Monday, 6 August 2012


Poor old Gene Pitney. He is forever locked in the hell of always being 24 hours from Tulsa and today we rather sympathized with his plight.

No matter how far we walked, how hard we strode, how quick our pace, sodding, bloody, pissing Guildford remained frustratingly out of reach as some unseen force tugged the city south, and then south again. Day two was supposed to be around 15 miles but it turned in to a 25 mile marathon before we arrived footsore, damp and tired at our hotel in Godalming.

But there is no peace for the wicked. Arriving at 7pm after ten hours on the road gave us an entire 20 minutes to shower, change and meet the rather select audience who had turned out to see the first of Gerry’s performance. As I type this, I can hear him in full flow, giving his all and I’m glad I’m behind a pillar, so he can’t see the tears of pride.

But back to Esher, which feels like a lifetime ago. We stepped out feeling pretty good after a full-on English breakfast laden with all the nonsense. The only other diner was an old boy from the old school. Meticulous in his manners and busy showing crumpled snaps of his grandchildren to the bored Russian waitress, I looked at him with a benign affection. After all, here was a grandfather, rather slow on his feet, joints aching a bit first thing in the morning – and then realized that aside from 20 years and a pocket full of Werthers Originals, we were in the same club – especially with the aching joints bit. He was very impressed with our challenge and bade us good day with all the courtesy of a charming cameo character in one of Dickens’s more feel good novels.
For the first hour, the roads were full with shiny motor cars driven by yummy mummy blondes that swept by the bespoke kitchen shop, the Farrow & Ball paint showroom, the luxury boutiques and the Pilates studios. No boarded-up high streets and lines of charity shops in Esher or Cobham and Mary Portas can rest easy in her bed that Surrey, at least, is doing OK.

Today was a bit of a media day. We kicked off with a well briefed DJ on BBC Radio Surrey who asked all the right questions and said all the right things to our answers. Then we needed to hook up with a writer and photographer from the Daily Telegraph. Rather amazingly, they managed to spot us on Cobham High Street – like yesterday, we were starting to wonder whether the top hats and large signs on our backpacks were working like some kind of invisibility cloak, but they pulled up with a confident flourish and did the interview at a nearby Costa. Then it was photo time and some of our 25 miles were taken up with several takes as we performed for the camera, walking up and down the same path.
As soon as we heard "it’s a wrap", the Telegraph team gave us a cheery wave outside the historic semaphore tower and we headed confidently towards Guildford, surely just around the next corner. An hour later, we were live on Katie Martin’s show on BBC Radio Solent and when she asked where we were, we were able to confidently announce that we were "well, just outside Guildford". 40 minutes later, a newspaper from Hindhead called and we planned to meet with their photographer tomorrow.

"So how are you getting on?" asked the researcher and we were pleased to report that “well, we are just on the outskirts of Guildford." 90 minutes later and the phone rang again. It was the Surrey Advertiser - based in the holy grail of…Guildford. "We’d like to send a photographer to meet you" they said. "Where are you?"
"Well, really extraordinarily close to Guildford" we said and with some confidence too.
After all, we had been just outside Guildford for the last three hours, so it must surely be round the next bend. What was round the next bend was a sign that said in unrelenting Helvetica Bold ‘Guildford 4 miles’. And it was a horrid four miles of dual carriage way with roaring motors, no pavements and huge puddles for cars to soak us in.
By the time we had gone by the large houses on the outskirts of Guildford, the terraced houses halfway towards the centre of Guildford and finally Guildford High Street itself, we sank gratefully into the welcome seats of a handy Starbucks and called the local paper back. Sadly, the photographer had given up on us and gone home…
Today, our Dad would have been 87 and he would have enjoyed our walk immensely. It had all the ingredients he liked – barbed wire, muddy streams, torrential rain, signs that said ‘PRIVATE’ and stiles that headed to nowhere. He would also have blown steam at the pompous, the sneering and the downright rude.
While today was mainly countryside, we still walked through plenty of towns and not a penny of support came our way. It was noticeable that the people in the Mercs and Audis, the Range Rovers and Porsches simply didn’t see us. All the support came from smiling blokes in vans giving us a cheery hoot and a ‘good on yer mate’ out of the window as a raised thumb vanished off down the road.
Just as it was in Dickens’s day, the decency came from the real people, the folk who really work for their crust and to all the plasterers, electricians, plumbers and builders who spurred us on with their cheeriness, ‘Thank you’.
At one point, deep in the Surrey countryside (somewhere apparently quite near Guildford), we chanced upon a lady unloading her shopping in to an attractive looking farmhouse. Because we had been delayed with the Telegraph and had a deadline to meet, we had skipped lunch (other than a bar of Kendal Mint Cake which needed washing down with plenty of water). With supplies almost empty, here was an opportunity to fill our bottles, so I called out and asked if that may be possible.
With a thin smile, she pointed us to a cobweb encrusted dirty hose attached to an outside pipe in their yard and went inside and shut the door. If nothing else, this trip is truly Dickensian in its authenticity!


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