Mad guide test

Hello again. I’m writing to you from my comfortable little outdoor seat outside The Old Bull and Bush. There’s a stone column just opposite me, which might be the last remnant of the original farm building from which an enterprising fellow started selling home-brew to travelers in 1721. It’s colder than I’m used to. This unseasonably warm October has worked to our advantage for certain, and now with just two nights to go I can safely say that even if it pelts it down tomorrow and next Saturday, we’ve still been lucky with the weather.

For a theatre job at this time I’d likely be rolling around on the floor or warming up my voice. For this job I find it more helpful to sit quietly and breathe and focus. Saturday night is usually the weirdest audience as they’ve been boozing all day so the chances of a noisy bloke who wants to show off rise considerably. Last Saturday there was a gobshite who was on a first date. You wonder in what world he believed that she’d be impressed by him drunkenly shouting random stuff. Maybe she was though. It takes all sorts to make a world, and I can deal with hecklers all night long. But yeah – Saturday and it’s time to gird my loins and see what gets thrown at me.

This evening I’ve been spotted in my hiding place. Three children are discussing me loudly through a window above me. They’ve seen my hat and staff. “A wizard” one of them theorises. And to some extent, I am. Right now though, I need water. Gonna put this down and sort myself out.

The parents brought the kids round to talk to me right before I had to start. It was cute. The older one was a bit more worldly, and was looking forward to watching strictly. The younger one still fully believed in magic. Even though I explained to them how I was an actor and how I was about to lead a Halloween tour and tell people creepy stories, he lingered a few steps behind his departing family and fired a hasty parting question: “Are you actually a real magician?” Faced with the two options, I chose the magical one. “Of course. But I have to pretend not to be. Shh.” After all, magic is belief. Perhaps a little of what I do is magic. Wouldn’t that be nice. Time to begin.

Halfway through now. I’m sitting in the lovely beer garden of The Duke of Hamilton with the worst of it behind me. Now they all have a few drinks and I can relax for a moment before the last push to the King William IV. A friendly lot and not as leery as I feared by any stretch. I’ve been experimenting with making my guy insane today which has kept me occupied and having fun in a Peter Sellars in Doctor StrangeLove type manner. It’s quite pleasant to document these little jobs I end up doing. This one feels like a goodbye to Hampstead, coming as it does at the same time as my friend losing her flat. I’ll be staying there tonight and hopefully I’ll manage to put a lot of things in boxes again tomorrow.

I’m going to go and circulate with the audience and be sociable.

Done. So the StrangeLove experiment had mixed results. I think it read reasonably well to the audience as they had the consistency. But because I was cracking my voice and essentially joyfully behaving weirdly, my colleagues found themselves worrying about me. I finished the tour to a “medicinal whisky”. I accepted it, of course. But then had to explain to them how it had been a deliberate experiment and yes I’m perfectly fine and no my voice only cracks when I crack it. I get bored of myself easily. It’s a blessing and a curse. I probably won’t make him batshit crazy again but it filled the time. It took away from my authority. There’s a delight in being an unreliable guide through the darkness of the heath. But I’m already a murderous ghost guide. No need to be insane too.

Halloween tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will hold…

Winding down

I’m in my bath after successfully remaining sober whilst leading an enthusiastic Friday night pub crawl – with spooky stories. Groups like tonight’s are joyful. There were quite a lot of them. We oversold. But they did reasonably well at sticking together, and they were all pleasantly trolleyed and playful without being leery. We all made it across the heath and then I made my excuses and got out of dodge. I want a good night’s sleep tonight.

It’s strange doing entertainment right now. We only have a small group at cap, but they still automatically spread out from one another. I still feel like some weird pied Piper, leading this long tail of giggling pissed people through the darkness of the night-time Heath. It’s black as pitch now at 7. Considering the first time I walked the route it was September, I can really see how the world has gotten darker here. Thankfully the rain has continued to hold off…

We only go to pubs with outside seating, and frequently lots of the audience remain masked in the pub garden. I’m wondering how it’ll feel with Christmas Carol this year. I’m glad it’s on again but I suspect it’ll be much harder to connect with the individuals who are watching it.

