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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Posts Tagged ‘Capone

Walking The Dog 6

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So in the fourth week of July, summer has finally decided to show its face and very welcome it is too.  But not for Capone.  When God invented dog he forgot the sweat glands and made do with a long, long tongue and a predilection to pant – sometimes very noisily.

In fact, Capone is far from the worst or loudest in this department although it does seem to be something that particularly afflicts Staffs and similar breeds.  I sat in the vets the other day and this poor animal sounded like it was being slowly strangled, gagging and panting as if on the point of death.

You have to be so careful when you leave them in the car in this weather.  Tescos provides very little shaded parking and even with two front windows left wide open, I have to be in and out in a flash.  The only alternative is to tie him to the hitching post outside (you know, where the cowboys tie up their horses) but Capone, being the superstar that he is, attracts so much attention, so many “oohs” and “aahs” that it can take twenty minutes to break out of the conversations and escape.

Other than the arrival of summer, there is some truly momentous news to impart.  Capone has a friend, a companion, a permanent partner.  She arrived just a few weeks ago and has the same provenance as him, rescued by special forces extraction from the hellhole known as West London.  Only nine months old, she too had spent her life locked in some grotty flat for twenty-three and a half hours a day, released only for a short walk to the fag shop and back.

Allow me to introduce you to Carla.  Yes, if President Sarkozy can have one so can I and she struts and preens and prances as any good supermodel should.

On arrival Capone thought I’d finally found him the teenage sex slave that we’ve both been hoping for but being a gentleman he soon relented and has given her a warm and loving welcome.  It has to be said that this is not always entirely deserved for she can be a right little bitch at times – and I am moderating my language as much as possible within the bounds of accuracy.

After a few weeks proper exercise with a little discipline and training she has developed into a delightful member of the family.  All credit has to go to Capone for his wonderful temperament, forbearance and patience.  Even when they are both exhausted from a lengthy walk, the exuberance of youth still causes her to clamp his leg in her jaws, chew on his cheek or plant her nether regions in his face in the hope of a little playtime.  They playfight and tumble, chase each other and fight endlessly over sticks but they are now firm friends.

At first, when the obligatory rich tea biscuits were handed out, Carla would snatch, grab and my fingers would be in great danger.  Now she accepts these sweetmeats with all the delicacy and elegance of Madame Sarkozy taking a spoonful of foie gras.

Capone has taught Carla to swim.  At first she would try to jump on his back, then after a few frantic paddles she would panic and return to shore.  To Capone’s consternation she has now become a faster swimmer than him and she delights in letting him set off then plunging in and overtaking him to retrieve the stick first.

There is a remedy for this which has to be applied regularly.  It involves a trip to the end of Hayling Island, out of the calm waters of Chichester harbour, to where the surf thunders in and for my best boy and girl, the waves are twice or three times their height.

Here Capone’s great bravery and strength triumphs.  He will go out through anything, rising and falling in the swell, capturing the stick and returning to the shore through the white water and massive undertow where a frantic, near hysterical Carla promptly steals it from him while he recovers.

Just like a woman – but she is our little girl.

Capone has a good laugh as Carla gets her first real swimming lesson

Capone has a good laugh as Carla gets her first real swimming lesson

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Walking The Dog 5

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Our climate seems to be playing many tricks on us these days. Or at least, so the media frenzy about global warming would have us believe. With my personal experience and memory stretching back only about 40 years it’s difficult to know whether what seems unusual in that context is merely just the ebb and flow of nature. This spring and summer certainly seems to have been missing our normal south-westerly winds. Instead they’ve been coming from the east and closer to due south.

It was the return of a more familiar wind direction that gave rise to another rather embarrassing confrontation with the local wildlife and another failure to capture the event with my camera.

As Capone and I pass by Warblington Church, I suppose it’s my many repeated commands to walk to heel in case of any traffic which means that it has become a habit and, try as I might, I cannot encourage him to “get on” and quarter the ground in front as his half-pointer breeding should favour. He just prefers to walk by my side.

As we swing round past the old vicarage and turn south again down the Pook Lane path to the sea, he changes and forges ahead, often unseen, even on the brightest day, in the dark and dappled tunnel of hedgerow. To both sides there are ditches, thick with nettles and to my right, the west, a field of pasture, foot high with grasses. About a third of a way down we pass two great cedar trees. If you look seaward from the Havant junction on the A27 you can’t miss them. They appear to be three but, in fact, one splits right near the base of its trunk.

