The early brigade
Once a week I have half an hour to kill before my first cuppa, only a swig of water with the pill is allowed and if I’m up to it, I'll go for a walk. If only I could incorporate this into my daily routine, if routine is the right word for what you do on those few mornings you have sufficient energy.
There’s something primal about rising early and stepping into the elements. The freshness touching your cheeks, the cool air shooting into your lungs, the swing of your legs, your back muscles waking. The world, even in this urban setting I’ve become used to, with the regular swish of cars shooting their drivers off to work, feels fresher, more inviting, the sky more noticeable, the birds more poignant. Is this because it is you who is more alert? As you step along the roads or paths defining your terrain, you feel a part of it, your walk becomes a ritual marking, you belong, you aren’t simply a forgotten being inhabiting one space amongst many other spaces, but are as vital and significant as everyone else out there.
Heading west down the high street, her quick, short steps tap, tap, tap the pavement, neat as her silver pageboy hair cut, tight as her coat wrapped around her elderly frame. I call “Good morning” and she responds as we pass the stunningly attractive florist’s. Each morning she paces past our house at this hour; is she off to look after her grandchildren, work in some little shop, buy provisions before the rush clogs the supermarket? Curious, I follow her at a distance down the delightful Georgian street, by the ancient corn market she turns south down a functional road with few shops and I passed as she selects a newspaper outside the bright petrol station. If this was her aim, then why not the CoOp supermarket almost one hundred metres from my home? Does she work there?
I swing onto the new road and everyone here at the edge of town heading to the park-cum-sports grounds defining the southern side of this busy road, overtakes me, sometimes with a cheery “Good morning!” but then I do wobble-walk with a crutch. Those coming towards me mostly step aside, with two stern exceptions keen to show superiority by making me clack out the way, usually though, beaming huge smiles people step into the gutter which almost tripped me. One young woman speaking into her phone and puffing smoke into the clean air, the only person I meet smoking, breaks into her conversation with a saxophone “Hello!” Heart warmed, I turn north along the old people’s home where no lights light the rooms, past the empty primary school where seagulls swarm the air above the bins.
I head east onto the main street, sharing bouncy greetings with the hard working happy vegetable man who is unloading the truck he’s driven down from distant Bristol market which he scours for deals at 5am. And from the handsome Georgian butcher’s faces brightens my way. Above us in its own grounds the thousand year old church gleams golden brown as I dodge a couple laughing at a repeat of the same corona-dance we'd done minutes earlier. The various cafes are preparing for the day; though the chemist's is still asleep the ironmongers is full of life and it's elfin window display is a delight; I exchange waves with the cheesemonger whose shop is sunk beneath ground level so old is it’s medieval building.
Again passing the corn market, greetings fly from those setting up today’s covid-Christmas market beneath the square roof sheltering well worn honey-stone slabs. Almost touching the thick central pillar, I traverse this timeless open structure that marks the centre of our little town. Trestle tables hug the old pillars rising from the low wall which acts as a long bench, boasting spicy sauces, hand made decorations, buns, toys, cards made at home.
A glance at the trendy haute-couture international HQ which has just moved down from London, on past the small CoOp, 2 solicitors, 2 accountants, 2 estate agents, 2 hair dressers, the Chinese and the new flower shop from London which is struggling to establish itself sixty metres from that well established, well loved, local rival 100 metres away. These Londoners escaping a flailing city so recently centre of the world, you now hear their accents, see their smart cars; house prices are shooting up.
His fast stride leaves the rubbery plonky-pludd, glup-glup gumboots do as he easily passes me up the shallow slope. His dog, taught on it’s guide-lead, desperate to relieve itself, peers ahead, expression never changing as it veers sideways to lead him around a lamp post he’d have been felled by. I greet him and, turning his head to seek out my direction, he responds with determination not to be diverted from his mission to the edge of town four hundred metres away and the start of an avenue leading to our local Elizabethan courtly house.
Noticing our well-heeled neighbours’ curtains and shutters are still closed, I turn into our forecourt, into the breakfast-room/kitchen, pour the tea I’m desperate for. Weary, aching, I sit for a much needed rest and write this until my wife stirs, when I will try not to spill a drop as I take up the stairs her a cuppa in bed.