A Walk in the Dark
Come December, Northern Ireland is a very dark place indeed. This can make it very difficult to walk the pup, particularly if he is as black as the night is long. I remember one particularly dark and early evening with great amazement. The moon had gone to wherever moons go to make a moonless night moonless, the stars were lost behind the usual gloomy curtain of clouds and I had forgotten to walk the dog - again.
Most people don't realize the rut a border collie gets into. Give the faithful creature a walk every morning and evening for twelve years of his life, and a walk he will demand. It doesn't matter if you are tired or busy or both - a walk is a walk and a deal is a deal.
Wag wag, "Rough Rough",
Eight minutes later we parked the car in what I think must have been the car park at the bottom end of the Roe Valley Country Park. I say "I think we did" because the night was so black, Calcutta had reasons to sue Limavady for trade mark infringement. I turned off the headlights, stumbled around the car, let Tudor out of the back and immediately got lost.
The Country Park at night
I was tempted to fumble my way back home at once. There is no more ludicrous sight than a half blind, middle aged man walking his dog through a pitch black night while desperately trying to clean his glasses. It finally occurred to me that it didn't matter. It was so dark - nobody else could possibly see me either.
Right there in middle of that car park I renewed my admiration for the varied ways of Limavady folk. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I noticed the vague outline of a car. A dark figure leaned into its boot - lit up by the ghostly flames of what looked like the flickering light of an open fire.
It's not every night you see a camp fire inside the boot of a car illuminating a strange, arm-waving person, so I hurriedly got out of reach of those threatening tentacles and escaped as fast as I could into the forest. The alien creature noticed my departure as little as it had sensed my arrival. Tudor, who is mainly black - could not be seen at all, you could only hear him.
Scramble scramble, pee, pee, scratch, scratch -
Thus we made our uncertain way into utter darkness.
I could see neither dog, forest, path or whatever. After a few steps I hesitated. To my right, I knew, was a sheer drop and I hoped that Tudor would have the good sense not to fall down it. To my left I only remembered trees. I turned left, bumped into a solid plant bigger than myself and felt momentarily safe.
This is when I suddenly heard the rapid approach of a bicycle clattering up the path at great speed, with no lights and for all I know no bells and brakes either. The rider must either have had excellent night vision, or the luck of the devil, because I never saw him or his ambulance again. He was closely followed by two other bikes, which somehow sounded smaller.
I had scarcely overcome my astonishment when what sounded like two young people ambled by. They were engaged in a loud conversation to the effect that it was very dark tonight. I felt about in said darkness to touch the dog, but Tudor was nowhere to be felt. I didn't like to whistle, for fear that the unknown couple might take fright, flee and tumble down that steep embankment. On reflection I felt that it was safer, as well as more humane, to let them trip over the dog and maybe get savaged a bit. However, the two chatterboxes went their way, blissfully unaware of the dog-walking lunatic to their right.
At last I had the forest to myself. I could hear Tudor rooting about in the bushes and I took a deep lung-full of the fragrant air and wondered just why this place was so busy on a night so dark.
It was at this precise moment that I heard the unmistakable sounds of an approaching jogger.
I kept totally quiet and touched my friendly tree, reassuring myself that I was not in the middle of the path. Joggers are often very fat people, with lots of mass to run you down with should you happen to collide with them. This one sounded enormous. How he knew where he was going, I could figure out as little as why Limavady suddenly was populated by a race of night-seeing cat-people.
The jogger's mode of respiration could only be described as close to death. Presumably he had set out on a one hour jog and had realised two hours later that it was dark and that home was further away than his stamina. I briefly wondered whether I should shout:
"Watch out, there's a drop to your left!"
when his puffing suddenly stopped and the forest became a shade darker and very, very silent. Somehow or other the unknown athlete had sensed my presence. Maybe I had made a noise. Had I taken a shower that day? Possibly he had heard the dog, who was now by my side.
Ordinarily I don't worry about stalking through the dark. After all, if I'm afraid, how scared must everybody else be? This time however I was worried. How could an out of breath person be so quiet all of a sudden? Had he died of fright or worse? The ominous silence was finally broken by a wee voice, only a couple of feet away, asking:
"Is there anybody there?"
From left to right: The jogger, Tudor and me.
The forest hushed in silent expectation. "Don't worry" I croaked weakly, trying to rise to the occasion: "I'm just out walking the dog." There was a long moment of silent relief.
"Christ" said he, with the greatest conviction, "Am I glad! You scared the shite out of me".
Off he went, puffing into the distance. I decided that
enough was enough. Avoiding the area where he had been, just in case
that parting remark had been no idle boast, I called the dog, walked
towards the car park, yelled "Good night" to the deaf car-boot
camp-fire-enthusiast and went home.