It's nice to know that you don't have to look like an Earth Mother with milk squirting from your nipples, simply to prove you're a woman. There's the straightforward Dog Test.
This particular instance of the Dog Test happened yesterday at a wayside railway station called Penybont, which is not too far from Llandrindod Wells in the very centre of Wales.
I had decided to see the Powys scenery, and I made a 'treasure hunt' of it. I would seek out every station on the Heart of Wales line, which begins at Craven Arms in Shropshire and runs diagonally across the mountains of central Wales towards Llanelli. Not the entire length of the line - I'd stop halfway at Llandrindod Wells (where I wanted to look for a certain butcher's shop - all will be made clear in a post to come). Actually, I'd seen most of the 'English' stations before: Craven Arms, Broome and Hopton Heath - I could skip those. That left Bucknell as the last 'English' station on the Line never hitherto visited; and then all the 'Welsh' stations: Knighton, Knucklas, Llangunllo, Llanbister Road, Dolau, Penybont and Llandrindod Wells - of which Knighton was the only one inspected before, way back in 1994. Some of these stations had isolated deep-country locations, and getting to them would involve nifty mapwork and some very narrow country roads. There was also a sporting element to the challenge, because there are are only four trains a day on this line, and a subsidiary aim was to arrive at a station in time to witness one of these infrequent trains passing through - they mostly stop only on request - or even waiting there, to set down or pick up passengers. (I managed this twice) Expect a separate post soon about the highlights of my 'treasure hunt'. Let's return to the Dog Test.
I always feel that's it's an odd thing for a woman to do, turning up at a lonely wayside station with a camera in hand, to take shots of a deserted platform. Generally I don't meet anyone, and therefore don't have to explain. Of course, I have no duty whatever to tell anybody why I've driven to this spot, and if anybody does happen to be around, and they give me a funny look, then there is certainly no obligation to enlighten them. It's a public place, and I'm doing no harm, not even - when it comes to it - doing anything very unusual. Curiosity is a sufficient reason for my visit, and the camera is another: I'm sure I do look like a lady who rarely puts her camera down, and finds even obscure railway stations worthy of attention. Mind you, I like a friendly chat, and I'm usually more than willing to pass a few minutes saying hello, and telling the other person what I'm doing there.
It was so when I arrived at Penybont. Another tucked-away station, not isolated like some, but unnoticeable from the main road. Nobody would go there casually, especially in the hours between trains! Unusually, it had a good-sized area to park in - most often I'm hard put to find a safe place to leave Fiona - 'safe' meaning that she won't get clipped by a passing tractor with some plough attached.
I wasn't alone, though. Another woman was there, standing around smoking. She looked at me. I'd engaged her interest. I clearly needed to say something. So I told her about my 'treasure hunt', and I added - which was by now, after several hours, quite true - that I'd pretty nearly had enough of it. 'Oh well,' she said, 'This will be your last station before Llandrindod, and then you can have a break.' She went on. 'Have you seen the way some of the stations have been made to look really nice?' She was referring to the well-kept state of every one. Some had been given TLC by keen volunteer gardeners, such as Dolau, the station I'd just come from, which was remarkable for its eye-popping profusion of pots and hanging baskets and beds full of colourful flowers. 'Oh yes,' I said, and mentioned Dolau, which I pronounced 'Doll-eye'. She however said 'Dolly', and I wondered whether this was the proper local pronunciation, or an error on her part. I was about to ask her when a little dog, somewhat like a Jack Russell, appeared. It had been rooting around on the wrong side of a fence. Now it had seen me, and bounded over as if after a rabbit, wriggling through the fence on its way.
Little dogs are often excitable and noisy. This one just came up to me and gave me plenty of nose. No barking or growling, no holding back, and no hesition. Dogs rarely do hesitate where I am concerned. I do like individual dogs, but I'm not at all a great lover of all dogs in general, and would never want one as a pet. I could live perfectly happily in a world without them. Despite this personal indifference to canine creatures, they seem to love me to bits. 'Lucy, you are OK! Let me sniff you and lick you,' their eyes say.
The woman noticed how at ease her dog was. 'Ah, he likes you! He only likes women. He always growls at men, won't go near them - not even my husband - but he likes you, my dear.'
So this was the Dog Test. All dogs must apply it. And I'd passed! I had the right smell, the one only women have. A universal convenient litmus test, proving womanhood without having to show child-bearing hips, stretch marks, and a gurgling baby. It explained why every dog I meet seems so keen on my company - even though they surely notice a bright red neon sign on my forehead that blazes 'The best home for a dog is in a pie'. But then I say that about horses and cyclists too. Dogs will forgive everything if you smell right.
With my credentials established, she took herself to a nearby cottage, and left me to it. I did ponder what might have happened if the dog had misunderstood the test results and reviled me. But as it was, the Word would be out throughout Powys that Lucy Melford, the Lady in the Blue Volvo, was vetted and cleared for anything she might wish to get up to. Such as buying an ice-cream in Landrindod Wells. But that's for another post.