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Man Versus Nature: The Path To Victory

Here’s one for you:

A man and his hairy dog spend the morning walking along the deserted, old colliery railway tracks towards Alfreton, successfully negotiating slippery, almost-vertical inclines, ankle-deep mud, high winds, pelting rain and near-freezing temperatures, only to come upon a lowly council worker sawing a big Elm tree that has fallen across the footpath, who informs them: ‘Can’t go any further, mate. You’ll have to turn back the way you just come.’



‘We don’t mind climbing over!’ I shouted over the racket of his petrol-driven chainsaw. ‘A fallen tree isn’t going to stop us now – we’ve come about six miles.’

‘Can’t let you through! Path’s too dangerous – by order of the council!’

‘Look, if we just go along here . . .’ I pulled Audrey to one side, and we managed to nimbly leap over the smallest part of the obstacle. ‘See? No problem!’

He turned off his chainsaw. ‘Get back here, mate. Health and Safety, innit.’

‘We’re healthy, we’re safe.’ Backing away slightly, I slipped on the wet ground and snagged my coat on a branch of the tree. He managed to grab hold of my arm and man-handled us back on to the other side. I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I was giggling. He was deadly serious.

‘None shall pass,’ he informed me in a deep voice, pointing to the laminated badge on his jacket.

I feigned good-natured dismay: ‘Oh, but I might simply collapse from overwhelming disappointment should you refuse to grant us egress, my good fellow.’ I was smiling and brushing my arm where he had been holding me.

‘Don’t be funny, mate. Don’t shit a chicken.’ He patted me on the shoulder. Then, pointedly, ‘I’ll see you later.’ He restarted his saw and gave me an unfortunate wink.

I gave up, too tired to argue with a feeble-minded half-wit so early in the day. We set off back along the muddy footpath.

I couldn’t help thinking about him, alone, in the middle of nowhere, hoping he would have a lively accident with his big chainsaw – the thought of which made me chuckle loudly to myself as we neared the road that took us back to the house. Audrey looked up at me.

‘I’m just making myself laugh, girl,’ I told her. ‘I think I’m really funny, me. I’m a man after my own heart.’

‘Well, don’t shit a chicken, father,’ she barked, slightly concerned.

Too Much To Dream

I had too much to dream again last night.

At one point, I was scampering around a meadow playing tig with a herd of cows. The enormous black and white beasts that produce double cream were easy to catch and I had no problem tigging them as they drunkenly lumbered about their field. Their light-footed and skinny, skimmed-milk cousins were more elusive, however. Not only are they difficult to get close to, but it is quite hard to actually see them. Like the milk they produce, they are translucent and slightly grey – you can easily see right through them to the landscape beyond – causing me to keep bumping into them frequently by accident.

Eventually, growing tired, I sat down to rest. When I raised my hand to wipe the sweat from my brow, I was shocked to discover that it was not a human hand at all but a big, black, hairy paw. I was not alarmed by this; in fact it made me smile.

I wonder if Audrey and I had swapped dream-worlds . . . I wonder if she was dreaming that Vanessa-Mae was slowly and lovingly stroking her face while Christina Applegate was tickling her belly . . .

He Wants To Believe More

Septuagenarian arch joker and conspiracy theorist Reg has been telling me more about the alien spacecraft he is convinced made a crash landing recently in the Derbyshire hills just outside of Blackwell. I bumped into him yesterday as he was jumping off the Alfreton bus.

‘Hey, Davy, look at this what I’ve just bought!’ His voice was a bellow full of boyish enthusiasm.

‘Looks like a big globe, Reg.’

‘It is, matey, it is.’ His eyes resembled those of an excited owl.

‘It’s lovely,’ I told him. I had added a respectful element of awe to my observation which I could tell Reg appreciated.

‘This little beauty is going to help us track down what happened to the Blackwell spaceship,’ he said slowly. He was delicately turning the expensive-looking globe around in his big hands as if it were a dinosaur egg.

He went on to explain how he is planning to use his new acquisition to help him calculate the exact latitudinal and longitudinal positions of the crash site.

I interrupted him: ‘Fascinating stuff, Reg, but as usual I’m terribly busy and will have to affect my despatch immediately.’

‘What do you reckon though, eh?’ He grabbed my arm and pointed at the globe. ‘Small world, innit.’

Cutting Remarks

As I was coming out of the Cut Above Barbershop in the market place with Audrey this morning, shocked and embarrassed by my unwelcome reflection in the shop window, my arm was suddenly grasped from behind and I was pulled roughly backwards on to the pavement.

‘Saved you there, boss.’ It was Reg. A woman in a blue Mini Cooper was about to reverse into me and I had not noticed her. Had it not been for Reg, my pot-bellied protector, I would have been severely injured. He nodded at the car as it drove off. ‘Women,’ he said with a wink.

‘Creative drivers.’

‘Not as creative as your hairdresser,’ he observed, with mock gravity.

