“Oh bugger!” I thought to myself as I stood patiently waiting for the airport people to open the door to release us weary passengers out onto the tarmac and into the little plane. “I forgot to pack my Norwegian walking poles.”
Having just been through the ritual humiliation of ‘measuring your bag’ at the FlyBe desk and deemed to have failed, I was already feeling a tad conspicuous. Standing there with the naughty label attached to my case, at the head of the line in my bright pink jacket, I hoped that no one had noticed my crestfallen features when I realised the Norwegian walking poles had been left behind.
Mind you, they were being distracted by a particularly cute baby attached to its mum’s chest whilst she bravely attempted to dismantle the buggy and give it to the man in the high vis vest so he could pop it in the hold. Poor woman, I felt for her. Thank God those baby days are long gone. Perhaps I should be thankful for my withering ovaries after all.
There was very little time that evening for gin or even champagne as we’d left Birmingham Airport at about 8:45pm in Pip’s giant car and done a little circuit around the environs a few times, taking in the sights as we cut through various industrial estates in our attempts to find the M42 North. They were helpfully digging up the roads and we got lost.
We managed to squeeze in a cheeky wee gin and tonic for myself and a Jack Daniels and coke for Pip and turned in at about midnight. She’s been having a few issues with the TBT recently and matters had to be discussed in great detail before bedtime. He’s been behaving like a complete knob and she deserves better. This is purely my opinion and in no way reflects Pip’s views, although she maybe coming round to my way of thinking.
Pip had carefully planned our route complete with downloadable PDF’s with full instructions and we set off on a bright Saturday morning in her giant car to a place called Coton Woods. All very idyllic and quintessentially English. In fact, the walk was entitled “Best Kept Villages Walk” so my mind was filled with thatched cottages, rose gardens and gorgeous little ancient pubs which served gastronomic delights. I had packed a variety of healthy snacks, but was very much looking forward to a slap up lunch in the heart of the English countryside.
After getting lost finding the car park, we almost opted to abandon Gertie at a retirement village which looked like something out of Stepford Wives or a Louis Theroux programme entitled ‘Wife Swapping Amongst the Over Sixties’ or ‘Dogging for Ancients’. I nipped out of the car to take a picture of the smudged advertisement for ‘Chair Yoga’ precariously attached to a telegraph pole at the entrance to the retirement community which annoyed Pip because her patience barometer had already moved into minus figures in our failed attempts to find the Coton Woods Car Park.
The lady in the image looks as though she’s been tied to the chair, perhaps as part of the ‘Wife Swapping‘ ritual.
Moments later we had successfully parked the giant car and were ready for our walk. Muddy doesn’t begin to describe the quagmire we found ourselves in. Having rained in Biblical proportions for weeks on end, the ground wasn’t ground, but a heaving mass of gunge through which we had to wade.
Our chat was unusually deep as we unpicked the psyche of TBT, worked out Pip’s strategy for dealing with his knobbish behaviour and generally felt a sense of self-righteousness that us women seem entitled to feeling when being messed about by a bloke we actually quite like. Thank goodness for Ever Patient Husband, because I really couldn’t be arsed dealing with any kind of knobbish behaviour at this stage in my life.
The instructions insisted we walk through someone’s back garden. There was a yellow arrow with ‘Best Kept Villages Walk’ clearly indicating that we should mount the stile and enter a rather grand, fully landscaped and beautifully tendered back garden belonging to someone with lots of wealth. We hopped over and entered the private property.
”They must have read on the deeds that there is a public footpath through their back garden when they bought the house.” I said helpfully.
”Hmmm”. Said Pip.
We admired their pristine lawn, the huge ornamental pond, complete with fountain, wooden benches and neatly trimmed bushes. As all women of a certain age know, a neatly trimmed bush is something to be admired and possibly envied. As we approached the back of the house it became obvious that we were now trespassing, Pip immediately took flight (I have never seen her move so fast), leapt over a fence and left me staring blankly into the conservatory of the large house. I turned around, followed Pip’s pathway through the neatly trimmed bushes and pulled up suddenly at the sight of the fence.
By now, you will all have realised that I am not agile. My legs are too long for my body and my brain appears incapable of co-ordinating them properly. Pip was all ready to dash off up the field and I had to ask her to wait whilst I gingerly mounted the fence. It’s something I must take my time over and having spent the previous weekend walking with Ever Patient Husband mercilessly taking the piss out of me as I climbed fences, I was already in a state of mild hysteria.
Pip stood and laughed. Then took photos, which thankfully didn’t come out well because she was laughing so much and desperately trying not to wet herself.
I made it over the top and we walked as casually as we could up the long gravel driveway of the posh house to the road.
By this time I was hungry. The raw food bar, oat biscuits and dark chocolate covered rice cakes had all worn off and I could really do with some proper food in a proper pub. I love living in Scotland, but the notion of an English pub where you get large roast dinners and proper steak pies with triple fried chips is lost on the Scots. When visiting the Highlands, it’s very common to arrive at a pub in the middle of nowhere having travelled for an eternity down desolate mountain roads at 8:55 in the evening ready for some hearty pub grub, only to be informed rather tersely by the large ruddy-faced woman with facial hair behind the bar that the ‘kitchen is closed’. Any pleadings around the fact that the sign says the kitchen closes at 9pm and there’s five minutes to go before the official closing time are usually met with hard stares and clenched fists.
