Stinking Willie

The last time I walked the walk the ferns and nettles hadn’t unfurled, today when I walked the walk if I didn’t know where I was going I wouldn’t have known where I was going.

The sun baked my shoulders, the grass was forgiving, soft under foot. Then I crossed over the lane through the gate and I was ankle deep in ooze. The deer had been slipping and siding in the mud leaving their tracks for all to see. I sunk into puddles and for one split second it felt like quick sand, my orange trainers taking in water, I unstuck my feet, held onto wooden fence posts then sploshed my way to the little wooden bridge.
No billy goats gruff but there could have been for all I know, this silent wood holds some kind of magic. Through an oak tree orchard, under a little railway arch and then up a steep hill.
Every time my legs pushed through the high pink grass the butterflies came out.
Brown ones.
Black ones.
White ones.
Blue ones.
Not in their ones or twos but flutters of butterflies, it felt like they were showing me the way to the end of the field. I once had a butterfly sit on my shoulder in San Diego it sucked the salt off my skin, these British butterflies weren’t anywhere near as bold as their American cousins.
Up, up until the view behind me looked like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel. Undulating fields, houses hidden behind trees, all quiet but for the buzz of a passing bee. I once asked the listeners on my LBC show for their sound of summer.

Ice cubes clinking in a fizzy Pimms.
Lawn mowers.
Leather on willow.
For me it’s always been buzzing bees. Today along with the butterflies there were bundles of them diving in and out of the clover and through the rye grass.

It felt like I was being chivvied along, so when I got to the style I bravely climbed it – I usually crawl through it – but today I held onto a sturdy branch and some barbed wire. Of course it bloody hurt! I ripped my middle finger and I swear I could hear the mean giggling of a sixteenth century farm boy who made me do it. You know that feeling when you are alone but you feel like there’s somebody prodding you in the middle of your back? Imagination is funny eh?

I wrapped my finger in a tissue and got to the path that had I not known it was there I wouldn’t have known it was there. Disentangling myself from brambles and thorns I finally made my way out onto the road. One hour of blood, sweat but thankfully no tears.

Coming as I do from the city, time it was that I would have been scared of overgrown footpaths. The first time I woke up to a mountain in Wales I had a panic attack. After 38 years of living amongst wild flowers and ditches I can now walk the back roads without fear. When I lived in Battersea I would walk the four miles to Leicester Square. Over three bridges, past Victoria Station, round Buckingham Palace and through St.James’ Park.

The Westminster Paving Act of 1762 set the tone of our fair city.

‘The argument was that the wealthy could avoid the ordure in their carriages or Sedan cars but the poor were destined to walk in muck. Pavements would allow the masses to enjoy a civilised city in purity and parity with the aristocratic elite.’

So I was always struck by the paving slabs in Cheyne Walk which are huge and grand enough to mount your carriage, the pavements where I haled from were small and mean, protecting us from a sea of mud and shit that was swilling under our feet, but not quite big enough for any kind of horse drawn contraption. So the well heeled remained so.
I live near Tunbridge Wells, where the deep-pocketed shop in the Pantiles so called because;

‘A pantile is a type of fired roof tile, normally made from clay…. They were installed in 1699 were one-inch-thick square tiles made from heavy wealden clay, so-named as shaped in a wooden pan before firing.’

The well heeled remain so.

Travel six miles south into East Sussex where I live now and we are on high alert – we have to protect our footpaths. We have until 2026 to locate them and walk them otherwise greedy landowners will steal them from under our noses and common land won’t be common anymore. Thems property developers are buggers. Thousands of trees are being felled for new builds which bare the hallmark of Dickensian dwellings – the slums of the future, although the new red brick disguises that fact. I’ve joined a group to save our countryside. Of course we need new homes for people, affordable beautiful homes, but not at the expense of trees which are coughing their lungs up. There are enough brown sites to repair and renovate, old property should not just be for the likes of the Kirsty Allsopps’.

Here we go, the tree hugger is at it again, but today I had the privilege of walking ancient land, if we dont keep our eyes and ears open those wily land speculators will nab the fields, fell the trees and pull the ‘Stinking Willie’ – Ragwort – from under our feet and then where will be? This government is facilitating the building of thousdans of new homes eroding the green belt at the fastest rate for 20 years. We need to tell those unregulated, unprincipled, building bastards that this land is our land, otherwise we’ll be paddling up shit creek, past mock Tudor abominations without a bumble bee in sight and barely a butterfly fluttering by.

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