ANYONE who has ventured away from tarmac or pavements over the Christmas and New Year period will have noticed how waterlogged and muddy the countryside has become.
We are very fortunate that directly behind our home are fields, most of which are empty of any crop; the land owners have no objection to us walking our dog over their land. So it was that on Christmas Day in the morning, with the sun shining… well, at least visible at times… I took out the family dog, Jester, a cocker spaniel, for a festive walk around the fields.
Jester is very fond of these walks because of the prevalence of rabbits and pheasants in the undergrowth and hedgerows. He enjoys startling pheasants, which rise in front of his nose making a noise like an alarm clock. Afterwards, Jester comes back, wagging his tail, as if to say: ‘Look Daddy, this is what real gun dogs do.’
Rabbits do not have wings, but have the advantage of speed, so Jester gets lots of exercise chasing them. There are plenty of them out in the fields and I fancy that word has gone round ‘the rabbit community’ to beware of the big, black, furry monster.
So we were having a lovely walk with lots of pheasants and rabbits to chase, and, as it was Christmas Day, I extended it by walking through a patch of a field not so often visited. Yes, it was muddy, but it was muddy everywhere. I was wearing welly boots. No problem…
…I was wrong. It was not so much a muddy patch, as a miniature bog. Within a couple of paces my boots were stuck in it and I was having a certain sinking feeling. As I struggled to free one boot, I put my weight on the other foot and so sank deeper into the mud on that side. I was getting nowhere, except for sinking deeper and deeper into the mud.
If only Jester, I thought, could emulate that star of Children’s TV in the 1950s, Lassie the collie: race home and tug at sleeves so that the family knew they should follow her, and then lead them to where I was struggling in the mud. No, Jester was not Lassie. He returned to see why I was impeding the progress of the walk, saw nothing of much interest and so nosed off up the hedgerow looking for more rabbits.
In the end there was nothing for it but to remove legs from boots and so, weighing lighter, I was able to remove myself from the bog. I tugged at the boots but they were firmly stuck in the mud. Slowly and with a certain amount of discomfort, I hobbled home. It was not so much the stinging nettles that were uncomfortable (I was wearing thick socks) as treading on or tripping over the brambles. And, as I finally neared home, walking on the gravel path in my socks was as painful as making one’s way in bare feet over a stony pebbly beach into the sea.
Once inside, I met my wife who was in the throes of preparing Christmas dinner. Could I lay the table, fix the cocktails, decant the wine, light the fire…..? ‘Not yet,’ I replied, ‘I’m going to have a bath first.’
She did not look impressed. ‘Why?’
‘My toes are cold.’
She looked even less impressed than before.
I told my story. I sensed that the general opinion was that I had been stuck in the mud for years – what was new about this time? And my son’s suggestion: ‘Perhaps time to go on a diet?’ did not seem at all funny.
Later – bathed, warm, changed into clean clothes, fed and lubricated – we selected more boots from the tangle by the back door and set off again, armed with a garden fork and laughing at the mud. We reached the spot and saw the top end of both boots sunk deeply down. Trying to keep our feet on slightly firmer ground, we reached out to pull and lever the stuck boots out of their muddy embrace.
My wife grasped hold of one boot and pulled it as hard as she could, while I got the prongs of the fork underneath it. Eventually it emerged from the mud with a whooshing, gurgling noise. Unfortunately she lost her balance as the boot came out, and she fell over backwards into the mud. It was a shame that she was wearing festive red trousers. I pulled her up and out, but one of her own boots was now stuck and could not be retrieved.
Also, her red trousers were now only red in the front. The back of the trousers were mud coloured and thickly mud coated.
And also, in getting my wife out of the mud, one of my own boots had now sunk irretrievably into the mud.
The original pair of boots were retrieved. However, we left the field of battle leaving behind one of my boots and one of my wife’s. Meanwhile, my son, helpfully, took some photos of them on his phone.
So more baths, showers, and filling up the washing machine to capacity with muddy clothes ensued.
The next day Storm Bella came calling, so the sunken boots were left to sink a little further. It was the day after that we summoned up enough courage to resume the fray. This time I did not wear wellies, but a pair of hiking boots (which are usually very much under-employed) so that if I did get stuck in the mud, there was less chance of leaving a boot behind.
Lesson learned: we both wore the oldest, holiest, shabbiest gardening clothes we had. My trousers were ‘distressed’, which made me feel very fashion-conscious. This time, however, as we gingerly inched our way from tussock to tussock, we were able to extricate the boots without either falling in or leaving another boot behind. We returned home in triumph for serious boot washing and then into the warmth and comfort of indoors.
It all lends some credence to the old story of the lawyer who drowned in the mud in the St Saviour lane that has since always been known as La Fosse à l’Écrivain.
Aware of our own ‘fun in the mud’ adventure, my brother sent me a post from the website of a local Normandy newspaper, something like ‘the Calvados Evening Post’, detailing the story of an unfortunate woman – a dog walker – who had been stuck in the mud up to her waist for two hours. It took the combined resources of 12 sapeurs-pompiers, seven gendarmes and a rescue helicopter to extricate her. (The dog, we learned, was unharmed).
Compared to that, my own muddy experiences seem rather less dramatic. But I am thinking of concentrating in the future on a different sort of magazine, to be called not RURAL but SUBURBAN, all about things like walks along sturdy tarmac roads, the great indoors and The Real Housewives of Jersey.