A day or two ago, Mum said “we should start taking down the Christmas decorations bit by bit – it’s easier than taking them all down in one fell swoop.”
I began with the bears on the stairs… a lot of them lost the little sparkling pieces they were holding in their paws. The tinsel draped on mirrors and other surfaces by the stairs came down too, till I had a respectable pile of garlands waiting to be put away.
At tea time I walked Thundercloud. It was freezing but not too bad, till all of a sudden I got this feeling deep in my bones that the temperature had that very second stepped beyond the line of what was acceptable, freeze-wise, and the gathering clouds and general light was just somehow… not good any more. The dog and I were going back home. Now. And we wished we weren’t quite that far away.
When we got back to N’s house, I let Thundercloud rush in for her tea. Mum was coming out, and we walked home together.
A wet snowflake went SPLAT…. intolerable. As a hint to walk faster, I said to Mum “it’s starting to snow.” Her pace didn’t change, and the steadily increasing snowflakes melted and splotched on my glasses. I hate having to view the world through a blurry screen of waterdrops, which was why I wanted to hurry.
A little further along, Mum slowed right down till she had almost stopped, and said “I invited N. to tea. I thought it would be nice to do it now while the house is bright and cheerful with all the decorations.”
“OK, fine,” I said.
(I thought to myself, “couldn’t you have told me that when we were inside, warm, and dry? Why are we slowing down on a freezing, blowy and snowy road to discuss this? And guess who will be replacing all the tinsel that got taken down because you said it would be a good idea to start taking it down now?”)
Since we were walking slowly through the wet snow anyway, I decided to get my own conversational mileage out of it. “When I was walking Thundercloud, I found it was warmer in the woods than on the road.”
Silence while Mum looked off in completely the other direction.
“Did you hear…?”
Looks round innocently – “what?”
“I sai…”, I began, only to be immediately interrupted by a definite nod of her head. “Yes, it’s always colder on the road.” Then she went ahead up the driveway – the conversation was at an end.
We finally got inside and looked out, and the slush was belting down in the gathering darkness.
I went upstairs to clear up a few odds and ends, and Sharky came along, stared gauntly at his food bowl, and announced in clear, ringing tones that he was a very sick cat and his supper should have been waiting for him already.
Well, cat, we were standing outside in the snowstorm talking about how cold it was on the road. Somebody has to do it…
Out for a walk with Thundercloud, I was passing through the town’s forest conservation area, if that’s the right term for it – footpaths, small bridges, trees, stumps, grass, banks of primroses and daffodils, cherry blossom, toadstools and meandering burns. A popular place for birds, squirrels, dog walkers and Sunday strollers. Palely loitering in the middle of it all was a mother and her three-year-old.
They seemed to be waiting for me and Thundercloud, so I paused.
“Hello,” she said, trees rustling behind her, “do you know where Morrisons the supermarket is?”
Later on I had tea with N. (Thundercloud’s owner) and Mum, and told them about my encounter. After they finished laughing, Mum said “that reminds me of an old Irish joke. A tourist, lost in the middle of nowhere, asked an Irish man ‘please could you tell me the way to Dublin?’ The Irish man stopped to consider, scratching his head, and finally suggested, ‘well, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here.'”
Edit Jan 2008: I’m unable to transfer my old comments across from Blogigo, but I liked this one from KateBlogs:
May 5, 2006 at 16:53:
What a strange encounter LOL.
Your Mum’s joke reminds of something that hapened to my Gran. Years ago, she was sitting in the park in Stratford on Avon, when a man came up and asked the way to Wales. No specific part, just Wales.
An experience from June 2004:
I walked Thundercloud and managed to get lost in a wood. Setting off between the cool trees, I felt uneasy. Lots of people walk this way, but what if one of those big black ‘Beasts of Bodmin Moor’ (or whatever) is around somewhere, perhaps lurking just behind the next bush?
There was a sharp dip in the ground where we had to cross a muddy runlet – Thundercloud stopped and looked round anxiously. She seemed to sense something, and didn’t know if she should go on. I clapped her rump and said “move”. If there was a big black beast around, crouching behind a tree stump, the best thing was to keep on our way – confidently and noisily. Cats, I can handle. I’ve got three of my own at home.
