"We're going for a walk. Are you coming?" the Webmaster asks the Student.
"Yes. I'll be ready in five minutes. Where are we going?"
"Just round the Marshes Hill road loop, we don't have much time."
Five minutes later the Student appears dressed for the Arctic. We calm the dogs, attach their leads and set off. The Student takes charge of the Young Dog while the Webmaster locks the door.
"It's cold," she complains. It is indeed cold.
"I heard someone say there may be snow for Christmas," says the Webmaster.
The dogs pull as we pass the neighbour's yard. The Old Dog stops for a wee at the entrance, right in front of their dog.
"I think she does that deliberately to wind up their dog," I say.
"Mmm, maybe," responds the Student as though she doesn't think it in the least likely.
"Well you're the psychologist," I say.
"Yeah, like we spend a lot of time on dog psychology."
"Don't let the dog walk on that," instructs the Webmaster as the Old Dog wanders towards a heap of road grit, piled on the verge in preparation for the icy weather.
"The Webmaster thinks he's an expert in dogs. Ever since he got slightly involved with the dog rescue people. He follows dog people on Faceboook, but if the stuff he reads out is anything to go by they are all inventing problems that can afflict dogs so they can offer expert solutions. It's amazing dogs survived before."
"The salt is bad for them."
"For their feet?"
"More likely if they lick their feet to clean them."
"Oh well, the Old Dog's OK. She doesn't bother cleaning her feet now. She seems to have completely given up grooming herself."
The day is crisp and it is possible to believe that it might snow. There is a chilling breeze. At the bottom of the hill we stay on the lane rather than climb the stile to the footpath, although any mud is likely to be frozen. The Webmaster complains that his hands are going numb.
"Have we got everything we need for tomorrow?" asks the Webmaster? "All the food and the Christmas presents."
"No," we've hardly got any Christmas presents. Nothing for my Dad. I was wondering whether we should get him a new battery for his car. We can get him a voucher for one. We might be able to get an e-voucher."
"You lot are difficult to get presents for," the Student complains. "You've already got everything you want."
"That's because we don't want much, not because we've got everything. Don't worry about it."
"That's that's the problem. Why spend money on something that won't be used, just because it's Christmas?"
"Well, don't. I told you, just get a box of chocolates or a bottle of something nice that you know someone will enjoy eating or drinking."
"You gave you Dad that box of bread. That's quite good, he won't have had that fancy gluten free bread before, suggested the Webmaster. "So who's coming for dinner? How many of us will there be?" asks the Webmaster.
"Eight of us, same as last year."
"What about what's his name, with T and M?"
"No, he isn't coming. I don't think they are fostering him anymore. "
"I don't know, but I think he may be too old."
"Can't he stay until he's 18 now?" enquires the Webmaster.
"I don't know, but it would make sense now that kids have to stay at school or in training until they are 18. That might be part of the problem."
"Oh, it's going to be awkward," the Student worries.
"Why?" the Webmaster asks.
The Student explains the family gossip and rumours to the Webmaster.
"Well, I've not heard anything about it," he retorts in a way that suggests that if he doesn't know about it, it can't be real.
"Just avoid talking about it," I suggest. The road flattens out at the top of the hill and we walk along a section which can almost be described as busy. A number of cars and vans pass us. We need to manage the dogs, to prevent them from pulling away from the edge of the road and obstructing the traffic. The Old Dog has slowed down and we cajole her to get a move on.
"It's because we didn't start off with a jog. If she starts faster she keeps it up," I suggest.
"So what are we going to talk about?" asks the Student, " and NOT politics. Politics is banned."
"Why?" asks the Webmaster. "That's what we always talk about. It's our subject and there is a lot to talk about this year."
"But you all agree with one another so why do you spend hours arguing about politics with people you agree with?"
"That's why I suggested philosphy."
"NO. NO." The Student was emphatic. "I'm not getting involved in a stupid debate." We turn right taking the road across the hill and past the pub.
"It isn't stupid. It's serious. You can argue for existence of free will and your sister can argue againt it."
"NO.... grrr.. how many times do I have to say no?"
"Have the sheep been breeding? I'm sure there were only four in this field last time, now there are a lot more. Are they the ones from across there that had lambs?" I change the subject and point to the field adjoining a small cottage and vaguely indicating to another field behind the nearest row of houses."
The Webmaster speculates as to the ownership of the sheep and insists that the number of sheep hasn't changed since we were walking this way in the summer, although he did acknowledge that there had been some lambs earlier in the year.
The Young Dog has picked up on the converstation and is walking along with his head turned sideways, keeping a beady eye on the sheep.
At the end of the road we turn left towards home.
"Aren't you hot yet?" I ask the Student who is still wrapped up in multiple layers, gloves, hat, hood and scarf. "Even in this weather you should be warmed up from walking."
"She's missing the Californian sun. She could have been sunbathing by the pool."
"It gets cold at night now. I have to wear my coat."
"What, when the sun goes down you change from shorts and tee shirt into pullower and coat?"
"So what else do we need to do before tomorrow?" the Webmaster is getting stressed.
"Nothing, it's all done. The Lawyer is coming later to help prepare the vegetables and we just need to read the instructions for cooking the goose."
"Cooking the goose. Ha ha. Are you sure she'll turn up when she said?" enquires the Webmaster.
"No, she's always late. Sometimes doesn't even get the right day," I reply.
"She'll come. I'm here. She loves me," the Student offers her reassurance. "After all, she said that all she wanted for Christmas was me. And here I am."
"I've never had goose before," I say. "Hare, guineau fowl, turkey and plenty of other roast meat but never goose."
"Are you sure it will fit in the oven?" the Webmaster enjoys worrying about non-existent problems. The Student frowns at him. It is about the tenth time he has asked the question.
"Answer is still the same. It hasn't grown overnight. It's dead and stuffed."
We arrive at the top of our lane. The Student looks as though she has just about warmed up as the Webmaster unlocks the door and lets the dogs in to shake mud over all the vertical surfaces we already cleaned in anticipation of tomorrow's guests.