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Ancient Feet: 37 - A Family Of Elephants

...I have yet to see a group of walkers with whom I'd want to be associated. They all look so weird.'

'It's because of the way they dress,'Tom surmised,'it's impossible to look smart in walking gear.'

'Yes,'Joe agreed,'in the winter, they're all muffled up in fleeces and waterproofs and wearing a silly hat.'

'And even in the summer, the combination of shorts and hiking boots doesn't make them look exactly sexy,' Tom added...

Alan Nolan continues his hilarious account of a trek from one side of England to the other.

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Signed copies of the book are available from Alan http://apn.thelea@yahoo.co.uk

After enjoying our break in Orton, we travelled on towards Kirkby Stephen. This stretch involved some road walking as well as some easy walking through pleasant pasture and moorland. By afternoon, there was little conversation and, as the four of us tramped silently along the road, I looked round to see Tom and Joe walking as always in perfect time, heads down, eyes on the tarmac immediately in front of them, Joe one pace behind Tom with matching bandages on their right knees, walking poles moving in unison, looking like twin Compo Simonites from Last of the Summer Wine.

I was just thinking how glad I was that I was unlikely to bump into anyone I knew who would wonder what I was doing with two scruffy old buggers like that, when it dawned on me that their reaction might be that I was one of four scruffy old buggers! I consoled myself that I must look at least a tad more distinguished. At least I wasn't wearing an unwashed knee bandage. Then I had a brainwave. As we would be in Kirkby Stephen that night, I could buy three more knee bandages and three sets of walking poles and then Don, Paul and I could surprise Tom and Joe next morning by setting off behind them wearing the bandages (on our right knees, of course) and tagging on to them in a line, poles moving in time with theirs and clinking on the tarmac. We would make them look even more like a family of elephants walking with trunks wrapped round the tails of the ones ahead. On reflection, I thought better of it, deciding that 150 was too much to spend for a minute or two's hilarity.

Of course, Tom was troubled by both knees but refused to wear bandages on both. I did try to persuade him to wear the bandage on his left knee one day in an attempt to confuse Joe, but he refused to co-operate.

As we walked on, I continued to think about how walkers are generally perceived and my own perceptions were confirmed as we passed a party of walkers, which seemed to consist of more women than men, going in the opposite direction. After exchanging greetings as we passed, Don was the first to comment.

"What a bunch of scruffs,' he said.

'Funny, that,' I said 'I have yet to see a group of walkers with whom I'd want to be associated. They all look so weird.'

'It's because of the way they dress,'Tom surmised,'it's impossible to look smart in walking gear.'

'Yes,'Joe agreed,'in the winter, they're all muffled up in fleeces and waterproofs and wearing a silly hat.'

'And even in the summer, the combination of shorts and hiking boots doesn't make them look exactly sexy,' Tom added.

'Well,' I said, modestly 'if I can manage it, I don't see why other people can't.'

'And,' Tom continued, ignoring my contribution, 'there's no point in wearing make-up, which is only going to run if it rains or if it's hot.'

'You do realise,'Joe said,'that they're probably having exactly the same conversation about us right now.'

'Don't be daft, none of us wear make-up,' Don pointed out, sensibly. 'Do we?'

By mid-afternoon, we were ready for another break and a bite to eat and, as we sat on a bench at the roadside enjoying the sunshine, I watched Don as he produced his Ryvitas, cheese spread and onion from his bag.

'Anyone for Ryvita and cheese spread?' he asked.

'Yes please, Don,' replied Joe, with a fart,'I've taken a liking to them.'

As Don cut more slices of onion, I could see that there was still almost half of it left even after several days slicing, but he had been cunning enough to enlist Joe's assistance in reducing the weight on his back.

It was still warm enough for us to be walking in shorts and teeshirts and Don decided it was time for him to sing the praises of his outfit once again.

'Do you know that this teeshirt is polyester with dynamic moisture control? It keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter and it's highly breathable, wicks moisture away and is incredibly lightweight as well as being very quick drying. These modern fabrics are really good, you know.'

'Is that right?' Joe's question was delivered in a tone perfectly pitched between admiration and mockery (as well as between farts).

Don's monotonous tributes to the efficiency of modern fabrics were getting to Tom, who could hold his tongue no longer.

'Don, do you remember when you, me and Al went up the Old Man of Coniston about three years ago?'

'Yes, I remember. It was bloody cold.'

'It was indeed, but that was because it was February. And, do you remember that by the time we reached the top of Dow Crag, we had to stop and put on another layer of clothes?'

'Yes, and it was still cold, despite global warming.'

'And do you remember that when we reached the top of the Old Man you were shivering and didn't have anything else to put on, but me and Al both still had another layer in our bags and, because we were a bit worried about you, I gave you my extra layer?'