These weekends I’ve been glad of the focus this walking tour has brought me. It feels a bit like having a job again, although really it’s just three nights a week and some of the other guys have a nine to five in the week while I’m going to the opera and looking at mushrooms. With the Hampstead flat I don’t feel like I have all that much free time coming up now though – I’ve been much slower than I might have been at the process of boxing up and removing my friend’s stuff. I still kinda keep expecting her to tell me she’s back in London. Still, I’ve ferried a few car loads out, and with one more good load I reckon I’ll have most of the things she’ll miss. If push comes to shove I’ll just have to pay a removals company, knowing they’ll do it in a matter of hours. But I’ve been trying to avoid it, even though it’s getting less and less comfortable in there. I’ll sleep there tomorrow night so I can wake up and start doing things. Tonight I wanted to be in my space with my things.

I’m gonna get out of this bath, make and consume a huge cup of chamomile tea, and sleep like a baby.

Two nights to Halloween. The veil between the worlds is thin. I’m pretending to be the ghost of the pub we start in, which is a genuine reported haunting. This evening, just before we started the tour, there was a brief power cut that dropped the lights for a second or two and stopped the tills from working. Hopefully it wasn’t the strange Victorian man showing his disapproval…

Tasty shaggy mushrooms

Shaggy Ink Caps. My third allowed species of mushroom for munching now.

As many of you might have inferred, I’m fascinated by the mycological. I try to learn all I can about these strange little helpers. They are so alien, so unlike other organisms, and sometimes their fruiting bodies can be really rather tasty. I won’t eat anything that I haven’t picked, inspected, dissected, identified and then had a reliable second opinion about 3 times. That’s a bare minimum and it stops me from dying or from hurting my friends.

Last year at around this time Lou and I saw some large old Shaggy Ink Caps near one of our favourite parks outside Brighton. They were already turned but unmistakable. Huge beautiful mushrooms. Their gills go to black as they mature, and then they turn into black slime. They can’t really be sold as a result. You can only eat the young ones and even then they deliquesce extremely quickly once uprooted. If you keep an uprooted one overnight, it’ll just be muck in the morning. As a result, a rare delicacy. But we found a load last year, past it, and I remembered them for this year.

If they were past it last year it’s because nobody was picking them, I thought. And I was right.

We drove past the little layby, and I said “keep an eye out and tell me if you see any mushrooms”. “Ooh! A huge one!” We stopped. The layby was full of them. I improvised a basket. I took half of the fruiting bodies that were small enough.

An unusual mushroom. A very mushroomy looking black and strange spotted creature by the side of the road. They look incredible, and they change massively as they age. I took lots, thanking them as I took them, careful not to damage the actual mycology below those tempting strange fruits. I put them in an improvised basket in the back of my car. We went for a walk, then I dropped Lou off for work and I drove back to London.

I stopped about an hour ago and went in to see Tanya in Richmond. I brought in the basket. Probably 4 hours since picking them. Half of them were already ink.

They used to MAKE ink with these things. Put them in a bucket with some cloves and not much else… I can really see why. We were much more ingenious forever ago. Now we rarely even USE ink. We just read on screens.

I found the ones that were still good. I cut the bad bits and I rubbed them clean with kitchen towel. No need to rinse with water unless they’re going in soup. They’ll only be slimy if you do. They ended up ready on the kitchen surface.

Fried in butter and fed to three with a bit of parsley. My first allowed forage of that species. Tasty, and I can tell why they call them “asparagus mushrooms”. The thing that really struck me was how quickly they go wrong. A true delicacy and a rarity. I’ll be keeping an eye out in that spot next year.

There’s a joy in foraged foods. I just fed two friends and they had been drinking, but I’m pretty much certain that the coprine from common ink caps is not present in the shaggy variety in anything like enough quantity to interact badly with alcohol. I was 100% certain on every fragment that went into the pan though. That’s the only way with mushrooms.

