Friday, 5 August 2016
In need of company? Desperate for a chat?
Get a dog, or, even better, get a dog and come and live in Valley’s End.
This morning I hadn’t even set foot in the road beyond the field and cattle grid when two gentlemen walking along stopped and hailed me. I was pushing a wheelbarrow full of stuff for the rubbish bin down the drive and one of the chaps came and pushed it the last five meters to the gate for me. One of them had been away on holiday, so we hugged a ‘hallo,-lovely-to-see-you-back” hug. All three of us stopped for a chat and the holiday maker said he had something for us and would come round later.
They went off and I saw Dave leading Badger and Murphy, his two collies, on the other side of the road. I still hadn’t left my own drive. I hailed Dave and he came over. Millie greeted Badger and Murphy and I enquired why I hadn’t seen Dave for three weeks or more. Was he well? Had they been away? Yes, all was fine but “you know how it is. Sometimes we change routines.” Dave is normally someone I meet up with, via dog-walking, twice a week at least. He’s a kind chap, does neighbourly deeds for people in need without making a fuss. He’s helped Kevin in the past, or, as he likes to be called, Kev, the chap for whom the glass is always half empty. The ex-alcoholic who makes sure everybody knows that he is not long for this world. Kevin the wood carver.
Kev is a sad chap, even more so now that he’s lost Sam, his one and only true friend. Sam was very old and has been deteriorating for a while. All praise to Kev for having kept him alive for as long as he did. But now Sam’s gone. I knocked on Kev’s door to tell him how sorry I was and asked what had happened with Sam. “Thank you for calling, but I don’t want to talk about it.” Kev’s eyes are always a bit rheumy, this time they were more watery than ever, but he didn’t actually cry. Kev often used to call on us with Sam; Sam always got a treat. Now I won’t be seeing Kev out again. Some people say that there are plenty of dogs in need of a loving home, perhaps Kev will take on another reject, but maybe not just yet.
Sue and Joe, the retired vicar, weren’t sure they'd have another dog after Jake died, very recently. He was a beauty, a long haired golden retriever with a mind of his own. Jake insisted that he would go for at least one paddle a day, come rain or shine, hell or high water. The latter literally. He plunged in even when the river was running in spate and the water icy cold. Millie and Jake got on very well, both being old and a bit disdainful of these young whippersnappers racing round the field over and over again, yipping madly; then taking a break and pestering the older, more dignified generation, shoving their noses up under their tails and sniffing their bottoms. Most intrusive, no wonder Millie and Jake growled occasionally.
Now, less than two months later, I see Sue with a new golden retriever, Alfie, who’d lost his previous home. Sue and Joe felt their very small house wasn’t complete without a large dog cluttering up the bit of free space they own, and went looking for a living rug to shed his long fur over every surface. Sue and Alfie are a well matched pair already, she smiles all over her benevolent, round, face every time we meet and tells me how well and thoroughly Alfie has already settled into their routine. Alfie already has her sussed. “Every time he sees me handle the roll of blue poo bags he makes for the door. He knows a blue bag means walkies.” Of course he does, dogs aren’t stupid, no matter what cat lovers say. No doubt Alfie will accept Joe as his owner soon enough and Joe too will join the dog walking fraternity again.
Then there’s Robin, the part-time-post-retirement-brewer who works at the local pub but still has time to come out with mad Horace, the speediest whippet-cum-lurcher-cum-unknown-hairy-creature who can cover the hundred meter field in two-and-a-bit seconds. Robin throws a ball for him with one of those long-handled contraptions, giving him and me plenty of time to chat, while Horace with the black eye patch flies off, stretching out horizontally, feet never touching the ground. There’s Jim-the-tooth with his whippet-lurcher combo, who isn’t quite as fast as Horace but still likes to run for Horace’s ball and nick it if he gets half a chance.
Or there’s the lady with the wild blond hair and her greyhound Archie; she also brings her husband who has suffered a stroke and lost the power of speech. Perhaps that’s why she always talks and talks and talks; I rarely understand what she’s saying because she mumbles rather, flicks her hair out of her eyes and adjusts the tweed capes she wears, summer and winter, while talking. She’s rather sweet, her husband lumbers awkwardly across the field, grunting at her, encouraging her to help him to the bridge and back to the car long before she’s ready. She and I commiserate with each other about the boring and unpleasant side of being full time carers.
Jane, a large, sightly mannish lady brings Buster, an equally large chocolate labrador. Jane is unmarried and childless, an ex-teacher, who talks to her dogs like she must have talked to her pupils once upon a time, kindly but firm, pretending to be the boss, while all the time they run rings around her.
These are just a few of the regular dog walkers I run across, there are many others and all of them will stop to chat. And I haven’t even mentioned trips to the shop yet. Often Millie gets tied to the railings at the entrance, where she collects a circle of admirers in no time, all of whom first talk to her, then me, until a small knot of people, arriving and leaving, blocks the entrance and makes the traffic slow down where the road meets the narrow pavement.
Valley’s End is a very friendly place. From what I’ve written here it may look as if only dog walkers take the time to exchange pleasantries with each other. That’s far from the case. Even the surgery is a busy hub of social intercourse. But dog walkers are a special breed, and if they have nothing else in common they share the bond of love for man’s best friend.