21 April, 2006

Canterbury tale

I've been sizing up London's numerous official walks and paths the last few days, as the prospect of tackling a circumnavigation of the city on foot has something of a snappy and potent appeal. I'm particularly excited by the Capital Ring, chiefly because it passes right by my flat and would therefore be ultra-easy to pick up. I'm also rather pleased that I am deemed far enough out of the city centre to be part of the Ring in the first place.

There's an epic feel to the notion of walking right around the outskirts of London, and the sense of achievement that would go with completing such a task is one I think I'd really rather relish.

After all, it would be quite a feat - albeit one to be tackled in stages at different times between all the regular mundane detritus of everyday life. I'm assuming it'd give me an insight into a less social, more visually intriguing side of the great place. Plus pass the hours in a slightly more healthy way than being slumped over a desk. As healthy as it's possible to be in a noisy, smog-stained city as this one, of course.

It would also bring back memories - as everything seems to do nowadays - of a vivid incident from my youth: a day spent walking a full nine or ten miles through the fields and woods surrounding my hometown, organised by my A Level English teacher in a somewhat futile but entertaining attempt to recreate the notion of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

The plan, such as it was, involved strolling along this considerable route, breaking off to read bits of Chaucer's interminable scribblings from time to time, and generally trying to ingest something from the sensation of a dozen or so people walking, endlessly, through the English countryside. It sounds demented, but was actually good fun and supremely memorable: a beautiful June day, some wonderful views, plenty of pissing about, precious little work being done, and a shared comradeship born of universally aching feet. Plus it was a day out of school. And our teacher was a top grade eccentric: desperately trying to give up smoking, endlessly muttering contemptuous remarks about her younger students, voraciously swearing, and regularly abandoning the lessons to invite us all round her house for a cup of tea.

Looking back, that long long stroll through the land round where I grew up summed up all that I treasured about the 6th form: unabashed freedoms, unchecked ambitions, unfettered friendships. I wish I'd had a camera with me to capture that trip. I sensed, even at the time, that it was the sort of thing I would do with that group of people once and once only in my entire life. A uniquely evocative day.


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