Advent Assignments: Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year, describe it in detail.

Oh good, they are picking up a bit.

Heh. This would have been much easier to do last year, when I threw myself from a great height for a laugh.

But I racked my brains, and I came up with this. It’s a daft enough wee story, and I’m not sure it entirely qualifies, but I know exactly when I was most terrified this year. It involves a small dog. Told you it was stupid.

Miranda and I spent a week in Woolacombe in September. Picture postcard little village on the North Devon Coast which would, I imagine, be hellish during the school holidays. But we popped along for the week after that, when there were far fewer kids around, but the weather was still pretty good. A lovely, and much needed, break.

Woolacombe isn’t a haven of fine dining – much more geared toward the families-with-kids burgers-and-pizzas types places. But there’s one restaurant there, The Courtyard that was absolutely superb. We were staying self-catering, but we’d decided that we’d have one night to get dressed up and go out for a romantic dinner, and this did not disappoint. Afterwards, a night-time stroll on the beach seemed like a good idea. Romance, and all that.

And so pausing only briefly to nip back to the flat we were staying in for some warmer coats, we ambled toward the beach, hand in hand. We crossed the car park by the beach, and were heading down toward the little path that zig-zagged past the surf hire shop down to the sand. It was unlit at night – a little creepy perhaps, but there were two of us, but hardly terrifying, particularly not with the sound of the surf and so on. We were on a seaside holiday, after all. What could possibly happen?

And then I spotted a couple of figures in the shadows at the top of the path. (Actually, I smelled cigarette smoke before I spotted them – one of them had a lit tab in their hand.) I was about to suggest we head a couple of hundred yards in the other direction, down to the other path, when they broke apart, and it was apparent to me that they weren’t two local hoodies out to get the tourists – they were another young couple, and that they’d been kissing. Aaah, romance. So we strolled on a bit further.

At which point, there was a tremendous and unexpected barking from the shadows, and a dark blur shot a short distance toward us. I distinctly recall giving a yelp, and levitating about three feet in the air.

Before you laugh, (and yes, it is funny, I know) I invite you to recall that I’m cynophobic. It’s not exactly rational, but still, unexpected barking followed by a dog coming at me from the shadows is quite literally the stuff of my nightmares.

Anyway, the initial shock passed, and with some trepidation we made our way past the young couple, who were thoughtfully restraining their hell-hound, and down onto the sands.

Except that by now, my system was flooded with adrenaline. A moonlight stroll on the beach, with silver light dancing the surf had sounded a good idea twenty minutes before. Now, though, my brain was full of fearful images. I kept thinking of those marvellously creepy shots of the sea from Ringu, with the voice over the top of them muttering “frolic in brine, goblins be thine”. Of the beach sequences in “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You My Lad” or “A Warning To the Curious”. I wasn’t taking a romantic walk by the seaside, I was in the opening sequence of a horror movie. The moonlight was eerie, not romantic. The sand wasn’t cool between my toes, it was freezing. Even once my heart-rate had slowed to near normal, said organ was still pounding much too loudly.

We gave up on the walk in the moonlight in pretty short order, and went back to the flat.

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