My body crumples onto the grass, exhausted. I lay my head down on the damp hillside, jowls folding onto the wet earth like omelettes from a pan. The soil licks its lips and kisses my left cheek. It’s wet and cold like a dog’s nose, but it’s 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, frankly. It’s been nearly 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 back of the Sunday supplements into my ‘Boomer Album of Later Life Hacks’, which contains my favourite adverts for useful products and services designed for the aging boomer: bath chairs; maroon corduroy chinos; candles whose scent has the power to take you ‘overseas without leaving your home’ and cashmere pashminas named ‘coulis’, ‘plum pie’ and ‘Berry-Burst’.
Instead, I’ve made a terrible mistake and come to the country for a 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.’ Someone else said we must go ‘soon’ because bluebells have a short season, as short as politician’s promises.
Suddenly, there was an explosion of emoticons – thumbs up, smiley faces, fireworks exploding – and, before I could say ‘my walking boots are at the dry cleaners’, here I am face down in the grass on a damp hillside with a cyclone of self-pity building up inside me as rough as a Force 9 off Doggerel Bank.
I must find the quickest route back to the city
I must focus on escape. What’s the quickest route back to London? The Air Ambulance? Should I start by going up to the top of the hill or should I roll myself back down to the car park? Have I got enough cash on me to persuade the children to piggyback me the rest of the way? I’m uncertain where to go next like the Grand Old Duke of York or Keir Starmer.
A muscle in my right buttock, which didn’t exist half an hour ago, starts vibrating like a violinist playing 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, who mistakenly think weekends are for filling their City clotted lungs with rejuvenating country air.
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, though. That’s the equivalent of at least 3km on the flat.’
He stares down at me unmoved.
‘You shouldn’t have eaten that second croque monsieur on the way here.’
‘Any chance of a little sympathy?’
‘Mum said not to show you any sympathy. It just makes things 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 who bring maps with them when they take a walk in the country are dangerous. A sniff of country air and they think they’re back at school leading a pack of spotty adolescents on a Duke of Edinburgh Awards, latter day Christopher Columbus’s they say they know the way to America but end up in the Caribbean. Worse, when faced with the fact they’ve led everyone five miles astray because they mistook a bridleway way for a B road, they always excuse their incompetence (‘It was an easy mistake to make’) or blame the ONS (‘They should make the dotted lines clearer.’)
There are three of them looking at the map now.
I feel crying out: ‘In the name of God, put the map away. We’re all on beta blockers and statins’, when 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.
‘That’ll be the second croque monsieur,’ says my son, unhelpfully.
I must get up and 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 roll onto my back first, getting up is becoming more like a three point turn everyday.
‘If I roll that way will I end up in more sheep s**t?’
‘No. But you do know there’s a heap of it just in front of your face.’
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.’
‘Pub? On their map?’
‘Yes. Think it’s just down the other side of the hill.’
‘Down?’ I say. ‘Down is good. Pub is good.’
‘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 reach out my hand to my son.
He reaches his hand out 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.