"It's not so cold today. It looks quite warm and sunny after the cold week."
"If we're quick we can get in a short walk, we don't have much time and after the snow most places will be muddy."
"We could do the Tongue Lane and route and come back up through the fields to church & back over Marshes Hill. It's only about 5km and most of it will be on the road."
We set off down the lane. The air is still cool but it feels warmer in the sun.
"So she's got her bag back at last."
"Yep. She sent a message during the night. I think she got it just after 5pm her time."
"Unbelievable it took them six days."
"I don't think she would have it if it wasn't for the UK customer services. At least I could speak to real people and they investigated and followed it through until there was a solution. No comparison with the non-existent service she got there."
"Is everything in one piece and nothing missing?"
"As far as I know, so your antique sweatshirt isn't lost!"
"I've had that a long time. Thirty years."
"And you'd never forgive American Airlines if they lost it. Shall we go up the end of the hill? It doesn't look too bad."
"No, let's stick to the road. I don't want the dogs covered in mud."
We continue to walk along the lane. The Webmaster doesn't like picking his way through the mud by the stile.
"What went wrong?"
"Finding the bag."
"Oh, the woman on the lost bag desk at LA logged an 'on hand' ticket which apparently meant someone was waiting to collect it, despite the arrangement they made. From what I understood the bag was matched to that ticket when it arrived a few hours later. When the Student phoned the next day they opened a new ticket but the bag was probably already out of the 'missing' system. At least that's how it sounded. The man at the UK end said he found a ticket for a bag with no customer and another separate one for customer with no bag. He had to match them manually and send instructions to LA for them to sort it out. Sounds like the system wouldn't have done it."
"Ah, good old brain power eh?"
"And much better service from UK, although all the staff I spoke to sounded to be French and Spanish."
"EU citizens coming over here and taking our jobs."
"Haha. They could have been anywhere. I'd like to know whether more jobs are exported than there are immigrants coming to take local jobs. Like making pots and plates in China not Stoke. Immigrants add to the culture and pay tax. Exported jobs don't."
We turn right and head down into the valley.
"Well Brexit wont fix that. I think people should be more concerned about automation. It's probably made the biggest difference to those jobs. Not everyone eats of hand painted plates."
"Will it fix anything?
"I'm not going that way, it'll be too muddy. Last time we sank in over our ankles." The Webmaster indicates the path to the left which passes the allotments and runs along the top side of the riding school.
"I was intending to go right to the bottom and back through the fields."
We carry on walking down the lane. The postman drives past and the dogs are very excited, he slows down, says he has a parcel for us but he'll be about an hour before he gets round to our house.
"We should be back by then but if not we won't be long. Leave it by the door."
He apologies to the dogs for being out of treats and drives off.
"Experts are predicting that automation is a potential threat to 15 million jobs in the UK over the next decade or so. Is that about half the jobs."
"I don't know how many jobs there are but when I started work in the late 1970's they were saying the same thing about computerisation. It did get rid of a lot of jobs but created a lot of new ones. Web developers!!"
We hear a vehicle coming down the lane behind us and move the dogs to one side. The Old Dog is difficult to persuade to move and she stands with her backend sticking into the road. I pull and push and she resists but eventually I make her move. Recently she has been obstinate like this.
We turn left through the narrow gap into the field and make a U turn to follow the path back up through the field.
"The ground is very soft."
"But at least it isn't muddy. And the gate is open. They must have known the Old Dog was coming and she struggles with that stile."
"More likely because they've taken the cows inside."
We go through the gate and into the second field which during the summer and autumn had been occupied by a herd of cows which from time to time took great interest in the Young Dog, and he in them. But now the field is empty. At the far side the grass path ends and becomes a track which hugs the hedge and then follows what appears to be an old road along side the hedge between two fields, up to the village. The first part of the track is mud, churned with tractor tyres but after the next stile it is firm and in some places, packed limestone chippings.
"Phew, I"m knackered and I'm going for a run this afternoon. Must be old age. I couldn't run up here now if you paid me."
"No one will pay you to run."
The Old Dog, who has been walking nicely, now discovers a multitude of interesting smells and stops every few metres for a long, snow sniff. Her nose twitches as she pushes it between the grass stalks or into the mud.
"I think the Old Dog is tired and she's using sniffing as an excuse to stop and rest," I say. "Gives me a rest too!"
The Webmaster and the Young Dog have gone on ahead while I let the Old Dog continue her stop-start routine. He stops and turns round, watching us as he waits for us to catch up. At the top of the path the Old Dog walks straight across the cattlegrid, placing her feet between the bars onto the solid ground about two inches down.
"Oh, dog, what are you doing?" exclaims the Webmaster, "I thought you had more sense." But the Old Dog seems not to notice.
"She isn't. Selectively deaf. Like a kid."
We turn off the track and climb the last stretch of lane into the village.
"Did you find out who it was that didn't turn up for the county championships last week?"
"Yes, you guessed right. It was them. They went to a local race instead."
"I wouldn't blame the kids, that isn't fair. They were probably told it was OK."
"It isn't just the money. People put time and effort into collecting the names, double checking with the runners, submitting the entries and sending out the time and venue details. It might not seem much but it's always the same few people who do all the work for every race."
"I doubt that was taken into consideration. Probably just thoughtlessness. Taken for granted that the entries are an entitlement that just happen. At least I'd prefer to think that than that someone was deliberately ignoring the rules and showing disrespect for the organiser."
"I'm not so sure. Some clubs don't pay race fees for their members. I think we could ask for the money."
"Don't blame the kids."
"I'm not. But X is very annoyed."
"It's current national policy. Expect the benefits of club membership without obligation to follow the rules or pay the fees."
"Yeah. Well, it doesn't make it right."
We are half way up the steep road back to Hill Top. The Old Dog stops. "Come on, we're nearly at the top, keep going." She walks on very slowly, nose hovering, ready to pounce on any excuse to stop for a sniff, but then as we reach the footpath that cuts the corner to the car park she perks up, leaps ahead and pulls on.
"She wants to go over the top, not down the lane."
We follow her. There are several cars in the car park and a number of people on top of the hill looking out at the view. It is the first nice day for over a week and the the locals are out taking the air and enjoying the sunshine.
Three or four dogs are coming down from the hill, leading their owners, as we walk up the steps. We have to stop to let them greet each other, sniffing front and back, dancing around each other. The Young Dog is always excited by the other dogs, the Old Dog is more choosey. Eventually we have worked our way up the line of dogs and reach the top. We stop to look around.
"Which one of those is the Wrekin?" asks the Webmaster pointing to a number of isolated hills in the distance.
"That one I think," I say, pointing in what I think is a south westerly direction, maybe more south, south west.
"I think it's that one," contradicted the Webmaster pointing to another not so far south.
"Look at the view finder plate on the plinth."
"I don't think it's lined up right. Look. These hills aren't over there. It's twisted," and he indicates something about 30 degrees out of alignment.
"It's nowhere near that bad. Why don't you bring a map next time, and a compass."
The day is bright and clear. A perfect winter's day. The air is still cool but the sunshine has cheered us up.
"They can't get better weather than this in California."
"No, but it's probably warmer."
The postman has not delivered the parcel by the time we arrive home.