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Shipton Shorts 2017 Shipton Bellinger Short Story Competition

2016 Winner ‘I’m going to walk to Pewsey’

By Michael Crabbe

It was a lazy mid-May Sunday morning. Having entertained friends to dinner the previous evening, my wife and I were sitting sipping hot coffee to get us back into the land of the living and thumbing through the Sunday papers. It came to me as I was looking at the travel section and as, I thought it, I unintentionally said it, “I’m going to walk to Pewsey.”

I looked at my wife and she slowly lowered the fashion section and, with that look of hers, said, “You are what?”

“I am going to walk to Pewsey,” I repeated slowly, in that voice reserved for older people who are hard of hearing.

“Walk to Pewsey from the village” she retorted. “You are lucky if you can walk to the pub and that’s on the flat.”

It is true that my body had lost a little tone over the years but, coming up to 70, whose body doesn’t?

“Thank you,” I said with a sarcastic tone, “for those few words of encouragement. I want a challenge for my 70th and I just had this idea. That bloke whose wife was arrested last year walked to Stonehenge and back and he can’t be much younger than me.”

“Walking to Pewsey isn’t much of a challenge,” she snorted.

“No, no,” I said. “You don’t understand. I want to do a long walk like Offa’s Dyke, Pennine Way or those walks that Eric bloke wrote books about. Pewsey is just a small step in my training.”

“Oh, now I understand,” she said in that voice. “Good luck with that.”

Although she was not overly enthusiastic it didn’t put me off and I spent the rest of Sunday on the internet researching. Next morning, I was up early.

“Where on earth are you going this early,” she sleepily yawned, her nose just poking above the duvet.

“I’m of to buy some walking boots. I’ve only got 15 months and I’ll have to get going while the iron’s hot so to speak.”

With that I was out, in the car and on the way to the Park and Ride. Eager as anything, I was first in the queue as the bus drew in. I climbed aboard and put my bus pass on the machine.  It rejected it; the light stayed red. I tried again; same results. I was just about to remonstrate with the driver when he said, “You’re a Twerly.”

“A what?” I answered back.

“Your pass doesn’t work until 9.30 Grandpa. You are too early,” he carefully explained, as if I was an older person.

Shamefaced, I had to back off the bus and face all the other people in the queue. Each one asked the bus driver what was going on and to each he just said, “Twerly,” raising his eyebrows. I went back into the shelter to wait the hour for 9.30 to come around. I could have driven into Salisbury but I wasn’t going to pay the exorbitant parking fees.  Finally, at around 9.45, I got on the bus and was soon in one of those camping shops asking a young person if he had any walking boots.

“We have plenty,” he said looking me up and down. “We are that kind of shop. What kind of walking are you thinking of doing?”

I did not like his tone, but in my most polite voice I said, “I am going to walk to Pewsey.”

“Walk to Pewsey?” he sniggered, “looking at you I suggest you get the bus.”

“No you don’t understand,” I retorted. “I want to do a long walk like Offa’s Dyke, Pennine Way or those walks that Eric bloke wrote books about. Pewsey is just a small step in my training. I want to tackle a long distance path for my 70th birthday next year and I thought I would start with a walk to Pewsey.”

“Very sensible sir ,” he said. “I’ll show you some boots designed for long distances but I suggest you start with a less ambitious destination than Pewsey.”

“OK then,” I said. “I’ll start with a walk to Bulford.”

Do you know how much a pair of walking boots cost?  You would have thought they would give a discount for pensioners but no, only for special arrangements with companies. So home I went. Unfortunately, it was the same bus driver on the way back.

“Grandpa Twerly,” he said in a loud voice.” Back again for another free ride?”

I held my temper and gave him one of my looks and, at the same time, got out the pencil and notebook I always carried with me and made a big thing of asking him for his name and number. He wasn’t very happy at that I can tell you! When I finally got back after spending nearly 30 minutes trying to get the bus driver’s name and number my wife was waiting for me.

“Well?” she said.

“Do you know how much a pair of walking boots cost these days?” I blurted out. “And do you know you can’t use the Park and Ride until 9.30?”

She gave me one of those looks again.

“Anyway,” I continued. “I am going to start with a walk from the village to Bulford and I am going in 30 minutes so please make me some sandwiches and a flask of tea while I change into something comfortable for the walk.”

“But it’s the middle of May, in the middle of the day, and the temperature is in the 20s,” she said. “Why not wait until later when it’s cooler?”

