Perhaps I should start by saying it’s the holidays, for the benefit of those few people who have only a basic understanding of the term ‘kids’. Roughly translated, this means excitement increases exponentially, decibels are off the scale and tempers fray faster than you can shout ‘stop it or else’.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that sooner or later someone comes up with the bright idea: ‘why don’t we take the dogs to the beach today?’ and everyone else quickly agrees, faces relaxing with the knowledge that, once in the middle of acres of sand, the focus will shift from humans to dogs.
And how right they are.
So we bundle the hounds in the back of the truck – we’ll call them Dippy and The Brain. Giant and Collie works, too. Or Slow Coach and Nutter. All the way over we drive through patches of blinding sunshine, heavy cloud and every type of rain from fine drizzle to bouncing hail. This is Cornwall, and the weather here is the stuff of legend…
Thankfully, it’s sunny when we get to the beach; the mutts are too excited to disembark in a quiet, steady, calm British fashion. But they are mutts, not humans, and they are instantly forgiven – amazing what we forgive our pets! Even after flattening one of the kids and nearly snapping one of the backlights clean off the truck, we still don’t tell them off. We are too busy running to catch up with the escapees.
They are too busy finding friends to play. And it doesn’t take them long. Dippy is aiming straight for a couple with small kids. The tallest one comes up to his father’s thigh and that is just about shoulder level to Dippy. I can see the man snatch two of the kids up by their arms and position himself between the remaining one and the dog, knees slightly bent, backside towards the expected point of impact.
I yell and whistle and manage to prevent an impending lawsuit by a whisker. In the meantime Nutter is looking frantic with fear in the middle of a bunch or greyhounds. He stands no chance. Wherever he tries to run, they can keep up leisurely. By the time we approach his eyes look demented with terror, and his tail is so far down under his belly that it’s tickling his chin.
He never learns, that one. Anyway, we are now close enough that we can use our secret weapon (and last ace up our sleeves): the ball.
Nothing matters to The Brain more than THE BALL. I swear it’s like a God to him.
So we throw the yellow object the opposite direction to the travelling greyhounds, and it works. The Brain shoots after it, fear forgotten, tail twisting in the wind. The greyhounds look after him and turn away, disappointed to have lost what looked to be a good source of entertainment.
I turn around in a sweeping circle to locate the position of any stray toddlers and make sure we’re heading away from trouble. The Brain is back with his God in his mouth and we throw it again – he’s got us all well trained. Meanwhile, we’ve lost Dippy. Ah, there he is, on the topmost rock in a pile of unstable shingle, doing his business.
I know he is a mountain dog, but how does he know that? And why can’t he make it easy for me to pick it up? I do a bit of mountaineering and then dispose of the offending item in the doggie bin provided at the edge of the car park.
By the time I return Dippy is frantic with worry that he’d lost me and is using one of the kids as a sand-surfing kite as he struggles to get to me. I cuddle them both and wipe the slobber of my face the best I can. Dippy is distracted by a scuttling sand-hopper and decides to snort at him, which covers the poor thing in sand. Then he looks around as if to say ‘where did it go?’ – there’s a reason we call him Dippy.
The Brain is not quite tired enough so I offer to take over the ball-throwing for the foreseeable future. I throw it closer and closer to the sea, knowing that my sweet little collie likes his water and wouldn’t mind in the slightest a chilly Atlantic little swim.
Turns out he does. I’m not sure if it’s the surf (it is a little windy) or he’s just fickle, but the ball rolls into the surf and the collie stands on dry sand, nose pointing at the sea, looking forlorn. I try encouraging him – no dice.
I can’t separate a dog from his rightful God so I wade through the ankle-deep water to save the world from certain demise. Three things happened at once here: the rogue wave that appears once every half an hour rises up in front of me, my heavy-duty dog-walking jeans start soaking water fast and The Brain morphs into Brainless as he saunters to my aid and stops a hair-breadth in front of me, cutting my only escape route to dry land.
I knew this was going to happen, I knew it all along, but I also knew that the sooner I went through with it, the sooner it would be over. There’s no delaying the inevitable.
I quickly weighed my options. I could stand still and let the wave hit me square-on, or I could try to shift out of the sinking sand and gain a modest bit of ground which would spare me most of the soaking. There was no way I could jump and hover up in the air long enough for the wave to crash and retreat again, so I tried to run.
I lifted my legs, now weighed down by what felt like a ton of seawater-soaked cloth and moved to step over the dog. He moved, too. So I adjusted mid-step, trying to get around him, but realised he was exactly where my booted foot would land. I was going to cripple the poor mutt. I tried changing again, by which time my other foot had sunk so far into the shifting sand that my stride was pulled short. I hit the dog, stumbled, and in the end fell forward on my knees and forearms in perfect synchronisation with THE WAVE.
Why did I ever worry about being soaked when I was standing? Why did this new and unexpected less than 90 degree angle never seemed possible to me until I was in it, live?
So I spent the next hour or so impersonating a scarecrow, trying to dry off enough to be allowed back in the car. Meanwhile Dippy managed to half-bury himself in the damp sand because the sun was out and he likes shade. He doesn’t understand the concept of sand and double-coated dog and how the two should be kept well apart. Well, he will when I get the brush.
The Brain continued to worship and drink sea water on and off throughout. At some point tonight he is going to wake me up retching, I just know it. And before you ask, there was a fresh water spring just 50 yards away. We walked through it to get to where we were standing now, but obviously The Brain has his limitations…
We made it back exhausted, energized, soaked but ultimately happy to have spent a nice day out. Two more days, and then we’ll be getting ready for school again. The kids will be tired and sedate and the dogs will be walked down the lane. The dad on the beach will begin his slow recovery process and dare bring all his kids out to play again. And my jeans will dry off.
Roll on the summer holidays.