thesticks

"Hang on. The dog won't move." The Webmaster calls for me to wait as I reach the gate and turn down the lane. I look back. The Young Dog is standing transfixed. Staring across the garden. "There's a cat up there somewhere and he won't move if he can see a cat."

"You need to get that dog under control. You haven't trained it properly. It can do anything it likes and it has no idea you are annoyed with it. At least make it know it is misbehaving."

I shout the dog's name and distract it for long enough for the Webmaster to get it moving.

"It's the same when you let it lie on the settee. It's coat has ruined the leather. It knows it isn't supposed to get on the settee and moves off when it sees me, but it will lie there with impunity with you sitting in the same room."

We walk down the lane, the dogs are pulling, as they do while we pass the neighbour's yard, and it is icy underfoot.

"I can feel my feet sliding. I'm going to walk on the verge until we get past here and the dog stops pulling."

"It's not so icy on this side where it's drier and been in the sun." It is indeed a bright, sunny day but with a cold nip to the air. I think it would be a nice day for a run, apart from the ice.

We walk carefully until we reach the tree covered stretch of road. There is no ice here. At the bottom of the lane we head through the farm yard, across the meadow and down into the wood. The path is mainly dry but with the occasional patches of stiff mud, lightly frozen and which crunch as we walk through them. Autumn is becoming winter. There are fewer leaves clinging to the trees and the surviving leaf fall is mainly oak, the earlier falls of beech and birch leaves have all but disappeared. The Old Dog is following her nose and once again appears to be oblivious of her surroundings. She makes a step to the left at the last second and barely puts her foot on the narrow plank bridge.

"Phew that was close. I thought she was about to fall in," exclaimed the Webmaster who, with the Young Dog, has already crossed and is watching us as we follow. Once across the bridge the Old Dog accelerates up the hill. There is almost a spring in her stride as she dodges the mud and weaves her way between the trees. Her lead tightens as she reaches its maximum extent and I can feel her pulling me up. She is still strong. If it weren't for her stiff hind legs and creaky hip joints she would have no trouble with the stiles.

The Young Dog stops, sniffs and then kicks hard with his back legs just as the Old Dog catches up with him. Leaves, soil and mud hit her straight in the face and shower down over her back. She stands and shakes her head and body, but the leaf debris is stuck in her fur. I brush out what I can, she doesn't seem concerned.

"If I tried this at home she'd bite my hand off. Maybe we should bring the grooming kit and use it while we are walking."

We climb the stile and turn right to follow the path up, along side the wall. 

"Is that cloud or smoke over there?" I point towards the North, slightly north east.

"Cloud, I think."

"It looks almost like the old smog."

"There might be a fire somewhere, but I think it is just thick cloud."

"Er, dog. Look what you've done now." The Young Dog has kicked leaves and soil behind him again. Some of it has hit me and the Old Dog is shaking herself and pawing bits of dry leaf out of her face.

 We reach the gate into the field. "The sheep have gone, may be it is too waterlogged for them here."

The field is very wet, not just the top few metres but for most of the way down. Water oozes out of the ground as we walk across it.

"Look over there at that wall of fog. If that's what we saw before, when we wondered if it was cloud it is rolling in towards us quite fast. It has already moved over that hedge row."

As we watch we can see the mist or fog bank approach. To the left is is still bright sunshine, to the right grey, reducing visibility.

The sheep are in the next field, lower down the hill side. As we enter the field they turn to watch us, all but two or three of them standing dead still.

"Maybe they think we can't see them if they don't move." Then they see the dog. The out lying sheep run towards the crowd and they gather in a tighter pack in the middle of the field. The Young Dog is watching the sheep but making no effort to move towards them. The Old Dog, of traditional sheep dog descent does not appear to notice they are there.

We reach the lake, turn right to follow it anti-clockwise.

"So when was it Thanksgiving?"

"Thursday. The Student went to a friend's house. She said they had very nice food but it wasn't a completely traditional US Thanksgiving meal because the hosts were Armenian. They are going back to SLO today."

"So she was in LA for Black Friday. Did she spend much money?"

"I don't know but I don't think so. They were trying not to. They went for a hike up to the Hollywood sign, not shopping."

"I see Farage probably isn't going to go an work for Trump."

"I didn't know Trump had offered him a job, I thought he just suggested he could be the UK ambassador to the US. Anyway, aren't they stopping immigration. Haha. Wouldn't it be funny if Farage became an immigrant somewhere. An economic migrant! Like all those anti-immigrant far right tweeters who said they'd move to the US if Trump won. Didn't seem to occur to them they they'd be immigrants. I can only think of one reason why!"

"Same as the Brexiter's who thought we could kick EU migrants out of UK but all our pensioners would be OK in Spain 'because they were decent sorts!'"

"The Student says it feels strange being a foreigner where everyone speaks more or less the same language. I think that had fooled her into assuming there wouldn't be much difference, but at the moment I don't think the US counts foreign students in its immigration numbers."

"It doesn't make sense to count them as immigrants here either. Just cheap political move to make it look as though the numbers are down. If people study here then surely in years to come when they are running companies or even countries they are likely to know how we do business,have contacts and networks and find it easier to trade with us than other countries."

"I've been surprised by the people I've seen who think UK won't have to charge student fees after Brexit. There have been several on Twitter saying we will be able to fully fund universities and improve education to get the skilled professional workforce we need."

"The universities don't seem to agree. They are all complaining they'll lose out. And without brains coming from abroad, not only students but researchers and academics, they will eventually become stale."

"That economist on Question Time said universities were net beneficiaries of EU, so if that's right then unless they get compensated they will lose and, without all the higher fee paying non-EU students, like the Indians, they'll lose even more. But I still think students are being ripped off and given a raw deal with the fees and the loans."

