My body crumples onto the grass. I lay my head down on the damp hillside, jowls folding onto the wet earth like omelettes tipped from a pan. The soil licks its lips and kisses my left cheek. It’s wet and cold like a dog’s nose, but not unpleasant.
I lie still. I know, at some point, I will have to get up and move on, but, for the moment, this soggy slab of the Chiltern Hills feels as warm and welcoming as the finest four poster bed at Balmoral.
I deserve this rest, I tell myself. After all, I t’s been ten minutes since we left the car park and I’ve been walking nearly non-stop since, mostly uphill.
I should be at home, not out in the cold
I close my eyes. I should be at home sipping coffee, in my jimmy jams, clipping adverts from the Sunday supplements into my ‘Boomer Album of Later Life Hacks’. It’s where I keep my favourite adverts for products and services designed for the ageing boomer. You know the sort of stuff: bath chairs; maroon corduroy chinos and cashmere pashminas named ‘coulis’, ‘plum pie’ and ‘Berry-Burst’. Instead, I’ve made a terrible mistake and come to the country for a Sunday walk.
I’m not quite sure how I came to be in this dreadful situation, but I think I’m the victim of WhatsApp Group Think. Someone shared an article about bluebells being stolen from a private garden. Someone else said ‘Let’s go see the bluebells’ and then everyone panicked and said we must go ‘soon’ because bluebells have a short season, as short as a politician’s promises.
And before I could say ‘my walking boots are at the dry cleaners’ I’m face down in the grass on a damp hillside with a Force 9 cyclone of self-pity building up inside me.
‘I just wanted to sit and read the Sunday papers,’ I whisper to the grass.
I must find the quickest route back to the city
I must focus on escape. But I’m as uncertain where to go next as the Grand Old Duke of York. What’s the quickest route back to the Big Smoke? Air Ambulance? Should I start by rolling back down the hill to the car park? Or have I got enough cash on me to persuade my son to piggyback me the rest of the way?
A muscle in my right buttock, which I didn’t know existed half an hour ago, starts vibrating like a pizzicato.
There’s sheep s**t inches from my nose
I open my eyes and see a pile of sheep s**t three inches from my nose. Two piles, in fact. Two little pyramids of black pellets, lovingly laid down by the local flock to punish the urban and unfit like me, who mistakenly think weekends are for filling their clotted lungs with country air.
The sheep on the hill are tittering at me. I look at the sheep s**t, again. One big sniff and things will get nasty in my nasal passages.
‘Jeez. This is what you get when you take a walk in the country,’ I say to myself out and close my eyes again.
‘Are you dead yet?’ asks my son, kicking the sole of my shoes. He’s strolled down from the top of the hill.
‘Trending that way.’
‘You need to get fit,’ he says. ‘We’ve only walked 1km.’
‘Uphill all the way. That’s the equivalent of 3km on the flat.’
He stares down at me unmoved.
‘You shouldn’t have eaten that second croque monsieur on the way here,’ he says.
‘Any chance of a little sympathy?’
‘Mum said not to show you any sympathy. It just makes you worse.’
City folk with maps are deluded and dangerous
I look up the hill. My wife is standing with three people in our party. They’re chatting away happily and taking photos of the bluebells. One of them opens out a map.
My heart sinks. City dwellers with maps in the country are dangerous like kamikaze pilots. A sniff of country air and they think they’re back at school doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award, puffed up latter day Christopher Columbus’s who think they know the way to America but end up in the Caribbean.
Three of my party are looking at the map intently. In the name of God, I think, put the map away. We’re all on beta blockers. Our hearts will pack up if we walk much further.
A friend strolls up.
‘Skinful, last night?’ he asks.
‘I’ve made a terrible mistake and gone for a walk in the country,’ I say.
‘He ate two croque monsieurs for breakfast,’ says my son unhelpfully.
I must put an end to the conference over the map. If they’re left to their own devices the outcome could be catastrophic. But to do that I need to get up and I’m not sure I can.
‘If I roll left will I end up in more sheep s**t?’
‘Yes. Go right there’s a heap of it just near your left ear,’ says the friend.
I roll onto my back. The sky looms over me.
They’ve found a pub! Hurrah!
‘What mischief are they planning? The map readers, that is,’ I ask.
‘They’ve found a pub on the map and are working out how to get there,’ says my mate.
‘Pub? On their map?’
‘Yes. Think it’s just down the other side of the hill,’ he says.
‘Down?’ I say. ‘Down is good. Pub is better.’
‘Half a kilometre at most. But if you’re not feeling well, I’ll walk you back to the car park and we can pick you up after lunch.’
‘No. No. I can make it to the pub.’
‘Help me up.’
I put out my hand to my son. He reaches down and steadies himself whilst I lever myself up. I pitch him a ‘poor old dad’ smile.
‘The back’s a bit stiff,’ I say.
‘Not interested. No sympathy,’ he says.
A version of this post has appeared in the Chiswick Calendar.