'Did you?'

'And, do you know why you were cold, even though you had put on all your layers and -why we still had a layer each which we didn't need to put on because we were warm enough?'


'Well, I'll tell you why. It was because you were wearing a cotton base layer and a cotton shirt, which are not breathable or wickable or anything fuckin' elseable. And, do you know how bloody irritating it is to listen to you prattling on about how great your new gear is when we were the ones who introduced you to the bastard stuff?'

If Don saw the point, he did not acknowledge it.

'Were you really worried about me?' he asked.

'Yes. We were worried that you might be suffering from hypothermia and that we'd have to call out the Mountain Rescue, and we'd freeze our balls off hanging around for them,' Tom responded, in vehement tone.

'Actually, Don, I wasn't too concerned,' I interjected 'I was going to volunteer to go down and raise the alarm and then I could've waited in the pub in Coniston.'

Our refreshment break was only occasionally disturbed by a passing car but, at one point, a veritable convoy of six cars passed, driving almost nose to tail.

'There goes one of those pillocks driving far too slowly and irritating the shit out of those behind,' I said.

'There can't be many safe places to overtake along here,' Don pointed out.

'What's really annoying about those drivers is that they tootle along in their own little worlds and when they get home, their wives say 'Hello darling, how was the traffic?' and they reply 'No problem. I hardly saw another car.' Well, try looking in your rear view mirror, you annoying prat,' I whinged.

'I hadn't thought of that, but you're right, they'll always have a clear road ahead, driving at that speed,' agreed Don.

'Have you noticed that the car at the front of these convoys is always red and is usually either a red Mini Metro or a red Nissan Micra?'

'And the driver always wears a hat,' added Don.

'I wonder whether they wear their hats when they shag,' Joe pondered in a distracted way.

'They never shag,' Tom said, knowledgeably 'that would be far too exciting for them.'

'Talking about exciting,' Don said,'I was on the motorway the other day and I was overtaken by a Porsche and it was one of those sections where they have those chevrons on the road and signs saying Keep Apart Two Chevrons'.

'Yeah, it's almost impossible to keep two chevrons apart, isn't it?' I said.

'Isn't it just?' Don said. 'He must have been doing a hundred and twenty and I never got closer than three chevrons.'

'Last time I was on the motorway,'Joe commented, 'I had to come off early because of roadworks.'

'Why? Was the motorway completely closed?'

'No, but there was a sign saying Roadworks After Next Junction. Delays Possible Until October. Well, I couldn't afford to be stuck on the motorway until October. I was bursting for a pee!'

After our few minutes of relaxation and enlightened conversation, we gathered our belongings together and once again Tom was engaged in a battle with his rucksack.

'I'm sure I couldn't have had this much before,' he mumbled, as he tried to hold down the towel with one hand whilst pulling the bag up with the other and getting more and more annoyed.

'This is bloody ridiculous. I didn't have this much trouble yesterday. Why can't I get hold on, this is not my...oh, shit. This is not my towel. I must have taken this from the B&B.'

It took us some time to recover from fits of laughter before we could make one or two helpful suggestions.

'If Mrs Kirkby's noticed by now, she's probably been on to the police to report a theft. In fact, she's probably being interviewed right now and she'll be saying 'I don't know why anyone would want to steal a towel, but he was a little scouse bastard and they steal anything, don't they?' The scuffers will be waiting for us in Kirkby Stephen and you'll have to spend the night in the cells. But, look on the bright side, it should be more comfortable than the YHA.'

Thinking about it, the abduction of the towel was understandable. We were carrying our own towels as they are not supplied at YHAs and Tom had become accustomed to using his own for the first three nights. Forgetting that he was in a B&B in Shap and that B&B's provide rather more than a bunk and a combined sheet/pillow, he had simply pushed the towel in his rucksack that morning as if it was his own.

When we reached Kirkby Stephen, he telephoned Mrs Kirkby and explained that he had taken the towel by mistake and promised to post it back to her in a week's time when he arrived home. She mentioned that she had noticed that a towel was missing (but, presumably, had not reported the matter to the police).

A week later, when we were on our way home after completing the walk, I thought I should let Tom know that the episode had not been forgotten.

'Tom, you know that towel.You know you've been carrying it around the north of England for the last week and, when you get home, you'll have to go to the trouble of parcelling it up, and then you'll have to go down to the Post Office and pay to post it back to Shap and, almost certainly, the postage will be more than the towel is worth. I didn't like to say this before, but wouldn't it have been more sensible to throw the towel away and send Mrs Kirkby a fiver when you get home?'

'Shit. Why didn't I think of that?'


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