thesticks

"I'm tired," said the Student, "on my time it's 3am."

"A nice, brisk, Winter walk will wake you up. Let's have some breakfast and then we'll go. The Webmaster will make us some porridge."

"Oatmeal. The Americans call it oatmeal."

"Well these are rolled oats. We used to get oatmeal but its quicker to make with the rolled oats and easier to get them gluten free."

"No, they call the porridge oatmeal."

 We are just back from the airport after meeting the Student. The dogs are making a fuss of her. The Webmaster makes the porridge. 

"You'll need better shoes than those," I say, pointing to her canvas pumps.

"How far are we going? I'll wear my wellington boots."

"Not far. They should be OK if you put thick socks on. We won't be on much hard ground."

The dogs are getting excited. It is a bright day.

"It seemed quite mild out," I say. 

"Yes, 'terribly mild'", jokes the Webmaster.

"You are joking. It's freezing," complained the Student. She is attempting to push her feet into her wellington boots and failing miserably. Her foot gets stuck with her heel still half way up the calf.

"I'll hold it, you push." With a bit of pushing and tugging we get her feet into the boots. Then she dresses up like an eskimo about to go on a two day hunting trip across the Arctic.

"What?" she asks as we stare at her.

"You'll get too hot once we've been walking for a while."

We set off down the lane. 

"I can hear squeeking. I think it's coming from your boots," the Student turns her attention to the Webmaster's feet. "Yes it is, listen."

"It's just a stone stuck in the sole," explains the Webmaster.

"You'll get to see real mud again," I warn the Student.

"We get mud in California."

"How if it doesn't rain?"

"I rains sometimes. For a whole day recently. Everyone was very excited."

We squeeze over the stile and step into the mud. The Old Dog looks for a dry way to cross, stepping onto the clumps that still resemble grass.

"They must pray for rain. There's been a serious drought in California. The state governer is pressing ahead with tough new environmental policies. He said Trump's election wont stop them. I don't blame him, he needs to think of the people in his state."

"Did you know in the US it is a lot more expensive to go to uni outside your own state? That's why most of the people at Calpoly are from California. I don't think that's a good idea. They don't seem to know much about anywhere else."

"That's not exclusive to Americans. It sounds like the Brexit ideal. You can only think your own country or state has a monopoly on good ideas if you don't look anywhere else."

"But one of my friends thought that parallel parking in the UK would be easier because the driver would be closer to the kerb because we drive on the left."

"Easy mistake to make."

A bird is singing loudly in one of the trees off to our left but we can't see it.  I am starting to get warm but despite climbing up the hill the Student is still wrapped up so that only part of her face is showing. "Aren't you getting warm yet?" She looks puzzled as though the word has no meaning here.

The view is hazy and there is still mist in the valleys.

"Nice, but not as good as the view across Shutlingsloe this morning," I say. "It's a pity we didn't have a camera. Those two cattle and the hill almost silhouetted against the clouds behind it, with the mist in the valley, would have made a good photo."

We turn left at the exit to the car park, walk past the pub and left again, as though heading home.

"Is that it, are we just walking back now, along the road?" asks the Student.

"No we are going right, there. Through that stile and then down through the fields and farm yard to Holehouse."

There are three stiles in quick succession. The first causes no difficulty, the second appears to be precarious and the Student is reluctant to put her weight on the bar, but it holds. The Young Dog attempts to leap it in one go and misses, he catches part of his undercarriage on the post, yelps and leaves a large clump of fur behind. The Webmaster panics, but the dog is alright. The Old Dog waits and then squeezes under the stile. It takes her a few seconds to straighten up once on the other side.

The next stile is a stone squeeze, but the Young Dog decides to jump. This time he narrowly clears it, but it is close and the Webmaster yelps on his behalf. The first section of the path is flooded in places and the surrounding ground is soft and muddy.

"Keep the dog out of the water and the mud," instructs the Webmaster,  "she won't get clean or dry and I scrubbed down all the chairs yesterday." He is concerned that the Old Dog will mess up the leather furniture again, with good reason; she is always doing it. The dogs splatter mud everywhere. All over the new cupboards in the kitchen and up the walls in the hall and stairway. The Old Dog curls up on one of the chairs where the mud in her coat dries and falls off, grinding itself into the creases in the leather.

At the top of the field the Webmaster opens the gate and we walk through and continue onto the track down to the farmyard.

"This is an alternative way to come back from the bottom of Holehouse Lane on a run, it's very steep but no so long," I suggest to the Student. She doesn't reply.

The farmyard is busy and we steer the dogs round the farm vehicles.

"Shall we go down the garden path?" I ask.

"No," replied the Webmaster immediately.

"He doesn't like going along paths that cut through gardens," I explain to the Student. "We'd better go to the road then."

"Is this a private access road to that farm?" asks the Webmaster.

"There are two properties: the farm and the house on the bend with the garden path."

