Hoover is a well travelled dog. If I collect my car keys and a biscuit, her head drops and she slinks to her bed reluctantly, knowing that a lonely wait is coming up. She hates to be left behind. When I collect my keys, but have no biscuit, she dances round me and heads for the front door. No sooner is the car door opened than she is installed on the back seat ready for what the world may bring, convinced that it was created to entertain her.
At the station she inspects fellow travellers, guarding our bags when I go to check out the sandwiches on offer. She knows that I have biscuits in my pocket for her. Taunton station is lovely with Victorian ironwork freshly painted and questionnaires for us to fill in. Do we like this train? I ask her. She hangs out her tongue. We haven’t been on it yet, so I put a circle round ‘Don’t know’.
We have a reserved seat, but the one next to us is empty. Until it is needed Hoover can make good use of it. One of the great delights of a poodle is that they shed no hair – not one! This means that she doesn’t sully seats for future occupiers and can keep out of the way of people trundling bags, food trolleys and large feet past us. With our bags stashed on shelves and under seats and my laptop out on the table, we are both ready for the long journey up to Manchester. A biscuit for Hoover and a bottle of water for me and we are set up for the duration.
At Bristol no one gets off, but loads of people get on. Hoover greets them all affectionately – who knows some of them may have brought biscuits. They haven’t, but the two who sit down opposite us have brought lunch. Hoover watches incredulously as every morsel disappears into our companions without a single crumb coming her way. I find another biscuit to cheer her up.
“Good dog,” remark our new companions, and then fall asleep for the next hour. I disappear into my writing and Hoover finds a comfortable way to pass the time.
At Stoke On Trent Hoover emerges to check out the station.
“What a good dog,” say our companions when they wake up. Then they go back to sleep. Hoover laughs.
Dorset sunshine has been left far behind and Manchester station is cold and grey
“This is a health and safety announcement. It has been raining. Walk carefully and be aware of slippery surfaces.” A young girl in 6 inch heels races onto the concourse, skids and is flung at Hoover’s feet. Hoover feels that a good lick will cheer her up, but I am less confident of the restorative qualities of a tongue, no matter how enthusiastically applied. We leave her instead to the tender care of the high visibility concourse police and go in search of a bus.
A few days later we are back on the train for the return journey. Hoover knows the form.
There are fewer travellers heading south.
“That’s a dog,” one person tells me. I look at Hoover and have to restrain myself from looking surprised.
“You’re writing a book,” another says, in case I hadn’t realised.
“I couldn’t work on the train,” says woman who promptly falls asleep before I have time to reply. I like working on the train. When stuck for the precise word it is soothing to look up, see the country whirling by and discover the word slipping softly into my mind. Interrupting telephone calls are usefully curtailed without me being rude. Droppers by cannot.
A few days later we are heading east. Another train and different people.
“Smashing dog,” says a man in his eighties.
“Would you like to see a photograph of my horse?” asks a rather beautiful girl in her 20s.
“I had a cat, but she died,” an old lady tells me. I can feel the ache. Hoover rests her head on the table, offering it up to be fondled and drawing a smile.
On the way home it is a different story. We have hit a commuter train. People frown as we get on. There is standing room only, but Hoover lies down.
Around us men in their forties play machine gun games, blowing pumpkin heads off zombies; coiffured women in their fifties connect the dots on ipad screens; people watch videos and read books. No one talks. At Basingstoke there is a flood of departures and a table comes free.
“Come on, my Hooves.” I pick up my briefcase and we head towards it.
A man pushes past, plumps himself down in the window seat, dumps a paper cup of coffee on the table, flings an open folder on the seat beside him, his jacket on the one opposite and his briefcase onto the remaining space.
“Would you mind if we join you?” I ask, pointing at one of the seats opposite him. Hoover cocks her head, hopefully.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” he groans, leaving his possessions scattered about the place and chewing at his thumbnail. Another man leans across from the adjacent table.
“I can put our parcels on the shelf,” he says.
“And I can move to sit by my husband,” says his wife. “Then there’ll be plenty of room for both of you.”
Most of the people we meet on the train are lovely.