A morning walk

My dog and I have just got back from our morning walk through the fields on the edge of the small town where we live. We have a very pleasant morning walk, in which we meander along the side of a long valley, which leads from Bristol right down to the sea. And when it is sunny like today, our walk is a particular pleasure.

The valley near our house

Valley of the hounds

As we reached the mid-point of our wander, we passed two small terriers playing on the edge of a field. Molly greeted them in her usual enthusiastic manner and, after a brief interlude in which the three dogs took turns to chase each other in a sweeping circle through the freshly-cut grass, we continued on our way.

About five minutes later, we heard one of the terriers let out a colossal woof. Not a ‘look what I’ve found’ woof or a ‘help, a tiger’s got me’ woof, but one that says simply ‘hello world, I’m here’. In the dewy morning air, the woof echoed slowly down the valley, as if all the world’s terriers were joining in. Our new friend was evidently surprised by this response, as he woofed again. And again.

One by one, other dogs in the fields and hamlets down the valley joined in, until the place was alive with a riotous symphony of canine communication, multiplied a hundred-fold by the steep hills on either side. My own dog, needless to say, sat silently, taking this all in with her usual quizzical expression. And then, suddenly, and with the sad inevitably of all things ephemeral, the moment was over and the dogs fell silent. Molly and I looked at each other and continued on our way.

Eight ideas for a fun life

When I read through books and magazine, or talk to people when I’m out and about, I’m constantly coming across new ideas or new ways of doing things. As someone who is on an ongoing quest to ‘do well, be nice and have a life… all at the same time’, I get very excited about these things but invariably never get around to doing anything about them.

So rather than consign them to my little black book of ‘things to do when I’ve got a spare month on my hands’, I thought I’d share them with you here on my blog. I’m not saying that these are necessarily good ideas, or that they’ll make you the next Richard Branson, but they’re all things that sound fun to me.

If you want to give any of them a try, then please feel free. And do let me know how it goes. I might even try one or two myself, at some point, if I ever get around to it.

1. The veggie van. Get a van, preferably an electric one or one of those really old Renault things, and set up a mobile shop selling local fruit, vegetables, bread and preserves. Collect produce from local suppliers in the morning and spend the afternoon and evening driving to wherever your customers need you to be, such as outside offices or by the railway station. We all love farmers markets, after all, but they’re usually either only once a month or during the week, when everyone’s at work.

2. The mobile coffee cart. Get a little motorised coffee cart and set up a regular round in your local area, selling tea, coffee and home-made pastries. Smile at everybody, ask how they are and become a local icon. Not necessarily the biggest money-spinner, but a great way to get out, meet people and generate a sense of community.

3. The market garden. There’s a field on the edge of our town that was bought by the Council a couple of years ago. They’re currently deciding whether to turn it into a football pitch or a children’s playground. What it would make, though, is an excellent market garden, growing fresh, organic fruit and vegetables for the local population and bringing people closer to the food they eat. So find a small plot of land and get growing.

4. The guerilla gardening campaign. I’m a big fan of guerilla gardening (see http://www.guerrillagardening.org/ if you don’t know what that is) and think that it’s a brilliant way to make boring, overgrown or derelict parts of town more beautiful and more inspiring. I’ve never really got around to doing much about it, though. But what’s to stop you (or me, for that matter) from sowing a handful of sunflower seeds on a roundabout or growing a few radishes in the planter by the bus stop?

5. The virtual orchard. I’d really love an apple orchard, but like most people have limited space. So for the moment, at least, I’ll have to be satisfied with the couple of little trees at the bottom of the garden. But why not a ‘virtual’ orchard? Go around your community and map out where the different apple trees are and who owns them. Then, at harvest time, recruit volunteers to pick the apples, turn them into juice or cider or anything apple-y, and share them with the ‘owners’ of the orchard and everyone else in your community.

6. The heritage trail. The town I live in has a fantastic history dating back through the centuries, but nobody really seems to know very much about where they live and how it has developed. My (currently very vague) plan is to develop a guided walking tour of the town, highlighting the key elements of its social, cultural and industrial heritage. This would be accompanied by a guidebook, an audio download, a colourful map and perhaps even some display boards. Why not do something similar for where you live?

7. The guerilla art campaign. I’m a big fan of art, especially things that challenge me or make me think about things in a new way. In a wood near where my mum lives, someone has made tiny little front doors that they have stuck to the trunks of some of the trees. Inspired. Or check out some of Slinkachu’s little people. I like drawing and I like making things, so why can’t I find the time (or the talent) to do something like this? It’s fun, it’s cool and it makes people smile. There really ought to be state funding available…

8. The community bookshop / coffee shop / bakery. I like books, I like coffee, I like baking and I like bringing people together. So my wife’s suggestion that I find a group of local people and open a not-for-profit community bookshop, coffee shop and bakery probably isn’t too far off the mark. A group of similarly-minded folk have opened a community bookshop in the next town and it seems to be going great guns. After all, who doesn’t like coming in for a coffee, a good read and a bit of a chat?

Molly Labrador, social strategist

I’ve already mentioned Molly, my Labrador dog, a couple of times on my blog, so I thought I should probably take the time to introduce her properly. Let’s start with the basics. She’s a two-and-a-bit year old Labrador, who we got when she was eleven weeks old from a local family whose own Labrador had had puppies.

Labradors generally come in yellow, black or chocolate brown. Molly’s technically a yellow Lab, but is in actual fact a kind of orange colour, known among the cognoscenti as something approaching ‘fox red’.

Our new addition...

My sidekick (left, with me) on her first day in her new home

She’s become my permanent sidekick, spending most of her time following me around to see what I’m up to and, crucially, whether there are any biscuits involved. When I’m working at my desk, she’s usually curled up on the sofa behind me or tangled around my feet on the floor. When I’m in the garden, she tends to find a patch of sunshine to doze in. And when I’m out and about in the car, she’s generally lolling around on the back seat, hoping that we’re going to the beach.

Molly in the garden

At six months, slowly growing into her wrinkles

Another thing I should probably mention is that she is, in all likelihood, the most sociable dog on the planet. She loves being around people and other dogs, and seems to take great pleasure in wandering around town, saying hello to everyone and making new friends at every turn. I’m just the bloke on the end of the lead – it’s Molly who’s the star…

This does have its advantages, though. I’d always wondered how I could go about meeting people and making new friends, and Molly has provided the solution. Wherever we go, people come over and start up a conversation. We meet people on our walks who we later see in town. People may not remember my name, but they always seem to have the time to ask about my dog.

Molly at the beach

Now a fully grown Labrador, having fun at the beach (with my wife, Natalie)

Before we got Molly, I could wander around our local town without recognising a soul. Now, I can hardly walk ten paces without someone I recognise at least vaguely stopping to have a chat. For someone who is not a natural born socialite, this is quite a significant development. And all thanks to Molly, Labrador and social strategist extraordinaire.