The plan was for a romantic tryst in an isolated farmhouse in rural Normandy. However at the eleventh hour there was a slight change of plan: She received a better offer, and wisely took it!
So things changed. A week of romantic meals for one. Skipping hand in pocket through fields of rolling corn. lying on the grass outside at midnight looking at the stars as my ear was nibbled by ants. ( Noel Coward figure: "STOP THIS WALLOWING NOW. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER YOU PATHETIC WRETCH…..SLAAAP! Cowardly Richard Attenborough figure "Thank you sir. Sorry sir" )
So it was down to the supermarket for nice food and drink and cheap DVD's as I joined the single blokes shuffling through the ten items or fewer "file d'attente triste de perdant". (my online translation site gives this to be "sad loser queue").
Weather was variable so I watched TV in the evenings and walked between the raindrops during the day. The countryside is fab around this part of France and I realised that I was covering quite a lot of ground. 12 Miles the first day. 15 the second and 13 the third. Upshot of this though ,apart from the slightly smug feeling, was the slightly less pleasant sensation of spectacular blisters. The first walk wiped out the sandals. The second two did for a pair of plimsolls. What on earth prompted me to take this ludicrous course of action I do not know. Without the correct footwear we as humans are nothing.
Imagine great moments in history with inadequate equipment. Tenzing and Hillary don't make it to the summit of Everest because one of them forgot to pack his Crocs. Bannister fails to beat the four minute mile barrier as one of his flip flops comes off as the bell goes for the final lap. Or even "That's one small step for man…a giant leap for Man..olo Blahnik!"
Amid all the walking, eating and "Shrek 2", "Last Action Hero", a Clint Eastwood boxed set and "Windbag the Sailor" (I am up to DVD 4 of my Will Hay 9 disc retrospective, film fans), a little light relief when the Rudds blew into town. They were on their way to Zeebrugge to get the ferry back to Hull where they live, and are excellent company. Also slightly eccentric which is a definite plus. They decided to drop in to lift my mood. Matthew is a roving radio DJ and his wife Helen is in finance. That is what they tell me although I think they have a secret life:
We fired up the barbecue and the cows in the field opposite peered over the fence to find out what we were cooking….your mates to be frank, guys. "Time for a picture I think" I said grabbing the trusty camera phone. "We don't do pics. Our wedding photos were the only ones we have allowed to be taken." Hmmm, either they have a deal with HELLO or OK. Failing that they are spies. That is my take on it.
We sat up talking and drinking wine except Matthew who sat up talking and drinking beer. "I never drink wine" he proclaimed. Although as we struck sofa camp at about 3am he was last seen draining a third of a bottle of warm Rose!
Next morning I was up with the lark and into the village to collect some warm croissants before they headed off to the ferry port in Belgium. Probably stopping to take some secret photographs of military installations along the way.
Last day and feeling considerably cheered, minor crisis two occurred:
For some unaccountable reason I have to be able to see what the time is. It may be having been around clocks for this job for the last 30 years. So I wedged the buckle of my watch in the crack of a beam as I lay in the bath. Suddenly due to a shift in gravitational force it fell into the sink - a distance of about 4 feet. No damage or so I thought. Next morning I woke up and discovered I had slept for nearly 14 hours. Hang on, no I hadn't. Three of the "batons" on the watch face had snapped off and were snagging the second hand causing the movement to jam. I had to shake them free and reset. This kept happening all the way back to the UK until I could take it to be repaired and try and find my reserve timepiece.
Slight disappointment three happened at the beginning of week two. I was due to help my mate Steve Wilkes the micro light instructor with a charity function he was attending. This would have involved the two of us flying from Halfpenny Green aerodrome near Wolverhampton to Wales so that he could take sick children on joyrides. Much to everyone's chagrin the weather wasn't good enough so we weren't able to go. So disappointed children and no free flight for me!
Home to Hastings and more walking was called for. This time however I was going to go "prepared" I went into a camping shop to buy some special walking trousers and blister- proof socks. These seemed to be constructed of woollen outers and a cotton liner which moved independently. So trousers..check. Socks…check…ludicrously inappropriate footwear??? Not this time buddy. I dug into the back of the wardrobe and brought out my walking boots. Last worn when I was 17! The only item of clothing that still fits me..and I still possess for that matter.
What about the time? I need to know the time! I have discovered I walk at a steady three miles per hour. So needed to keep tabs on my progress. Find schoolboy refugee watch in drawer…check. 39 years old and last worn 22 years back before I bought the current timepiece which is at the watch garage waiting for the estimate. I was ready to rumble.
First day I decided to walk from Hastings along the coast to Eastbourne and catch the train back. By the time I reached Sovereign Harbour I was in agony. My feet although not blistered were aching and felt as if they were on fire. So I trudged into the shopping centre and bought some gel insoles to reduce the jarring of heavy person in big boot on road. Having sat on a rock in the car park (not exactly a noted beauty spot!) to eat a sandwich, I decided that I was too knackered to continue the remaining mile or two into Eastbourne so decided to turn back.
With a gentle breeze behind me and the sea to my right, off I set. Potential Scout troops and Military organisations never ever let me anywhere near the front of one of your "yomps". What made me embark on this course of action was bafflingly short on logic.
Can't imagine Ranulph Fiennes clomping all the way to within a mile of the North pole where a helicopter awaited to take him home and then deciding to turn round and walk all the way back because it seemed "more sensible". Pevensey Bay, Normans Bay, Cooden Beach, Bexhill, Bulverhythe, on and on I trekked. Steam issuing through the lace holes of my trusty brahn boots.
By the time I winced into St Leonards on Sea nearly four hours later I was not only footsore but my thighs were red raw. A 22 mile round trip in total. Following on from this, I decided a couple of gentle days were called for so 2 pootling ten milers:
The first through Alexandra Park and the back streets of Hastings and St Leonards which was great as it was less arduous and gave me a chance to reconnect with "my town". Looking up above the shop fronts to see the architecture and reading information signs telling me about the area’s history.
Then it was a stroll through the country park heading east, sweating like a bull in the heat as I toiled up hill and down glen puffing and panting as fellow hikers looked oddly at this purple faced man with the odd squeaking noise (it was the chafing….a word that describes a whole world of pain) who also smelled strange.
I had noticed this myself and was unable to put my finger on it. I was "musty".
It was only when I got into bed that night that I realised what was causing it: 36 year old leather boots and a 39 year old leather watchstrap. So if we extrapolate this further, if I live to be 100 I can only assume that I too will smell as musty. A man with old leathery skin looking a little like a wrinkled suitcase that has spent more than half its life in a wardrobe.
I am glad to be back. It is far less strenuous!