But I wasn’t just a sedentary child, I was also an obedient child. So I took Rip with me.
Rip was our dog. Unlike me, Rip was not obedient. He would sit on command, but he would do nothing else on command. And if other activities were more interesting then he wouldn’t even sit on command. He would sit for small pieces of food.
As well as being a sedentary and obedient child I was also an anxious child. One of the things I worried about was that if I let Rip off the lead when we were out on a walk then Rip would not come back. I probably worried that he would get run over, or fall in the canal, or bite somebody, but my main worry was that I would see him vanishing off into the distance, full of exuberance with his tail high, and that I would be unable to catch him.
I loved Rip. He was a fabulous dog. He was naughty. He was a bit growly. I think he was probably a bit bitey. He was an average sized crossbreed with short black hair, a white flash on his chest. But he was not the kind of dog who you could take for a walk in the countryside and then sit on a tree trunk by the canal while he wandered around nearby sniffing at stuff and doing generally cute dogly things. I wanted to be able to sit and read in seclusion. Or maybe to climb trees. Or wade into ponds. The kind of things that William Brown and his Outlaws might want to do. They had a dog which would wander around nearby and would never go too far away. Rip was not this kind of dog. You had to hold his lead and keep an eye on him. Even with an extending lead this required attention because he would tangle himself up, he would pull at the longest extent of the lead. He was always a puller, wherever you went. He always wanted to get his nose into things. He always wanted to be somewhere else. It did not make for a relaxing experience for me.
My sister was much more easy-going about this. If we took Rip down to the seaside she would take a load of bits of chicken with her, wrapped in silver foil. When we got to the beach, she would just let Rip go and he would vanish into the distance. But he would come back in response to the unwrapping of chicken. I never felt this secure in my ability to return him to me. I always felt that she was living on the edge when she did this. Even though it always worked.
So my relaxing walks were basically Rip pulling me around from one thing to the next. I would walk him between the village hall and the Primary School, past the Pit and the cricket ground, over a little hill, which you had to be very careful going over because it was narrow and cars couldn’t see you when they were coming over the brow, and around the Triangle. At the furthest extent of the Triangle, I could walk down past Maggie Mays and along the canal for a bit, or I could go over a stile into the fields and wander aimlessly across fields without any real path to follow. I didn’t take the field route very often when I had Rip with me because on one occasion the cows had seen me walking Rip and they all charged towards me in a manner that freaked out both me and Rip. Also, I found it very easy to get lost in these fields and end up knee deep in mud. So if I had Rip with me it was usually down along the canal and then back up over another hill and home along the other side of the Triangle and back along the way I had come.
By the cricket ground, just after you came down the narrow, dangerous hill, there was a little stream that ran under the road. A little muddy bank ran down from the side of the road to this stream and there was something about it that gave Rip an attack of the heebie-jeebies. He never cared about it on the way out towards the Triangle, but going in the other directions it put the right old wind up him. If, for whatever reason, a quest for frogs or to wash my wellies or whatever, I wanted to climb down the bank to have a look at the stream Rip was having none of it. He would back up, pull away, growl, do anything to avoid going in that direction.
Every single time I went there he gave this side of the road a wide berth. I have no idea why. Except for the obvious answer that this was one of the many streams in the world, passing under a road, which had a resident troll. I don’t genuinely believe this, obviously. There wasn’t room for a troll down there. But there are other countryside sprites, things like hobgoblins who might want to live in such a muddy, glutinous, concealed place. And would be just as dangerous to a child as a troll would be. With their sharp pointy teeth, their thick, toad-like skin, their pointy ears and long clasping, grasping fingers.
And brave, plucky Rip was trying to protect me from whatever it was down there.
What a good dog!