Our camping trips seem to be falling into a bit of a pattern. The first day is glorious. (This is The Life!). The second day it pours (What am I doing?). The third day I have almost had enough but the potential shame of giving up so early drives me through days three and four and on five we are home-sweet-home feeling valiant and relieved. Well, me that is. Hector would have a whole different story to tell.
Camping, for humans, is perverse. I have realised that I enjoy it chiefly because the most banal of routine domestic tasks become imbued with a revitalised significance directly in proportion to the difficulty of achieving them. Cleaning one’s teeth in a field with a plastic mug of river water, for example; “Oh, I’m so resourceful and free-spirited, look at me spitting on the mossy stones and wiping my mouth with the sleeve of my PJ’s, I really must learn the names of all these birds when I get home”, and bingo, I am having a this-is-the-life moment.
Dogs, being generally un-jaded, do not have to force themselves through such ridiculous hoops. For Hector, every moment of his life is a this-is-the-life moment. Which means that he is the perfect travelling companion. Whatever we did last week – sleeping overnight in a beach car-park and being woken at 6am by a Farmer’s Market being constructed all around us in a storm, for instance – Hector’s attitude was, “Oh! This is what is happening now, is it? OK. Fine with me”.
For Hector, of course, five days in Wales meant a welcome upgrade from the two shortish walks a day plus umpteen hours watching my eyes travelling across the iPad. Four rivers, three beaches, one estuary, two large gardens, six small towns, a boathouse, meadows, forests, pubs, two new doggy friends, (Bilbo and Mattie), and a load of unaccustomed treats. In a caff in New Quay he was allowed a whole rasher of back bacon and half a sausage left on the next table, and at The Ship in Llangrannog, lamb-shank fat and six new potatoes. I actually heard a small boy saying, “Daddy, that dog is too happy”.
I was happy too. Wales, I discovered, is not full of people who hate the English and speak in Welsh just to annoy you. It is very pretty, very friendly, with less traffic, and reassuringly, just like in the south-west, every village seems to have a Blues/Cajun/Appalachian music festival with wonderful locally-tailored band names like Bronwen Shag.
And as I collect eavesdroppings like other people collect shells, Hector’s silent non-yattering companionship was just the ticket. My favourite of the holiday was a publican telling a customer that there were no Fish Specials on the chalk-board because, “our fisherman is also the local policeman and he’s on nights, see?” Closely followed by the General Stores proprietor who, when asked if there were any newspapers left, replied enigmatically, “All gone. It’s that kind of a day, isn’t it”.
But the absolute highlight of the holiday was a very noisy one. For a couple of nights we stayed with Christa and Roger who Rose and I met in Spain last year. And thereby hangs a tale. They were dog-sitting in Spain for a friend. And when we all went out for a meal the two dogs followed our car. Hours later, we spotted them sitting patiently by the town boundary sign, and even though it was dark they recognised the car, got up, wagged their tails and loped behind us all the way back home. I was so impressed and moved that it was then, I think, that the desire to get a dog of my own began to crystallise.
Anyway, Christa and Roger live in the deep dark woods by a river, (with a yurt for hire on Airbnb) with Mattie and Bilbo who, being very old, suffer from an apparently vet-recognised condition called Random Barking. Christa, Roger and I, being quite old, had our own form of random barking ie. late-night drunken acapella singing in the back of their Transit, Isabel, after closing time in Llangrannog, when we howled practically the entire oevre of The Beatles, in harmony.
Back at their house, two nights later, Roger lit the sauna by the river. And as we sweated, we continued baying; all ten verses of ‘There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Lisa’ and many more old favourites whilst Hector waited patiently outside to join us in our periodic dashes, naked and shrieking, into the cold brown rushing waters. I don’t know quite who barked the most but as I said to Hector, “this is SERIOUSLY The Life!”, to which he might have replied “I told you”, it was that magical.
On our final night we camped at the Penpont estate near Brecon (maze, walled garden, orchard, dovecote, rhododendrons, firepits, wicker sculptures, swimming hole by the River Usk). Hector and I were the only ones there. Why? The others had listened to the weather report.
The next morning there was a terrific pre-dawn thunderstorm that had Hector bouncing off Margery’s walls as if he’d been flipped around the inside of a pinball machine. And such torrential rain! I couldn’t even get out for a pee. So that was that. Without even making coffee (unheard of) I stowed things away, drove off, with my Wellingtons (it turned out) on the wrong feet, and didn’t stop until we’d crossed The Severn bridge.
We were back in Bridport by ten am. And when that same evening (sunny), sitting outside The Tiger, Hector was offered a whole packet of pork scratchings by a dog-soppy drunken youth, I declined on Hector’s behalf and told him, “We are not on holiday now, you know…”
The thing is, since we’ve been back, Hector seems to expect more from a day than I had previously led him to believe was possible. He stands and stares at me. “What? What?”, I cry. But I know. We’re obviously going to have to do all this again…