To continue. From Feering we walked on. The directions we had printed off were somewhat scant, and we quickly realised that it would have been helpful had distances been mentioned. There was also an instruction that told us to do something just before reaching somewhere. As the notes said, this is a walk popular with local walking groups, and it seemed local knowledge was required too.
As usual Celia was in charge of the notes while my job was to take photographs. There were several moments where we were not sure if we were in the right place, so to find the Plank Bridge and cross it was a relief. Fortunately the terrain was mainly easy and pleasant. The sun came and went. Likewise a stiff breeze. At one point it looked like it might rain. We were fairly sure we had missed a turning to Skye Green only to find a rather overgrown sign announcing it just after this finger post.
We never did find Lees farm, but emerged in more or less the right place opposite a thatched house. It had a bench in the garden where we were tempted to eat our packed lunches, but the plastic flowers put us off, though I liked the thatcher’s sign of ducks and ducklings on the roof. Soon we were walking into Coggeshall town and getting our first sights of solid, attractive houses.
I think I may have mentioned it already, but Coggeshall has, we learned, some three hundred listed buildings. We must have walked by most of them as we eventually found our way to the centre of town after the longest 0.7km ever recorded. There were very few indications of distance in the instructions and it would have been helpful if this one had been accurate. Once again we assumed we had missed our turning, or that it had been built over. But no, suddenly there was the Recreation Ground and a walled passage on the other side we walked through to the town centre.
When Graham made a comment on my last post about the sycophantic remarks we could expect over the next days I thought it was a little harsh. Now I can’t bear to turn on the television or listen to the radio. Even The Guardian is stuffed with royal stories. At least there I can choose what to read.
When I was on the Mall yesterday I saw people, taking selfies with the Palace as a backdrop. Many people were clearly there to witness history, to read the notice on the gates, to marvel at the crowds. Yet television commentary described all of them as mourners. Am I mourning the Queen? I don’t know. I am still shocked at her death. It seemed so sudden. We saw her on our screens on Tuesday, physically frail, but still alert, no apparent cause to think that in forty eight hours she’d be dead. What happened? Was it just a simple case of old age like my cousin Alec’s dog who climbed into the car for a five minute drive to the place where he was going to have a walk, only to be found dead on arrival, eyes closed, curled up as though in sleep? That suddenness is what I am struggling with most. That and adjusting to understanding that when someone talks about the Queen today, they are talking about Camilla, not her mother-in-law.
A cousin sent me a truly terrible poem someone had rushed out when the news of ERII’s death broke. I protested. She said I was harsh. I said no, I like poetry and if you want to honour Her Maj poetically cut out the mawkish, the glib, the trite, the Queen was none of those things. Don’t worry, I shan’t inflict it on you though I imagine if you are curious you could find it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Hopefully Simon Armitage will come up with something more thought provoking.
I am no fan of monarchy, and I know despite all the dithyrambs on tonight’s news the Queen had her faults. She interfered with legislation which might affect her finances; she only started paying tax very late in her reign; but like many in this country I had a reluctant admiration for her, and I loved her performances in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and her appearance with Paddington earlier this year in her Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Celia and I went to the Small is Beautiful exhibition today in South Ken. The ads for it looked good, but it was even better than we’d hoped, housed in a space which seemed to unfold as we made our way round. An exhibition can be made or spoiled by how it is laid out. This one felt like a journey of discovery and exploration. Engaging, stimulating, exciting and in the true sense of the word, wonderful.
It closes on Sunday so you haven’t got much time to see it in London, but then it’s off to New York. Might be a good excuse for a hop across the pond. There were people of all ages. Young children were both mesmerised and audibly thrilled by the whole thing. We went in the morning. We were actually the first people through the door and we spent nearly two hours there. Time flew by. Some of the pieces amused, some provoked, amazed the skill of all the artists amazed. My favourites were Simon Laveuve whose pieces I loved, and Slinkachu whose pieces I recognised, though I don’t recall from where. Anyway, check out the links.
A couple of days ago I had acupuncture for my shoulder and neck pain. I went back to Luke who I last saw four years ago. It has only just dawned me that this is now chronic pain as I have had it for months. The session has definitely helped, and I feel more positive that this is not something I am going to have to live with for ever. I go back fr more needles in ten days. Watch this space.
I’ve always been a reader, but at the moment I am never happier then when I have my nose in a book. A trip to the Barbican library netted booty: four novels to enjoy. The Barbican library is the best lending library I know. Unlike so many, it hasn’t been disemboweled and turned into a café with a few books around and a lot of computers. I think there are even still librarians working there, as opposed to library assistants. In the various lockdowns while our local libraries closed, the Barbican did all it could to make sure us borrowers could keep borrowing. We reserved our books online, then collected them from the library’s back door. It worked perfectly and gave our walks to the City real purpose.