I’m glad to have a third allowed species. I guess I’ve been doing this long enough now that I can start allowing the eating, which is part of the reason I learnt. Still, I get nervous at it, and I guess that’s the honourable thing to do. I’m erring on the side of caution always. But don’t fuck with mushrooms kids.

The Rake’s Progress

Art breeds art breeds art breeds art.

This one kicked off sometime before the 1730’s when the London artist and observer William Hogarth did the thinking that led to a series of paintings showing the progress – or perhaps lack of progress – of Tom Rakewell.

These paintings doubtless have their roots in older art. John Bunyan’s influential and moral Christian life journey story The Pilgrim’s Progress, which in turn come out of Dante and Everyman etc etc until we don’t have it written down anymore. The heroes journey. Let me just start grinding my Joseph Campbell again…

Hogarth painted his progress in living memory of Bunyan’s very different progress. Shortly afterwards, in France, Voltaire wrote his Candide. A new rash of these ancient allegorical journeys for the modern age of the mid to late 18th Century. Fables. Cautionary tales, perhaps. Hogarth was a very eloquent satirist for his time. The paintings survive, unlike his earlier “Harlot’s Progress” which was destroyed and exists only in etchings.

Cut to the 1950’s and Igor Stravinsky the Russian composer has ended up collaborating with WH “stop all the clocks” Auden – the extremely prolific Anglo American poet who is recently largely associated with one (excellent) work, for such is the power of cinema. Stravinsky has decided to make an opera of the Hogarth paintings, and pulls Auden and Chester Kallman in for the libretto. An opera in English, of these English cautionary paintings, and told with a twinkle in the eye. “For idle hearts and hands and minds the Devil finds work to do,” the piece concludes. It premieres in Venice in 1951.

Cut to 1974. I get born. More or less around this time John Cox is the creative producer at Glyndebourne Opera House and he persuades the artist David Hockney to design a unique production of the Stravinsky. With all the sets painted by Hockney, all the props and busts and costumes, painted by Hockney, this show enjoys a good opening in 1975.

Cut to this evening.

This Hockney Opera has only been performed 146 times including tonight despite the age. We managed to get into the slips, right at the edge of the stage in the upper circle. Lou and I brought the average age of the audience down by a fair few years. The house was packed, and I reckon if we had pooled the collective wealth of everybody in that room we could’ve bought much of the Southern Hemisphere. The singers were running around with props that might have six figures next to their prices if they ever found their way to auction. I cricked my neck with the terrible view but, surprisingly, I loved it. “I don’t watch opera,” I’d have told you a year or so ago. My reason? “Too expensive. Not accessible. Nothing to recommend it.”

I like it now. I’ve loved these reasonably regular chances to witness opera done well without having to mortgage anything. I’m not immune to the fact I’m a lucky sod to have somebody able to get me these tickets. It would be good to see the shows somehow appealing and being accessible to people who are not so fabulously wealthy as most of the presentation and conversation I witnessed in those gardens today. But I guess with all the musicians and staff, and more silence about The Arts in today’s budget, the easy way for the model there to survive is to keep doing it like it has been. Rake’s is proof at least that it works. This show was conceived before I was born and I didn’t find it egregious. It was colorful fun. The singers were enjoying it. The house was enjoying it too. I would say go see it but you can’t. It’s about to go on tour. I think there’s one night where it’s affordable for under thirties. I imagine the rest of it is sold out already. And if it’s not it’s gonna be PRICEY.

Maybe also I loved it as I wasn’t paying, despite the restricted view. Free opera. Free hard to get opera.

My phone accidentally snapped the apron as I switched it to silent.



Brian has taken up boxing.

