He'd done it again. He'd won me over. For no matter how much I tried to stay mad at Benjy, my English Setter, I just couldn't keep it up. He knew it and twisted me around his little finger, or paw, but the result was the same. He'd always win.
He was a scoundrel, but one of those lovable ones that you couldn't live without. Right now he had that look on his face, the doggy equivalent of smug, and he knew that I'd take him for a walk over the dunes, even though I promised myself that I wouldn't give in. He'd been a rascal again and had eaten the fat balls that I had put out for the birds.
At this time of year, the tiny creatures that graced my garden with their cheerful presence needed all the sustenance they could get. The front garden was stiff with frost and they would have had to wield a pick and shovel to dig for their usual quota of worms.
I had come down from my bedroom yesterday morning to find the remnants of the birds' treats spread all over my kitchen floor and Benjy with one of those guilty looks on his face.
Just a typical day in the life of Benjy. There was always something going on and it often felt like I had an excitable toddler in the house. Shoes went missing, cushions were gnawed and postmen were chased.
So it was safe to say that Benjy was a handful. He came with a long history of naughtiness. I got him from the rescue centre and they had tried to train him, but by the time he reached me, after what had evidently been an undisciplined start in life, he was already set in his mischievous ways. I wondered if that was what had marked his card and condemned him to the rescue centre in the first place.
He gave me one of those looks again and shifted his regal head in the direction of the lead that always hung on the back of the kitchen door.
"Come on then, you great brute. Just a short one."
We had to leave Archie behind. He's the other four-legged fiend in my household.
He was sleeping away happily in his bed.
It took us fifteen minutes to get to the dunes. When I was younger it would have taken me five. But there was no point in complaining, I was one of the lucky ones. Walking wounded, they would have called us years ago. Just a twinge of arthritis now and then and a new hip that had given me a fresh hold on life.
"Ida Mills," I told myself, "you're a walking marvel, a tough old game-bird with one foot in the past and the other in the space age."
Benjy nearly pulled me off my feet when he saw a flock of gulls down by the beach, as he always makes it his business to harass them. His insistent yelping sent them spiralling into flight. But he didn't chase them. It was enough for him to know he had the power to see them off.
"Hi, miss." The girl had been running, but stopped to pat Benjy. Molly was another of his converts. We met here regularly and she always made time for him.
I asked myself what she saw when she looked at me. An ageing old biddy, with a face that had seen better days, and short, bobbed silver hair that wasn't as thick as it used to be? Somebody tall and thin, bent slightly out of shape by the years? But I still had a lively interest in life and people with all their foibles. And I hoped she could see that I had eyes that could still sparkle with excitement when the unexpected hoved into sight.
"Like my new wellies?” Molly asked.
I looked down at the aforementioned boots.
"Impressive." I said and grinned right back at her. Pink rosebuds covered the boots and some small purple flowers that I couldn't for the moment put a name to. Boots used to be black or green, but nowadays they were much more fun. The modern, more savvy consumer had higher expectations. Whether that was good or bad, I could never quite make up my mind.
Molly was happy. Maybe that was all that counted.
The children I used to teach always called me “Miss” even though I’d been retired now for three years.
“Can I take Benjy down to the sea?”
I was going to say no. An automatic refusal always made things easier as that way nothing could go wrong. But then I rethought it, My new philosophy, to go with the new hip, was going to be take a chance: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Being safe and going for the easiest option had something to recommend it, certainly. But it could also be dull!
“All right,” I said, “but don’t let him off the lead.”
“I won’t, I promise.”
I looked out to sea, squinting at some hopeful surfers, bobbing about like seals, slick and black in their wetsuits. Optimists. They’d have a job to catch decent waves today, for there wasn’t much of a surf running.
I knew a little about such things, for my husband, dear old Bill, was an avid surfer. He cut quite a figure in his time - and he didn’t need any wetsuit. Not that many had them in those days. He’d even won the iron- man competition more than a few times. Thinking about him didn’t make me cry any more ... the raw pain that had once burned so deeply had softened into a poignant sadness.
“Whoa! Steady on, boy.” Molly came galloping back, excited, out of breath, trying to keep up with Benjy. She had let him off the lead, I noted. But I didn’t tell her off. She was having a lot of fun and there was no harm done. Plus, I was trying to be a bit less rigid and more adventurous, wasn’t I?
“Miss, quick! You’ve got to come and look.”
As she reached me, Molly’s eyes were wide with wonder and even Benjy seemed to have caught the prevailing air of excitement.
She tugged my hand.
“Me and Benjy have been playing detectives and we’ve found something."
Benjy looked at me ... smugly. Centre of attention and enjoying his role as sidekick to young Molly.
I made it to the shoreline, not as fast as either of them, but I gave them a run for their money with my new hip.
“Don’t touch it!” I shouted.
A new, daring outlook on life was fair enough, but you had to know where to draw the line and play it safe. And something that looked like an unexploded World War II mine had to be treated with caution.
“We’ll call the police and I’ll take a photo of it,” I said, searching the inside pocket of my jacket for my mobile phone.
“Just don’t get too close, you pair.”
Both girl and dog looked up at me expectantly.
I clicked away and, although I’m not exactly the arty type, I was proud of the sort of picture 1 came up with. The local newspaper said its composition was spot on and that I was a natural. The editor even asked me to write a piece to go with it.
I have a new interest now ... and a job that keeps me busy. Not an arduous job. Just enough to keep the light of adventure burning away steadily.
I write a weekly column for the local paper. It’s called “From The Shoreline” and it means that I get to indulge my favourite hobby of walking on the beach. I often meet Molly, who keeps her eyes open for discoveries, too. And Benjy seems to think he’s in some way responsible (and I suppose he is). He gets more exuberant than ever nowadays when I reach for his lead and grab the camera bag.
I have a proper camera now, one that the paper provided me with. A lovely young man came out to show me how to use it properly, taking into account composition and light and aperture and all that other technical stuff. Bill would be proud of me. But then, he always said I was a game old bird. Or was that an old game-bird?