With Jay away for a couple of days I could have had a lie-in, but that is never the way of things. When he isn’t there I wake too briskly and there is no point in lingering unless there is a good book to keep me in place. This morning there was a good book, but I had been reading it into the small hours last night and felt that I should be out making the most of lack of rain.

Snow clouds gathering

Blousey clouds billow softly on the horizon

Sunlight streamed across the valley, lighting the hazy, purple clouds that blew softly towards us, picking out the snowdrops in sparkling white. There wasn’t a sharp line to be seen anywhere as low light sparkled the wetness that lingered on the fields, shimmering off a million droplets of water that clung to the winter wheat. As we reached the top of the hills the wind buffetted against us, tugging at Hoover’s ears, making me glad that I had covered mine.

The bare winter landscape can be breathtakingly beautiful, black branches stark against a chill sky, sun glinting off the sharp edges of flints in the fields, Hoover frisked along the headland, checking out the hedgerows, always finding plenty to investigate as I shoved my hands deeper into my pockets, intent on finding warmth.

The edge of the blanket is flashed with blue

The edge of the blanket is flashed with blue

The blanket of cloud that was rolling towards us from the west had yet to hit the sun which struggled to conjure up any warmth as the wind shook my confidence.
“Maybe it won’t be that long a walk,” I suggested to Hoover. She ran ahead to see what lay around the corner, checking over her shoulder that I was make adequate progress as expected. Finding me further behind her than she liked, she bounded back for a biscuit and reassurance; hers or mine I am never sure.

As we turned down the path to the next valley the light faded as the clouds swept over the sun, dousing its brilliance and dispelling any thought of a spring morning.

A brave sun

A swallowed sun glows mutely in the chill morning

I turned up my collar, pulling the zip higher to keep out the wind that fought to find its way into every little crevice. Hoover checked out the hedges. Have deer passed this way? Was that a fox travelling through? I spot a nifty rabbit dive for cover while Hoover looked the other way.
“You missed that one,” I laughed. Hoover danced around me in celebration of cheerfulness.

A misleading break in the clouds

A misleading break in the clouds

Brisk walking kept me warm, but my heart was chilled by the plick of rain hitting my jacket. Hoover scuttled back to my side. Cold she can cope with when her woolly coat is thick; wind is no hardship, playing with her ears as it wafts in with promises of far distant delights to be found. But rain she doesn’t like, and she rattles her ears to shake off the droplets.
“We’ll turn right at the top,” I decided, “and keep it short.” But by the time we got there the rain had gone. The sun had won its battle. A shaft of light gilded the trees as we arrived and Hover looked suggestively at the other tracks that headed further afield.

Persuasive sunshine

A blast of sun brings rash decisions

“I guess we’ve weathered the worst,” I told Hoover. “We’ll carry on” Hoover expressed her delight by skipping under the barrier and launching upwards. I ducked under it and follow her lead. The walking had made me warm and although the breeze ruffled my hair I was as keen as Hoover to make the most of our hills. She paused to let me catch up.

What lies ahead?

Hoover checks the on-coming weather

Three minutes

Three minutes since sunshine

Settling snow

A couple of minutes later the snow was settling

Three minutes later I felt the first zing of snow thrust its needle sharp spikes at my cheeks. Out of nowhere I blizzard was upon us and the hills disappeared in whiteness, Within minutes Hoover and I were battling our way, shoulder hunched, heads down. Hoover tucked her head close to my thigh as I held my hands up to shelter my face from the icy blast. The snow fell so fast that even shaking her head only made for momentary freedom from the crusting of Hoover’s eyebrows.

Snow Hoover

Snow Hoover

Two valleys from home we turned east out of the wind at last. Now that it was finally at our backs the lull of warmth was more than welcome. My shouldes relaxed, my hands dropped to my sides and I lifted my eye to the hills again. There, under the dark clouds, beyond the scudding snow, was a shaft of blue that promised sunshine to come. As we dropped into the next valley the snow stopped and by the time we rose to the top of the final hill and looked down into the village all trace of snow was gone again. Hoover paused to check who had passed by a clump of grass and I saw the hills beyond her bathed in sunlight again.

