With the coming of turning back of the clock nearing, I realise we are already at half past autumn and heading for quarter to winter. It seems months since my early morning commute had any daylight, as now the stars and moon shine brightly in the heavens as I dawdle with dread towards work.

When I drove through the single track lanes on my way-in, pre-dawn today, slipping and sliding on the muddy deposits of tractors and autumn leaves; my mind wandered back to those halcyon lazy hazy days of summer. Already they seem a distant memory.

I found myself chuckling aloud thinking of joining a walking group as an honorary member and what a fool I was too.

One summer’s eve I had been partaking of a beverage of two or more down the local hostelry. Quietly minding my own business. I had absentmindedly starting stroking an excitable Springer Spaniel who belonged to another of the customers. Said owner, Berni and I found ourselves in conversation and after a few more pints I had agreed to join her and her friends for their walk on Sunday morning.

Berni is a founding member of the Hatherleigh and Highhampton Hiking Dykes. An all-female walking group.

On the following Sunday morning, I arrived at the appointed time to find a minibus and small hatchback already in the pub car park. I was last to arrive carrying my Tupperware box of sandwiches and Thermos. The hiking dykes it turned out were all butch lesbians in Doc Martens and dungarees, armed with rucksacks and assorted other equipment, strapped together and mounted into backpacks. In open-toed sandals (thankfully not painted) and with my provisions in a supermarket carrier I looked the odd one out and certainly the least manly of the assembled group.

Thirteen of them crammed into the minibus, which left me with the spaniel and Berni to go in her hatchback. What they knew, but never shared was that Berni is the world’s worse driver. I kid you not, the excitable spaniel is not excitable, he is panicked with abject terror at the prospect of being put behind the dog guard and driven to his “walkies.”

It all started fine. We set off following the minibus heading for East Devon to get onto the Jurassic coastal path. At the first junction I mused, she’s leaving it late to brake —“bloody Nora!” — I thought the brakes had failed but no; this it transpired was how she approached a junction. The poor wee beastie in the boot is now howling as if in pain and lying prone in what I assume to be the canine equivalent of the crash position.

Junctions were hair-raising enough but the gear changes added another dimension to the nightmare of the drive. For no reason, having got into 5th gear and in the total and absolute absence of a change of terrain or contour, Berni would go from top gear to 2nd at 60 miles an hour. The mindset seemed to be that of “I know let’s change gear; pick a gear!” Within the first 5 miles, I was spitting my fillings out, having left teeth marks on the dashboard. I was braced for impact, gripped with fear and even felt a little bit of pee warm the top of my legs.

What can only be described as the worse journey I have ever endured seemed to be eternal? I am a seasoned traveller, but when we reached the meeting point at the other end I had to be helped out of the car after they had prised my fingers from their white-knuckled death grip on the door handle. Those who had taken the alternative vehicle were propped up against it laughing at my misfortune; though I thought I saw empathy in the faces of some who had also been her passenger once; and only once.

I was a dribbling jabbering incoherent crippled contortion of whiplash and angst. Berni was entirely oblivious, had no idea what was the matter with me or the many other motorists en route she caused to take evasive action and perform emergency stops. I am sure she just thought they were waving at her and being friendly. I can lip read and I can assure you they weren’t.

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Still, we had reached journey’s end and the view was staggering. The blue sky, matched and equalled by the sea were the backdrop of the canvas of nature’s achievement that is the staggering cliff edges and verdant countryside of one of the most beautiful counties. I now felt sure I was going to enjoy our walk.

Our walk turned out to be a military yomp that would have tested the fitness of many a Marine Commando

Our walk turned out to be a military yomp that would have tested the fitness of many a Marine Commando. I wanted to study the flora and fauna, perhaps pick up a fossil or two and maybe take some pics of the group against the vista nature had provided. Though it was not to be as we had a target to meet, miles to march and checkpoints to reach on schedule.

When we broke for lunch I collapsed in a heap gasping and gulping to fill my lungs with sea air. I was dishevelled, broken and proven unfit. I poured a soothing cuppa from my Thermos and started to ease the lid from the sweaty Tupperware box.

I had not fully removed the lid to reveal my Salmon and Shrimp paste sandwiches when the smell of fish assaulted my nasal passages. The last thing I remember was a blur of blue denim and brown leather racing towards me like a Rugby scrum on heat.

I woke 3 days later in intensive care…

 

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