Right there, with wind in my face, a russet shape with a great bushy tail wanders along the edge of the field, casual, calm and blissfully unaware, my scent blown behind me before any chance of reaching him.

He is less than six feet from me. His feet at my eye level. Even fumbling for my camera does not alarm him. The wind is strong enough to blow away the noise too. My clumsy camera work continues and he walks right past paying me no notice.

Now I have to turn back slightly and towards the ditch. At last my viewfinder is on but I can’t see him anymore. So I part the nettles with my leg and edge gently into the ditch – until I begin to slide.

Arms and face tingling with nettle stings, I have discovered that the ditch is six feet deep and as I try to scramble back up, who should be there looking down at me with bemusement? Capone, of course, complete bafflement on his face as to what these human beings get up to and why!

The other “environmental” issue that has been concerning me are the vast carpets of glutinous seaweed that have been smothering the beaches. Sid, the Emsworth harbourmaster and fount of all knowledge on such matters, tells me that it is caused by nitrates washed down into the sea from the farmland.

It is revolting stuff, perhaps six inches deep, slippery and treacherous to walk over. In bright sunlight it bleaches quickly and dries to a crispy underlay over which the next tide deposits another layer. I was lucky enough to enjoy a day’s sailing in a 45 foot yacht out of Northney Marina and saw great swathes of the stuff as far out as the Isle of Wight. Then suddenly, with no mention of our local problem, “mutant seaweed” choking the Olympic Games sailing venue in Beijing has become a stick with which to beat the Chinese.

I hold no brief for the Far East at all but surely this is just more media befuddlement, cheap sensationalism (even in The Times!). We love to paint them as the great polluters, as incompetent to manage this great sporting occasion. Look closer to home first, skip the all expenses paid trip to China and please, can someone give us some honesty, some straightforwardness and some real information?

Capone agrees too. “Now get on and throw that stick!”

 

Walking The Dog 4

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Walking The Dog 4

 

Oh joy! Some real weather returns to crown the long bank holiday weekend and end the tedious republic of sunshine.  Capone has to be dragged from the house because although he will plunge into an icy sea in the depths of winter, a little gentle drizzle is enough to deter him from leaving his lap of luxury inside.

 

So the riot act is read.  The beast is told that there is no room for runts in this regiment and with hanging head and screwed up eyes we venture into the rain.  Our normal cut through to the foreshore, where we usually hop over a gently dribbling stream, is transformed into a four foot deep raging torrent so we have to turn and take the long way round.  The lead has to be reapplied twice before he finally takes the hint and then the full glory of Chichester harbour opens up in front of us.

 

The rain doesn’t just come down in sheets. It is like unravelling great bales of sailmaker’s cloth.  The wind takes it and flaunts it and slaps you in the face. Already my trousers are soaking to the knees but now Capone’s tail is up.  There’s a job to be done.  The fat, snotty-nosed kids and their even fatter mothers have gone from the beach.  The inflatable kayaks are back in the garage and high water beckons for the boards with their storm sails and the bold knights of the sea who will skim the waves and charge the surf.  This is the glory of battle with the elements.  Courage and determination and persistence and rain and wind, even if, alas, no sleet and snow.

 

Summer has some advantages for only in full leaf can the trees deposit an extra six or seven gallons with each gust.  The gulls soar. The rooks rise and fall and the odd saturated pigeon flutters from the branches.

 

There is not another soul to be seen until out of the woods comes a solitary figure in wellies and a barbour but still in his summer shorts.  Behind him plods his aging, morose labrador not yet encouraged to arms, still believing in the misinformation that it is calm and sun and quiet that leads to happiness.

 

Across the fields the barley shoots that have been reaching for the sun droop and sag under the weight of water but you can almost hear their roots sucking the moisture, preparing themselves with the energy to burst upwards once again when the skies clear.  Nature has its own intelligence, far cleverer than the sophistication of man, far smarter than our short term, pleasure seeking easy lives.  The true hedonism is in contrast and struggle.  Only in the darkest hour is the brightest light.  The arid desert is drenched in life-giving rain and inspiration comes when the gloom closes in tightest and grips hardest.


 

The beast understands nothing of this but he knows it all.  At last, puddles are no longer avoided but splashed through.  The spring returns to his step and the tail is held high and proud and wags uncontrollably as the sticks are found and thrown and retrieved.

