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Ancient Feet: 72 - The Best Bit Was All Of It

...As we entered the shop, the proprietor, a ruddy-faced chap who looked like he enjoyed his fish and chips as much as the next man, astutely recognised his new bedraggled, bandaged customers as Coast to Coast walkers:

'Just finished the walk, have we?'...

Can a Coast to Coast walker ever say and mean "That's the last time I do it''?

Alan Nolan continues his gloriously humorous account of a long trek.

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

By the time I got hold of the book, the others had made their entries. Tom's terse tenth and last was followed by super-fit Paul's here's to the next time. Don had decided that potential Coast to Coast walkers might appreciate his advice on achieving a successful outcome: the secret is to travel light, but Joe was typically straightforward: great walk with great company. It was hard to think of anything original, so I wrote what I really thought the best bit was all of it.

As part of my training, I had abstained from drinking alcohol for a few weeks before, and during, the walk (with only the occasional lapse), but I was looking forward to a very large gin as the start of my warming down programme. Tom and Joe ordered large whiskies, and Don and Paul had pints. Trevor looked on enviously as we reminded him it was a long drive home. It was another moment to savour. Aside from us, the bar was empty and, for a moment the only sound we could hear was the screeching of gulls outside. For once it was Paul who broke the silence:
'Well, I have to say that was wonderful,' he smiled. 'I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Thanks for organising it, Tom.'

'Yes, well done Tom,'Joe and I said, raising our glasses in our leader's direction. Don had been distracted by a map on the wall and was the last to join the toastmaking.

'Yes, thanks, Tom, I enjoyed it too,' he said, taking a slow, contemplative sip of his beer before adding, 'but I still think you should do it East to West next time.' Barely a day had passed without Don raising this subject at least once. And barely a day had passed without us bracing ourselves for Tom to explode. It was like waiting for Vesuvius to erupt. To his credit, however, he had steadfastly refused to rise to the bait. Why he had done this I really didn't know. But whatever heroic reserves of restraint he had been drawing on, it was soon clear that they had now finally run dry.

Tom quietly placed his glass on the bar, signalled to the barman for a refill, straightened himself up and fixed Don with a glare.

'Look Don, first off, there isn't going to be a next time. This was the tenth and last time for me. That's it. Finished. No more Coast to Coasts.' The rest of us tried very hard to keep straight faces, which became impossible when Trevor chirped:

'Ding ding, end of round one.'

'Second ... 'Tom continued.

'Oops, just a minute, round two, ding ding,' Trevor interrupted.

... even if I was going to do it another ten times, I still wouldn't do it East to West,' he said, picking up his glass and gulping down his whisky in one and nodding to the barman for another. 'I might do it with my legs tied together or I might try it walking on my hands or I might even give it a go dressed as a butler or stark bollock naked, but I am NEVER going to do it East to West.'

Tom had never explained his aversion to the alternative route (although I had established that they seemed to have different recollections of their first crossings), but I had a feeling that at least part of it was bloody-mindedness in the face of Don's relentless exhortations. Most people would have thought Tom had made his position quite clear and that would have ended the conversation, but Don's tendency to continue to fight a losing battle was never more evident.

'How do you know if you haven't tried it?' he countered 'you might enjoy it, you never know' But this time Tom was having none of it.

'I do know Don, I do know,' Tom said, his scouse accent growing stronger by the second, 'and I know something else as well.You're starting to give me RSI.'

The grins were wiped from our faces as we all looked perplexed.

'RSI?' said Don, half mockingly. 'What do you mean? RSI. Repetitive Strain Injury? How do you work that out?'

Tom once more drained his glass.

'I would have thought it was obvious,' he said, leaning closer to Don,'you're being repetitive. I'm feeling the strain. And you're going to suffer an injury if you mention it again.'

As the laughter died away, I changed the subject before Don could say any more.

'Who fancies fish and chips?'

'Good idea Alan,'Tom said, placing his glass on the bar, pleased to get away from Don's persistent needling.

