At lunchtime today I sat in the little garden outside the office with a skinny latte I’d just bought from the coffee shop and caught up on some of the blogs I follow. A moment of peace in the sun on a busy day. The blog I read was about a group in Uganda called Widows and Orphans who make food for those who have nothing to eat. A very worthy cause and it got me thinking what an odd world we live in.
This morning I forgot to set my alarm for the driving lesson early start so I was running too late to make my usual wrap. It was all rush and dash to the bus stop, a quick pause in the park to take a photo or two of the lilies (during which I managed to get dark pollen all over my hand) and then a semi run through the parks to work.
Because of the lack of wrap, I picked up a sandwich at the corner shop before my coffee shop stop. I stood for ages looking at the sandwiches and their handy calorie counts trying to find something I liked without a zillion calories in it. Beside me a very large lady was browsing too. In the coffee shop I’d looked longingly at the plate of cakes set by the till to tempt. Of course I didn’t buy one. Reading that blog made me think how twisted it is that half the world spend so much time trying not too eat too much or voluntarily starving to lose weight while the other half starve because they have no choice. Something is very wrong about that.
As a child I remember weeping at the sight of the swollen malnutrition bellies and stick thin limbs of starving African children. It seems unbelievable that, more than four decades later, we see those same images again and again, just different faces. In a world where so much energy and money goes into developing the latest must have gadget, where we work long hours to earn money for wrinkle creams and the latest jeans, why can’t we fix this?
Even more horrifying in some ways is the plight of the underclass in our own rich countries. They have to stand hungry and homeless while a world of temptation is all around them. They’re hungry while food is scraped into bins or thrown away because it is past some over zealous sell by date. Shop windows are stacked high with tasty morsels. They sleep in cold wet doorways while others drive past in cars that cost more than houses. Everywhere the morbidly obese evidence of excess wobbles past, eating fast food and talking on overpriced phones. How must it feel?
So I thought I was hungry on Sunday because I forgot my walking snacks. Certainly I needed an energy boost and I was flagging in the heat. Yes, I could have done with some cold water. I may even have been a little lost but I held one of those overpriced phones in my hand (not the latest model but still) and I had money in my rucksack. What I really needed was a little perspective.
When I made it to the tall pine trees I started to look around for somewhere dry to sit. There was still a tiny shred of hope that there would be something to eat somewhere in my rucksack. The New Forest is managed by the verderers which includes cutting trees to stop things getting overcrowded and there were stumps dotted about along the path. Most of them were cut fairly close to the ground but I was sure I would find one I could sit on eventually.
While I was looking I spotted some interesting looking fungus among the stones and pine needles. Yellow furry mounds with a tinge of orangey brown. They may even have been edible for all I know, although I doubt it. I have no idea what kind they were but they were quite attractive. Then I saw a likely looking tree stump so I sat and had a ferret through my rucksack.
Of course there was no food in there, not a scrap. I sat for a little while and sipped some water sparingly. It was so peaceful amongst the tall pines, birds were singing, I could see blue sky above me through the trees and, despite my hunger, the lack of water and being ever so slightly lost I felt a great happiness. Then the distant sound of a train broke the spell.
By this time I was just over four miles into my walk. I’d been walking for about one and a half hours and Commando thought his eighteen miles would take about three so it was time to turn back. I thought I might have a look for some more blackberries on the way. So I set off back through the tall pines towards the Christmas trees with blackberries on my mind.
The blackberries were not to be though. As I broke out of the trees a text came through from Philo asking if we were in because he was planning on popping round with the girls. Texting as I walked, I texted back to say we were in the New Forest and wouldn’t be back until after two but I’d call him when we got in. No sooner had I pressed send than my phone rang. It was Commando. My heart was in my mouth as I answered because if he was ringing he couldn’t be running and if he wasn’t running…well let’s just say a lot of horrible possibilities flashed through my mind in the seconds before I heard his voice.
“Don’t worry, I’m alright,” he said, hearing the panic in my voice. “I’m struggling a bit with this heat and I’m way slower than I expected.”
He sounded ok but quite despondent “I’m struggling with the humidity too,” I told him, trying to cheer him up.
“There’s no way I’m going to hit my target time and I think I’ve miscalculated on my water, I should have brought more. I’ve got a bit lost too and I’m going to have to turn back and go back the way I came so I’m not sure how many miles I’m going to end up doing. I’ve still got more than seven miles to go for the eighteen but I don’t think I’m going to do it in the three hours.”
“I’ve almost run out of water too. Just take it steady, you can do it, I know you can. I’m a bit lost too and it’s kind of good to know I’m not the only one who has no sense of direction.”
“Just so you know I will be back later than I thought so don’t worry.”
I’d been walking while I talked and, of course, by this time I was through the Christmas tree forest and the chance of blackberries had passed. Now I was hungry, thirsty and worried about Commando again. He’d sounded really fed up and, although I knew he could run the eighteen miles, the heat and the lack of water was a real concern, especially as he was lost so could end up finishing the run with a long walk back to the car park.
By now I was through the quagmire and back in the field full of cows. Maybe it was my imagination but there seemed to be even more of them and I was sure they were nearer the path. Quite a few looked up and watched me as I walked by. All those bovine eyes made me nervous. Were they cows or were they bulls? How worried should I be? Then I spotted one, very close to the path, with very full looking udders. Cows then.
The milk filled udders had me thinking about chocolate milk and that had me wondering idly how easy it would be to milk a cow? What I wouldn’t have given for a nice glass of milk round about then. Further on another cow, slightly further away had a little bird sitting on its back but it didn’t seem to have noticed. I wasn’t sure this one had udders at all though, in fact, I wasn’t sure it was a cow at all.
