Day 2: Wye to Bethersden

Low humidity and clear skies: one of those peerless days when you are conscious that it is great to be alive.

Feeling Alive

The late Jim Slater once said that if you are over seventy and you wake up without hurting somewhere, it means you are dead! That said, resolutely walking through aches and pains validates my pet theory that by keeping going that they fade. I wonder also if, as we age, our natural resistance to life’s ghastlies – cancer, tumours, and the rest of the feast of life’s horrors – grows thinner, leaving us ever more vulnerable as we age.

Fighting, Wooing and a Cause

There is nothing you can do about it so stop being so morbid! So one day you will drop in your tracks and that will be that. It’s not “if” but “when”. What on earth does it matter anyway. I have spent a full life surrounded by loving family and friends with the three vital blessings of a rich life fulfilled: a battle to fight, a maiden to woo, and a cause bigger than myself to live for. It is not everyone that can say that. I am a fortunate man.

Eton Mess

I remember the occasion clearly… it was just after the dreadful Edwina Currie shamelessly announced that she’d once had a run-in with John Major. Our party was seated for lunch when barrister Ann Mallalieu, a Labour peer – and in her loudest upper-crust voice too – announced that anyone who was unfaithful to his wife couldn’t be trusted in public life. “If you have lied to the person you know intimately and who trusts you, and to whom you have solemnly pledged fidelity in front of witnesses,” she proclaimed, “then why should members of the public, whom you have never met, believe a single word you say?”

The room temperature crashed to at least zero. Ann’s then husband – notoriously as faithful as a tomcat – blushed a deep vermillion and weakly grinned. Or perhaps it was an attack of indigestion. Many guests stared fixedly at their shoes and wished they were in Acapulco, wherever that may be.

Well however unfashionable this attitude may be today, perhaps Ann had a point worth addressing?       

Blond Bombshell

Of course nowadays – since, I suppose, the Clinton saga – we are supposed to have become more “liberal”, whatever that may mean. Well, we may be more liberal, but does this detract from the validity of Ann’s point? And since Boris now occupies centre stage, perhaps we should address it. Is it good enough to say that as Nelson, Wellington, Palmerston, Lloyd George and JFK were all at it like stoats in a sack, there’s no question to answer?

Of course, it’s not true that all politicians are as randy as Weinstein on steroids. But does the fact that Boris is a serial fornicator matter? His second marriage has been cast onto the tip, and there’s been many a glancing blow as he’s charged along. He’s now onto the third “permanent” lady in his life. Of course, he’s a superb writer and speechifier, and he was a competent mayor of London… but do you honestly believe him? Do his colourful infidelities affect your view of him as prime minister?    

My view is that it doesn’t matter, but I’d rather not know about it.

Odd Couple

We were in a greasy spoon cafe on London’s South Circular and they were sitting in a far corner. They were probably in their twenties. Both were rather overweight. She had a spotty, misshapen moon face that, if you were a painter, you would want to scrub out and start again. Her body was shaped like a Swiss roll – you had to study hard to identify even a gesture of a waist. Her hair was purple with black roots, her eyes behind thick glasses a watery blue. The teeth were Himalayan crooked.

His hair was scraped back in a greasy man bun. As demanded by today’s fashion, he was unshaven. A beer belly hung over his jeans, and his hands and wrists were heavily tattooed.

If either had been alone, my instinct would have been to feel sorry for them. But one thing changed all that, a powerful transforming thing. They were clearly in love. Not just the “keen on”, “going out” or “seeing each other” type of love, but the real McCoy! They swooned together, clearly fascinated by one another and were totally oblivious to me – or anyone else.

For the hour I sat there, they traded with each other using their eyes more than words. There was a tenderness that excluded all of us as they created their own special world. They were a couple who, in the face of all the aridity and disenchantment we suffer daily in our cynical old lives, were proving that love is as perennial as the grass. This made them beautiful. They were short-changed on physical allure certainly, but their love made them just a little lower than the angels.

Of course, they were certainly unaware that behind my map I was lifting my stained coffee cup to my lips and toasting them.     

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