Lovely morning, just after dawn, but there was a man. A tall man, skinny, my age or so, wearing what looked like a World War II great coat. When he saw my dog he stopped. We were perhaps 20 yards apart. My dog was not on a lead.

"It's okay," I said, "he's friendly."

The man cupped an ear and leaned forward.

"I said the dog's friendly."


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Immediately the man turned round and bent down. It was only then that I noticed he had a dog himself, a tiny thing, little bigger than a rat. The man swept the little dog off its feet and cradled it inside his coat.

"No no," I said, coming closer and enunciating exaggeratedly. "It's okay. My dog's friendly."

"Friendly, you say?"

I smiled and nodded. The man seemed uncertain but took the beast from inside his coat and put it on the ground and the two dogs danced around each other as dogs do when they are strangers, regardless of size. In their heads all dogs are the same size.

"Lovely morning," I said, as people do when they are strangers, when they are sizing each other up. Though it was, as it happens, the loveliest of mornings, still night-time cold but with a sky so clear as to be almost white, and with the sun rising out of the Pacific in the show that never loses its magnificence, its hope-inducing wonder. The silhouettes of the hills were manned from behind with gold.

"You've got to be careful these days," said the man. "Three times she's been attacked. One of them had her head in its mouth."

And the energy of his voice rose in defence of his dog and I sensed the emotion. Then he held open his coat like a wing and folded it to show that he had stuff in the side pocket. Sizeable stuff.


"I've got a saw in there. And a Swiss army knife." And he looked at me in a way that felt like an obscure challenge.

I said something non-committal. But a saw?

"Two of them were hunting dogs. Lying around waiting. I'll get them one day. I know where they live," and he fingered his pocket armoury.

His dog and mine sniffed and circled and checked for status signals that elude a human eye or nose but that say things to dogs more accurately than words say things to people. Such signals can raise hackles, generate a warning growl, start a scrap even. Or the dogs will discover a match of temperaments and will skip and run and one will bow to the other in an invitation to start a romp. But they always begin with caution. They feel each other out. Wise creatures, dogs.

"See that," said the man and he pointed up over the Port Hills where a con-trail arrowed across the sky, and was lit from below like a path to god.

"Pretty," I said, grateful to have left off saws and knives. But I do find con-trails pretty. They're the essence of going, the romance of decisive departure, of heading for the horizon and beyond.

A con-trail breaks up across the sky. The trails are formed by water vapour from jet engines and will hang around if humidity in the atmosphere is high, the experts say. Getty Images
A con-trail breaks up across the sky. The trails are formed by water vapour from jet engines and will hang around if humidity in the atmosphere is high, the experts say. Getty Images

"There's been six of them," said the man. "I've been watching," and he carved suddenly at the air with his hands in an exaggerated criss-cross motion. "You've got to keep an eye on them." He was clearly serious.

I said nothing.

"My son follows them on the internet. I bet you think it's just cloud seeding but it's worse than that. He belongs to this group. They keep an eye on things. You can't let them get away with stuff."

The dogs had finished their mutual interrogation and mine was now nosing round a rubbish bin.

The man was staring at me, expecting some sort of reply. I didn't want to play. But neither would I growl. So I did what no dog ever does. I lied. I dissembled.

"Interesting," I said. And then, "well, I'd better be going. Things to do and all that. Hope you have a good day." And I turned away. The man said nothing.

As I walked off I called my dog over my shoulder. He didn't come. I turned and called again. The man with the miniature dog and the pocket armoury and the son hadn't moved. He was watching the sky, one hand shielding his eyes.