I thought I knew that route but it didn’t turn out how I expected. The track went on and on – and on. I thought it would continue to the edge of the world, the forest never-ending and the burn meandering forever through its tangled groove.
The track disappeared, and we passed through a dark mossy ‘basin’ – dank, depressing, and filled with crisp packets and empty beer cans. My sandals sank into the moss and very little light filtered through the overhanging trees. Eventually we scrambled up a steep bank and emerged into a field I didn’t recognize. I looked around disbelievingly. I couldn’t remember any of my previous walks ending up here. It was like reaching out to touch the back of the wardrobe and ending up in Narnia.
I took a step or two along the edge of the field, then turned to see where I had come up, and it wasn’t visible. It was all grass, shrubs and trees. I had visions of myself hunting desperately for the way back, so memorized the landmarks – those houses just visible over there – that gorse bush over there – best of all, the blasted oak. Yes, that’s the guy. Better still, let’s just go straight back down.
It was like crawling down a hole into the dark underworld. Thundercloud kept shoving her nose into the long grass all around as though she was convinced something had died in there. “No,” I thought, “I can’t go back down there! Not where the dead beer cans are!” I hesitated, then remembered the band of gritty adventurers in The Lord of the Rings. A brown blackbird suddenly whirred down into the hole and was gone. “If birds are about, there can’t be anything nasty lurking…” It was like a sign.
Going back down, we pushed our way through a large patch of nettles – my legs were bare but I didn’t particularly care, just got on with it. Thundercloud decided she wasn’t so keen on the nettles and let me go ahead while she sheltered her sensitive nose behind me.
We slunk back along the dark path, trees crowding in close and twigs snapping underfoot. Sometimes, just as I was walking along a precarious bit with a sudden drop beside me, Thundercloud would slither rapidly down the hill and barge into my legs.
I thought to myself “if this was the Lost World I wouldn’t last more than two minutes. I would scuffle straight along this path till a T-Rex or a litter of raptor babies appeared, and then I’d just scream and run along the path some more till they got their act together and brought me down. Thundercloud would be no help – she would yank the leash out of my hand and run a bit faster than me. Maybe she would get home to N. while the baby raptors were still chewing on my bones. If I managed to hold onto her she’d help me fight them but that seems a bit mean as they’d just eat her too. Would I make her stay or let her run? She’s quite strong and pulls me along with her, so I think I’d hang on!”
Having settled that to my satisfaction, I jumped when something popped up behind a fallen log – but it was just a large golden retriever, bending a motherly eye on Thundercloud. Behind her came a human mother with her children and a second retriever. I was quite relieved to find there was other raptor fodder about.
By the time Thundercloud and I got all the way back to where we started, I’d had enough and thought “let’s just go straight back to N.’s”. It was only 10 minutes from where we stood but our hour was already up.
The nettle stings tingled all night.
I remember a story told by Mum – or was it Gran? Boys chased her home from school and she ran straight through a patch of nettles, knowing they wouldn’t dare follow her – and they didn’t! I didn’t remember the story till I had already tramped stolidly through the nettle patch and gone home. Getting back to civilization was more important than any little dangers and inconveniences such as hostile vegetation, tree roots, steep precipices and rusting beer cans.
I’m back walking Thundercloud, and it’s freezing. I didn’t think my winter coat was thick enough to protect me, so I crossed my white teddy bear scarf over my shoulders and down the front to block the chill, which it did quite well. I always think of the old Chalet School books when I put on my scarf. I thought it was terrible the way the mistresses and prefects dictated every little thing you did, including the best way to don a scarf, but perhaps they were right.
I was relieved to find that the bright sun was more than just a promise – the air was still cold, but the sun’s touch was warm. Snowdrops bent their bright heads at the foot of trees and in every shadowy corner.
The duck pond was covered with a light film of jagged ice. Hailstones clattered down as though a goddess had broken a necklace of shining white beads. The beads scudded across the road, blown by the wind, then disappeared as though swept up by invisible hands.
The sky is blue, the sun shines… the cold is being driven back till night falls again.
I thought I was having a break from dogs today! Someone else is walking Thundercloud, and Wee Hairy Dog has gone home. So I headed out to the small supermarket next door.
