thesticks

"It's a nice day, but the wind is cold," says the Webmaster, fastening his coat. "But not that cold."

The Student is wrapped up in many layers again as we set off for a short morning walk. She seems determined to notice the cold and contrast it with the mild winter climate of California.

There is still ice on the road but it is thawing quickly where it is in the direct sunlight. 

"Walk on this side, it isn't so icy," advises the Webmaster.

"Do you think I don't know that?" the Student snaps back, "The dog is pulling me onto the ice and I can't pull back without sliding."

The Webmaster calls to the Young Dog which distracts it and stops it pulling.

"Stop a minute. Hold the dog. Stand there." The Student puts a hand on the Webmaster's shoulder to balance, lifts on foot and tugs at her welly, "I've got a stone in my shoe."

They stand in the middle of the lane while she struggles with her welly. The Old Dog which has fallen behind, its nose stuck to the floor, sniffing and oblivious to its surroundings, decides to speed up. It trots past the precariously balanced duo and swerves sharply to the right, almost scything their legs with her lead, and tangling with the Young Dog. The Webmaster curses.

"This is a nice winter day, bright, clear, blue sky, stiff cold breeze. Enjoy it, you won't get this in California."

"Thank goodness. Who likes the cold?"

"You can't be cold dressed like that. You'll be too warm when we turn out of the wind and into the sun."

"I doubt it."

"I see that the Governor of California is determined to implement his climate and environment policies despite Trump's anti climate change stance. Good for him. California has drought problems, and it had all those enormous fires recently. Have they stopped?"

"It rains sometimes."

We round the bend, staying on the lane rather than taking to path over the hill, and the glare of sunlight reflecting from the damp road dazzles us. Through the light we see a large pickup truck approaching. We pull the dogs to the side and squeeze against the wall to let it pass.

"A bit big for these lanes."

"All the cars in SLO are big like that. We think our black car is big but it's smaller than the one my flat mate owns and he's only eighteen. I don't know why they need such large cars. I like my little car."

"Everything bigger and better in the good ol' USA," quips the Webmaster.

"Bigger maybe but not better. The payment systems are rubbish. It takes ages to pay for anything, is it credit? is it cash? Can you sign here please? And every step takes minutes while you wait for the system to respond. Hardly any have PIN and no contactless. A five second transaction will take more than five minutes."

"That business with the on-line payment and cheques was odd too. Did you really have to collect paper cheques from the bank and then copy it into an electronic cheque?"

"Yep."

"So can't you do bank transfers?" asks the Webmaster.

"I don't know if they don't do them at all but you couldn't do a bank transfer from a US account to the uni. Either credit card or that electronic cheque thing, that was all. But I've paid it all now so it's only a problem shopping in shops."

"Some of the guys at work were complaining that when US HQ wanted to standardise on one leasing system across the world the one they selected didn't support the payment methods used in Europe and Asia. It didn't happen in the end but the way they told it, it seemed that the team in the US didn't realise how primative it looked to everyone else."

The dogs are making slow progress. Something of great interest has attracted their attention and their noses are rammed into a crevice in the embankment, their back ends sticking out into the road. They are resisting our encouragements and tugs to move them along when another vehicle appears through the glare. We have to move them to let it pass. We shout and pull harder. Eventually they get the message and move.

"I think the US technology was probably in the lead at one time but now they've been overtaken. Later entrants take advantage of later technology and skip the early stages. And it can be costly to upgrade."

"There's probably no competitive advantage internally and if most consumers don't know what it's like anywhere else they won't mind. The UK was one of the last to get chip and PIN in Europe. Remember French supermarket checkouts complaining if they needed to collect a signature."

The glare reduces as the road levels off and our angle with the sun changes. There sky is clear, bright blue. People and their dogs are out walking over on the hill to our right. Just ahead a kestrel is hovering, almost stationary. We stop for a while to watch. Every minute or so it swoops and then returns to its position, hovering. I attempt but fail to take a photograph.

We continue along the lane, towards the village but turn off left to take the narrow lane along the eastern rim of the vale.

"So are you looking forward to living in Trumpland?" the Webmaster asks the Student.

"Oh don't. My friends are very upset about that."

"Did you see he accussed California of letting three million undocumented - does that mean illegal - immigrants vote? Apparently he and his supporters are claiming that explains how Clinton got more of the popular vote."

"People have asked me how I voted. I have to remind them I'm not an American."

"Ah well, according to Trump you shouldn't have had any trouble."

"Haha. Well I wouldn't have voted for him."

"He's proposing to repeal some of the anti-discrimination protections," said the Webmaster, "so if someone has moral reasons for refusing service they can, like not providing maternity services to single women or medical services to gay people."

"Slippery slope to dehumanising people classed as moral or physical degenerates. I just read an article by a German woman, now naturalised American and she said that when she was growing up in Germany it was drummed into them how they must speak up whenever they saw mistreatment however small it may seem. She described a situation on public transport where a bully pushed a young woman in a hijab onto the floor, telling her she has no right to a seat and almost nobody else did or said anything to defend or comfort her."

"That's horrible," said the Student.

"But that's what lets it happen. Nasty people get away with it because the majority do nothing."

"Why wouldn't anyone do anything? It's obviously not right to push someone off a seat?"

