“I’m completely lost,”
The disembodied voice reaching my ears sounds a little desperate.
I walk a little way into the wood and come across a large, border collie attached to an extendible lead. Surely the voice doesn’t belong to him? My eyes run the length of the lead until they alight on a somewhat rotund, figure emerging from some bushes.
“Oh, hello—Darcy has got me completely and utterly lost—one minute we were on the path, the next he took me on so many twists and turns, I have no idea where I am, truly.”
The lady looks quite happy to be lost, quite jovial even but I sense her confusion as she spins round, the lead twisting round her legs. Darcy is very interested in Flossie who begins darting around him playfully.
Fearing for the woman’s safety as both dogs begin a circle of her legs, I stand between them and her, arms outstretched.
“Oh they are fine,” she grins. I’m not so sure. I grab Flossie’s collar and order her to be still. For once she listens.
The lady untangles the lead and I relax my stance.
“Where do you want to be?” I ask. If someone is lost, it helps to know where they mean to be. The lady looks at me. She has a slight squint and a possible twitch, maybe she is winking, I don’t know. I am not sure which eye is fixed on me. Perhaps she is nervous?
“I left my car in Woodend—then Darcy dragged me here, there and everywhere,” she explains, gesticulating wildly.
I indicate the path down which I have just come.
“Woodend car park is just up there, less than a hundred yards past the stile,”
“Oh, yes, I recognise it now, oh dear, so I am here then after all! Darcy has taken me all over the place haven’t you Darcy? I don’t know, I thought I’d never find the car park—silly Darcy, dragging me this way and that.”
I have a sudden image of Darcy dragging his hapless mistress across ditches and through brambles, courtesy of the extendible lead.
“It is easy to get lost,” I soothe, “All paths look the same at times,”
I speak from experience. I well remember bringing my youngest son here as a toddler and finding ourselves utterly lost in the middle of the afternoon. This was back in the days before everyone had a mobile phone. I only began to panic a little when I realised it was time to go and pick up the other children from school. At that point, I made a decision to cut straight through the woods and see where I ended up. Not the best decision I have ever made, nor the worst. I eventually found my way out and got to the school to find four accusing faces lined up at the window. I was late.
I smile and murmur a few inane but polite, end-of-conversation type words, you know the sort of thing,
“Well, glad you know where you are,”
“I had better get on,”
As I speak, I am moving slowly away from her. I have taken no more than three steps when I realise she is still with me. Darcy is following Flossie at the end of his fully extended lead. Both are now being followed by the jolly lady. I dread to think what might happen should Flossie reach the bridge and decide to leap in the water for a swim, as is her normal want. Darcy will surely follow and the lady at the end of his lead—it doesn’t bear thinking about. I stop. The jolly lady stops and we continue our conversation for a bit. Darcy, frustrated at having literally, come to the end of his tether, tries to tug her forward but she stands firm, as long as I don’t move. If I move—she moves.
“Well, I’d better get on…” I try again.
The jolly lady is telling me about her encounter with a boxer (the dog variety, I think) and how Darcy has a dislike of boxers. I cannot resist telling her about Keano’s dislike of black Labradors since having a lump torn out of his chest by Paddy. I know I shouldn’t but it’d be rude not to make conversation since she is shadowing me.
I am just wondering how long I can stand here, with Flossie now fully submerged in the stream and Darcy straining at the leash, when jolly lady decides at last, she should make a move.
“Don’t want to get lost again!” she quips, tugging the panting Darcy in the direction of the car park.
I smile in relief and we carry on, Flossie now a very wet and happy dog.
We have gone but a short distance along the path when Flossie spies a little terrier, wagging his stubby tail in manic fashion. Flossie charges forward, despite my words of caution. I have seen the lady who is with the terrier. She has stepped off the path and is watching Flossie race by, her dog in hot pursuit.
“I must be the most neurotic woman in the forest,” this lady tells me as I reach her. It isn’t a common greeting. She has completely dispensed with, “Good Morning.” I see how she has mounted the bank and is clutching at a tree for support. (Not a good sign)
“I was knocked down by a big dog once and ever since, I am really nervous of them,” she confides, one eye on Floss who is now returning for her home run. I raise my hand,
“Flossie, here!” I trill. To my relief, Floss makes a beeline for me and pulls up short by my feet. I clip her lead to her collar. I resist the tempation to tell the lady about the time a large German Shepherd, chasing Jess, my super-fast lurcher, came up behind my knees, knocked me clean off my feet and gave me concussion. That story still smarts a bit. I fully understand her fear.
“Don’t worry, you walk on. I will keep her on the lead for a while in case she doubles back,” I say.
“Oh, thank you, she is so lovely, I’ve never met a Golden Retriever that didn’t have a lovely temperament—except Dexter—” her voice drops an octave and a shadow crosses her face. I sense bad memories, “Dexter is a great big old retriever, not at all nice and very grumpy—”
(Is he the dog who knocked her flying?)
I make a mental note to avoid Dexter at all costs. I smile and walk on with Flossie having assured her I understand and no, I do not think she is neurotic at all (I do of course, but it’d be rude to say so).
Flossie has given up on the terrier now anyway and is trotting along happily beside me. I release her when we have gone a few more steps and she speeds off in the direction of the next water hole.
The rest of the walk is uneventful for me. Flossie has a run-in with a pigeon and a tree but I enjoy the autumn sunshine and the carpet of golden leaves that now deck the forest floor. I am loving the solitude of the wood and the inspiration it gives me. I hardly notice that we have come to the end of the walk when I spot the woman in a green Barbour. She is standing by the stile with her back to me, shading her eyes and looking back towards the car park. She is calling something. I am closer now.
“Dexter!” she shouts.
I am taken aback. Visions of The Gruffalo spring to mind as I look around me for the infamous, grumpy retriever. Maybe I will just quicken my step and get back to the car. I pass the woman. She sees me and smiles. I smile back, one eye keeping a look out for Dexter.
As we turn the corner into the car park, a Basset Hound waddles towards us and throws Flossie a disinterested look.
“Ah, there you are, Dexter!” says Barbour woman behind me.
Well, just goes to show, they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It seems you shouldn’t judge a dog by its name either.
Now who’s neurotic?