I have suffered some terrible haircuts in my time – especially the ones I have attempted to do myself, the horrifying results of which will be forever fixed in my mind with indelible precision – but on this occasion, I was reasonably satisfied with my new style, even though it was too short and not what I had asked for.

Reg winced. He attempted in a comical pantomime to shield his eyes from my appearance, as if I were deformed or had mutated into a monster.

For some reason, I could not sympathise with his familiar humour: his remarks made me feel empty and strangely dislocated from my surroundings. ‘I must deliver myself of your leave, Reginald,’ I told him. ‘Audrey’s Monday morning visit to her little brook is an hour overdue.’

‘Okay. Bye.’ He looked puzzled.

I felt guilty by not laughing at Reg’s playful jibes; but my spirits lifted as my little companion and I continued on our way towards the sheep fields and hedgerows and thorny lanes of Townend Farm and to the hectic, green fertility of the Amber Valley beyond.

Trailer Trash

Some detestable moron-cum-idiot was driving away with a large open-backed trailer attached to his flashy Land Rover earlier today from the entrance to the lane that Audrey and I like to wander along towards the babbling brook in the bottom of the Amber Valley. He had just finished dumping on to the wooded path several large bags of building rubble, old furniture and a refrigerator. ‘Well I say! I’m rather disgusted,’ I informed my little dog.

‘So am I, father,’ she barked in reply.

I loathe people who do this kind of thing – they should be gassed at birth. What makes the crime even more despicable in my opinion, is the fact that, being in a car, with the rubbish already in a trailer, why on earth did the culprit bother to drive to this destination – a relatively unspoilt country lane – when he could just as easily have gone to the local dump, the official site managed by the local authority? Perhaps it is some kind of ironic and sophisticated protest against the evils of the world, or an artistic tribute to the works of Tracy Emin.

As we were carefully climbing over the bags and household appliances, two policemen suddenly appeared as if from nowhere. I nudged Audrey with my foot. ‘Quick! Whistle,’ I whispered from the corner of my mouth. (I find it advisable to always whistle when in the presence of Her Majesty’s Officers of the Law, as this will ensure that they will not arrest you should they be of a mind to do so.)

I was about to point out to them the Land Rover that was disappearing along Sporton Lane, when the taller of the two received an urgent call on his radio. He reacted with vim. ‘Ten-four! Ten-four! Received and understood! Received and understood!’ (Why do they say everything twice?)

And with that, the opportunity for me to report a crime against local humanity was, for the immediate present at least, lost. They sprang into action and dashed into a side road like Batman and Robin heading to the Bat-poles.

As Audrey and I sauntered happily down towards the brook, a pale sun rose in the east above the elms and purple heather surrounding Blackwell Church, and, with grim predictability, I began once more to fantasise about my life with Anna Friel.

Sticky Eruption

I was mugged this morning by one of the plucky eco-protestors who are trying to save Pinxton Tar Pits from commercial redevelopment.

‘I hate doing this . . .’

‘Don’t do it, then,’ I interrupted.

‘. . . but could you spare some cash?’ he asked rather sheepishly. ‘I ain’t eaten since yesterday.’

I blinked. ‘Neither have I. It’s 8am.’

‘Yes, but they caught me wiv me ‘and in t’biscuit tin.’ I have no idea what he meant by this.

Looking thoroughly hopeless and doomed, as if they had earlier been condemned to death by the parish council, he and his two girlfriends cut very sorry figures indeed as they begged up and down the High Street (it’s the Via Dolorosa of the village).

They were filthy, covered in sticky brown grease from the oily, godforsaken former picnic area they are protecting from evil property barons. But, because they are constantly bothering local residents for food or money, they have garnered for themselves something of an altogether unsavoury reputation.

‘People would be more sympathetic to your cause if you had a wash occasionally,’ I suggested.

‘Fascist!’ came the inevitable rejoinder.

Gorgeous Morning Horse-Course Caller

I have just signed up for a month of horse-riding lessons. I have no idea why.

I shall have to ring Amber Valley School of Horse Riding later today to cancel. The thing is: I was seduced by a pretty woman who knocked on the door this morning while I was eating my porridge.

She was going from house to house trying to drum up business. Aspiring to provide for me a diverting pastime, she explained in intelligent, refined language what a healthy pursuit the riding of horses is and how surprisingly inexpensive it was for an introductory course of five lessons (weekend bookings not available).

I hate the idea of riding horses – no, hate is the wrong word . . . I abhor the idea of riding horses. In fact, I must confess that I am slightly terrified of having such a large and powerful beast between my legs.

But I cannot resist the charms of an attractive woman standing on my doorstep.

She was not blessed with stunning, model looks but she had an alluring smile and was wearing tight-fitting, buff-coloured nylon jodhpurs and was carrying a black leather riding crop. She had a generously-proportioned mouth with a fine set of pearly-white teeth – a ‘horsey’ woman in every sense of the word. She had handsome features and a kind disposition – but it was definitely her apparel that sealed the deal for me. I wish I had asked her out.

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