Panicking because it reminds you of Spain’s devastated lettuce crop at the beginning of 2017 and the subsequent supermarket shortages in the UK?
Right. But we’re not talking spud for potato, it’s Spud, my Norfolk Terrier.
The little blighter went missing you see. He was trotting up a track ahead of me and then he nonchalantly sauntered off into a copse; by the time I arrived about thirty seconds later, there was no sign of him. Nothing. No tinkling noise of his name tag as he chased a myxomatosis rabbit (they’re the only ones he can catch). No yapping noises (roughly translated as ‘come here and let me eat you’) as he pursued a young badger through the undergrowth. Just an eerie silence and absolutely no clue as to what had happened.
I circled fields and trudged through nearby woodland for two hours, shouting until l lost my voice and gave up, at least for the moment. On my way home I managed a rasping whisper to a passing friend that Spud was missing and she nodded sagely. “Visit the last place you saw him twice a day, morning and evening, and don’t give up until he’s been missing for over a week.” My voice hadn’t stood up to two hours’ work, I thought a week would probably see me hospitalised.
But I did what she said and made my way back to the scene of the disappearance that evening. On the way I encountered several walkers and we conducted a conversation roughly along these lines:
Them: Have you seen a Norfolk Terrier?
Me: You as well? I’m looking for mine.
Them: His name’s Spud.
Me: Really? So is …
Yes, it took me a moment.
Courtesy of my friend, the village jungle drums had combined with Facebook and spread the word. During Sunday and Monday posters were stapled to telegraph poles, leaflets delivered to the houses closest to the vanishing point (about half a mile away, but never mind) and parties of dog walkers joined in the hunt. A lady turned up with her search and rescue spaniels but their rather manic search didn’t unearth anything to rescue and she was followed by a couple with a pack of terriers to send down badger setts because “that’s what they’re trained to do.” I thought about asking why but decided to draw a veil over that one. They didn’t find Spud and they didn’t find any badgers either, unlike my friend who decided to poke every available hole with a stick and was thrilled when she made contact with something decidedly furry. The black and white muzzle of an exceedingly grumpy badger emerged from its sett and it was enough to see its assailant leave the woods at a speed even Usain Bolt would be proud of.
Tuesday found me flat on the ground using my elbows to propel me along a ditch towards a storm drain because it occurred to me he might be stuck in that. I was almost there when I heard the thundering of paws along the bank next to me, a crash and then four tonne of labrador (I might be exaggerating here), landed on my back and just stood there, barking manically. Excited voices came closer: “He’s found him, he’s found him.” They looked in the ditch at the same time as I managed to dislodge the canine brickhouse and their disappointment was almost palpable. “Oh, it’s you, never mind, we’ll try the woods next.” Off they went, leaving me with a bad back and an empty storm drain for my troubles.
The Wednesday Walkers turned up on, yes, Wednesday and walked round the fields waving their sticks and bellowing “Spud! Spud! Spud!”. I did wonder then what a visitor to the island might make of the scene because even to me it looked like some kind of pagan ritual attempting to appease the Potato God to ensure a decent harvest in the spring. But whatever it was, it didn’t work.
By Thursday, in spite of many messages of support, I was beginning to fear the worst. But I decided to soldier on and drove down to the woods because its gated entrance was just about the only one locally that wasn’t adorned with a picture of the lost dog. I parked the car in a lay-by next to it and had just finished stapling the poster to the top of the gate when I looked up and saw Spud, his black-tipped tail waving serenely as he trotted along the path towards me. I opened the gate, scooped him up and cuddled my very much thinner Norfolk Terrier. He accepted the affection as his just dessert but it was only when I got him to the house that I discovered he’d very charitably offered his body as a home to about two hundred ticks.