"If the NHS doesn't get more money, what chance for the universities?" The Webmaster steps round a puddle in the path. " Watch out it is very wet here, almost flooded there." The Webmaster indicates towards a marsh which now looks more like a pond. "This path is always longer than it seems," says the Webmaster making only slightly more sense than Brexit means Brexit.

"Yeah, well, there's less likely to be a hidden agenda with universities. What money could have been made available to NHS in the past hasn't been. Giving tax cuts to people who can afford private care and undermining public services is an ideological move. Brexit is helping them privatise it quicker. It makes the £350M per week promise even worse."

We reach the steps and begin to climb. The Webmaster and the Young Dog go first. The Old Dog walks up the slope, avoiding the steps. 

"Negative Brexit Bonus. But experts eh? What do they know?" the Webmaster puffs as he reaches the top.

"It would be nice if they were wrong, but I don't think they are, at least with the trends." I pause half way up to wait for the Old Dog.  "I saw one commentator say the OBR has been wrong but usually by being too optimistic. I wonder if that's right. Scary if it is."

"There are too many external factors for local experts to talk it down. I'm still waiting for someone to give an example of a Brexit benefit."

"Oh well good luck. It's no use asking anyone on Twitter. One in the week said we could trade with more countries but couldn't name one. I sent her a link to Heseltine's appearance at the select committee. It happened to be a video in a BBC item and she just replied she didn't believe the BBC anymore, so it didn't mean anything. When I pointed out it was a recording of proceedings in parliament and not a BBC programme she said 'you're boring me now'."

We cross the road and follow the path under the horse chestnut trees, down into the wood and out over the stile into the field.

"This is where we deviated from the path."

"I thought it followed the hedge."

"No it goes off up there, across the middle of the field. Let's see if we can find it properly this time."

We head towards the end of a row of trees which we know is at the edge of the adjoining path. We contour around the hill about half way from the hedge to what we think is the top. When we reach the trees we turn left onto the path down to the feeder and follow it down, through the hedge and further down to the stile. We climb over the stile and start down the steep slope.

Suddenly my left foot slides away from me, my right leg twists and I hit the floor. Behind me is a streak of mud where the ground has slipped. My right knee feels odd and I am worry that without its ligaments it may have been dislocated. Carefully I attempt to straighten both legs without standing. I don't want to slide in the mud again before I know if there is any damage done.  My knee moves smoothly, just a dull feeling that something has been pulled, so I stand, cautiously and carefully make my way down the last five metres of the steep section of the slope. The Webmaster is waiting anxiously.

"Is your knee OK. It looked quite twisted."

"I think so. Just feels a bit strained. It might ache later."

'Which way now. Left?" We are attempting to follow the path as marked on the map. Previously we have cut off a corner, not deliberately, but by mistake as from the last stile the direction of the path is not marked.

We head left. The route takes us steeply up over another spur and then down towards a valley and stream.

"How do we cross that?" asks the Webmaster, but as he speaks a small plank bridge and footpath sign comes into view. "Oh, there. Be careful, go round that way this is very steep."

Once over the stream we climb up over another spur and then down to the stile and onto the feeder path.

"So how far is this from the gate where we came out last time?" Asks the Webmaster.

"Mmm, about two hundred metres. We'll see soon."

The feeder path is soft underfoot, but not muddy until we come to the last section of path before the track back up to the village. The Webmaster takes both dogs and walks on while I climb the stile. The Old Dog stops and drops behind but the Webmaster doesn't notice and continues to walk ahead. The Old Dog trots past me to catch up with the Webmaster and wraps her lead around my legs. The Webmaster feels the tension and pulls, thinking the Old Dog needs encouragement to move on, and takes my legs out from under me. I land in the mud but the Webmaster is still unaware of what he has done. Neither I nor the Old Dog can move. We are tangled together and can get no traction in the mud. The Webmaster turns and stares at us, but for several seconds makes no attempt to help. I unclip the dog from her lead and untangle myself. The Webmaster arrives and gives me a hand up.

As we cross the feeder, neither dog attempts to jump in. We walk slowly up the hill, following the track. 

"Listen," instructs the Webmaster. "A buzzard." He stops and looks around. "There." He points to a tree. A buzzard is alighting on a branch, about 75 metres from where we are standing, but almost immediately it is mobbed by two very noisy crows and a magpie. It takes to the air, circles behind the tree and then flies over us, the magpie in pursuit. 

"Pity we didn't get to see it sitting in the tree for longer," says the Webmaster, disappointed.

At the top of the path we turn left and follow the path past the riding school and towards the allotments. After the track up from the feeder and firm ground of the riding school field we forget about the mud, but then as we approach the penultimate stile before rejoining the road, the Webmaster suddenly sinks as though walking through quicksand. The mud goes over his boots and he is still sinking. The Young Dog is also sinking, but he struggles free and with one huge leap clears the stile and lands the other side on firm ground. The Webmaster curses and swears and also climbs the stile.

There is no way around so the Old Dog and I try to step as carefully and quickly as possible across the mud, looking for anything we can use as stepping stones. I just about make it without the mud going over the top of my boots.

"If we take the path up the side of the hill the bracken and heather may brush some of the mud from the dogs' bellies," I say, anticipating the complaints of the Webmaster.

The path up onto the hill is less overgrown than the last time we came this way but the dogs do seem a little cleaner when we reach the top.

"All the mist and fog has cleared," said the Webmaster, "there's quite a clear view now."  We walk down, off the hill, taking the track back to the lane.  The path through the cow field and down to the stile is likely to be very muddy and I've slipped around in enough mud for one day.