I wouldn't be able to cope in the Big Brother House. I just couldn't stand it, shut in for weeks and weeks. No matter how enthralling my talking books and tape magazines, a day stuck indoors and I'm girny, stiff and talking through bunged up sinuses. Mr. Dog's not much better, hurrumphing noisily as I plitter with the computer and sighing dramatically if I refuse to follow him into the garden.
This is a problem of a Scottish winter; the weather. Now, with the days lengthening and a cacophony of rooks, blackbirds and such awakening our resident pets at increasingly ungodly hours, I feel that Mr. Dog and I should be able to stravaig out as and when we like. I am becoming restless.
You see, it's not just a question of staying in with the shopping channel and Radio 4 as snowflakes swirl and fall. If that were all, then I'd only be marooned in the house about one day a year, no, the effects of weather are more intrusive than that.
Before I continue, I must make it clear. I live on the outer fringe of a Scottish market town; up a very steep hill. Pavements between me and such essentials as the bank and the butcher are either non-existent or so pock marked they resemble the surface of a larger asteroid. And when I use the adjective ‘steep’ I'm talking about Scotland, not Essex, so I mean ‘steep’.
The most frequent annoyance is rain. Both the stoating, hair-plastering, insole squelching variety and that grey, insiduous smirr which seems to hang in the very air. Galloway has a rainy season. restricted, to quote the Bard, “frae November tae October”. When you can't see much, rain does more than soak you. There's puddles. The only advantage a white cane has over a guide dog is the ability to gauge the depth and clartiness of these. Guide dogs are trained to avoid puddles but, in a world of narrow pavements cluttered with wheelie bins and big, big wimmen, this isn't always possible. I should also mention that I live near a school. Now, although many teenagers are busy saving the planet so dolphins can live happily in rain forests, they seldom seem to make any connection between an unpolluted environment and litter. Highways and byeways strewn with ripped up rolls and half chewed jotters aren't pleasant, especially when such detritus becomes slippy in a downpour. And come the autumn every corner and gutter provides a resting place for that natural biodegradable litter, sodden, slippy leaves. On a wet day, if Mr. Dog and I reach the shops undamaged, I then have to jouk around umbrella spokes. There ought to be a Pedestrian Proficiency Test, examining expertise with the blessed things! Perhaps it could also include ability with shopping trolleys and baby buggies?
Even a strong wind merits extra attention for me. Trees and shrubs swish and creak, creating another layer of sounds to be penetrated. Empty cans roll into my path. On dry, breezy days, papery litter and the ubiquitous poly bags are programmed by some sadistic gremlin to wrap themselves around my feet.
As the many palm trees growing in gardens here indicate, frost is, thankfully, a rarity but it can strike any time between September and April. The earlier the sunrise, the more chance that any frost has melted by the time I'm on the move. However, I've learned from a bruised bahoochie and dented dignity to beware dark corners and north-facing pavements. It's unnerving to feel feet slipping as you descend a street when its gradient is similar to that of the north face of the Eiger. So, I check garden paths and the tops of the fences and, if still doubtfull, order a taxi for the outward, and therefore downward, journey. Somehow, icy pavements aren't so daunting when ascending.
Over the winter, I listen as carefully to the forecasts as Ellen McArthur; and keep a good supply of essentials in store cupboard and freezer. My shopping trips take account of what the next few days are threatening. It would be inexcusable to run out of cat food.
And now, I am impatient for, well, at least the increased possibility of warmer weather. But a heat wave has its own problems. Strong light gives me migraines and going from bright light to deep shade means, even behind dark glasses, my eyes take ages to adjust. And not only me, on bright days in spring and autumn, Mr. Dog and I lope along the street overtaking all those blundering into the low, strong rays; making me feel that the odds have been evened up a bit! When it's very hot, as it has been these last summers, Mr. Dog and I go out early, heat isn't fair on dogs, especially when they have to work. Thank God for chill cabinets!
So, next time you tune in to Heather the Weather or the Outdoors Activities forecast, spare a thought for Mr. Dog and me, mulling over the logistics of our next expedition; shopping expedition, that is!