One Man on a Penny Farthing

Chapter 3: Afghan Hounds

An appreciation of the middle reaches of Cooks River – Observations about changing house aspects – A serious message about recreational trails – Refluxing kippers – Afghans – Rest taken in the ale house – Some reflective time on a wharf.

Having repacked my hamper I was underway once more.

I enjoyed riding along the middle reaches of the Cooks River, appreciated these parts even more on a full stomach. The river and trail meander through lengthy tracts of parkland. I saw a spoonbill wading about in the sluicing tidal waters. The ongoing bank restoration, slow as the works sometimes seem, looked to be starting to have a positive environmental effect.

I find it interesting how urban rivers and waterways often become stigmatised as ‘smelly drains’. The fences of houses backing onto these features are built high to block out the weeds and pollution, landscapes of adjacent yards are planted to further screen out the perceived ugliness, and house frontages face the opposite direction from the river towards the streetscape. But when waterways begin to be tidied up, house aspects often about-face, gates start appearing to access the water, fence heights are cropped and bay windows installed to take in vistas formerly shunned. You might even see garden gnomes face away from the houses and out over the water as well.

Every urban house should have a recreational trail nearby. I reckon they’re tops; I use them all the time. But unfortunately I’ve seen ‘trail rage’ between users on many occasions. I’d like to say: Can everyone using recreational trails please get along with one another. This includes bicycle riders, dog walkers, pedestrians, joggers, children and dogs – the lot of us. Please take it easy because none of us want to see these public places become regulated; we don’t want or need ‘trail police’, do we?

My lunchtime Kippers started repeating and my burps tasted fishy, I needed a drink to wash down the reflux. With my water bottle already empty I set pace for the ale house I knew was a mile or so down the trail. Once underway I noticed movement in the distance, as if a big lump of life and limbs loped along the trail as one.

As I drew closer I could see two people: a lanky man with a checked golf hat and paisley shirt, and a short, round, oddly dressed, eccentric looking lady. I could tell there were dogs in the party, which appeared huge in comparison to the people. I was quite close when the tableau fully unfolded. The dogs were indeed big dogs.

The man had two Afghan hounds on leads – two elegant and graceful creatures cantering side-by-side, their long wavy locks of copper and coffee lovingly brushed and groomed, their coats shimmering in the wafts of their own movement. They carried their heads high and back on their necks and batted their long lashes like cynosures in their own eyes.

The lady walked a St Bernard – a cleft-jawed, bulky, somnambulant old dog which seemed to clump along all hips and paws when compared to the fluent floating, light-footed Afghans it clearly seemed to despise.

I honked my little bike horn. ‘Honk-he honk-he

And the tranquillity went awry when the Afghans got wind of my approach from behind. They changed. I saw fear and confusion in their eyes, the elegance shaken from their bodies as if my little horn blasted one-hundred-thousand-decibels up their backsides. Their smooth series of sophisticated movements became a whiplash of right-angles.

Fortuitously, amid the explosion of movement I veered left off the trail and positioned the St Bernard between me and the Afghans. The St Bernard was particularly amusing. It was the antithesis of the Afghans; its movements were reserved and stoic; eyes set with annoyance and brow with anger; its transferred centre of gravity braced for the inevitability of a collision from one or both of the errant Afghans. I think it broke wind too, the air turned pungent.

The most striking thing, I found, was that the whole commotion unfolded in total silence – no barking or yelping, no snapping of leashes, no verbal gestures from either the man or lady – which suggested to me that this party of dogs and people were regulars on the trail, and that the scene I evoked might have been a commonplace event. The Cooks River Bike Path is a richer place to have characters like these using it.

Wow! I had to stop at the ale house. I had a nice pint of stout to settle my nerves and wash down my refluxing kippers. I quaffed down a second pint for good measure.

When I stepped out of the ale house and into the day I felt a little woozy so I took a spell on a nearby wharf. I glanced up at a water tower – a tall, concrete, inside-out mushroom rising in the sky – and noticed a dozen cockatoos playfully surfing the up-draft created as the wind circumvented the structure. By Jove, it was beautiful!

I looked back over the river for a while; the lapping water gently rocked the wharf. I was a lump of plasticine modelled into blob of peacefulness as the waves danced in the autumn sun. I forgot about my sinuses; forgot about my aches and pains and worries; forgot about my throbbing saddle-sore backside. I got lulled into a state of comfort such that I’d better take care not to topple from where I sat on the wharf and plunge headfirst into the water. I know plasticine is heavy and nonporous – I could easily sink to the muddy depths of the river and then who’d fish me out? You can tell a story with plasticine.

Wharf

About Blair Paterson

Blair grew up and lives in Sydney’s Inner West. He first realised a love of nature and the outdoors during weekends and holidays with his family on the Hawkesbury River. From humble childhood pastimes building billycarts and tree houses to spending large chunks of time in the bush, Blair now embarks on outdoor pursuits whenever and however possible – by foot, kayak, bicycle or other. He has worked in Environmental Management and currently Outdoor Education. Some of his fondest travels to date have been around Australia and through the Indian Himalayas.
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