The weather continues to defy expectations. I am under a tree with Westie Boy asleep at my side. I have spent much of the day reading, watching the birds at the feeders, admiring the garden and the scenery beyond. Smudge is asleep on an unmade up bed in the second bedroom of the annex where I am staying. Poppy is asleep inside. I haven’t seen Dizzy since first thing this morning, so I imagine he is visiting one of the neighbours and has a cool spot.
This morning Cecilia came to visit. We had planned to walk with or without dogs depending on the heat. She managed to miss the house and spent fruitless minutes driving up and down the road. My mobile phone reception here is hopeless, so although she tried ringing me we could not speak while I was in the house. Texts worked though so I told her I’d walk to the entrance of the driveway where she’d be able to see me. Reception was better there and we managed to speak. She told me where she was and I told her where I was. As she rang off I saw her car leave the parking space opposite the chapel and come down the hill, as she turned into the road I was able to stand in her path waving both arms.
The dogs mobbed her. She dealt extremely well with an excited Westie and an exuberant Labrador. We decided it was too hot for us to walk even without dogs, so I made coffee and we sat at the back of the house. Westie Boy let the house down by jumping up and snatching her biscuit from her hand. I had warned her they are a pair of thugs. Poppy captured her heart and sat as close to her as she could manage. Westie Boy went off to play with his ball, and then barked at us to gain our attention. Male Look-at-Me syndrome.
I am feeling quite smug sitting in warm sunshine under a tree in the garden, a gentle breeze blowing, and a view of the hills in the distance. I see the temperatures are rising in London again, while here it’s hovering around the mid twenties centigrade for the next few days. Perfect.
I came down on Sunday evening. All bus timetables worked out, but I was collected from the house and travelled in ease and comfort in Cousin’s car. I got a great welcome from the dogs. Dizzy the cat took over my knee, and his fellow feline Smudge, curled up on my bed.
I took the dogs out for a walk before it got too dark. I say walk, but for the first half mile it was more stop and sniff.
Westie Boy was hopeful we’d see Poppy Junior, and sniffed and whined at her gate, but no joy. Poppy was similarly disappointed when there was no sign of her Labrador friend Sam and stared hopefully through the fence for a while. Tom has some very assertive sheep in the field next to my favourite tree who instead of running away as we went by, advanced on the gate to stare at us boldly.
There are young bullocks who all look like entrants to the knobbly knees competition. I’d have awarded first prize to a little white bullock who trotted over to us. I say us, but it was Poppy he wanted to see. What is it about Poppy that bullocks find so intriguing? They cluster up to the gate like eager autograph hunters. Poppy is very relaxed about their attentions, even allowing them to lick her muzzle.
A trip to see Uncle Bill on Friday is coming together. Tomorrow we’ll have a little pilgrimage to Upperlands, and on Thursday I hope to meet Cecilia, the best Airbnb landlady in Ireland, and go for a walk. I did take the dogs out this morning, but Poppy found it too warm, so we turned back after only a short distance. I reckon seven this evening would be a good time to try again. It will still be light, but cooler, the returning workers in their cars should be home and not hurtling along the lane. Maybe even Poppy Junior and Jake will be about.
It might be time to drop the coronavirus bit from the titles of these posts. Fewer people wearing masks, and that includes me, less fear of being with people indoors or on public transport. I hope it’s not all a false dawn.
Toady was one of those fairly dull days. I don’t mean the weather, it was sunny with blue skies, windows open, bare feet warm. I had tasks to complete, none particularly thrilling, and I was looking for some notes I know I made about a decade ago. I couldn’t find them. But after breakfast I had decided to have my first interaction with Too Good to Go, an app that aims to reduce food waste. I had a look at what was available in my area, and plumped for a vegan magic bag form an outlet on the Brixton Road I didn’t know. I paid my £3.59 online and wondered what I’d get.
The walk there in the early evening through Kennington Park before I reached the busy Brixton Road was an antidote to my day. It was dog walking time. I watched a young golden retriever enjoying a walk with her owner, bounding towards a canine friend for some racing and tumbling. Tails waving and ears cocked, they played on the grass. I had hoped I might see Tracey with her ageing Staff cross, but there was no sign of them.
Halfway down the Brixton Road, I felt a sharp pain in my right ankle. Strange. I hadn’t done anything. I walked on and the pain reoccurred. I stopped, flexed my foot a few times. That seemed to fix it. Good. At Pipoca people were enjoying coffees and eating snacks. I approached the counter, unsure of the protocol. I had Brough containers as instructed, but as I had no idea what I was going to get, I wasn’t sure if they were suitable. A friendly member of staff took me through the ropes and took my containers. I looked about me. What a nice place. The soup looked great, so I was really pleased when that turned out to be one of the things in my magic bag. That’ll do nicely for lunch tomorrow. I also got a wholemeal chocolate muffin which I ate for pudding, a pain au chocolat which I’ll have for breakfast, and little carton of milk alternative, a make I don’t know. All of it vegan. What an adventure!
