Can that re­ally be a dol­phin on the hori­zon?

The Guardian - Weekend - - Second Life - @IAmTimDowl­ing Tim Dowl­ing

‘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.”

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