Joe joined us as we left the bar, leaving Don and Paul to finish their pints. We headed for a brightly painted cafe across the street, from where the irresistible smell offish and chips was wafting in the sea breeze. Seagulls were wheeling overhead, waiting for the opportunity to swoop on any scraps dropped by the milling throng who wandered aimlessly from shop to shop, trying to decide whether to have ice cream before or after the candy floss.

'This place has a lot to answer for,' Tom commented as we approached the door, 'this is the chippy Andy went in and it caused us to do the Coast to Coast again in eight days. It nearly killed me. Still, there can't be any harm going in now at least Andy isn't here.'

As we entered the shop, the proprietor, a ruddy-faced chap who looked like he enjoyed his fish and chips as much as the next man, astutely recognised his new bedraggled, bandaged customers as Coast to Coast walkers:

'Just finished the walk, have we?'

'Well, we have. I don't know about you,' I muttered under my breath.

'How long did it take you?'

'Twelve days this time,'Tom replied, his face now once more wreathed in a look of quiet, and justified, pride.

'This time? Do you mean you've done it before then?' the man asked, clearly impressed.

'Yes,' said Tom, pleased that the man had taken the bait and given him the opportunity to boast about his record breaking achievement, 'this was my tenth time.'

'That's incredible,' he said, clearly astonished that anyone would be daft enough to walk the breadth of the country once, let alone ten times, 'I've never heard of anyone doing it ten times before.'Tom seemed to grow a couple of inches, but still couldn't see over the counter to trace the source of a disembodied female voice which suddenly piped up from somewhere behind it:

'I have.There was a man in here the other day and he'd done it eleven times.'

A young girl's head appeared over the counter and she smiled sweetly.

Although Tom's head can still be turned by a pretty face, he was not best pleased with the bearer of this news. She could not have known that the real cause of Tom's wrath was the thought of having to do the walk twice more in order to beat the record set by this mystery chip-eating marathon man. Seeing the look on his face, she thought she should placate him and said the first thine that came into her head:

'Mind you, he was much younger than you.'

'That makes it worse,' he sighed, resigning himself to the fact that a younger man would be able to keep setting new, and impossible, targets.

'I didn't mean to upset you,' she said, now trying to boost Tom's spirits again. Ever the opportunist, he saw this as a chance to chat up an attractive young girl who was set on appeasing him:

'It's all right, you haven't really upset me,' he said.

'Oh, good,' she replied, 'because I think what you've done is
inspirational to others I can't wait to tell my granddad.'

Tom's hopes and dreams were dashed and he seemed to shrink as the sparkle that had kindled in his eyes a few moments before was extinguished, but the final blow was about to be delivered, albeit unwittingly:

'To do it ten times is just amazing. But, why don't you do it again? I hear it's even better if you do it East to West.'

A few moments later we stepped out into the street and found an empty bench with a rather pleasing view of the beach below us, where we could sit and eat, but Tom seemed to have lost his appetite, which was good news for the gulls as they feasted on the chips he threw to them with distracted regularity.

'Why did she have to go and spoil it all?'Tom mumbled,'She
seemed such a nice...'

It was the sight of Don emerging from the pub and walking towards us that cut him short. Don had his pack strapped to his back once more and seemed ready to make his way back up the hill to the car park.

'What are you three talking about?' he asked, 'you look as though you're plotting something.'

'Oh, nothing,' Tom said. 'We're just enjoying our fish and chips.'

'They look good. I might get some.'

'They're not that good,'Tom said, a little desperately, thinking that the girl in the chippy might repeat her thoughtless remark and give Don fresh ammunition for his long-running guerrilla campaign, 'you might be better going to that pizza place up the street.'

'No, I fancy fish and chips,' Don persisted.

'I think he was just closing after he served us,'Tom tried.

'It looks as though he's still serving. I'll go and see.' It was clear that Don was not going to give up, so Tom had to explain more plainly.

'Listen Don, I'm telling you, whatever you do, don't go in that fucking chippy.'


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