Can that really be a dolphin on the horizon?
‘I look upriver, across the swirling grey water, past a lone canoeist. Suddenly a dark fin rises out of the current’
Iam on my hands and knees pulling everything out of the cupboard under the stairs. I’ve spread all the stuff – a tent, three sleeping bags, a skateboard, a bag of dusty computer cables, a single boxing glove – across the hall so that no one can pass without experiencing my frustration.
“What are you doing?” my wife says.
“We have to go.”
“I can’t find my walking shoes,” I say.
“It’s not that kind of walk,” she says. “I’m wearing trainers.” I am reminded that last week I could not find my trainers and was obliged to go to the gym in a sort of espadrille.
“I own walking shoes,” I say.
“I’ll look in the car,” she says. I jam everything back into the cupboard and go in search of my trainers, which I find under a dust sheet in the oldest one’s newly painted bedroom. I am lacing them up when my wife comes back in.
“Did you find my walking shoes?” I say. “No,” she says. “But I found mine.”
My wife and some friends have instituted an informal monthly Sunday walk. This one is not too arduous – five miles along the river, starting at Kew and heading east. If I had to, I could probably do it in espadrilles.
There are about 10 of us, but as we process along the muddy path the group spreads out considerably. I start near the front with my wife, but she soon pulls ahead. I find that as I drop through the ranks I can reuse the same chat on different people, tweaking things as I go. At one point I find myself halfway back, safely out of my wife’s earshot, rehashing an anecdote about the early days of our relationship.
“There did eventually come a point when it was either, you know, get married or break up,” I say to the person alongside me.
“And you decided to get married,” the person says. “I voted get married, she voted break up,” I say. “We were hopelessly deadlocked.” “How did you win her round?” the person says. “He hasn’t,” says my wife, who, it transpires, has been waiting on the path for us to catch up.
“In this case, deadlock led to wedlock,” I say. That’s good, I think. I can use that one again at the back.
A woman walking the other way stops in front of us.
“There’s a dolphin!” she says.
“What?” my wife says.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I just had to say it out loud,” the woman says.
“What do you mean, a dolphin?” my wife says. “Just around that bend,” she says. It seems an unlikely assertion, especially when you’re standing in the shadow of a brewery in Mortlake. I resist the urge to look in the direction the woman is pointing, in case she means to push me in.
“It’s in the news,” she says, carrying on down the path. As our group reassembles, I take a cautious step toward the edge and look upriver, across the expanse of swirling grey water, past a lone canoeist. Suddenly a dark fin rises out of the current.
“There,” I say pointing. The fin disappears. “Where?” my wife shouts.
“What are you looking at?” someone says. “I could swear that I just saw…” “There!” my wife shouts. The fin rises again, unmistakable: there is a dolphin in the river.
On my phone I find several news reports about the Thames dolphin. As we head west, the path gets busier, and I begin to sense a certain animosity from oncoming cyclists, particularly toward walkers who are bent over their phones. I fall to the back of the pack as I read.
“It was seen in Putney yesterday,” I say to my friend. “It’s going the wrong way.”
“Can’t they turn it round somehow?” she says. I look up to see yet another bicycle bearing down on me, and step to one side. As it passes between us, I cannot help but notice that the rider is newsreader John Humphrys.
“Did you see that?” I say to my friend. “John Humphrys, a dolphin,” she says. “What a day.”