As we sat on the branches of a fallen tree in a field and ate the almonds Pip had provided, I mused about the hailstorm we’d just trudged our way through and the delights of a cosy, warm, log fire, a pint of fresh orange and lemonade and some hearty English village pub food, preferably from a gastro pub. Whoever invented gastro pubs needs to be congratulated for they are a joy and a delight to the senses.
The nadir of pub cuisine, has to be the 1970’s, our era. A time when you could expect a round of pale, thin, beef paste sandwiches served with a pile of uninviting, slightly soggy ready salted crisps and if you were lucky or the establishment you were in was sophisticated you might have got a sprig of parsley placed at a jaunty angle on the edge of your plate. Washed down with Vimto (I am from Manchester, so we drank Vimto by the gallon), it really was a disgusting meal which often made me gag.
Is it any wonder then, that I was longing for hot, tasty, well presented food, served by someone who smiled pleasantly at me because they were actually pleased to see me and actively wanted my custom.
We finally arrived at a village that looked large enough to host a pub. The previous village, complete with its cricket green and church spire appeal had been quaint but the pub was decidedly closed. This village we were entering was larger and my hopes rose. A couple of a certain age were walking towards us as we approached the village perimeter and I suggested to Pip that we ask them about a pub.
An appeal for the church spire, but no functioning pub.
”Excuse me.” I enquired in my best voice. “Is there a pub in the village?”
The man with the Aston Villa beanie hat on replied “Yes, you go straight down this road and turn left.” His good lady friend, piped up.
”No, it’s right isn’t it?” She was wearing a very sensibly coloured walking jacket and her chosen hairstyle was one of grey and unspecific style. Why do some women of a certain age cut all their hair off and insist on sporting the Eastern European shot putter look? Is that the time of life you reach for the Sunday supplement catalogues which advertise beige slacks with elasticated waistbands and those double cosy slipper things that you wear whilst sitting on the sofa watching “Casualty” with a padded tray on your lap? If it is, can someone shoot me before I am tempted with to purchase anything from such catalogues.
”It’s left.” He said patiently.
”Are you sure?” She retorted.
”It could be I suppose.”
By this time, I felt Pip’s ire rise and her patience wearing down to nano millimetres.
”Ok, thanks!” I said cheerily as we walked on past, leaving the couple to their domestic bliss. Pip finds it quite hard to hide her impatience so I’m hoping they didn’t notice her hard stare.
We did indeed turn left and there was the pub. Net curtains nailed to the windows, an old man standing on the doorstep puffing away on his fag and no sign whatsoever of any kind of gastronomy. It didn’t even have a banner saying it showed Sky Sports. It was the kind of pub I remembered from my childhood and we chose to keep walking.
Finally, we arrived in a proper English village. There were tiny cottages with roses round the doorways, hanging baskets, converted churches and a tiny river running through the centre of the village. This particular village was obsessed with ducks. There were instructions in our walking PDF about giving ducks bread to eat (I know you’re not allowed to do that anymore, so before anyone writes in and tells us in a smug fashion that you’re not allowed to do this anymore as it kills ducks and probably polar bears at the same time, don’t. We know.). If you fed the ducks mung beans or something equally healthy, but gross, then they would follow you down the street in a little quacking line.
”I‘m not fucking feeding the ducks.” Said Pip.
”There aren’t any.” I replied.
”They’ve all fucked off to Canada.” She confidently commented.
”Ducks don’t go to Canada, that’s geese.” I corrected her gently.
”I don’t blame them, if I was a goose, I’d be in fucking Canada by now. I‘m still not fucking feeding them.” Pip’s nurturing instincts lie quite far down, well hidden beneath the surface.
There was not a duck to be seen anywhere, apart from a sign warning you about ducks crossing the road and a helpful plastic duck next to the sign, just in case you weren’t sure what a duck was. Maybe they had fucked off to Canada after all.
“There’s a pub!” I shouted with glee. At last, the light at the end of the tunnel. A proper English village pub which looked like it was open and wasn’t full of one-eyed interrelated cousins.
”It’s too late for lunch now.” Came the shocking reply.
”What?” I said in disbelief.
”We’re not going to the pub, it’s three o’clock and we’ve got food at home. It’s too late to go to the pub. Besides, we’re nearly at the car.”
I am not proud to say that I stamped my foot in rage and gave Pip my best Paddington Bear stare. It was wasted on her as she was striding out in front of me. Still, it made me feel better.
I sulkily got in the giant car and ranted for a bit longer about the pub.
We drove passed it and to my abject horror, the sign, tastefully designed in pale grey and white, specifically to appeal to my middle class, Waitrose influenced sensibilities read “Gastro Pub”.
“For fuck’s sake Pip!” I cried. “It’s a Gastro Pub.”
I am unlikely to forgive her. Ever. I will ensure some kind of Yak’s Milk revenge in Nepal.