Sunday, 5 August 2012


And so it has started.

Being authentic to the project, we met at Golden Square under leaden skies this morning just as Nicholas and Smike did in the book. A small gathering of family and friends were there to see us off, along with David Allard from BBC South. Despite our lowly sporting endeavor, it was nice to learn that he needed full Olympic media accreditation in order to capture the historic moment as we stepped out towards Portsmouth. The Dickens Walk is right up there in media importance it seems.

The Olympics were immediately ready to hamper our progress with numerous roads closed for the marathon. One thing not closed were the heavens and we had gone no more than half a mile when the mother of all thunder storms decided to park itself over central London. In true Captain Scott style, we plugged on regardless – well, for at least another quarter of a mile before seeking shelter in the recently opened Bomber Command memorial at Green Park.
Olympic spectators from all corners of the planet sought shelter too and one can only assume that they thought a group of top hat attired walkers is perfectly normal for Brits taking a Sunday morning stroll in London. No one made mention and studiously ignored us.

Walking the first eight miles were family members and it was great to have company and conversation as Sloane Square made way for the Kings Road. Two of the walkers were girls and we could only admire their stamina and will-power to avoid the alluring tug of Peter Jones and numerous Chelsea boutiques. The good people of the Borough of Chelsea could see nothing odd in our appearance either but then again, I guess not much will surprise those who reside along the famous ribbon of high end galleries, up market eateries and multi-million pound houses. They have been watching it every decade since the swinging ‘60s.
With the rain returning, it was inevitable that Starbucks got our business and as Gerry set his soaking top hat down, the poor piece of millinery gave a quiet sob and expired. Not wanting to risk his expensive performance topper, he had reverted to a low cost felt affair and as the rain fell in torrents, the felt turned to blotting paper and the shape reverted to something that perhaps Ermintrude the cow might wear during her guest appearances on The Magic Roundabout. It only vaguely resembled a hat, but one that took no form, shape or style and it sat forlorn, like a disastrous soufflé at a disastrous dinner party. A new one will join us from tomorrow night.

It was after six miles that the first brave soul plucked up courage and asked us who we were raising money for. She was an attractive woman, elegantly coiffured, wearing expensive fabrics and fingers adorned with gold and diamonds. A serene waft of expensive scent filled the air and her orthodontically perfect teeth flashed a smile through the carefully applied make up. Her home was no doubt one of the multi-million pound pads nearby, filled with rich banker husband, a richness of cars on the drive and richly sumptuous furniture. She listened intently to our goals, thought it ‘absolutely marvelous’ and gushingly reached in to her Louis Vuitton handbag to give us a donation.
The elegant hand reached out and as she earnestly continued her eulogistic support, I felt a whole £1 coin get pressed in to my hand. So the statue committee now only needs a mere £59,999 more and we were very grateful – heck, it made us believe we had almost broken the back of our challenge.

On through Putney and at Putney Vale Cemetery, we took a detour in to the massive graveyard where the likes of J. Bruce Ismay, Arthur Askey and the small-boy-giggle-inducing 1930’s racing driver Dick Seaman lie. At the graves of Henry Fielding Dickens (“the 6th son and last surviving child of Charles Dickens”), a grand picnic was ready for us. Cousin Marion had laid on a memorable spread and we think Henry (our great grandfather), his wife Marie, son Pip and wife Sybil (in the next door grave) would have approved. Especially when we discovered that the edge of Pip’s tombstone gave the ideal edge for popping off the crown top on a bottle of Bud. Several times.
Our morning walkers left and we were on our own heading in to Richmond Park, Kingston and along a sun dappled river  Thames towards Esher. Only around one in twenty either stopped to ask about the walk or shouted a good luck message, while the rest pretended we weren’t there.

Heading out of Kingston, we overtook a young and loved up couple in their early 20’s. As we overtook them (I’ve written that just to give you an indication that our pace never slacked), they read our posters and came chasing after us to give a donation. The pair of them emptied out their pockets of change and gave the entire content. It was a genuine and touching display and their £6.78p rather put the Chelsea donation in to perspective.
And even better was to come. Walking by the City Arms pub on the road towards Esher, a lovely bar-maid came chasing out of the door after us. She asked about our challenge and we were quickly ushered inside, offered drinks and made to feel incredibly welcome. They topped us up with free  bottles of water and several locals enjoying an afternoon glass or two wanted to know more. A fiver was pressed in to our hand by an older lady and they all signed our copy of Nicholas Nickleby with promises of several more on-line pledges. As we took to the road for the last four miles, there were waves and cheers of support with an open offer to ‘come  back and visit’ when we have more time. Nicholas and Smike would have stayed for a pint and we were sorely tempted too.

The last two miles hurt rather and it confirmed that 15-18 miles a day is the right level. Now ensconced in a pub with rooms, I’ve just discovered a new art of balancing. Stood on a tiny chair, I lowered my aching feet in to the tiny basin, one at a time to try to work some comfort on my aching soles. It worked OK, but the chamber maid may well wonder how handprints managed to smudge themselves in to the ceiling some 10’ above the floor.
It’s always good to leave a mark of ones passing, and that one is mine.




  1. YAY!!! Worthy of a Gold medal for effort. What is your route? I couldn't find it on here.


  2. plasterer surrey
    Toby, it's the old, blurry line between truth & "the facts." Sometimes, they overlap, but often, they don't.

    Twenty-five years ago, I spent six months flat on my back with a dislocated disk, unable to much of anything but nap & read. One day, my once-a-week cleaning woman was dusting my bedroom, and she paused as she picked up a paperback copy of "Bleak House" that was lying near my sickbed. She looked at the cover, which showed a painting of a woman in an somberly decorated 1880s interior, then looked around. "Looks like this place."
    The room in the painting was much more elegant than mine, but I took her words as a compliment. "That's a really great book" I told her.
    She turned the book over & looked at the blurb on the back. "Is it true? she asked.
    "Actually, it's a novel."
    "I see. So it didn't actually happen?"
    "Well, no. It's a novel."
    She made sort of a face. "So it's just made-up storying..."
    "Well, yes, basically."
    She put the book back down & wiped her hands on her apron, like they were soiled and looked at me like I was a spoiled child. "Then I wouldn't be interested. I don't read things that aren't true." If she could have sent me to bed for the day, she would have, but I was already there.