It's a lot warmer than yesterday, I don't need my gloves, but I'll take them just in case."
The Webmaster, the Student and I set off with the two dogs for our last walk of 2016. Mid morning on New Year's Eve, warm but not sunny, damp but not raining.
At the bottom of the lane we turn right into the farm yard to take the path through the woods.
"It's likely to be muddy. Any frost will have gone," predicts the Webmaster.
"We should go straight down the path to the lake, not up and through the fields. They were very boggy last week and are likely to be worse today."
The Webmaster was right. The path through the woods is very muddy. The Old Dog is pulling hard and it is difficult to retain my footing. "For an old Lady she can still pull, I wonder what's got into her today."
The Student is leading the Young Dog. He seems extra alert to movements or sounds in the fallen leaves carpeting the ground under the trees. He leaps, pounces and pushes his snout into the piles of dry leaves apparently at random and the Student is struggling to control him.
"What's wrong with the dog? He's going to pull me off the path."
"He does that when he hears mice. He catches them sometimes. Or he may have caught sight of a squirrel."
A couple are walking towards us. We don't often see people on this stretch of the path. We smile, exchange greetings and pull the dogs out of their way while we pass.
The Young Dog suddenly springs forwards and sprints across the narrow plank bridge. The Student runs after him, towed by his lead. They reach the top while the rest of us are still crossing. The path on this side of the river is muddier than usual, there are no firm, dry routes through and the Young Dog seems to be taking delight in the mud. He leaps about, sinking further with each bound. The Student follows him protected by her wellies. At the stile he leaps straight over and pulls to the right.
"Not that way," he stops at the sound of the Webmaster's voice and looks back, waiting.
The Old Dog, who usually creeps under the wire gate, climbs the stone step as though to go over the stile and then stops. "You'll have to help her over," the Webmaster instructs, but before I can do anything she crawls under and jumps down next to the Young Dog.
We walk down the path through the woods. The path here is maintained with stone chippings although it still has ruts, where the water has run down, and patches of mud.
"So why all the Tweets about human rights?" asks the Webmaster, "Do you do one every day or are they all queued up waiting to go?"
"I did them in batches. One for each day of December. It's the sixty-eighth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this month. I was taking them from the short version. They are written on the Amnesty International poster by my desk. I got it for the 60th anniversary. After some of the awful things I've read this year I thought I'd add my bit to remind people. It got me some followers too."
"So what's the connection between that and the European Human Rights?"
"The European Convention on Human Rights? No sure. I don't think there is any legal enforcement or cause of action to make claim under the universal declaration but in Europe they set up the European Court of Human Rights so people can take a case if their rights under the convention are violated."
"Straight on or down to the waterfall?" asks the Student.
"Straight down. We'll come back that way." The Young Dog darts from side to side. He leaps and then stands stock still staring for a few seconds before moving on again and then repeating the performance.
"What is he doing? Come on dog, walk nicely."
"He must be able to see squirrels. And that's what Mrs. May wants to pull out of?"
"Apparently, and repeal the Human Rights Act."
"Is that different?"
"Effectively the HRA made it possible to cite human rights, taken from the convention, as part of the claim at first instance. Before that claimants would have to go through domestic courts and then appeal to ECtHR, which made it time consuming and expensive, so a lot of people couldn't afford it. HRA almost mirrors the ECHR."
"There are loads of people again," remarks the Student when we reach the castle and turn on to the main lakeside path. There are indeed many people walking, possibly more than Boxing Day. The Old Dog slows down. After making reasonable progress so far she now stops every two or three metres to sniff.
"There have probably been a lot of new dogs along here this week and she's checking their calling cards," suggests the Webmaster. The Young Dog is pulling strongly, straight ahead.
"I don't think he can have seen them." The Student points to two squirels walking along the parapet of the wall by the water's edge. A few strides later we see that there are three or four scurrying along but the dog is still walking on as though he hasn't seen them.
"How can he not have seen them now?" asks the Student.
"He's seen them," asserts the Webmaster, confidently. But the Young Dog still appears to be staring resolutely ahead.
