantial as Arthur. She’d be safer throwing a saddle on his back and riding him home.
‘Arthur!’ cries the old woman again, shaking the bag of treats in the air again. The dogs – giving up on the treats as any kind of prospect – jump to their feet and race up the hill to intercept him, Dexter and Ailsa making the running, Lola tagging on behind.
‘Are you sure they’ll be alright?’ says the woman.
‘Of course!’ says Alistair. ‘Just look at those tails!’

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up on the downs

I took the dog on a walk
we hadn’t done in a while
ten miles south of here
up on the downs

I parked in a lay-by in the lee
Lola ran on ahead
I strode behind
clapping my hands
drunk in the early light and line
glad of everything
taking pictures
trying to leave myself behind
and already – look!
fungus stepped like ears on the stump of an elder;
a twist of fleece on a hawthorn;
graffiti on a beech;
a lifted cover on a mine shaft
on and on, higher and higher
up to a line of golden sheep
staring as I tried for the shot
is one of them wearing a hat?

on the way back down
exploring an unexpected tributary
of the quarry at the bottom of the lane
I came across a wide scattering of junk
everything you could think of, really
fridge, TV, sofa
the only thing lacking
a family to sit on it
I liked the TV best
its screen blown, a tangle of weeds
lolling out in real HD
it was only when I knelt down
to frame the shot
I realised I was surrounded by glass
poor Lola would cut her paws
how would THAT look?
I put the camera away
called Lola (in a softer voice;
hoping she wouldn’t dash after me
quite so crazily)
and walked back to the car

home is due north
it couldn’t be simpler
but for some reason
I put on the sat nav
why, i’m not sure
I liked the warmth
of the car heater
the roll of the road
Lola watchingIMG_6591
from the back
and, I don’t know
maybe I just needed
something else
a few clear words
a sense of direction
to go with all that

the man who found too much

I’m balanced precariously on a limb of the fallen pine at Broken Tree Hill, taking pictures, when I see Stan striding down the slope towards me with Moffat and Briggs, his two brindle greyhounds.
‘Beautiful day!’ he shouts, swiping off his hat and waving it in the air, strands of pure white hair standing up over his balding head, very much like the clouds over the hill.
‘Lovely!’ I wave back. ‘Just beautiful…’
The greyhounds trot over to check me out; I run my fingers over Briggs’ nobbly spine whilst Moffat noses around my pockets; when I reach Briggs’ head, he pushes up against my hand, signalling the end of this particular meeting. The two of them trot off to see what my dog’s up to, and I chat to Stan.
‘Oh – I meant to email you but forgot. I found another tool over the woods.’
‘Another one?’ says Stan, rotating his hat a couple of times, pulling it back on, and then standing heroically, hands on hips. ‘What tool? Where?’
‘Over there…’ I say, gesturing to the southern end of the woods.
‘You’ll have to be more specific,’ he says.
‘A handsaw. Among the sweet chestnuts near the meeting place.
‘A handsaw?’
‘A good one. I hid it under the log pile. Again.’
I can see he’s a little annoyed. I mean – it was only last year we had that strange business with the shrub-cutters.

Stan is part of the woodland posse that meets every Monday to maintain the paths and stiles and so on. They’ve got a little tin shack in the middle of the woods, hidden in the middle of a holly thicket. Just next to the shack is a larger clearing in the middle of which are five log benches, each being a wired stack of timber with a flatter piece on top for the seat. The benches are arranged in a pentagonal shape around a fire pit. They call this the meeting place, and even though I’ve never seen a meeting there, I can easily imagine them together at the end of the day, the flames throwing their shadows back into the trees.
Last year I was over the woods when I found an expensive pair of shrub-cutters. I took them back to the shack, hid them under a pile of timber at the side, thinking I’d email the group to let them know what I’d done. Half way back through the woods I found another pair – which freaked me out at the time. I mean – finding one pair of shrub-cutters was unusual, but two? What did it mean? Was someone trying to tell me something? Feeling strangely observed, I’d retraced my steps, put the second shrub-cutters with the first, and thought some more about that email.

But nothing happened.

