Walking with dogs on a first date? What could possibly go wrong? Gail gives us the low down on her first date with Harry and the works Christmas party gossip.
Yesterday I had a walking date with Harry, followed by the insurance works Christmas party and am currently worse-for-wear because of the former rather than the hangover from the latter.
I wait for Harry outside the Reservoir Café. Fudge is raring to go and impatient at my loitering among the sodden leaves rather than setting off. I’m wearing an old untrendy pair of green wellies because I don’t own a pair of walking boot and am hoping they don’t leak because rain is brewing. I’ve got my long brown vaguely waterproof coat on. It’s really too small and when I breathe I feel the metal poppers straining but it looks better than my lilac waterproof. I have put on mascara, lip balm and perfume.
Harry is late. Only a minute and again I berate myself for my on-timeness. He turns up ten minutes later, all smiles and I try hard to hide my irritation. He has a whippet; a sliver of a dark dog with a white flash on its long muzzle and wearing a red tartan waterproof coat. It still shivers.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ he says, disarmingly, his blue eyes looking straight into mine, ‘but the car had a flat, otherwise I would have been early. Like you,’ and he smiled. I thaw. ‘This is Walter. I wonder if you’d like to walk around the reservoir? That will take us to a lovely pub that’s popular with the walking brigade. I’m sure you’ll like it.’
‘OK, how far?’ I ask as the dogs sniff each other in embarrassing places. I try not to look and pull back Fudge.
‘It’s a couple of miles, as long as we don’t get lost and I’m happy to pay, I still owe you for saving Bella’s dignity at Halloween.’
I nod and we prepare to move off. He is wearing a green wax jacket and an actual flat cap he plonks on his head. Plus, he’s also got proper walking boots that look well-cherished. He smells clean and I wonder what the hell I am doing wandering about the countryside with someone I don’t know?
We set off, walking uphill at some speed. He is fitter, much fitter than me so has to drop back to my slower pace. I try not to pant but can’t speak and walk up a slope that requires my hands on my thighs for leverage. I’ve never walked through these woods and as the rain patters down through the leafless trees, it’s the dogs that are rushing ahead. Well, by that I mean Fudge following Walter’s sleek body that’s like a slip of a shadow in the dark undergrowth.
I’m sweating. I have cause to regret the wellies. They are not designed for walking on this scale. So far there isn’t much of a conversation, just the sound of our breaths, the dogs running and birds singing. A little robin appears to follow us from branch to branch, trilling. Pity I didn’t think to bring some seed.
‘I love it here,’ Harry said as we reach the top of the hill and below us the reservoir spreads out all glinty with ice and the grass white with frost. Gasping for breath, I agree and then suddenly, he is yelling. ‘Come back, Walter. Drop, heel!’
And now he is running, shouting and I look ahead to see his dog sprinting like a greyhound and Fudge trying and failing to keep up with him. The pair of them are after a little deer. Bambi, I think and I start screaming too. I don’t want my dog to hurt anything at all, let alone a sweet little deer.
I’m impressed by his speed. I blame my wellies for holding me back on the rutted frozen mud. And then they all disappear. Harry’s shouting gets fainter and fainter. I have no idea whether to stay or go down the other side of the hill to the Blue Flame. I dither and then head after the yelling. Twenty minutes later I see Harry heading back up with Walter, looking very pleased with himself, on his lead and Fudge trotting alongside, covered in mud.
‘Is the deer OK?’ I ask, hesitantly. He nods because now he can’t speak after running.
‘I’m sorry. He’s got such a high hunt instinct. Once he goes it’s like he’s deaf.
‘My ex-husband used to be like that. But with women.’ I say and want the ground to swallow me up. Harry looks at me as if he can’t believe it either. I start to laugh and so does he and for
the next hour in the pub, over a toasted sandwich, the ice is broken.
We have things in common; similar book tastes, he likes foreign films and Indonesian food (I haven’t really tasted that but it sounds lovely). He is a landscape architect. I can’t help myself and ask if that’s a posh word for gardener. He shrugs.
Just then a very striking woman enters the pub, perfect blonde hair, head-to-toe in black linen and cream woollen coat.
‘Harry, how are the devil are you?’ She asks standing in front of us, looking at me with curiosity, one manicured hand on the table.
Harry is polite but cuts the conversation diplomatically short by saying we are having a meeting. News to me. The woman nods, says she’ll see him tomorrow and joins two other up-market, sturdy friends at the bar who cast glances at us.
‘What sort of meeting are we having?’ I ask.
‘One that doesn’t include her Ladyship taking over my time with you?’
‘Ladyship?’ I ask. It was the nearest I’ve come to someone like that. Ever.
‘A client. I designed her 15-acre garden set in a 20-thousand acre farm.’
‘Oh I say,’ re-adjusting my view of Harry. Clearly not just a gardener!
I have to leave because the work’s party is in two hours and I need to transform this bedraggled but invigorated middle-aged Cinderella in wellies into a semblance of glamour. Fudge is reluctant to leave the fireplace where he’s snuggled up to Walter. As I say goodbye with no other date made I see the trio of blondes make their way to Harry’s table. Ahh well, I think.
And so to the works party, which can be summed up very quickly. Meg came with me and ended up kissing my newly-divorced and distressed line manager under the mistletoe after very many cocktails. The district manager, Phil Phillips, made a beery beeline for me as the only other available woman there, although there were plenty of married women he possibly could have persuaded who were drunker than me.
He told me he’d given me a very good appraisal and that despite my age I could still be considered for promotion. This man is older than me for goodness sake. I could feel my toes curling and hands balling up as he dribbled on. Then I mentioned that I’d seen Esther (the woman he had an affair with. She’d lost her job, he hadn’t). I told him how she’d managed to pull herself together, was training to become a silversmith and had a lovely new man, a farmer and was moving to Devon to live with him.
Phil’s face set like a lump of cement. Fortunately, I was saved from further talk when Meg whispered to me that Mr Newly-Divorced had started crying about it being Christmas. We got out coats and left the last drunken dances to the lot of them.
I was glad to get into bed with the electric blanket on so high it was like a sizzling frying pan. Already my legs throbbed from the uphill walk. I peeped out of the window at my garden and realised just how much of an urgent landscaping it required.