The intention was to get their special cheapo brand of washing powder, but they had something new that was three times the price. I held back, and got other things instead. A half-price duck for the cats and me, along with other odds and ends. Kept the basket light as I would have to carry it home.
While I was over at the far side of the supermarket, frowning with disappointment at the choice of washing powder, the tinned music suddenly cut out with an audible scrape.
“Ahhmmrgghrh mmmgmmmhh hmmmlb,” said a voice over the tannoy.
With this sort of hearing loss, you hear the voice but not the words.
“That’s odd,” I thought – “they don’t usually bark things over the tannoy here – it’s just a wee supermarket. I hope there isn’t something going on, like a fire, and we all have to leave!”
The tinned music returned, and I thought “nah – more likely they’re not sure how much the toilet paper is, or one of their tills has broken down.”
After a minute, the voice was back.
“Grhmfphrb girn mrhmmagre mn barkurrur,” it said.
“Well,” I thought, I should just pop over there and see what’s going on – maybe there’s a bomb and they want me to leave! It’s stupid just standing here assuming the tannoy has nothing to do with me.”
Cautiously I went round by the tills – a couple was just leaving the supermarket, the doors wide open. They were looking back at something I couldn’t see, grinning. Everybody else had stopped what they were doing and were craning their necks in the same direction – reminiscent of a Giles cartoon.
A man appeared, dragging a yellow Labrador dog by the collar. It didn’t appear to have a leash, and didn’t want to leave. It was probably too interested in the food.
“Ah, so,” I thought, breathing a sigh of relief, and returned to my shopping.
When I took my food to the magazine till (as none of the ‘conveyor belt’ tills seemed to be open), two young men, about 22, were buying about four carrier bags of food. They eventually left, and I bought my food (just one carrier bag). I went out through the automatic doors, and nearly got mown down by the yellow Labrador, which was hurtling around like a missile. For a moment I thought it was going to run past me into the supermarket again.
It turned back, and I saw the two men were standing beside the doors, throwing things for it to catch.
I set off across the car park and crossed the road. A yellow dog ran past me. I looked round and the young men were behind, but angling their path so that they would step onto the pavement ahead of me, rather than behind. I’m always meeting with this assumption from young men that they have a natural right to be ahead, and it never fails to drive my blood pressure sky high. If they wanted to get home in such a hurry, did they have to stop for a game of frisbee in front of the supermarket doors? They could have left well ahead of me – would already be nearly home.
They got past, but not as fast as they would have liked – I eventually stopped so that we wouldn’t have to continue walking neck by neck. Then the dog galloped across the road to interfere with a woman coming the other way; she had a very small dog on a leash. The men called their dog back, but it didn’t respond right away, continuing to rush around like a mad thing.
I got home quite a bit crosser than when I left. I thought I was having a nice quiet Sunday…
Though eager to set out for a walk, N.’s dog was in a bad mood. When I pulled out a drawer to get her lead and collar, she reared up and slammed a large clawed foot on my hand. I could feel the shock run up my arm.
During the walk, she suddenly headed off down side turnings as though to say “well I don’t care what YOU want to do, I’M going down here.” When crossing roads, she shouldered in front of me, placing a paw squarely on my foot. When we came across a nice muddy bit of grass, she rolled over and rubbed her halter in the mud, one gleaming eye fixed on my face. While ambling along a pavement, she decided it was time to cross, and swerved sharply across my path.
Mum said, “Don’t let her off with it!”
“With what?” I asked, brows beginning to beetle warningly.
“With being bossy.”
“I didn’t say I let her off with anything,” I said.
We cut through a park, following a winding trail. N.’s dog stopped to pay her respects to the soil on one side of the track. It was covered with a thick layer of last autumn’s leaves. Having finished, she turned round and enthusiastically kicked up the leaves into a whirling maelstrom. Green doggie bag in hand, I waited patiently.
She stepped back onto the path. Behind her was a dark scar in the earth where she had scraped away the leaves, and next to the scar lay her ‘present’, still in full view.
“You missed a bit,” I complained, pointing, but she ambled off without a backward glance. Well, at least it’s someone else’s turn tomorrow.