Now and again on the morning walk I’d go via the shack to see if the shrub-cutters had been collected. A month later they were still there. Two months. I emailed the group a couple more times. No reply. I’d pretty much given up on the whole thing until I happened to see Stan over the woods again. He’d been away on a long trip, he said. He hadn’t been checking the group email, and none of the others knew how. He thanked me for saving the shrub-cutters, and said they’d better start signing the tools in and out at the beginning of each shift, so they wouldn’t lose anything else.

And yet – here we are with the handsaw. I feel like asking him about the list, but don’t.

‘You’re always finding things,’ he says.
‘I know! I think if you did a DNA screen you’d probably find my great great great grandma was a jackdaw.’
He laughs, but then hesitates, looking at me out of the corner of his eye, like he’s not sure whether there’s something else going on here that he’s not seeing.
‘Anyway – thanks again!’ he says at last, then clapping his gloved hands together, turns and strides off down the hill.

‘Moffat! Briggs! Come on!’

I watch them enter the woods.

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crowning

I don’t know what was more painful yesterday when I had my crown done: the drilling, or the squabbling between the dentist and her assistant.
‘What are you doing now?’ she says, glancing up through her spattered face guard at the young girl in the corner.
‘I’m spraying the tray.’
‘Well don’t spray the tray. You don’t need to spray the tray. It makes no difference.’
‘But…’
‘No buts. Just pass me the something-technical. Not that one, the other one. Thank you.’
The way she says thank you. Clamped more tightly than my head.
‘And then something-else-technical please.’ *sigh* ‘No. That’s the other-technical-thing. I want the something-else-technical please.’
Which turns out to be a thunderingly slow drill bit, the kind of thing you might use to scour a tunnel through a mountain, or maybe one of those heavy floor polishers, miniaturised, studded with diamonds.
The dentist frowns at the assistant whilst she snaps it off and snaps on something even more terrifying, dropping the other one into her tray with a clatter.
‘You don’t need to change your gloves,’ she says. ‘Why are you changing your gloves?’
‘I thought…’
‘Keep the gloves. We’re not made of gloves.’
She sighs.
The assistant moves to the other side of the room.
More drilling.
‘Suction!’ says the Dentist. ‘My patient cannot swallow.’
The assistant hurries back over and jabs me in the uvula with the hoovula.
I can’t help gagging.
‘Eeeezzzzy now,’ says the Dentist. ‘There you go! That’s got it!’

dog training

Walking with Lola over the woods today. A stout, bush-hatted, wax-cotton jacketed woman appears, striding stick-first through the rain, accompanied by a black and white collie cross that even from here I can tell is happy to be out despite the weather. As soon as the dog sees us it comes bounding over, instantly nose to nose with Lola, both of them doing that excited dog thing, where they straighten their front legs and make feinting half-jumps, like they’re practising CPR, tails up. I’m happy for them to run around after each other for a while, but the woman starts shouting: Candy! No! Come here, Candy! Come here!
I want to shout back that it’s okay – but I don’t, because I remember when we had our first dog, Buzz, and what a scrappy dog he was, picking fights for no apparent reason, despite the fact we took him to dog obedience classes, where – of course – he was the best behaved dog there.
‘Diamond dog, your dog’ said the trainer.
And all we could take from that was that it was all our fault. Buzz wasn’t scrappy with anyone else. He took his cue from us.
Anyway, the point is, whenever Buzz ran up to another dog, the dog’s owner would invariably shout It’s okay! He’s fine with other dogs! And what we wanted to shout back was Yours, may be…

Candy’s owner has planted her walking stick in the ground and is yelling now.
Candy! Come here! I said – COME HERE! in a surprisingly harsh tone, like a prison guard on a work detail, levering shells into a shotgun.
Even Lola seems cowed.
Candy obviously recognises the change in tone. She looks at Lola, then at me, then at Lola again, and is suddenly away. Seconds later I watch her sit at the woman’s frog-eyed wellies, looking up.
I expect to see the woman lean down and fuss Candy for being such a good dog coming back (and I’m all set to give them both a cheery wave). What actually happens is that the woman wags a finger in Candy’s face: Why don’t you come back when I tell you to? she says, which doesn’t seem at all fair. Lesson over, she pulls her walking stick out of the ground ready to carry on, but then stops again and looks back down at the dog, as if Candy has added something only she could hear.
Because I said so! snaps the woman – and the two of them move away into the gloom.

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