My favourite time of year

I took the dogs for a walk this afternoon. Nothing unusual about that, I hear you say. Well, normally I try to get the stroll in first thing, but no, nothing unusual. OK, maybe a bit.

One of the problems with having two dogs of markedly different leg length is that whilst one is bounding ahead with all the idiotic enthusiasm of brainless youth, the other is lagging behind like an old man who's had his Zimmer frame nicked by feral children. There is a point, towards the end of the stroll, where it becomes necessary to call back the one and wait for the other to catch up so that they can be put back on their leads before the road-walk back home. Depending on whether I've strolled turnwise or widdershins, this point is either at the entrance to the woods where once, in another lifetime, I used to go running, or at the far edge of a field belonging to some friends.

These are the friends whose spaniel, Eilidh, we used to look after on regular occasions. Eilidh has sadly gone to the great dog bed in the sky, but after a suitable period of mourning, she was replaced by Maisie, another spaniel and fine example of all the defining characteristics of that breed. Maisie is young, and enthusiastic beyond even labrador bounds, and she has a tendency to come haring across the field if she sees me and Haggis waiting for the arrival of the dachshund. She's small, too, and so can squirm under the fence, even though she knows she'll get into trouble for it.

If I walk first thing in the morning, Maisie isn't normally out and about, so the squirming and misadventure are usually avoided. Today, however, for reasons best left alone, I didn't set out until after three, and by the time I got to the field edge, there she was running about like a... well, a spaniel.

But she hadn't seen me yet, so I did what I thought was a clever thing and sat in the grass verge, away from sight, until the dachshund caught up. Leads back on, and dog-biscuits awarded, Haggis, Mac and I continued our way, Maisie none the wiser.

It's about a ten minute walk from that point back to the house, downhill all the way. The fields on both sides of the road are closed up for silage at the moment, the grass allowed to grow tall. In an ideal world if you're making silage you want to cut the grass before it flowers - the nutritious part of the plant is the leaf, after all. Around these parts that's not an option. Weather conditions and altitude conspire to make the grass flower almost as soon as the lambs have been taken off the field. For someone as allergic to grass pollen as I am, this is not a good thing, and neither is this really a good part of the world to live. But I'm okay - just about - drugged up to the eyeballs with Neoclarityn.

At least I thought I was. But that was before I went and sat down in a lush grass verge for all of five minutes.

The road drops steeply just before you get to the house, and old oak trees shade you from the worst of the sun. My first sneeze erupted as I started down from the top, followed in quick succession by at least twenty more. By the time I'd reached the bottom my throat was raw, my back aching, my lungs ragged. My nose was at the same time blocked and embarrassingly runny, and all the while itching as if it was crawling with tiny biting insects. I could hardly see, my eyes were so swollen, and my throat was starting to constrict, making me wheeze like that old man, searching in vain for his Zimmer.

I staggered into the house, gulped down a couple of extra strength antihistamines and then stood in a cool shower for about ten minutes until things started to calm down. Two hours on, my body's still shaking slightly from the adrenaline rush. I can feel the headache building.

Five minutes sat on a grass verge. My favourite time of year.


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