 

Our route is not cut short by the weather.  In fact, it is extended and though we meet one bedraggled runner and chance upon just one more of the regular dog walkers, this is the best walk in a month.  Returning home for a vigorous towelling and a couple of quadruple espressos puts the seal on the bank holiday.  This is how Mondays were meant to be.

 

Peter Reynolds 26-05-08

Walking The Dog 3

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Walking The Dog 3

 

The fields have been ploughed and scattered this week.   My memory tells me that the ploughing should take place in the depths of winter so that the frosts can break up the great clumps of soil but that’s not the way it’s done in Emsworth.

 

Instead the local farmer brings in contractors who arrive in huge leviathan beasts, each worth a brace of Aston Martins, that devour the stubble fields and transform them into finely graded seedbed.

 

Think of the effort of lifting one spade of compacted soil.  The plough carves down three spades deep and four spades wide with each of six blades.  The earth surrenders to its mighty force and is exposed rich red and raw.  Then a massive grader, its huge weight hauled at speed across the fields smashes the soil into powder.  Only then does the farmer drive out his John Deere, looking puny by comparison and sets it to seeding and raking.  In the space of three or four days the work is completed.

 

The new scenery brings out a burst of fresh exuberance from Capone.  He gallops across the fields, his energy enough to lift any mood.  His sheer joy at being perfectly expresses the purpose of a dog.  He and the intimate experience of a walk with my best friend is the most powerful of therapies requiring no theory or structure, just the doing of it.  Perhaps more like a meditation or prayer.

 

With age the individual senses diminish in power but I find that there is a greater discernment between them.  I hear birdsong now like I never used to.  The pleasure of the birds, the sea, the sky, the light and the breeze is all so much more intense and the unreserved, joyous companionship of my dog makes it all the more so.

 

The most extraordinary things happen every day to those of us that indulge in this most universal hobby of walking the dog.  Last week, and I kid you not, from behind an isolated cottage, flew a second world war US fighter plane at no more than 200 feet.   Breaking every civil aviation rule in the book, it sent Capone and me diving for the nearest slit trench convinced that we were its target.

 

Regularly the Chinooks fly over Chichester harbour, their massive thumping beat pulverising the air.  If you happen to be wading through a large area of eight foot tall bullrushes it is so easy to imagine the rattle of M16s and the threat of napalm descending from above.

 

 

 

 

But the real dangers that lurk here are of a more rural nature.  The most marmalade orange, malevolent cat saunters along the church wall, a half dead rat clamped in its teeth.  The nasty fat corgi, its belly dragging on the ground and while Capone ambles by it leaps up and bites him on the back of the neck!

 

Spring is accelerating towards summer now.  The grasses and nettles in the hedgerows are lush.  The trees are turning a deeper green and filling out their magnificent silhouettes but the earliest crop in Emsworth is the forest of masts that’s sprouting everywhere you look.

 

 

Peter Reynolds 14-05-08

Walking The Dog 2

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In memory of a fallen comrade

Walking The Dog 2

Apart from herons and wealthy, attractive, single women (which seem to be virtually extinct), the main focus of our daily rambles is sticks.

Of course, sticks come in all shapes and sizes but Capone prefers something, shall we say, robust. I suppose the ideal is about four feet long and perhaps three inches thick but the crucial factor in stick style is the way it is carried. It must be held at one end, not in the middle. I think Capone believes this is more flamboyant in the same way the way that a quiff or fringe sweeps back or a fighter pilot’s scarf flies to one side. Of course, even the most perfectly fashioned stick is merely debris on the ground until I have thrown it. Then it becomes the most exciting, the most important thing in life and if it is thrown into the sea he would swim until he sank before giving up the chase.

At the weekend we tackled Thorney Island, all the way around – an eight mile walk in a force eight gale. Out along a one mile dyke, straight as an arrow, then pass through the MOD security gate keeping to the public footpath beyond. The oystercatchers are still here on Thorney although in much smaller numbers but another mile or so on and we put up a roe deer. In the open, not as you usually see them in woods. It ran and Capone ran too but made my heart burst with pride when he responded immediately to the signal, dropped and looked back at me. We watched it run two, three hundred yards inland and continued on our way.

