The LTCB claims to have read this blog from beginning to end – and she still got in touch with me, demonstrating that there really are some people in this world who are completely unteachable, whatever the likes of Ed Balls might claim. As a result of her extensive research, she has a pretty good idea of what I like, though she has already ruled out a number of my favourite pursuits on the grounds of decency, hygiene and potential discomfort. This morning she offered me a sausage sandwich, which I accepted with alacrity, though unfortunately it turned out to comprise sliced pork sausage between two slices of toasted bread, rather than the sexual practice I had fondly imagined.
Next she suggested a walk, because she had read that the dog and I liked walks. She produced a remarkably pristine book of Lovely Walks in Cheshire, so I picked one more or less at random; 6.5 miles, classified as of medium difficulty. The book reckoned it would take us 3.5 hours, but in my experience these estimates are like the ages printed on the boxes of toys and jigsaw puzzles: designed to make you feel good about yourself rather than to provide any sort of practical guidance. I usually cover at least 2.5 miles per hour, even on strenuous walks up reasonably large hills in Northumberland, so I confidently expected to be back at the car within 2hrs 40mins. Easy peasy. Well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? Given that the LTCB’s idea of appropriate dress for this outing proved to be a floral cretonne frock and strappy sandals rather than the expected outdoor gear and walking boots.
She looked at me with scarcely (in fact, not at all) concealed exasperation as I did my old man thing in the car park, pootling about changing into more sensible shoes, then packing a small knapsack with things that might come in useful during a walk. Then I put on my Panama hat, which bore a striking resemblance to the one that got such a huge laugh at dinner last night, when it was presented to the birthday boy as a badge of his senility. The pièce de résistance was the long shepherd’s crook I always take with me on walks. I’ve never knowingly seen anyone boggling before, but that’s definitely what the LTCB did as she tried to draw the line at being seen out with a bloke carrying one of those.
I was glad I held firm, as within 200 yards a long stick was coming in very handy for fending off a herd of cattle. About 100 yards later, I received a request for some of the tissues in my knapsack to try and deal with the liquid cow pat that had coated one of her feet while she was focusing on the map in the book. By the time we got to the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal, both she and the dog were grateful for the drinks I had brought with me. And so on. Perhaps the most satisfying moment was during the descent of a steepish hill towards the end of the walk, when the LTCB asked if she might possibly borrow my handy walking stick.
Thanks to a wide range of obstacles including unmapped swamps and an inordinate number of stiles, the walk took the full 3.5 hours billed. By the end of it, the LTCB looked like a member of the cast of Tenko who had just been led on a forced march through the Malayan jungle by the Japanese. I’d love to show you a picture, but sadly it’s been vetoed in order to protect her privacy (though the fact that I seem to be able to get away with mentioning her at all does perhaps suggest a slightly ambivalent approach to privacy, ever so slightly redolent of Cherie Blair’s). Suffice it to say that I showed a snap to a friend and he expressed surprise that an old fogey like me had been attracted to a woman with tattoos. I had to point out that her markings were strictly temporary ones effected with mud and blood rather than ink.
When I got back home to Northumberland that evening, the LTCB reported that her strappy sandals were in the bin, while her painfully skinless toes resembled globe artichokes swathed in bandages. I asked her what she was planning for her next trick: climbing Everest in a ball gown? Instead of the expected two word reply, naturally including the word “off”, she asked “long or short”? Apparently it affects the sort of shoes she will need to wear to make the ascent. I will let you know the address for the return of your sponsorship forms in due course.