For thirteen years and seven months we had a big, soft, sloppy Labrador.
He was walked just about every single day.
When we were on holiday he was walked by friends and family.
When it rained we put on galoshes, anoraks and a happy face and braved the tempest.
We had short walks, round the houses, which took in chickens, the farm, the outdoor pursuit centre and most of the neighbours.
We had long walks that took in ponds, wood clumps, bluebell woods and scenery.
We had Camber Sands, Brighton beach, Ashdown Forest, and even the riverside walk in Battersea.
Then our aging hound decided to give up the ghost. A mould of his paw-print graces the window ledge in the stting room. There are leads and collars still hanging on the hooks in the kitchen, piles of pooh bags on the shelves underneath the boiler and tins of dog food in the cellar.
His presence lingers. Today I asked the ‘oosbind whether he missed Jackson.
‘How do you mean?’ ever the one for a philosophical debate.
‘If you mean do I miss him painfully, then the answer is no. But if you are asking me whether I remember him, well the answer is absolutely.’
I miss him, his soft floppy ears, his body lying in the middle of wherever you needed to be, his barking, his big soft paws. But I mostly miss him because he gave me a reason to walk.
Walking without a dog sometimes feels faintly ridiculous.
Leaving point ‘A’, right, right and right again and finishing up right back where you started at point ‘A’. Exercising the dog gave me a perfecty good reason to get out of my lethargy.
This morning we watched the synchronised diving, nearly as ridiculous as walking without a dog, an 18 year old British boxer thump the living bejesus out of a Turk, and the preparation for some women archers.
Then we stopped prevaricating and went out for a walk. We dithered because it looked like rain, but then Jim, with an act of defiance, took his stick, zipped up his jacket and went for his hat. I pulled on a blue Kagool, tied myself into some trainers that are one size too big for me, and we set off..
Over the road, into the orchard, neither of us spoke. Through rows of apple trees. The little red Spartans made my mouth water just thinking about them. Down through heavily laden pear trees. I picked one, it is officially counted as scrumping but a few pears had been blown off by the wind so I justified my crime. One bite and it was clear that it was way too soon. Jackson would have noshed it down to the last pip, Jim kicked the bitten pear into the long grass.
Down past tight lipped, green blackberries and through the sloping field to the style.
I know we both had the same thought – WE MISSED JACKSON, but nothing was said. Jim would leave Jackson sitting at the style. We would climb over it, walk till we were out of shot and then Jim would whistle. That great big dog ran like a steam train always scuddering to a halt.
We continued down the hill through two fields then left up a very steep slope. Conscious breathing and counting, and a jolly good arm action got me to the little wooden bench that sits at the top of the hill hidden between the ferns.
The ‘oosbind arrived , we sat and looked at the rain lashing it down two miles away then set off through Forest Clump. The name I gave to a delious winding path through gnarled, dark trees. When BB was little we would look for the faces in the branches and bark, and I dont mean make dog noises, we would look for faces in the trees stems. Half way round there’s a seals face in a massive Beech tree, and a wonderful elephant that coils its trunk found a trunk, just before the sunlight pours through some hazel trees. Over another style and past two very posh houses. Tennis courts, climbing flowers and potted-up tubs. Bramble and Tumble used to terrorise Jackson when we walked past. I think they may have changed address too.
Then the final push, up a punishing slope. It takes exactly 120 big paces to get to the top. Jackson used to pull me on the lead, without him it feels much steeper.
Down the hill, over the road, down past the golf course, into the Garage, a quick flirt with the best looking Asian guy I’ve seen in years, a bag full of newspapers and back up the hill to home.
That was when I asked the old git whether he ever missed Jackson.
We both missed him at exactly the same points on the walk. The style. The orchard. The stream where he would jump in. The copse where we all stood transfixed watching a deer.
I know what Jim means bout honouring his memory. But Jackson stays in my heart and sometimes I have a visceral need for him to run at me, chase a rabbit, jump up for an apple core.
In my head I have to imagine I am taking the old mutt out for a walk. That gets me out of the house, otherwise I would vegetate in front of the box watching Olympians do the running for me.
It felt today that maybe I had to find a new ramble, a hidden route or an unusual area to discover and that I had to do it for me. And then the sadness passed and I thought, what I’m sure many of us with the passing of time thinks that walking is like life. There really is no reason for doing it other than just doing it.
You start at point ‘A’ and you end up at point ‘A’, ashes to ashes and all that gumbo. There’s no point in the journey for any other reason than the journey.
I made us lunch; little new potatoes, a lettuce and green bean salad, Thai fishcakes which I rustled up with some left overs, and all the Sunday newspapers.
Sitting opposite the old git chomping on greenery, humphing and hahing at the insanity of a new conflict over an oil pipeline in Georgia, and I had the sense that everything was and everything wasn’t important. That I had to enjoy every last second with the old bugger, because given that life takes you by surprise he (or me) will go the way of Jackson and before we know it we’ll be sucking, solo, on a lettuce leaf. So if you will forgive me I’m going downstairs now to give the old git a hug, carry on reading the gossip, and enjoy the fact that if it hadn’t been for Jackson I would never have gone for a walk at all.
Have a good Sunday.