Steam rises from the ground as the sun hits yesterday’s puddles. A dragonfly skitters past on the wing. The fields the far side of the stream are shrouded in early-morning mist which the sun is doing its best to burn through. In an hour it will be gone but at the moment it’s like we’re buried in a pillow of cloud. Black trees stretch spindly, winter-leafless fingers into the white, while green grass has turned silver under dew. Behind me I hear the cat change position and look round. He stretches in a panelled patch of sunlight, bisected by the gentle shadows cast by the window frame.
Later, outside walking with the dogs. Yellow flowers. Red and orange berries. Golden-brown leaves. White seed-pods, thin as tissue paper, pulling at brittle winter sunlight and turning themselves into white-gold haloes. Ice on the puddles looks like wrinkled cling film: I walk on it. A satisfying cracking sound shatters the illusion.
“You’re a little cow! If you do that again I’m going to smack your bottom!” The harsh tones of a mother to her daughter pierce and muddy the crisp, clear air. In response, the child wails. I don’t know what she’s done, but my childless, left-leaning hippie sensibilities rail at the mother’s aggressive choice of language and push me firmly into the kid’s camp.
Black Dog and Stinker lollop on ahead, splashing through puddles and stopping at intervals to sniff at pieces of grass. People who’ve never seen a terrier run before will point out their strange gait. “She’s hurt! Look! She’s hopping!” They are first confused, then grudgingly admiring when you tell them it’s just a terrier thing. Why use four legs for charging around when you can go just as fast with three and give one of them a rest?
The dogs whimper and squeak as they scrabble at either end of a hole running through knotted tree roots, huffing through their noses at whatever scent they’ve picked up. There’s a tang of fox in the air, but 10 to 1 it’s bunnies that they’re after. I leave them to it and carry on walking. It’s not long before I hear the splash and spatter of their paws as they charge through muddy puddles to catch up with me. I envy them their lightness. My boots suck and squelch in the deep, sloppy mud and I slow my pace, remembering a childhood incident where the foot kept going while the boot stayed behind, mired in muck.
The sun’s out but it’s still bitingly cold. My nose feels three times its usual size, with only half its mobility. I sniff back a drip that’s forming at the tip, wrinkling the bridge as I do so, and feel every pore unfolding in slow motion afterwards as it returns to its resting position.
On the way home Black Dog overshoots the yard gate, as usual. She stops as I call her name. She’s caught the warning tone and knows what it means, but still stares wistfully at the main road up ahead for a moment before trailing after me. For a dog that had the skin flayed from her foot in an altercation with a car as a young’un she hasn’t learnt a lot. In her head, the road is adventure and nothing will convince her otherwise.
Birds whirr out of the barn roof as we three galumph past. Rooks caw. Country lore runs through my head as I see a solitary crow (a rook on its own is a crow, and a crow in a crowd is a rook) perching on the power line, shifting from foot to foot as his stubby yet lethal beak leads his mean, beady eyes into a middle-distance stare.
We return to a smell of roasting meat and the sound of Elaine Paige on Radio 2. The dogs gallop into the kitchen, racing round the central island as if they’d been gone for weeks, rather than an hour. I herd them into the bathroom to wash the mud off and their elation turns to dejected misery. Stinker gets the water treatment first, shivering all the way through despite the warm water, while Black Dog cowers behind the cistern, doing her best to sink through the floor and disappear. She just about tolerates the bath and being bundled in a towel afterwards, but as soon as she’s released she shoots upstairs to rub her ears on the carpet in protest at her brutal mistreatment.
I drain the filthy water out of the bath and wash my hands for lunch.