Spring returns

Spring returns

And as we headed back down the path towards the church the fields sparkled in sunshine again and the sheep emerged from the sheltering lea of the hedges. The dark clouds were lifting as blue sky pushed them out of the way. Breakfast was going to be a celebratory feast.

Dark clouds lifting

Dark clouds lifting

Just at the moment Hoover and I seem to race from place to place. At the start of the week we leap onto the train and head off to Manchester.

Atta on The stairs

Atta checks that Hoover is in her place

Here life is different to home. Cats glare at her from elevated points. Otto quickly realised that Hoover was no threat to life as he plays it. If she has gone to sleep he stalks her tail and at the first hint of movement pounces on it and is amazed that Hoover objects. Seconds later he has forgotten and is on the prowl again. Atta is a different kettle of fish. It has taken him ages to emerge from under the bed and now he checks out each room before he struts past, tail held high in disdain of the woolly monster who has been permitted to breath in his house. Mostly he just peers at her through the banisters and shoots black looks at her. Hoover remains blissfully unaware.

Hoover sleeps soundly

Sharing a bed is not a concept that Hoover has really taken to heart

Part of Hoover’s general state of bliss in Manchester is that she and I share a room at night. We started with Hoover having a cushion on which she could sleep, but I woke in the morning to find that she had crept onto my bed during the night. Now there is no pretence. She lurks as I prepare for bed and bounds onto the duvet as soon as I pull it over me. There is then a period of negotiation.
“You go over there,” I say firmly. She settles down on a corner that gives me plenty of space to stretch out. Then she extends out a leg. And then another. And just rests her head gently on my thigh…

At some stage of the night I usually wake to find that she has spread herself magnificently across the centre of the bed and I am clinging to the edge. After a period of shoving and shunting, Hoover is removed to ‘her corner’ and I am reinstated centre stage. By full light I find myself once again on the precipice with Hoover neatly curled into the crook of my legs, the duvet pinned firmly between us and little remaining to protect a chilly shoulder. How I long for Jay’s calm and stable presence. I am wondering what will happen next time Jay comes with us. A cushion will have to be found and insisted upon. I will report later…

Hoover and the beagle

Hoover finds new friends with whom to play

Walks in Manchester are different, too. Pavements are filled with exotic smells that have to be investigated. Bits of food linger enticingly where they have been dropped by passing strangers who clearly have a mind to leave them for curious dogs. Hoover now knows the way to the park, turning left smartly on leaving the front door and heading off at a brisk pace past the shops. Once there she bounces through the gate, checking out which of her friends is waiting for her already – Josie the Cairn terrier who will not come back to her owner; the frenetic beagle puppy who runs and runs and runs, until even Hoover falls behind exhausted; the hairy cross something whose human has a better throwing ability than I. And all those abandoned and lost balls that Hoover discovers afresh each day. Heaven!

Sunrise at home

Sunrise at home

But no matter how much Hoover loves her grey walks, I still long for the green walks of home and on Thursday mornings we head back into the hills. The rising sun breaks through the low cloud, promising a fine day as the wind tugs at our ears and hair. Who needs a ball to throw when there is a scent of deer on the wind?

Hoover checks the breeze

Ready for anything

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 inspects her fellow travellers while keeping an eye on me

Hoover inspects her fellow travellers while keeping an eye on me

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.

Sometime Hoover like to lie low

Sometime Hoover like to lie low

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.

Mutual affection and warmth

Mutual affection and warmth

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.

Two Seats Hoover

Two Seats Hoover

Space for more than a cat nap

Space for more than a cat nap

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.

