Happy New Year! Already this year is speeding by and it has taken me until now to be in touch. Rosie’s baby delayed his arrival until after the festivities so that we could all enjoy it fully, with glorious turkey, amazing pudding, kind neighbours, large family and once we were all relaxed again he made a grand entrance. So in future we will have Christmas Day, Boxing Day and Oscar Day. Amazing Oscar with a face like his Daddy and feet that would do a paddle steamer’s propulsion proud. As a result Hoover and I are back on the trains again even more frequently.
Hoover is always greeted with surprise on train.
“Goodness! You can bring a dog on the train?” I’m never sure if this means that the speaker is pleased to see us, or not, or whether it really means that they feel that we should be banned immediately. By the time we part company they are usually converts to Hoover’s charm, glad that she travels and hoping to see her again. If I have to go off anywhere she keeps an eye on me and watches for my return, waiting patiently, keeping my seat warm and my laptop safe.
On our way back from Manchester Hoover tucked herself neatly into her place at my side, waiting in the gangway for the train to load before seeing if there was any better place for her to sit. I could see that we were going to have to share our table with two others and cautious that they might not like Hoover. Although she is a most affectionate dog, not all people are equally affectionate humans. Only once have I met someone who insisted that I move Hoover away from us. I explained that Hoover is a ‘non-allergic dog’, but she wasn’t impressed. It turned out later that she wasn’t allergic, but that she felt it was easier to say that than to explain that she didn’t like dogs because she had been bitten as a small child. I moved both of us away.
Unusually this time I had no space beside me for Hoover, the couple joining us having chosen to sit facing each other at the windows. There was however a spare seat opposite me, next to the husband of my neighbour.
“Why not let her up here?” he suggested.
“She can be profligate in her affections,” I warned him. “And may well rest her head on your lap.” He smiled, and assured me that they liked dogs. They’d had three and had been so sad when the last one died that they couldn’t risk having their hearts broken again. Hoover needed no more encouragement, leapt up beside him, turned round several times and snuggled down next to her new best friend. She made eyes at him sideways, upside down, rubbed her head against his chest and then settled down, as predicted with her head on his lap. When I returned from fetching something from my bag in the luggage rack all I saw was a happily wagging tail sticking out into the aisle.
For the first hour and a half Hoover was more than happy to indulge in her new friend, but somewhere around Birmingham all there was a major changeover of passengers.
“What a wonderful dog!” one of the new ones cooed to my neighbour across the table.
“She’s not mine,” he explained.
“Oh, my goodness! But she’s so happily curled up by you…” she carried on.
“She’ll snuggle up to anyone,” I told her. “Not a faithful bone in her body.” Determined to prove me wrong Hoover immediately left her seat and came round to my side, all wag and affection. Maybe it was the sandwich in my hand or biscuits in my pocket. Or just a determination to show that I am an unjust critic.
With the snack trolley baring down on us I pointed at the empty seats across the way.
Hoover indulged herself as I carried on with my work, luxuriating in the space to stretch out. Only when we came to Bristol did she stir herself for a farewell pat from our neighbours from the table, before deciding it was time to inspect the view from the window. The Somerset levels were still flooded, icy lakes with frozen trees standing starkly black against the white sky.