I switched on Radio 4 when I woke up, and discovered that Debbie Reynolds had died. Or at least, people were saying nice things about her in the past tense, which came to the same thing. That was very poignant. At least she was old enough to have qualified for her pension and her free bus pass for some time, if she had been one of us and not Hollywood royalty, but it was still sad. And I really liked Singin' in the Rain.
It was another beautiful day, with bright wintry sunshine, though the frost never quite burned off the grass. Yesterday was lovely too, once the fog lifted which took some time, while on Christmas Day it was so warm in the sunshine that the bees were out in force foraging on the mahonia by the oil tank. I decided that it was sunny and still enough and I was strong enough to risk walking to the post box. That was the first time I'd ventured off the premises since Tuesday of last week. I told the Systems Administrator where I was going, asking the SA to come and look for me if I hadn't returned inside half an hour, in case my legs had given up and I was sitting on the verge crying. Just to be on the safe side I wore my walking coat that I actually could have sat on a verge in without spoiling it, but my legs held up quite nicely, and I felt an almost smug glow that a tiny bit of fresh air and exercise might have done me good.
As we sat in the study before lunch, the SA with a headache and me feeling that that was enough exercise for one day, we heard a dim barking sound. Muntjac? It was an odd sort of time for them to be making a noise and the SA suggested that perhaps it was a dog. I looked out into the front garden, to see both of the neighbours' Airedales pushing up against the chicken run, and the anxious faces of the chickens in the window of the hen house as they attempted to take shelter. Feeling deeply exasperated, because it was not the first time the dogs had been into the garden annoying our animals, I advanced on them, telling them in the brightest and most encouraging voice I could manage to come on doggies, we were going home now. I don't like the Airedales, but yelling at them wasn't going to do any good.
I took what seemed to be the ringleader's collar and we set off down the lane, the other Airedale following along behind us. They seemed quite friendly, and I kept up the affable good-doggies patter while thinking that I did not feel especially comfortable with my exposed wrist on the collar of a large dog I barely knew and whose owners were nowhere in sight. I love the company of my friends' dogs, but I only meet those dogs when they are under the supervision of people I trust. I don't at all like having to try and control large dogs who are roaming about the countryside at random.
Two thirds of the way down the lane my captive slipped his collar, which was a stupid elasticated one, presumably in case he should wander off and strangle himself. Fortunately both dogs followed me to the neighbour's house. I rapped on their door. Nobody appeared, but the ringleader of the Airedales began to bark. Great, now he was going to think I was trying to break into his house. I knocked again, but there was no reply. I hung the useless collar on the door knob and set off home, both dogs happily coming with me. I hoped the SA would have had the wit to get Our Ginger safely into the house before we all arrived.
Then I saw the neighbours walking across their field, one holding a lead. Wretched people not to know where their dogs were. I veered across the field to meet them, and told them that I had just found both Airedales poking around my hen run and taken them home, but that one had slipped its collar and they would find the collar by their front door. The male neighbour said he was sorry. It was not the first time, I said. While we were on holiday one of the dogs had come into our house, according to the people looking after the house who had been watching television and looked round to find a big brown dog looking at them. The male neighbour said again that he was sorry and that they did try to control the dogs. And they knew the dogs had chased our kittens and the old cat in our garden, I continued, because they had heard me screaming. Our ginger cat was twelve and too old to be mobbed by dogs on his own doorstep. If you had a dog you were supposed to be in control of it when it was outside, not let it roam around the neighbouring gardens.
The female neighbour tried to object, saying that I knew how long I had lived next door to their dog. That made me really cross, probably crosser than the circumstances warranted, but I was not in the mood to cope with Airedales, and besides, when you are in the wrong (as they were about their roaming dogs) the graceful thing to do is apologise, not start trying to justify it. It is true that in my time I have unleashed the odd swarm of bees on the neighbourhood, and let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone, but I was feeling tired, ill and incredibly pissed off. Announcing that I had had flu, had had no Christmas at all, and that I really could not cope with Airedales and would they please keep them away from us, I stomped off.
It is a pity. It is better to get on with your neighbours than not, and especially in the countryside when you don't have many. But I fairly loathe those Airedales, and it isn't as though the neighbours popped round after the time they heard me screaming at their dog to check that no damage had been done. The Systems Administrator had just refilled the chickens' water when I got back, which they had kicked over in the panic, so if we had been out all day and the dogs had been left by their clueless owners to go on scaring the hens until they got bored and went home of their own accord, then the hens would have been left without anything to drink until we got home. The Airedales are lucky they don't live in sheep country, or somebody would have shot them by now.