Hoover casts a demure glance through the window at passing scenery

Hoover casts a demure glance through the window at passing scenery

Neighbours on either side of the road tackle Christmas decoration differently

Neighbours on either side of the road tackle Christmas decoration differently

Hoover and I had Christmas cards to deliver. Those that needed to be posted had already been dropped into the letterbox, but by the time the others were ready darkness had fallen, the moon was high and there was a sharp nip in the air. Hoover didn’t mind. A chance for a walk, sniff and explore is fine at all times of the day or night.

A clear day had led us into a clear night, spangled with starts. The mist that gathered around the moon was a harbinger of rain, but as yet the air was clean and sharp. We have no street lights and when darkness comes it comes absolutely. Once when returning home torchless on a clouded, moonless night from a friend’s house I had found myself ricochetting of the hedges as I fumbled my way home. Now I remember to carry a torch, but avoid using it whenever possible, preferring to rely on moon and starlight to see my way.  Eyes accustom themselves to the darkness, and I find my way surprisingly well.  Hoover has no problem, seeming to see almost as clearly at night as during the day.  Certainly she knows the instant my hand dips into The Biscuit Pocket, appearing out of the darkness immediately, ready to receive.

Lights are set around the doors that only a passer by can really appreciate

Lights are set around the doors that only a passer by can really appreciate

Now the darkness has been banished.  With Christmas drawing close, houses are decorated and the warmth within shines out through curtained windows.  As I searched through my collection of envelopes to find the right card I was lit by the lights set on my side of the curtains, a sign of the good cheer inside.  The door opened and Hoover shot in to greet the new puppy who lives inside.

“Oh, a card!  How lovely!” said Sally.

“Yes, we can come to your party!” called Guy from within as Hoover bounced back through the door.

Next door the windows were lit to greet us again.

Next door the windows were lit to greet us again.

Suddenly I became acutely aware of the decorations, maybe the more so as we have none of our own this year.  We are full of works on the house and decoration has been restricted to the kitchen.  On our way to the next card drop we passed Father Christmas’s sleigh with reindeer prancing in attendance.   There we found that the curtains were drawn aside to allow us a glimpse of the decorated tree.  What generosity to allow us to share the pleasure.

Christmas trees stand sentinel beside the door

Christmas trees stand sentinel beside the door

At the next house we had to slip the card between lit trees.  There is such generosity in these decorations that post such cheer in the dark and cold nights.

But now we were not the only ones out.  People were heading out along the lanes, in twos and threes, children laughing as they flashed torches about.

“Hello, Hoover!  Are you coming too?”

“Not tonight, She’s keeping Jay company because he’s still working.  It’ll be just me”

“Do you want us to save you a seat?”

“I’m sure there’ll still be space when I get there.”

Whilst the moon lit the path, the lights in the church beckoned us in

Whilst the moon lit the path, the lights in the church beckoned us in

Hoover was miffed when I took her home.  She, too, sensed the excitement in the air and wanted to be part of it, but Jay had a bone for her to chew and such things are the perfect distraction.

“See you later,” I called, as I headed out again.  Beyond the church more lights flashed and whirled on the brightest house of all, but I followed the crowd.

The candles in the window shine brightly, as they have done for centuries

The candles in the window shine brightly, as they have done for centuries

Warm welcomes, and the scent of oranges, greeted me at the door.  Now I could remove my hat, and gloves can be thrust into pockets.

“Here’s plenty of space for you.”  Peter moves closer to his wife and I can see the crib, by the lectern, still awaiting the arrival of the baby, just as we are too.

“Any news?” asks Ann when she joins us.  I shake my head.

“Not yet.”

“Babies come in their own time,” she says.  I nod my head in agreement.

On the window sills the candles shine out, softly lighting the church as it must have been when it was first built, nearly a millennium before.  They remind me of the light that shines in each one of us, a light that is sometimes fragile or dimmed, but always there, waiting to be nurtured by appreciation and love.

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Happy Christmas to you all!