"I don't know, but think about when you could have done something and didn't. What were your excuses? You think someone else should do it, you think you are too small to make a difference, maybe you're be scared.  Most people want to be part of a group and might be afraid to stand up for people who have been designated, by constant rhetoric from media or government, as outside the group. You might even have started to doubt your own judgement thinking that so many people can't be wrong and there must be something in what they say. You're the psychologist. There must be a lot of material on this type of thing."

At the stone climb and the stile, the Young Dog turns, climbs and jumps in one smooth action and then stands in the field above looking down at us as we climb up after him. The Old Dog stumbles but we help her over.

"It's getting very muddy here now," commented the Webmaster. "Nice clouds and sunlight over the vale," he continues, looking back over the stile. I attempt another photo but am unable to do justice to it.

"I need a better camera."

"You need to learn how to use that one first," he replied. "Hold the dog while I pull up my trousers." The Student takes the lead.

"I thought you'd bought a belt," she said.

"I did, but it works itself slack."

"You should have got a decent belt," I said.

"It is a good belt. It just comes loose when I do exercise."

"So it isn't a good belt then. It doesn't do its job."

We continue to the next stile. The Old Dog crawls under it. Her belly is now covered in mud.

"So that is why the German woman is right. We should always act to support a victim and register our disapproval however small the incident. Don't let it pass, otherwise it may grow to be a big issue and it will be too late.  If everyone does that then the hate or victimisation doesn't become normal."

"They'll call you a snowflake," warned the Webmaster.

"Yeah, well, like they say, enough snowflakes make an avalanche."

"So why aren't we all doing that?"

"Nobody wants to believe it will get so bad. Anyone who does is called a scare monger and it seems obligatory always to look for the positive in everything. Only the Germans seem to have learned anything from history. Keep studying German and go there."

"I want to go to Italy."

"I think we should go straight across here, make a slightly longer walk, and then we can go straight across at Broad Lane too."

"And then where?" challenged the Webmaster.

"Left at the first turning, you know, we went straight on before."

"Oh, I remember. The muddiest walk ever. Have you got a map?"

"No, we'll just have to see where the path goes."

"Why is there a sign there that says all dogs must be kept on a lead?" asks the Student pointing to a large red and white sign on a farm gate to our right just inside the field. "Is there another path through there?"

"No, I think it is for this path."

The ground is wet. As we approach the first stone stile it becomes boggy, soft, slippery mud. The Young Dog jumps through it excitedly, the Student follows carefully in her wellies. The Old Dog picks her way through looking for firmer ground. It isn't getting muddy fur she doesn't like, it is the effort of pulling her feet out of the squelching, sucking ground.

"Good job you've got your boots," I joke with the Webmaster. "How are your trousers?" He hitches them up again.

The next field is completely waterlogged, practically a frozen marsh. The Webmaster is muttering and wondering, under his breath, whose idea it was to come this way but at the next road he lead the way across, through the stile and on into the next field. 

The path, a farm track with deep wheel ruts on either side of a grassed central ridge, slopes gently upward. The wheel ruts are full of frozen puddles. Some of the puddles have been smashed and slabs of opaque ice, like broken pieces of glass, are lying strewn across the path. The Young Dog starts to lick some of the ice pieces. The green grass, the bright blue sunny sky, the farm track sloping off over the crest of the hill with the moorlands in the distance, the dog and icy puddles in the foreground present a scene that could have appeared on an old fashioned biscuit box lid or table mats in a B&B. I stop to take a photograph.

"Is this the path?" called the Webmaster who was now about 50 metres ahead with the Young Dog and the Student.

"Yes." They wait. I catch them up and we climb the stile which takes us between  thick holly hedges.

"Which way now?"

We are at the corner of a field with no indication of which way the path goes. We decide to follow the right hand edge of the field but by the next corner have seen no signpost or stile. We turn left and follow the 2nd edge and then again until we have traversed three sides of the field. We find the stile half hidden by the overgrown hedge row.

'We should have gone the other way."

"Whose idea was it to do this without a map?" grumbled the Webmaster.

"No sense of adventure and anyway ee're hardly lost though, look, there is the road."

"We're just going in a loop almost back to where we started," observed the Student. The path is taking us back to join Broad Lane which we crossed a few minutes back.

"We could go off to the right. See there's the signpost for another path."

"NO," said the Webmaster, loudly and emphatically.

"We went that way once and couldn't find the path after the next field. We know the way now but he's decided he will NEVER go that way again," I explain to the Student, "so it's a bit of a challenge."

We rejoin Broad Lane, turn right and follow it to the junction where we turn right again and head to Hill Top.

We walk past the pub which is starting to do early lunches and turn through the car park to head up over the hill and back towards home.

There are quite a few cars in the car park. The nice weather and the Bank Holiday is getting people outside. A man with a spaniel is heading back towards his car. The spaniel and the Young Dog decide they should meet and the spaniel barks and bounds across towards us. The Young Dog pulls on his lead, dances and raises his tail. The man calls the spaniel back and, reluctantly, it obeys him.

The cold wind hits us as we crest the top of the hill. The Webmaster and I stop to pull on our gloves and refasten our coats. The Student never removed hers.

"You'll miss this when you are back in California. The bracing wind, the green grass and the mud."

"Mmm, will I?"