The [great] outdoors

08Sep13

You know, nature’s all very well, but sometimes you can have a right bellyful of it. Exhibit A: last week. Preparations for a Very Long Walk are under way, and are largely composed of going on Pretty Long Walks, day after day, and then going home to examine the damage picked up along the way. Ow!

Monday and Tuesday were work days, so they only totted up 12 miles apiece – fairly far short of the total expected on The Grand Expedition, but still enough to set up some promising aches to be aggravated by increments on Wednesday, Thursday and – God in heaven when will this end? – Friday.

Wednesday took me and my trainers to Twickenham for a cheap-voucher sports massage – and back again. On that day, with a temper considerably shortened on the outward leg by getting lost on Wimbledon Common and marching furiously (if comically for onlookers) up and down past the bloody Windmill Museum trying to pick up the path again, I’d had just about eeee-bloody-nuff when I lost the path again on Putney Heath and was so scared of mislaying Roehampton Lane that I bashed through the bramble-patched undergrowth while wearing a skirt. I had to use a tissue to mop up the blood from my scourged legs.

Thursday was Esher, for lunch. By 12.15 I was so drenched in sweat I stopped on Littleworth Common for 90 seconds, enough time to brush off several horseflies, leave a smear of blood down my arm and come cantering back out onto the main road. After a lovely lunch I set off again in 30°C and soon the pain behind one eye was so bad I started thinking about Andrew Marr. Careful applications of water, shade, ginger beer and Hula Hoops sorted it out – the Hula Hoops to replace the salt that I suspected I’d lost and that my housemate later confirmed for me (‘Eurgh!’) with the news that it was crusted in a white wavy line around the back of my black T-shirt.

Friday was cool and wet, and scheduled for Highgate Ponds. The rain stopped as I got to the bottom left hand corner of the heath and 15 minutes later I was in the water, just me and several ducks. But by the time I’d limped home on gristled, knotted legs, the red, nettly Putney blotches on my calves were so painful I could hardly think of anything else, although the burst blister on my left heel was a helpful distraction. And trying to pull the Tubigrip that was strapping my twangy knee over the scourges/nettle blotches was enough to make me chirrup like a blackbird.

Still, walking all over London takes a lot of beating – even at your most exhausted there’s always something to confuse or amuse. Stretching on the green in Esher and straightening up to find two shirtless scaffolders in a van pointing and laughing their arses off. Being revived with tea and Abba’s Greatest Hits in a café on Richmond Hill. Hearing yourself wail ‘Jesus, not that fucking windmill again’ having lost the path again, coming BACK over Wimbledon Common.

But the finest moment invoked the spirit of Fenton, the baddest dog of them all. I was broiling across Richmond Common to the strains of a woman in the distance calling a lost dog. After a bit of waving, our paths intersected and I asked what sort of hound she sought, promising to ask other walkers. It was her son’s dog, a ‘champagne’ dachshund – thuggishly refashioned as ‘beige’ in my description – who had legged it somewhere between in and out of the woods. The grass in the park, by the way, was like savannah: long, pale brown. It’s hard to imagine a worse place to lose a small beige anything.

The first couple were so rude I approached the next lot somewhat charily. ‘Excuse me, but you hear that woman calling a dog? She’s lost a beige dachshund so if you see…’ and damn me if at that very moment a light brown fluffy rocket didn’t shoot past. And damn me twice if the young woman didn’t take off after it. While she tried to corner the little bugger 200 yards away in the car park, I took up waving and yodelling at the stout, middle-aged, by now heavily sweating dog-loser, who lumbered back (inexplicably still calling the little sod) for the joyful reunion. Apparently the extraordinarily conscientious dog chaser had lost her own mutt a couple of weeks ago and no one helped her, so she’d sworn that she would move heaven and earth if anyone ever requested her assistance. Well! What a magical moment of karmic joy! Which lost its savour slightly when the sweating lady asked the dog chaser which direction she was headed. ‘Um, over there, probably,’ responded the young woman, understandably puzzled. ‘Oh,’ said the older lady, ‘it’s just that with all that rushing around I must have dropped my car keys somewhere in the grass and I was wondering…’

I fled.

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