There are places close to home that, in summer seasons, are highly visited. Then we avoid them. When Weymouth beach is packed with bodies laid out like piano keys, we stay inland and stride about the hills. When the air turns chill and the wind blows lustily we head for the shore and indulge in the waves. Now the tourist shops are closed and the town centres are festooned with Christmas lights and plastic reindeer, so we headed off to Corfe Castle.

Corfe Castle

The steam train is a revitalised version of the one that used to take my brothers to school when they were young.

When I was a child the highlights of Corfe were the icecream shop and Mr Fry’s paintings; the castle we took for granted.  It stood there, a custodian of the road that led home a place to chase about and about which to be chased, rolling down the hill until the world spun giddily about us when we staggered to our feet, muddily, at the bottom. There were cautious visits to The Bank’s Arms where the landlord sported a magnificent beard that entranced me as much as it terrified me. I absolutely believed that a man with such vast girth and ferocious bristles was likely to eat children, rather than feed them, and therefore treated him with great caution, and when I heard my godfather recounting stories of evening mirth at the bar was convinced that he was making it up to lull me into a false sense of security. I could barely bring myself to enter the door, even though the meals to be had inside were among the best to be found anywhere on the isle of Purbeck.

Tom and Jay were all for following the sings from the carpark round the back of the castle.
“I promise you the town is just round that corner,” I told them, pointing in the opposite direction. “We can take a short cut through here.”
“This from the person who saw the Queen walking her dogs in the gardens of Buckingham Palace…” This is old family slander and is usually followed by a challenge.
“If you’re right I buy lunch,” said Jay.
“And if I’m wrong, I’ll be paying.” I agreed, omitting admitting that my purse was at home rather than in my pocket.

“So where would you like me to buy you lunch?” asked Jay a few yards later. I was still daunted by the ghost of Mr Figgis, and Tom was taken by the idea of ox cheek, so we headed into The Greyhound where a sign declared that Hoover would be welcome. There were even dog biscuits on the bar, a fire for her to lie in front of while she munched, and strangers to be sidled up to for surreptitious snuggles.

Satiated on all fronts we went to explore the castle.

Corfe Castle

Magnificently ruined during the Civil War the castle remains enticingly citadel-like on the top of the hill

The rough grass we used to race across is now neatly mown and paths have been laid that make it an easy saunter to the entrance.  Hoover was as eager as any child to explore the nooks and crannies, clambering up steps and peeping over ruined ledges.  Jay and Tom peered over the edge of an old latrine and we wondered at the smells that must have made castle life a pretty unpleasant affair, even for the kings who originally built it.

Sanitary inspectors

The wall beyond this corner is worn away by the acidity of the quantity of pee that has cascaded down it over the centuries. Now wild flowers cling to the crevices instead.

Great arches and open windows through which chill winds no doubt blew in winter, still frame stunning views across the surrounding country.  It must have felt grand to look down on the village that grew around the base of the hill and beyond to the flat lands towards Wareham or the Isle of Purbeck on the other side. Here they really did lord it over the huddled masses below.  I spotted the grocer’s shop where my mother used to buy bread and milk whilst we tried to cajole her into giving us icecreams, the ones we swore were the best in the world.  Freshly made in the shop, the strawberry flavour was scattered with pips that my brothers teased me were splinters of wood.  It didn’t matter what they said, nothing was going to stop me loving it, lingering over every lick, pushing the icecream down into the depths of the cone so that it lasted until it melted stickily onto my fingers.  Now the grocer is gone, replaced by a gallery.

Corfe Castle

Tanks still exercise on the plain between Corfe and Wareham, but not with the frequency that they did when we were children. Then it was a familiar sight to come across them bouncing jerkily along the track, gun barrels waving jauntily, running parallel to the road. We used to clamour at my mother, begging her to race them. And, oh, the joy when she indulged us!

Corfe Castle

Once a favourite castle of kings, and then a home to the Bankes family, I am not surprised that they held it so tenaciously during the Civil War, not that the Parliamentarians were so keen to wrest it from them, even to the point of ruining it.

