Sunday, 25 April 2010

Not as easy as I thought

So there we were, wandering, somewhat aimlessly around the paths and country lanes of Worcestershire. This being the second week of doing this walking thing, I thought it might perhaps have been easier.

Not to any great degree, you understand. Just a tad. A mere smidgen, if you please.

But no. The Gods of Buggeration were out in force yesterday and they were doing their level best to frustrate our efforts. We walked along dried-up bridle paths, their surfaces churned-up by horses making the going decidedly slow. There was the odd niggle, legs-wise. And worse of all, our directions had clearly been written by someone who had employed the tactic of Making It Up In The Pub Afterwards.

For starters, there was a degree of interpretation required when following them. At times they'd be accurate, then they'd lapse into worrying inexactitude. "You have reached a country park," they said. "It's up to you to decide which way to go for a while."

Oh. Thanks for that. Could you at least have included the phone number for a taxi company?

We walked through the hamlet of Ebcocks Green. Here is a picture of Mike and me in front of the sign, in case you wanted proof:

We are grown adults with responsible jobs.

And as we approached our destination, the really rather lovely village of Feckenham, we had more reason to doubt the unknown author of our directions. We'd been going for four hours in total. "There is," we said in unison, "no way that was only seven sodding miles."

Never has a pint (Brakspear's Oxford Gold, if you're interested) been so gleefully anticipated, and so quickly drained.

I have got to get so much better at this in the coming months.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Just putting one foot in front of the other

Yesterday morning, being Sunday, I got out of bed and padded around the house in my dressing gown.

No. There isn't a house in my dressing gown. That way lies madness. What I meant was...oh never mind. Anyway, I wandered around the house, light of foot and feeling no aches or pains whatsoever.

This was most unusual.

I say it was unusual, not because I'm normally a martyr to pain. Nope, not me. Although I am now officially embarking on my fifth decade, Captain Rheumatism has not yet been around to visit my joints. I can still gambol and frisk like a pie-obsessed gazelle, should the mood take me.

No, the reason I was surprised at my lack of pain was because the previous day I could have been found walking around the wilds of Worcestershire. Where the sauce comes from. In total I did seven miles in about three and a half hours. Which is approximately six and seven-eighths of a mile more than I'm used to walking on a Saturday.

I was accompanied by the able and enthusiastic Mike and Emma, who've taken to walking like, um, something that walks takes to walking. They've offered to help me with the training for my planned walk along Hadrian's Wall in September this year.

Oh, you thought I'd forgotten about that, did you?

If I'm going to do the Wall in a decent time I need to be able to do 15 miles per day, every day, for six days straight, over some pretty hilly terrain. Given that my normal daily walk might involve parking slightly further away from the office door then bitching about it, I need to get some miles under my rather strained belt.

Anyway, Mike and Em have mapped out a number of circular walks in rather nice bits of the country near here, and gently persuaded me to join them on Saturday. It would seem that each of these walks starts and finish at a pub. They know me so well.

And here's the thing. It was ace. It was as if we had the English countryside to ourselves:

The sky was unseasonably cloud-free (and free of vapour trails, thanks to a certain Icelandic volcano), the sun shone, the trees did whatever it is trees do when you're not looking:

We climbed a hill to an old church that looked out over a decent chunk of the county:

We walked along the canal towpath, past a flight of locks with the sign 'Astwood Bottom Lock'. I asked Mike, "Can I just check, have you locked your bottom?" Sensibly he walked on:

I did my best to take a photo that someone could convert into a souvenir chocolate box or jigsaw puzzle:

And, slight twinges aside, I made it to the end and a well earned pint of Abbot Ale at the Navigation Inn.

Maybe it was the weather, perhaps the company helped, but I actually enjoyed physical exercise for the first time, well, ever. We appear to have found a formula that works. I now simply need to repeat until fit.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Master of understatement

The volcanic ash currently halting flights from airports across Europe reminds me of the 1982 incident in which a British Airways jumbo was affected by a similar cloud of ash over Indonesia.

With all four engines having failed, the plane already having fallen by 23,000 feet, the captain made the following announcement to passengers:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them under control. I trust you are not in too much distress."


Sunday, 11 April 2010

Go fatty, it's your birthday

Meet Mali.

He's in the prime of his life, enjoys walks in the country and picking up chicks. And on my 40th birthday I went out with him.

Mali is a Harris Hawk and, in case you were wondering, the chicks in question were one day old and supplied by a Pembrokeshire poultry farm. And already dead, by the way. As a birthday surprise, Katie arranged for me to go hawking with him. I had no idea this was going to happen until an hour beforehand.

It all came about when we saw a falconry display in the New Forest last year. I was fascinated in seeing how these remarkable creatures worked with their handlers. Katie picked up on this interest. She's good like that.

I'm 40. I have enough socks. I think this qualifies as Most Creative Birthday Present Ever.

I was born in a big industrial city. I live in a big industrial city. I wake to the sound of sparrows gently coughing. So nature is a bit of a closed book to me. You can see this in the picture above.

Ian, Mali's keeper, has carefully explained that Harris Hawks are widely used in falconry because they are fairly well-behaved around people. But nevertheless, you can see from the expression on my face, I'm thinking: "Stop looking at me like that. For you have a sharp beak and frickin' talons. I am not a vole."

For a couple of hours we walked around the fields and woods. Mali would fly off into the trees and surrounding shrubland, then Ian would surreptitiously press a piece of chick into my gauntlet. "Call him by whistling or shouting 'Ho!'," Ian instructed, "don't make chirruping or clucking noises, whatever you do."

"Why not?"

"You've seen those talons, yes? You don't want him confusing you for prey."

"Good point."

I would hold my arm out, but before getting a chance to make any noise, Mali would be there, stooping from the sky or sweeping inches from the ground and homing in at the last second. He was extremely skilled. Mind you, he's a Harris Hawk. That's what they do. I bet he's probably crap with spreadsheets. Press the 'play' button for a quick video.

Afterwards we returned to Solva, our home for the week. "No more surprises?" I asked Katie. She remained tight-lipped.

Which explains why, that evening, when popping out for a quick pre-dinner drink, I wandered into the Cambrian Inn to find it decked out with banners and balloons. As friends gathered, including Mike and Emma, who'd travelled 230 miles from home to surprise me, I reflected that perhaps there was something to be said for this 40 malarkey after all. There are no photos of this, but the night will remain with me for ever, regardless.

Tomorrow I go back to work, to sit behind a desk and do worthy things with words and numbers. But there will be a part of me that is thinking of sun and wind, claw and feather.

Friday, 2 April 2010

A short administrative notice

On Monday, 5 April, according to the saying, my life begins. Which does make me wonder what I've been doing with my existence for the last 39 sodding years.

From what I've been told, at some point in the morning of my birthday I will get visited by the Cardigan Fairy. She's accompanied by the Slippers Elf and the You Call That Music? Troll.

To avoid this, we're going away in the morning and spending next week in a Small Welsh Village. And in the manner of Small Welsh Villages everywhere (well, those in Wales, at least) there is no Internet there. Heck, there's not even a reliable mobile phone signal. We're going to be in a deep, deep valley, drinking beer and eating Welsh black steaks. And on Monday I shall spend the day in bed, weeping bitter tears of sorrow into my pillow at the thought of my lost youth. Or something like that.

So stick around, gentle reader, for when I return I shall be mature and measured.

First time for everything, I suppose.


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