‘Not as nice as yesterday,’ was the best return I could manage while remaining on the right side of polite.
‘But at least it isn’t raining,’ she countered triumphantly. I allowed her the last word to acknowledge her victory, and then she rode on at a trot.
The fact is, I was already irritated by the resemblance of Church Lane on a Sunday afternoon in February to Blackpool Promenade on a summer Bank Holiday Monday. Not only was there a horse approaching me from behind, there was also a man a little way ahead picking up his dog’s doings from the verge with a polythene bag no doubt designed for the purpose. I said ‘hello’ to him, but omitted to mention the weather.
I used to feel the same way when I lived on the Northumberland coast and walked on the beach every day. I could just about tolerate a lone dog walker as long as they were at least a hundred yards away, but any more than that and I felt suffocated by the weight of the crowd.
But then I thought of the woman on the horse again. She exhibited neither the dress nor the air of the usual county set women who grace the Shire’s lanes atop their immaculate steeds. She was uncommonly plain and dressed scruffily, and rode the horse without stirrups. And the horse itself was no well groomed 16½ hands hunter, but a shorter, stouter nag which more than compensated for its physical shortcomings with an engaging lack of pretension. In retrospect they seemed possibly to be my kind of people. If only the woman had said: ‘Have you noticed how the quiet of the countryside can sometimes be so profound as to become almost literally palpable?’ my future path might have veered slightly onto another heading. But they never do, you know. They never do.