I have something I haven’t had in decades. The last time I had one, I was about nine, and in ankle socks. What’s more, I remember how I got it. We used to live in a house on a remote, hilly road and as a child, one of my chief entertainments was skipping along it – yes skipping, with a rope – as fast I could. I was an absolutely demon skipper: I won all the skipping races at school, not because I was in peak physical condition for a 9 year old but because I’d mastered the art of running flat out while turning a rope. It wasn’t so much skipping as sprinting without getting tangled up, and it was one of the few things that I did really, REALLY well. My talent with a skipping rope became legendary, but – as always happens with legends – I came a cropper when I started to believe my own PR. Convinced of my own invincibility, I tried to skip at full speed down the hill outside the house. Inevitably, gravity took a hand and my body ended up travelling faster than my legs with the result that the mighty athlete limped home bawling her eyes out and with blood pouring down her leg. The Matriarch was predictably unsympathetic when I told her how I’d done it. Her sole comment on the matter as she was cleaning me up, was – if I remember correctly – ‘Well that was a silly thing to do, wasn’t it, dear?’
How are the mighty fallen, eh?
Which is all a long winded way of saying that I have a scabby, bruised knee.
This time, however, I was doing nothing more exotic than walking – and sedately, at that. What’s more I was wearing a pair of extremely sensible walking boots and using a trekking pole, which only goes to prove that Life is just Unfair.
Immediately across the road from the cottage, there’s a lovely path through the woods down to the river, which the hounds and I often take. The Boy Dog cavorts around delightedly, seeking out all the exciting smells, running backwards and forwards, barking at nothing and having a thoroughly wonderful time. In fact, I could take a camping stool and a book and not move an inch while he exhausted himself – and I might be tempted, if I didn’t want the Old Lady Dog to get a bit of exercise occasionally. As it is, I let the Boy Dog run around while I drag the Old Lady Dog behind me on the far end of a retractable lead. She’s one of those rare dogs who just hates walking, plainly considering it a monumental waste of good sleeping time. She plods along morosely behind me, thinking murderous thoughts, while I wheedle and cajole and assure her in tones of forced jollity that it’s all wonderful and great fun and doing her the world of good.
I’m only grateful that the lack of an opposable thumb means she can’t handle a boning knife.
To alleviate the tedium of dragging an unwilling dog along at an ultra-slow mooch, I often take a camera with me to take arty photos of the light through the trees, or out of focus shots of the Boy Dog hurtling around at breakneck speed … and on this particular, very frosty, morning, I had my more expensive one slung around my neck, the better to take pictures of ice crystals and frozen puddles.
We were through the woods and within sight of the river when disaster struck. A pheasant, which had been lurking in the undergrowth beside the path, suddenly shot in front of us and headed off across the river meadow. Boy Dog immediately took off in lunatic pursuit, falling over his own feet in his hysteria, while Old Lady Dog, transforming miraculously from ‘dying duck in a thunderstorm’ to mean, lean, killing machine – albeit one with a lousy sense of direction – inexplicably executed a perfect 180 degree turn by shooting forwards yapping dementedly, then changing her mind and galloping around me to end up facing completely the wrong way. This manoeuvre, carried out at considerable speed and while I was bellowing at the Boy Dog, had the effect of wrapping the cord of the retractable lead around my ankles, with inevitable consequences. I believe the correct order of contact with the frozen ground was right knee, right hand, camera, left knee, left hand, rest of body …
As is the way with human beings, my first thought was not about the sickening pain in my right knee, or even the whereabouts of my game-pursuing dog … it was, ‘Did anyone see me falling flat on my face?’
I sat up and looked around. There wasn’t another soul as far as the eye could see. Phew.
My next thought was, ‘My camera! Is my camera broken?’
I examined the lens. It was intact. I turned the camera on. It worked. Another phew.
It was only then when I’d established that both my amour propre and my camera were undamaged, that I thought, ‘Ow! Bloody OW!!’ – and became aware of the searing, nauseating pain in my right knee. I didn’t even dare try to flex my leg, the pain was so bad, and the thought occurred to me that I might easily have fractured my kneecap – which is when my first observation came home to roost: there wasn’t another soul as far as the eye could see.
The Boy Dog returned from his adventure across the meadow breathless and shiny eyed, but devoid of any indications that he’d actually caught the pheasant – probably because the latter had eventually remembered that it could fly.
In a 1950s Hollywood film, the heroic dog would go off in search of help for his stricken mistress and – doing that excited barking-and-skittering-back-and-forth thing – lead the rescuers to my aid. In real life, he decided he was tired, and lay down and went to sleep with his chin on my conveniently positioned left leg. The Old Lady, on the other hand, was sitting on the path glaring at me with her best ‘What fresh hell is this?’ expression on her face.
After a while, the pain and nausea subsided a little and I risked gently bending my right knee. Nothing crunched, and the pain didn’t get any worse. I wiggled my toes. They worked. I got a bit more daring with the leg and waved it around a bit. Nothing alarming happened. So, very gingerly, I dislodged the snoozing dog and got to my feet. I tested the injured leg as one would test thin ice, and it held. I bounced on it a couple of times and nothing popped loose.
It took me an hour to hobble home, and when I finally rolled up my trouser leg to inspect the damage, my knee looked as if it belonged to a nine year old. All I needed to complete the effect was the ankle socks.
Still, at least I learned a couple of things:
(1) Always take a mobile ‘phone and/or a whistle with you when you go dog-walking – even if you’re never out of sight of a village, and …
(2) Be you nine or ninety … Gravity Rules, OK?