"He must be squinting at them out of the corner of his eye, then." As she speaks the Young Dog, while still appearing to stare straight ahead along the path begins to veer across towards the two far-most squirrels. When he is about two metres away he suddenly turns and lunges towards them but the Student has his lead under control and was anticipating his move, so he is thwarted. The squirrels, surprised, jump down from the wall but then don't bother to run away.
"The big trees the Webmaster likes are up on that path," I explain to the Student and point up to the right. "The tree identification guides explain how to identify trees in winter when they have no leaves, but it seems easier just to look at the leaves on the ground under them."
"What if the leaves have blown away or are covered in snow?"
"I can wait until another time. The tree isn't going anywhere. I don't get why people object to Human Rights protections? I didn't see anything in your tweets that anyone could reasonably object to."
"Ah but with the help of distorted reporting there appears to be a perception that they only help terrorists and criminals evade justice for years, you know all the fuss about Abu what's his name."
"Yes, him, and the other one who was sent back to Jordan, and prisoners trying to get votes or cigarettes or whatever. The press doesn't write headlines for the common or garden cases. I replied to someone on Twitter who said Human Rights laws should be scrapped and a new Bill of Rights should only apply to law abiding citizens. I asked him who would decide who was covered and what seriousness of crime would remove a persons rights, for example whether say shoplifting or speeding would be sufficient, but he didn't reply. I've seen a lot of people saying similar."
"I would have thought you needed them more if you were accused of something?"
"Or if you're a refugee. Or different."
There is a steady stream of people walking towards us as we take our usual anti-clockwise route around the lake and Serpentine.
"Have you noticed how more people walk the opposite way round to us?" the Webmaster asks.
"Haha, unless you go much faster and catch up or much slower and get overtaken you wont see so many going our way."
But it was true, there wasn't the same stream of people going our way or we would be able to see a few ahead of us. "Actually because of the position of the car park and the paths, I think more people probably do go clockwise."
Mist is rising from the water and cold air is rolling over the path. "It's much colder here," complains the Webmaster, "my hands are getting cold."
"Good thing I bought my gloves."
The Young Dog is still playing up, behaving erratically. Because of the number of people and dogs we are meeting the Student has shortened his lead and is keeping him close to heel but the other dogs and possibly squirrels scratching around under the trees are exciting him. A small black dog, also on a short lead, approaches and the Young Dog barks once in his 'let's play' tone, and attempts, unsuccessfully, to jump sideways towards him. A young child in the same party as the black dog is taken by surprise and also leaps sideways. Her elder sibling walking a little behind swears under his breath but we hear him. The adults and the dog walk past with no comment.
"Why do you suppose he ignores many of the dogs but tries to play with others?"
"Look at the seagulls, standing on the water. There's a thin layer of ice."
The air cools further as the path dips towards the water level before quickly rising again.
"Human Rights laws unfairly get blamed for a lot of things, like Data Protection did at first, mainly because it was used as an excuse for poor admin. Like the time when I phoned to ask the about the process for cashing in children's bonds. They told me they couldn't tell me because my child was now over 18. I only wanted to know the process, I wasn't asking for any details of her or the actual bond. And anyway I already knew all that because I bought it."
"I think people appreciate data protection now."
"Yeah, well, there are a lot of rights people take for granted which could be at risk. A bit of pressure and lobbying from big business and it wont be just corporation tax that gets cut. May will probably have to offer something to compensate for all the extra administration companies trading with EEA will have to introduce. TUPE, workers rights. The people I know who voted Leave are also the ones I've most often heard say, 'they can't do that to me. I know my rights!' I wish I had their confidence in the Tory government. But look what they've done to the NHS and welfare protections."
"Pity there's no opposition then."
"Another memorial." The Student points to a pillar with a small plaque almost at ground level and newly placed flowers. We have already seen a number of flowers placed next to memorial benches as we rounded the lake. We are on the path down towards the bottom picnic place and carpark. Someone has cleared away the vegetation which had been obscuring it. We walk over to look more closely. It's a memorial to the owner of our local supermarket who died, I think unexpectedly, just over ten years ago.
"I wonder how long it has been there. I never notice things when I'm running, especially here 'cus I'm knackered after the climb, but we've walked this way a lot over the Summer. Maybe the grass was hiding it."