Nice though the food is, the thrill was discovering Pipoca. Next to the café is a shop. a great shop. You can refill your bottles, buy food, ethical cleaning products, great soap. I found a soap bag. I only learned of them the other day, and the only place I saw them for sale was online where the postage and packing costs were more than double the price of the bag. I’ll definitely return, and I suspect Celia will be coming too.
On the way home I chose a different route. The sharp pain returned to my ankle. I loosened my shoelaces. Perhaps I had tied them too tightly. I limped for a bit, and suddenly the distance home seemed a very long way. More ankle flexing, more ankle rotation, more putting my foot gingerly to the ground. Gradually I was able to walk almost normally. I could still feel discomfort, but the sharp pain had eased. I enjoyed my walk home. I went by the end of the street where Celia and I met a woman called Michelle who gave us a bag of cherries in exchange for deadheading our roses. Her roses are blooming beautifully again. That was in 2020, during one of the lockdowns. Today I met a man with a beautiful Pomeranian who made friends with me through the fence. A pug being walked by a woman a little further along the path showed no desire to get to know me, and the woman didn’t smile or say hello. Oh well, not everyone is friendly, even when they have a dog.
Closer to home I admired Kenon’s garden. He has turned a limited space at the front of the house into a delight.
Not so long ago, the pandemic I knew most about was the one in which my grandfather’s first wife died in 1918. Similarly, world war was something my parents spoke of as a lived experience. I learned about both in school history lessons. I didn’t really expect to live either. But we have been living with the pandemic for two years now, and global war is a definite possibility.
I feel I need to watch the news, despite the feelings of helplessness and grief it engenders. It’s something about bearing witness to the horrors being unleashed on the Ukrainian population. Emotionally, it’s draining. I have sent money, signed petitions, tweeted and retweeted. Yesterday, I took the day off from war. A luxury those in Ukraine do not have.
Celia and I set out for Coulsdon, and a walk we had found that was described as a surprising gem to find in the outskirts of London. It’s a peaceful, undulating, country route across flower strewn downland (in season), woods and fields and as a bonus, a church decorated with the earliest known English wall painting. What’s more all travel was within Zone 6. Neither of us knew Coulsdon. It would be a stretch to say we do now, as apart from the café (great) in the Memorial gardens and the toilets (vile) close by, we didn’t see much of it. We headed up hill to Farthing Down and Happy Valley, past some very attractive houses. About 400 yards into our walk we were lost. Not completely lost, but the instructions we were following did not match the terrain. We worked it out, but it was a good start in a way, as we increasingly found that the landmarks, fingerposts, numbered gates which were to guide us no longer existed. Compasses came into play.
Happy Valley is gorgeous. It is part of the Green Belt that surrounds London, a boon for those who live by it, and a barrier to further urban development. A barrier some want removed. A bit like the way climate crisis deniers and those who have long supported fracking say that with the current fuel crisis we should resume coal mining, drilling for oil and fracking. Heaven help us, for most of our politicians won’t.
Being out of the city was wonderful. The greenery, the dogs, the silence. We ambled, enjoying it all. Well, most of it. Not the mud. There was quite a lot of mud. Away from the Down some landowners make sure public access is restricted to a narrow strip between wire fences. We squelched, we slithered. The mud sucked at our boots and made our leg muscles tired. Thank goodness for the catkins, the twin lambs, for the primroses, and the buds. It was all very Robert Browning, though a month early.
We emerged from mud and woodland to a space, an enclave of neat houses and a quiet road. Children played on their bikes. Some of the houses had been done up with massive fences to stop anyone being able to see over them, security cameras and lights. Russian oligarchs perhaps. Certainly not neighbours where you’d go to ask if they had a screwdriver you could borrow.
We stopped for lunch at a dog friendly, walker friendly pub where they let us eat our packed lunches outside, and then we headed into the warm interior to finish our glasses of cider. The wind was cold, and the sections of the walk where we were in woodland provided us with welcome shelter.
I seem to have spent most of the last hour crying. Now we are on the weather forecast I am sniffing and blowing my nose; there’s a heavy feeling in my heart. In my head I keep hearing the Beatles song Back in the USSR, and the lines the Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the West behind. I’m not sure I should be anywhere near as brave as the Ukraine girls I have just watched on Channel 4 News. Actually, I am sure, I shouldn’t be.
I was cooking, so my tears dripped into the red bean stew with millet pilaf and greens, a meal I haven’t made in a while. I finished cooking and ate, still watching the news.
Clive James, now departed from this mortal coil, used to write a TV column for the Observer. In one he made a remark about Kate Adie, saying that if Kate Adie appeared on our screens reporting from somewhere we knew it was serious. Kate Adie doesn’t report from danger zones now, but Matt Frei and Lindsey Hilsum are carrying on her tradition, both reporting from inside Ukraine, while Paraic O’Brien reports from the border with Hungary, and the rest of the impressive news team fill in the gaps from elsewhere.