Hurrying on I reached the boggy ground by the trees. There were red dragonflies dancing above the puddles. When I stooped to try to take a photo I could see this was a dragonfly mating ground. I snapped away taking photos I knew would be mainly rubbish because the lovely red dragonflies would not stay still. It seemed to me these puddles were probably not the best of places for the dragonflies to mate and lay their eggs because they would be gone as soon as the weather dried up along with all the eggs.
There were no trains going over the bridge when I walked under this time and I pushed on. Despite Commando saying he was going to be later back than planned I wasn’t so sure. He’d said he had seven miles to go which meant he was well over half way when I spoke to him and at the time I’d only just passed my half way point. It seemed to me I ought to be pushing my pace a bit if I didn’t want to keep him waiting, especially as I’d stopped to take dragonfly photos.
When I got to Matley Woods I decided to take the path straight through rather than the way I’d come, thinking it would save a bit of time. Of course it could mean I ended up going in circles and took even longer but I did it anyway. There were people everywhere. Some men walking in front of me were discussing caravan prices, I was glad to overtake them and get away from their inane chatter. It sounded like one of those boasty conversations people have each trying to outdo the other. Each was so busy trying to prove how much better their caravan was they weren’t taking any notice of their beautiful surroundings and it seemed a waste of a lovely walk to me.
At around about six miles I passed the kissing trees. At least I must be on the right track. Then I spotted something a little odd in the trees beyond, it looked like a red ball in a tree. Curious, I left the safety of the path, thinking as I did that it might not be a good idea, to investigate. I tramped through the ferns and fallen branches and, when I reached the tree the red ball turned out to be a rather interesting looking fungus.
It must have been the day for fungi or maybe it was all the rain but beyond the first tree I spotted another with a more familiar growth. This was a shelf fungus, which kind I had no idea, but it was a rather pretty mottled orange, set off quite beautifully by the blue green lichen on the trunk and the ever present moss.
I managed to make it back to the path without incident although, in hindsight, going off the path in the first place was probably not the best of ideas, especially with adders about. When I spotted a teepee like structure in the distance I thought I might have been going in circles and veering off towards the path that runs around the perimeter of the wood. Then I realised it was not a holly tree I was looking at. This was another of those curious shelters. How strange! I’ve never seen anything like it before and I see two in one day.
Soon I was passing caravans so I knew I was almost back on the moor. There were children playing with the communal tap, spraying each other and laughing. When I’d passed them unscathed, although I might not have minded a little spray with water in the heat, I saw a little car parked up at the edge of the path. For a moment I thought I’d somehow found a time wormhole and was back in the days of my childhood but it was just a very well looked after vintage car. My knowledge of cars is limited to say the least so I have no idea of the make but, at risk of showing my age, I remember the days when these were the latest thing in automotive design. Personally I think it looks a lot better than some of the modern ones.
When I left the campsite I passed an elderly gent walking with a small dog. He was walking quite slowly and I overtook him easily even though I was hardly walking at speed by this time. The little dog wasn’t on a lead and he seemed to like my pace much better than his master’s because he began to walk beside me.
There have been times when I’ve thought I might like a little dog to walk with me, although, if I’m honest, I’m more of a cat person. Dogs take too much looking after and, much as I like walking, I don’t have time. I was aware that the dog was getting further and further away from his master too which didn’t seem to be a good thing, so I upped my pace in the hope he’d give up. He did drop back a little so he was walking behind me rather than beside me but I could hear his panting so I knew he was still there.
Eventually, towards the top of the last hill I lost him. It was a relief because I was worried about the elderly man but I quite missed the company. Then I saw a brightly coloured kite soaring high above the moor and the church spire in the distance. I was almost back at the start. Then my thoughts returned to Commando, wondering if he was back yet and if he was alright.
When I got to the car park he was nowhere in sight. Looking at the time I could see I had about a quarter of an hour before he was likely to be back, even without his assertion that he was going to be late, so I decided to walk up into the village in search of coffee. Last time I walked through the village on a Sunday afternoon it was heaving with people and quite frustrating so I decided if I didn’t find a coffee shop within the first few minutes I would make my way back to the car.
Almost straight away I found a likely looking shop and, when I poked my head around the door and asked if they sold take away coffee, I was told yes. The shop was called Cafe Parisien and, while I waited for my coffee to be made I spotted some rather tasty looking cookies in a jar on the counter. Now I’m usually good at resisting the counter top treats but boy was I hungry! I left the shop with a small cup of skinny latte and a chocolate cookie in a bag.
As I walked back towards the car park I sipped my coffee, thinking I might find somewhere to sit to enjoy my cookie. There was a bench by the war memorial but two elderly ladies were firmly ensconced so I decided to carry on and see if I could find a log to sit on further along. That was when I spotted a familiar figure running towards me.
Commando saw me but he’d obviously not quite finished the eighteen miles because he ran right past. I followed at a rather more sedate pace and caught up with him when he sat by the side of the path. I did offer him half my cookie but he said he had his own post race chocolate milk back in the car so we set off towards it.
While he drank his chocolate milk and I sipped my latte and tucked into my lovely cookie he told me all about his run. He’d finished in less than three hours, just, but he wasn’t happy with his time and was even less happy that he’d stopped to phone me. Somehow he feels like he he’s cheated if he stops, even for a second. Honestly, what am I going to do with him?
Commando might not think he did very well and he might be a bit despondent about the time and worried he won’t hit his under four hour marathon target but I am proud to bursting of him. He ran eighteen miles in oppressive heat and made it back safe. All this despite the killer geese, a cycling race he had to run through the middle of, getting lost, cows, ponies, lack of water… Even if he takes six hours to finish that marathon he will be a hero in my eyes!