I think I may have lamented, a couple of dozen times or so, the complete washout that last year was.
Well we haven’t had any rain for a few weeks now, so the ground being dry, I thought it would be nice to take the dog for a run on the fields in the morning. It was still cold, the watery sun a faded disc mostly obscured by cloud. The fields still lay yellow and sullen, though the earth was no longer as iron, the air no longer as glass.
There are definite signs these days that life is now beginning to stretch its weary limbs, not least the solitary fly last night that caused my two year old son to turn hysterical, and yesterday’s butterfly seeking out the vanguard of flowers.
My dog is a large eight year old Golden Retriever named Rydal. He was named after the place my wife and I were walking when we decided on the breed of dog we were going to get. You see I had grown up with large German Shepherd dogs, my wife with a small West Highland Terrier, so we decided to meet somewhere in the middle. (Or that was the plan-Rydal grew larger than any of us thought was possible. That’s what happens when you feed them.) We were walking around Rydal Water in the Lake District, when a woman approached us with two dogs, both Retrievers. One was old and blind, the other was young and acted as the eyes for his mate, guiding him along as they walked along the water’s edge. Asked what their temperament was like, the dogs owner replied with a theatrical “Wonderful, just wonderful.” So we decided on a Golden Retriever, named after the place where we reached agreement. Just as well it was Rydal Water, as I would not fancy shouting “Bassenthwaite!” every time I attempted to bring him to heel.
When I first go to put him on the lead, even though he shows initial excitement, he flattens his ears and turns away. I guess that is the ultimate paradox for him-to gain a measure of freedom he must first go under the yoke.
I took him off the lead, and he raced ahead in his restored, usual, unadulterated joy.
Running to the fields edge, among the bare silver birch, he began to roll around in the grass. Over and over on his back, laughing. Alright-he wasn’t actually laughing, but anybody who has a dog will understand what I mean. After a few minutes I shouted him back, but in his enjoyment he just ignored me. I laughed as I watched him on his back, legs kicking in the air like an upended woodlouse.
But I was upwind of him.
Eventually, reluctantly, he came over to me. As I bent to put him back under the dreaded yoke, I got the first whiff. He stunk. Not just stunk, he reeked.“Aww-what’s that smell?” He cast a guilty eye towards me. All the way back to the house, that putrid stench hung over us. On closer examination, whilst holding my breath, I saw his fur was darkened and rancid. Perhaps it was stagnant water that had somehow seeped through the soil to the surface of what from a distance just looked like grass. I didn’t know what it was. But once we got home, it spread.
First it stunk out the kitchen where he lay panting, then it infected the lounge, then crept its way up the stairs. Cue some Oscar nominations for the kids. Two year old James began the performances by scrunching up his nose and exclaiming “Eww!!!” Then twelve year old Courtney made gagging actions exclaiming “What is THAT??” Then five year old Millie threw herself dramatically upon the floor in front of the kitchen gate “That is disgusting!”
The dog was getting a complex.
Courtney’s theory was that Rydal had been rolling around in horse crap.” No-it was among the trees where horses don’t walk.” Millie reckoned he had been rolling around on a dead cat. Visions of him wearing it around his neck like a fox fur.
When we first got him I could hold him in one hand. To wash him I would carry him upstairs to the bath. There was no way I could do that now. Not without a stairlift for dogs.
I think I have just discovered a gap in the market.
An action plan was made. James would be put in his buggy on the decking where he wouldn’t be knocked over. We couldn’t use the outdoor tap as it was still lagged against the winter freeze (ie wrapped in teatowels and carrier bags) and was just cold water. It was cold enough outside. So the kids would form a human chain passing pans of warm water to me as I baptised him in the name of hygiene.
The best laid plans of mice and men.
Jame’s buggy was in the wife’s car boot, and she had taken it to work, so we had to put him in the high chair, which caused him throughout our endeavours to shout “Din-dins! Din-dins!” at 10.30 in the morning. The full pans were a struggle to be carried-one was dropped (“don’t damage the decking”) one was spilled down Millie’s leg (another Oscar nomination) and to boot I had got the conditioner instead of the shampoo, which just made him all spiky. So, as I tried to sort out these mishaps, holding on to the dog’s collar, he jerked around like an epileptic oversized hedgehog as I developed tennis elbow.
Calling it a day I let go of him and everybody ran for cover as he violently shook himself, water cascading over us as even James stopped shouting “din-dins.”
I left him out in the back to dry off in the breeze (the dog that is, not James,) having to knock on the window a few times to deter him from rolling around on what used to be the rockery (he long ago had eaten all the plants and buried the rocks.) He would bark to be let back in-more window knocks. My wife would often say “I’ve never known a dog not want to be outside before” as he would often only last five minutes in the back before barking and gazing pleadingly at the windows.
Eventually, his fur began to dry, taking on a cleaner, fluffier look. After lunch I thought it would be okay for him to come back indoors, and shouted him in. He came racing in, tail wagging, no longer a look of guilt upon his face.
You know what? He still stunk.
Rydal in lovely, clean snow.