“Carpe diem ,” I replied. “Seize the day.  I’m off and no one is going to put me off”.

Seized by the moment, I seized my favourite Southampton Football Club shirt, seized my Union Jack shorts, seized my tennis socks and was about to unwrap and seize my new boots when I thought, “Perhaps I should try that old army trick of urinating in my boots to break them in on the walk?” Then I thought, “The price I paid for these, they had blooming better be soft enough without urine.”

Rushing downstairs, still seizing the moment, I swept up the sandwiches and flask and headed for the door.

“You are not going out from the village dressed like that!,” my wife exclaimed.

“What’s wrong now?” I sighed.

“Firstly,” she said ticking off the points on her fingers, “that shirt is synthetic, you need something to soak up the sweat. Secondly, those shorts are a shocking sight especially with your skinny white legs and anyway have you not heard of Lime’s Disease where you can catch it from an infected deer tick?  Thirdly, did you not think to buy some walking socks? Fourthly and fifthly, have you got a map and a hat?”

I had had enough. She was just trying to put obstacles in my way. Perhaps I should have bought walking socks but I have lived in the area for 50 years and I should be able to find Bulford without a map. I stormed out and ploughed on through the village and up the path by the Village Centre. I figured that when I got to the top I could see Bulford and could find my way from there.

Fuelled by adrenaline, I shot up the hill but, by the time I got to the top, I could hardly get my breath and my legs were like jelly. I stopped for a sandwich and some tea to refuel me and give me a chance to assess my next move. It was easier to think when I got my breath back. Surely it’s all downhill from here, through the Army camp, round the range road and into the village? No problem at all. So, refreshed, I set off again.

Now, this is where a map might have come in useful because what looked straightforward from the hill, got a bit confusing on the ground. I seemed to walk and walk for ages and it was not all downhill I can tell you. I did not want to walk right through the camp, so I tried tracks around it. I thought I was doing really well until I topped a rise and there, below me, was the A303 roundabout by Solstice Park. Bulford was to my right but I could not figure out how to get there so I stumbled down the hill almost to the roundabout. Pausing for a breath, I looked around. The options were the walk back up the Bulford road or that road that runs parallel to the A303 going west, which looked as if it skirted the hill. I had always wondered where it went, to so I set off.

Still a bit disoriented, I found myself walking down Watergate Lane, but at least it was flat and I knew that it led to Bulford. That’s where it started to get a bit weird. At the end of the lane were two abandoned cottages but I could hear a dog barking in the garden. Further along, a woman was tending her pot plants outside her house but, instead of putting compost in the pots, she was taking it out and putting it back in the bag. I got to the corner and looked up to see the pub was not far away. So I thought, “I’ll just pause for a drink before walking home”. I could not understand why the pub was called the Crown and Rose but I hadn’t been there for some time so I just shrugged it off.

Going inside I went to the bar and asked for a shandy. The barman gave me a quizzical look and answered back in a foreign tongue which seemed like Polish or something. I asked again, but this time more slowly and louder, as you do when on a foreign holiday. He still frowned, so I got out my trusty notebook and pencil and proceeded to draw a picture of a glass of shandy. Frowning, he went off to pour it. Do you know how much a pint of shandy costs these days? It’s atrocious, but I needed the drink.  I took a long draught and the barman pulled the pencil and notebook towards him and wrote something on it. He turned it round so that I could see. He had written “Polska” and he pointed to me.

“No,” I said,” you Polska not me”. Everyone else in the pub were talking Polish as well but it suddenly struck me that he might be Romanian or Albanian or Hungarian. You never know with the Common Market. So I wrote “Romanski? Albanski? Dagmar?,” pointing at him. I was quite proud of the last because I remembered that was what the Hungarians put on their stamps when I was a boy.

That was when I heard my wife’s voice. “What’s she doing in the pub?” I thought. “and why all of a sudden are there bright lights in this gloomy pub?”

“You silly old fool,” she was saying. “What on earth am I going to do with you, ending up in Salisbury hospital rambling about the Polish people taking over Bulford? Will you never learn?”

That’s when I realised I had been a bit foolish.

“Sorry,” I said. “I have no idea what happened. Still it’s all part of the learning process. Next week Netheravon, the week after Upavon, then Pewsey, on to Marlborough and who knows where next. But next time I’ll take a map.”

I looked into her eyes as I spoke and she just gave me one of those looks.