We make our way through the car park and along the road, over the main dam, and turn left through the gate back on to the lakeside path. A number of fishermen are sitting under their large umbrellas.
"We'd better hurry up now or you'll be late going out for your New Year's Eve do."
"I'm not going until after tea time. We just need to have tea a bit earlier so I can go about seven or seven thirtyish."
"Oh, OK, plenty of time for the maestro's burgers. Where are you going? A night club?"
"The Albert Hall."
"I thought that was a concert hall in London near Kensington Gardens."
"It's a venue in Manchester?"
"Some live, some DJ. A bar, of course, and you can get food but we aren't getting food."
"Don't get drunk."
"It's New Year's Eve. I'm going to dring something. Oh I'm so glad this isn't the US. Did you know my flat mates payment cards are on their parents' accounts and so their parents can see everything they spend their money on? My mate's mum call sometimes to ask. I couldn't cope with that."
"Neither could I. I wouldn't want you having free access to spend my money. And I don't want to know everything you are doing either. You're supposed to be an adult."
"Yeah, well I am, but in the US a lot students are treated like kids because they are under 21. They can't drink until they are 21, at least in Cali and people are surprised we share a flat with boys."
"I think it works OK here. Go to uni at 18, spend freshers' week doing all the daft things, find out how horrible it is drinking too much, recover from the hang over and grow up in first term, or at least first year, with own allowance and budget."
"There's been a big fall in the number of teenage pregnancies," announced the Webmaster, inadvertently relealing what he must have got up to in his first term at university.
"Is there something you haven't told us? A secret child somewhere?"
"Not that I know of."
"The girl'd have had to be pretty drunk," claimed the Student.
"Oi, less of that," retorted the Webmaster.
"No more likely he was so drunk he wouldn't have ...,"
"Oi, don't be rude."
"Good job his mum didn't see his bills. Ha ha."
"People associated single mothers with teenager pregnancies but I think most are in their forties. Widowed or divorced."
"And teenagers in my class at college! They all had kids while they were under twenty. One of them has two or three kids now."
"What, all of them? And does 'teenage' mean under 20 or under 18 or even under 16?"
"They must have been seventeen when they had their first."
"People make assumptions about single mothers. After Andy died people assumed I was divorced or maybe never married. Can you remember, when you were nine or ten and people used to ask you if you still saw your Dad and you'd stare back at them puzzled and I'd have to explain."
"Well it's unusual for people in their forties to be widowed," said the Webmaster.
"It's not that rare and people in schools or public office should be more careful. They weren't casual acquaintences."
"Oh yeah, they ought to be more careful."
We turn right at the castle and retrace our steps as far as the turn to the waterfall where we turn again. The path is muddy and the ditch is full of stagnent water which attracts the Old Dog. She pulls towards it but I notice just in time to stop her jumping in. At the waterfall we let both dogs take a paddle in the pool.
"Don't let him go close to the edge, he can be a bit reckless," the Webmaster warns the Student who is still leading the Young Dog.
"Don't let her swim, she'll never get dry" he yells as the Old Dog begins to wade towards the deeper water. "No!", he shouts and the Old Dog which is just about to push off into a swimming position stops and walks back to the shallower water. She walks out of the water and drinks from a puddle.
"This is a good walking opportunity," the Webmaster begins walking up the steps and reminds me of the forthcoming race.
"I'll definitely walk up here."
"Don't be defeatist, but yeah, you can walk up these steps, but don't walk anywhere else."
"That's a good tree." The Webmaster points to an oak in the middle of the path at the top of the hill.
"You say that everytime. Do you know what it is?"
The Student and Young Dog are walking on ahead. As the path begins to dip down to the large rock she turns off to the right.
"Taking a short cut and avoiding the down and up, do you think I'd get away with it in the race?"
"No, why would you even want to?"
"So the officials won't have to wait around for too long for me to finish."
"Don't be daft," said the Webmaster, "you won't be THAT slow, and if you are what makes you think we'll wait?"
At the stile the Old Dog squeezes under the wire gate. We walk back through the mud, down to the narrow bridge and up to the farm yard.
"What's for lunch?"
"Usual things, whatever we've got."
"So cheese and bread then?"
"And what's wrong with that? Proper English lunch."