"It looks too well made to be private road," observed the Student.

At the end of the road the Student, with the Young Dog, turns left.

"Right" we shoutin unison.

"We aren't going back up the road, there is a path through the fields that comes out at Ladymoor. It's probably a bit shorter."

"Will you take the dog now?" she asks handing the Young Dog's lead to the Webmaster, 'my arms ache from all the pulling."

Two seconds later she is walking along head down, eyes glued to her phone.

"She just wanted to use the phone. Withdrawal symptoms after less than an hour."

At the bottom of the lane we turn up left onto the farm track. The gate, usually tied up with string, is open. At the top of the track we zigzag through the posts acting in lieu of a stile. The Old Dog goes one way. I go another. One of us will have to go back to unwrap her lead, hooked on the post.

"The Lawyer thinks I'm in Philadelphia," said the Student. I sent her a picture of my boarding pass and the snow when I arrived. "I said I was going for a winter break."

"At least your flight wasn't affected by storm Decima. We looked it up. It was further north and west. Philadelphia would have been right on the edge if affected at all, at least on Saturday."

"Oh, that flight was very uncomfortable. I needed the loo. Remember I drank all the water at security because it was in my expensive bottle."

"You could have tipped it away. Er, that way," I point, "the birds must have eaten all the berries. The holly bush by the stile was covered in bright red berries last time we came this way."

"I know that now. The security man told me after he's watched me drink it. Anyway I needed the loo and I was stuck on the window seat with two fat men asleep next to me. I couldn't get out and I didn't want to wake them up because I know how difficult it is to go to sleep on aeroplanes."

"You could have peed in the bottle," suggested the Webmaster unhelpfully.

"I was tempted, but then one of the men woke up and went to the loo himself so I decided to wake the other one. At least I didn't have to wake two of them. When I came back the second man decided to go too, but while he was away there was an announcement telling everyone to stay in their seats and fasten their seat belts because we were going into land."

"This way, under there," the Webmaster point a way through to the Old Dog, but she decides to go over the stile. She manages quite well and looks pleased with herself.

"And then he didn't come back. The steward walked past a few times and didn't seem to notice, and then about ten minutes before we landed realised he was missing."

"What?"

"The man from next to me, didn't come back from the loo. I wondered if he'd died. I thought what would I do if the man I'd been sitting next to had died in the loo on a flight from LA to Philadelphia."

The Student's phone buzzes.

"Oh no. A snapchat from one of the Lawyer's friends. I'll have to reply." The Student hasn't yet grasped the idea that instant responses are not necessary. "If I take a picture very close to she won't be able to see where I am, and it's cold in Philadelphia, so it will look OK." She is about to reply and then "What time is it in Philadelphia?"

"Eight in the morning."

"That's OK" she says and sends the picture. "I nearly sent a snapchat of me in the house with the dog to the Lawyer by accident, she's in the contact list next to my mate from UoB." She doesn't want her sister and grandparents to know she is back until she makes a suprise visit later today.

"What happened to the fat man?"

"He heard the announcement to stay seated, so he'd stayed in the loo. The steward had to bang on the door and tell him to come out."

"At least he hadn't died."

"No, but Americans are stupid."

"Now, now. You can't generalise like that. He followed instructions."

"They voted for Trump."

"Yeah, well we voted for Brexit."

"You voted for Brexit?"

"No, not me personally."

"Oh, I was going to say. Anyway, the night of the result there was a lot of noise when I was trying to sleep. I thought they were protesters but my friend said they were Trump supporters celebrating. Probably frat boys! Earlier we'd seen someone with a Make America Great Again baseball cap, a Trump supporter, going into a Mexican restaurant. I thought, 'well make up your mind, do you want Mexicans here or not?'"

"Cake and eat it."

"What? Oh yes, and on the flight to Manchester they gave my gluten free meal to someone else. Then they were trying to find me something else. I had to tell them chicken and rice was OK but the sauce might not have been. They had the labels so I looked at the ingredients. It was OK. I got salad too. The only thing I couldn't eat was the bread bun."

"Was it separately wrapped?" asked the Webmaster, "you need to be careful of contamination."

 The Old Dog is walking very slowly. She looks tired.

"Come on dog, we're nearly back now. This is only a short walk."

"Shall we go round that way and say hello to the security man," said the Webmaster as walk along side Ladymoor.

"What security man?" asked the Student.

"A security man, sitting in a car in their drive way. There's been one there for days. I wonder how much that costs. Can't think of what circumstances must have happended for them to get in a full time security guard, should we be worried?"

"They must be rich," surmised the Student.

We climb the stile which commemorates the Queen's diamond jubillee and walk along besides the band of trees.

"Keep the dog on a short lead. If it jumps the next stile it is straight onto the road," the Webmaster warns the Student.

The Old Dog crawls under the stile and looks relieved to be almost home.