By Mike Bell
What, do you suppose, is the collective noun for terriers? A ‘terror’, perhaps? Or else a ‘tornado’? Neither word conveys the sense of chaotic energy generated when two or more terriers are gathered together. And it only takes two – that’s not just terrier times two, but terriers squared. Or worse. Whatever the right word is, you would think that terrier owners of discretion might take care that there should not be too much cause to invoke it.
Take the incident of the ‘windmill woman’, for example. Tess was out on the fields walking Wiskin – nominally Jack Russell, but too tufty and too much black in his coat for any breed standard. Tess had fallen in with Margaret, also accompanied by Jack Russell – Nipper, small white barrel, leg at each corner, ears like a bat. Tess and Margaret walked on up the track, talking amiably of this and that and enjoying the breath of spring in the air. “Teacher! Teacher!” proclaimed a great tit, inaccurately. Ahead of them, Wiskin and Nipper ranged about together, two naughty boys looking for oysters to open. They considered scrapping: very enjoyable, but then there would be leads and the curtailment of further possibilities. Too early in the walk for that.
All was peaceful for a few minutes (unless you happened to be a small rodent or a pigeon), when over the brow of the slight rise appeared a figure. A tall, angular figure – female, elderly but fit in a brisk, striding along sort of way. She was all wrong. White canvas raincoat in all that mud? No dog? Clearly a dangerous intruder. Tess and Margaret exchanged nervous glances, their expressions familiar to any owner of a ‘funny’ dog. “Wiskin!”, “Nipper!”, they cried, “Come here, now!”. The two terriers exchanged looks of a different kind, the meaning as clear as words spoken: “There’s one! Let’s get her!”
The two little dogs raced abreast, small legs working like pistons. Despairing commands and imprecations followed them up the track, dwindling unheeded, unheard even. As if choreographed, Wiskin and Nipper diverged and, at the same moment, leapt. After a moment’s step back, the woman strode on undaunted. You had to admire her spirit. Her two arms swung in opposing circles, seeming to conduct the two dancing terriers (now you can see why she’s known as the ‘windmill woman’). “Yap!”, “Snap!”, they went, small white teeth meeting millimetres from her: not touching her, nor meant to, just a wind-up judged to the finest degree.
Now terrier owners, at least those that stick at it, know and love the nature of terriers. So you shouldn’t be too shocked to read that Tess and Margaret, whilst in principle embarrassed and ashamed of their pets, also shared something of their keen sense of enjoyment of the situation. Not so the windmill woman. Her complaining voice became audible over the excited barks as she walked towards them: “…disgraceful behaviour …should be reported …can’t keep your dogs under control …obedience classes needed here, I think…”. “W-wiskin! You bad boy!” spluttered Tess, “I am sorry, I don’t know what’s got into him.” Her insincerity was felt by terrier and victim alike.
Captured at last, the two dogs basked in a happy glow of achievement and admiration: “You horrible dogs!” (pat, stroke), “Oh Nipper, you are awful!” (ruffle). They would stay on their leads now, but it had been worth it.
And that was only the first time that Tess and her friends encountered the windmill woman…