Monday, December 17, 2012

Petra's leap

It’s holiday time. The family are bundled into the Humber Hawk – ‘Snodge’. My dad always named his cars, and this big old grey car, with its huge leather seats (no seatbelts), its spacious boot and improvised roof-rack, was the perfect vehicle for transporting the family down the long and winding roads from North London to Devon. Petrol was 73p a gallon – an outrage! One day, my father mused, it would probably be more than a pound a gallon.

There was no M4 in those days, so the A4 was our favoured (and only major) route. The journey was punctuated by visits to different hostelries along the way and I am fairly sure that at the age of about six I could reasonably navigate myself across half of England via the names of different pubs along the way.

Petra, following me up a cliff on the beach

I looked out of the window watching fields spin past, sheep dotting the hillsides like fallen clouds, whilst pigs and cows added extra punctuation to the brown and green countryside. My brother, ignoring the world outside the window and whiling away the journey through immersion in comics (Superman, Batman, The Flash), would stop reading just long enough to argue with me over food, or to steal my comic (Sparky), or to look out the window cursorily at my mother’s insistence that we ‘enjoy the view’. Our dog, Petra, would alternately sit in the front with mother, or in the back with us. If we argued too much, Petra sat in the front and we were deprived of her warm, affectionate companionship.  She was, as my father described her, a ‘black and tan-ex’. A cute mongrel with a lovely temperament and an obliging nature.
One of our favourite stops along the way was the Pig & Whistle. Now for the life of me I can’t remember where this pub is, but I do know that it was by a bridge over a river – and from the road bridge there was a 20 foot drop down to the riverbank below. It was the scene, on one of our travels, for Petra’s spectacular leap. Petra was on the bridge with my brother, and I was below in the field by the river. The field sloped down from the pub to the river and was part of its garden. Though deep rivers and huge drops may be considered dangerous environments for kids today – for us it was nothing to play in such places without adult supervision.

I called to Petra – it was my ‘turn’ for the dog. Assuming that she would trot round the lane route and down into the field, I was aghast to see our lovely pet flying through the air as she took the quick way down – leaping from the bridge to join me below. The strange thing is, I remember this from a third party perspective, as if I am standing by the pub watching both the road and the field below, with me standing there as Petra sailed – perhaps gracefully – down to the ground. Amazingly she was unhurt; perhaps it wasn’t really a huge 20 feet drop – but it did seem incredibly high to a small girl, and probably higher to an even smaller dog.
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