As you approach the most southerly point on Thorney you see to your right the end of Hayling Island and to your left, East Head at the tip of West Wittering. Between is open ocean and a direct line to the Falklands. A couple of months ago when we first made this journey, I spotted an Army Land Rover ahead and we found two men laying the foundations for a bench in memory of a “fallen comrade”. Now, the bench is there. It’s not the usual railway sleeper design. It’s much more elegant and the inscription reads “In memory of Steve Jones, 264 (SAS) Signals Squadron & the crew of ‘Hilton 22’”.

These were our boys, shot down just north of Baghdad three years ago. If I had a son who died a hero in the service of his country, I could think of no more poignant and intense place to remember him amidst the wind, the sea, the sky and the solitude.

Capone and I duly honoured their memory and sat for a cigarette, he accorded the privilege of sitting beside me on the bench for such a special occasion. We remembered them, lachrymose old Welshman that I am.

Thorney turns much warmer and gentler as you move to the east side away from the wind. Nearly seventy years ago, other young heroes took off from here during the Battle of Britain. Now the RAF sailing club provides the local excitement and past Thornham marina and Emsworth harbour back to the mainland.

A pint of beer never tastes better than when you deserve it. So with aching legs and an exhausted dog we made a brief stop at the Bluebell Inn before home for sustenance and sleep.

In the back garden lies a pile of sticks, proudly retrieved, collected and preserved. Out there in the wind and the rain a pile of sticks fashioned into a bench remembers much more than another walk with the dog.

Peter Reynolds 02-04-08

Walking The Dog 1

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When I first saw it, my heart went into my mouth and then dropped in to my stomach as I realised I was looking at a pterodactyl. Loping away from a low branch, it’s massive wings somehow rolling up and then unrolling in an unbelievably slow movement, it rose gracefully, magnificently away from me.

Regaining my composure, with my trusty Kodak Digital at my side, I still managed to miss the chance of a great picture and Capone, my faithful, four-legged companion, just looked at me in disgust before doing his own loping away towards the sea.

Ever since then I’ve been hunting the heron and its mate, for there are two of them cruising the farmland, woods and foreshore between Emsworth, Warblington and Langstone. I’ve seen it perhaps half a dozen times in as many months, once just three feet above my head as I walked down one of Havant’s more exclusive residential avenues. Every time I fumble for my camera, it uncurls those great wings, folds its neck up in dinosaur style and leaves me in disarray.

Every day produces something remarkable in this little haven on the south coast. Across Chichester and Langstone harbours the Portsmouth Spinnaker tower glints bright white in the sun. Crowds of brent geese grow bigger and individually fatter by the day and the oyster catchers screech low along the water’s edge, swinging in formation to display the dazzling zigzags along their backs.

When the brent geese first came in from their summer home in the arctic, they would gather in one huge flock of perhaps five hundred in a field just above the sea. Capone would put them up in a force five south-westerly and they would head seaward in a cacophony of honking, flapping wings getting them nowhere, directly into the gale. I would walk on with them above and all around me, hanging motionless, creating a world of noise and feathers and wind and dog and insignificant me.

Warblington cemetery contains a piteous children’s section where the gravestones are decorated with teddies, windmills, rubber ducks, Rupert and Peter Rabbit. Every day that two minute walk touches me but never more so than on Christmas morning. Then, the really remarkable thing was the intense, beaming smiles that both the bereaved mothers gave me as they tended their child’s grave. Walking into the south-westerly that morning made my eyes water as never before.

The March storms brought both drama and damage, the fields along the coast displaying lines of seaweed 40 yards further back than usual. Other dog walkers who live right on the foreshore told me their roof tiles were tinkling like a xylophone. Parts of Emsworth were flooded. The sea overflowing the mill pond wall filled the empty eight and a half acre pond in half an hour and brought down great lengths of the inner retaining wall. I found myself up to my knees in overflowing sea as it swept in round the sailing clubhouse and caused chaos in the dinghy park.

This morning I left the warmth of Nore Barn Wood and struck out across the most heavily pigeoned stubble field I know. Then to my right a white object caught my eye in the middle of the boggy area that runs down to the stream where the pterodactyl had first frightened me. Capone and I diverted and plugged our way towards it but it was still, inert, probably one of those plastic bags that Emsworth has virtually done away with. We trudged on, me avoiding the cow pats, Capone stepping in every one and relaxed into the warm morning sunshine, another storm promised for the weekend.

It rose again, elegant and yet ponderous at the same time, lofted up and away and gone.

Peter Reynolds 20-03-08