09 – 13/05/2017 – Spirit Walk for Sue
I haven’t a religious bone in my body, but do believe in the power of the spirit. So when a friend of mine began her long and arduous battle against breast cancer, a Spirit Walk seemed the one thing I could do for her that her support group of family and friends maybe wouldn’t think of.
The idea was simple enough, to go to the site of her wellspring, to the hospital in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where she was born, and walk home to Nottingham where she was now fighting the enemy within, scooping up and accumulating strength along the way to lay at her doorstep.
Aside from whether I was physically up to it, my only fear was being accused of an embarrassing case of Schadenfreude. I kept the plan anonymous and shared the idea with only a couple of people I knew could be trusted to stay shtum. The plan was to post her a letter from Hitchin as I set off, explaining my intent and purpose, emphasizing that, aside from being aware of the walk, I and it demanded nothing of her.
I plotted a route that weaved between conurbations and managed to stay on bridleways, foot and tow paths for 90% of the way. I slept rough and ate frugally but regularly, mostly munching my own version of trail mix and squeezy cheese on oatcakes. I didn’t expect to find any village shops and there was every chance the pubs marked on the map had mutated into bijou restaurants, open maybe four evenings a week.
The story of the Spirit Walk for Sue deserves telling, except this isn’t the place for something so deeply personal. I surprised myself by having no problem at all keeping her struggle in heart and mind, particularly when I too was gritting my teeth against stabbing pains in my shoulders and hips. I just ain’t as young as I used to be!
The fight to progress along many of the rights of way was to be expected in a country where ROW officers are now an endangered species, but the difficulty of sourcing water took me by surprise. Farms I identified as oases on days of flogging from one field to another were no more than equipment depots for the combines that had gobbled them up. On the up side, I equally didn’t expect to have so many thrilling close encounters with wildlife.
How many can boast being woken in the morning by a beautiful bushy-tailed fox nudging my bivvy bag, and I was convinced the female kite that seemed to trail me for eight miles was in fact Sue watching over me.
Basic stats: approx. 190k total, five days, shortest day 26k, longest day 51k.
30/01/2017 – London Power Walk
The idea for an overnight ‘power walk’ through London came while crossing Waterloo Bridge after a late gig at the Southbank Centre. It was winter and a vicious wind sharp with ice barrelled down the Thames. Either side huddles of pedestrians sheltered beside buildings to monitor how the adventurous fared before following their stagger across the span. I hunched my shoulders and turned my back to it, crab-walking with a wide gait to prevent being flipped arse over tit. My gaze fixed on the modest skyscrapers glowing like Roman candles planted in the financial district. They looked exciting and alluring, like a freeze-frame of Goose Fair in full swing.
Braving frost-nip, I turned to look upstream. Where the steel and glass castles of the money manipulators shined from the inside out, the stone bastions of old power lining the north bank were floodlit, bathed in a mellow but morose light. Their heyday was over, the Empire gone and the centre of power floated downstream. But they are hanging in there, playing at old school politics like it is still relevant.
So my idea was to plot a route through the big city taking in the financial, trade, cultural, governmental, royal and legal (in that order) seats of power and just see what I could see in the course of a meander from 11:00pm Saturday to 9:00am Sunday. I had no expectations except the joy of wandering through a London bereft of hordes of hell-bent pedestrians on a mission. A friend joined me and added an overture taking in some of ‘Dickens’ London’, starting from the great Victorian wanderer’s home on Doughty Street, a stepping stone from our propitious start and finish at the wonderful St. Pancras station.
Here’s the map and, in deference to Henry Thoreau, we travelled clockwise.
It was a fabulous perambulation, with so many spacial oddities, human cameos and revelations of urban wildlife, so many sights best seen at night and architectural surprises, even in areas I thought I knew. But the route needs honing, partly because sections were closed for the night, notably The Temple, but mostly because it proved to be a psychogeographer’s dream for somebody like myself. Once walked, it threw up tantalising alternatives and potential improvements that need exploring further to pump the Power Walk up a notch.
And it seems others are equally fascinated by this alien cityscape, this pocket of the UK unlike any I recognise as my homeland. A few folks have asked me to take them on the journey. None were dissuaded by my terms and conditions; that it happens close as possible to the winter equinox and we go (equipped) regardless of weather or smog. I’ve experienced London at its worst and, for out-of-towners, this is an expedition.
But a hot flask and chewy sarnie at five in the morning sat in St. James’ Park between Buck’ Palace and the Foreign Office is an experience, and as foreign as they come.
26/01/2017 – Postie Dave
Today our postman retired and the estate went out of its way to let him know he will be greatly missed. Of course letters and parcels will continue to be delivered, along with the reams of fliers and tat he was unstintingly scathing about, but it’s unlikely our replacement regular postie will fill Dave’s well-worn shoes anytime soon. More than a postman, Dave was our ‘village pump’. A cheeky chappie, short, bespectacled and ever dapper (it had to be sub-tropical before Dave would contemplate wearing shorts), he always had time for a chat on the doorstep or street and undoubtably knew more about what was going off in the hood than any resident. More than once he had raised the alarm, most notably when one of our elderly neighbours took a tumble downstairs. Through the slit of her letterbox, he had seen her tangled legs and called an ambulance, sadly too late.
Dave was a committed Labour man, a staunch unionist and humanitarian never short of a scathing but witty comment about the life and times of the Big Bad World. He hated Margaret Thatcher with a passion, saw through Theresa May long before she made it into Downing Street, and could barely contain himself when Her Majesty’s Royal Mail was finally privatised. His thoughts on Brexit and Trump were heavily laced with expletives, the only time I think I ever heard him swear. Aside from his family, I think his great joy was reading, particularly ‘old stuff’. He had an soft spot for Jerome K. Jerome. What he hated was decorating, something his wife generally had lined up for him on his time off.
One day I gave Dave a pedometer to measure his daily stomp. Rounded down, it measured 7.5 miles. In the 18 years he serviced the estate, Dave walked roughly 32,400 miles up and down our streets, from and to the depot. That’s the equivalent of 1.3 times round the circumference of the globe!
On the day he retired, at a gathering of well-wishers round the postbox outside my house, one of my neighbours told me he had a pal who was now a postie and suffering. Every evening after work, all he wanted was to go to bed, and he wasn’t sure he could stomach the job much longer. He was twenty years younger than Dave and had been in the job for six months. I think our estate was a second home for Dave and a refuge from rollers and wallpaper paste.
The retirement of a professional Nott’m walker was a good time to start this walking blog, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. Thanks for the inducement, Dave.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]