With imagined sounds of battle cries and crashing stones, clattering hooves and clashing metal echoing through our imaginations we abandoned the Castle to walk on the hills.  Across the stream a path winds up the hill to the top of the down.  Low winter sun burst through the scudding clouds.  We were warmly dressed, with plenty to debate.

Hoover ran free.  My imagination ran wild.  Stories abound, washing through my mind,; adventures, explorations, discoveries.  There are never enough hours in a day to write them all down.

Up on the downs

.

An early start

Early mist has yet to burn off

With a busy day ahead of us Hoover and I were up on the paths, heading for the hills, almost as soon as it was light enough to see where we were going. It was a glorious morning, cold and crisp with one of the first frosts of the year decorating surfaces. Sun streaking low across the valley melted the crystals faster than our breath disappeared in thin air.
“Woow! Taste that freshness!” I told Hoover, but she was busy being a dragon. Across the field Brian’s woodburner told us that they were up too.

Frosted leaves

There is an enticing crispness to frosted leaves

When I stooped to examine the frost Hoover stopped to see if it was worth eating. Disappointed she looked around us and catching sight of a rabbit on the far side of the churchyard was over the wall and chasing it round the belfry in no time.
“Come on, that dog!” I called. Hoover looked over her shoulder. What dog? She abandoned the rabbit and chased me instead.

Frozen puddles

Even when frozen the clear blue of the sky is reflected in puddles

Up on the hills the birds were celebrating the sun. We have had so much cloud this past year that even when the clear sky brings plummeting temperatures we all feel heady with pleasure at the clear blue. Handfuls of sparrows flung themselves about the hedges and Hoover darted from side to side in their wake. At the top of the hills the puddles remained frozen in the lea of the hedges, their surfaces crinkled like crushed silk. I restrained myself from jumping on them, preferring this first time of seeing them to just take pleasure in their mirror surfaces.

Berries

The brightness of berries makes for an impression of summer

As we walked along the side of the field we spotted berries in the hedgerow that echoed the poppies that had clustered at

Dandelion clock

the side of the path during the summer. Scarlet red against the blue, with the glistening green of leaves about to fall from the vines created a false impression of summer, but I plunged my hands into my pockets to keep them warm, striding briskly on as Hoover sped ahead hunting for the deer she knows linger nearby in winter. At every open space she stopped to examine the horizon. I too examined the horizon, anxious to see the deer first.

 

Deer spotter 3

 Far over there?

Deer spotter 2

Or there?

 

Jay was far away in foreign lands, but due home the following day.
“Look, Hoover! Vapour trails!” Hoover takes scant notice of my conversation, responding to the words she knows and ignoring the rest. She nodded at the mention of her name, but galloped on when I pointed to the sky. No birds there for her to chase. High above us a plane turned west heading for South America. I thought of all those passengers packed so closely together – who was going home? Who starting some new adventure? My heart sang that the thought of Jay’s return. Although I love travelling too, I am glad to be at home on a day like this.

Vapour trails

Heading for warmer climes, but I do not envy them

As we started our descent into the valley the sun streamed through the mist and the smoke of chimneys. Brian’s was no longer the only woodburner that had been lit. Now June’s and Julie’s and Karen and Nigel’s had all been lit as well The day was well started and it was time to get on.

Valley mists

The home fires keep burning, welcoming us back

The Open Road

A gateway to the rest of the world

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.

The Open Road

Hoover travels light – my briefcase, her bag.

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’.

Travelling Hoover

A seat custom built for a poodle

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.

Looking out of the window

Any sheep out there?

Curled dog

If I curl up people will think I’m a small dog

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.

Lap Dog

Happiness is a lap full of love

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.

Laughing Hoover

Hoover feels that Stoke on Trent has much to offer the interested dog

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.

Lounging Hoover

Plenty of space to stretch a leg

 

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.

Back on the train again

Back on the train again

 

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.

Crowded train

Standing room only, unless you’re a dog

 

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.

Travelling companion

Travelling companions