When we went to the cinema last night I ate tons of popcorn and I drank most of a huge glass of cola and then I woke up this morning feeling like I should do something about the fact that somebody has stapled cold blancmange around my bellybutton. Brian looks fitter than a butcher’s dog. I’m not sure if I’m cut out for boxing. But…

I drove through exploding roads out of London this evening. Three hours from mine to Lou’s, and sirens and trails of smashed up bumpers and broken glass and people standing in lay-bys blankly looking at fucked up cars just sitting where they stopped, waiting for the ambulance or the fire truck or whatever happens to you after you total yourself. Is it the heat? Who knows? It’s hotter at night than it usually is in the daytime at this time of year. It all felt a bit Mad Max as I drove to Brighton. Maybe that’s why I want to get myself fighting fit. I’ll have to defend myself with nothing but a claw hammer and a bit of perspex once the Brexit Water War commences.

Horse riding? I’ll need access to a horse that can carry me. And it’s not very cardiovascular. And it’s expensive. I could go do a ski season somewhere but… acting and money… Too much time. Plus I could tear my leg off. Fencing? There are no adult fencing classes in Chelsea and anyway it’s mostly detailed wrist movement and lunging. Besides I always found fencing classes catastrophically boring at school as everybody wanted so desperately to divorce it from violence that it just became about talking and safety equipment and you never learnt technique. Judo? Hmm. Ow.

I’m not running. I hate running and my ankles are pronated. Maybe climbing, but my beautiful hands will be ruined. Gyms need you to have a 9 to 5 job and charge as if everybody is on 60k a year. Then you come out of the pool smelling of sick and immediately get a cold. I’ve often thought of trying to crew a tall ship round the world. I’d come back ripped, grounded, zen and better at the accordion. But time…

Or I need to get a job where they make me dance every day. Even just a decent hard hit of the Shakespeare. Outdoor summer Shakespeare is the ultimate accidental fitness job. I suppose I’ll lose a bit of weight Scrooging it but that’s just December and I’ll put it back in with post show audience wine : “Oh really there’s no need, but if you must then a glass of red wine. What? Well, large I suppose. The bottle? Oh go on. So long as we share it. I’ll pour.”

Maybe I should just start doing press-ups. Go to my friends online barre class. Hang upside down from a bar above the door by my boots like dad used to. I could join the Territorial Army. The Foreign Legion.

I’m writing this in bed. Today I walked up some stairs and changed the sheets on this bed. Apart from that it was just driving and pottering. I’ll sleep on it. Anyone for tennis?

Dune (no spoilers)

I had forgotten going to the cinema.

Picturehouse Shaftesbury Avenue. A dark and unseasonably warm October evening. Dune.

First I have to get there, which involves the underground. It’s still not as crowded as it used to be down there. I still don’t like it. “Remember, some people find it harder than other people to socially distance,” says a prerecorded announcement at Sloane Square, and it reminds me how we have normalised staying away from each other now. I sit alone and am glad to get back out under the sky. I grab a hotdog, and wait for Brian. Three hours in the cinema, coming right up.

8000 years in the future, and nothing makes any fucking sense but it’s beautiful. The plot is full of holes but it’s gorgeous. It’s a huge bright weird world, and it’s lovely to spend a few hours in it just wondering what in hell is going to happen next. I find it mildly perplexing that they all have such ordinary names. I’ve grown used to names like Thardrak in films like this. In Dune we’ve got Paul and Duncan. It somehow just shifts the brain into a more pedestrian world.

The look of it is great. I remember being struck by the crazy big Lynch film of the same book. This can exist alongside it really, as a huge modern view of a very odd world, with less Sting and more CGI mice. It’s psychedelic space opera. Spice is basically intergalactic psylocibin. It’s all a big trip. They’ve put some amazing faces in this film – uglies and beauties. There’s loads of arbitrary stuff that just happens. You have to just let it wash over you, and don’t ask too many questions. It’s a big old noisy world. I’m looking forward to the second one.

For a long time I avoided buying popcorn in the cinema. It’s so overpriced, but I’m happy to do it right now when the industry needs propping up. By shoving sweet and salty mixed into my face I can tell myself I’m helping keep the building open. I was glad it was pretty crowded in there. We stood in the queue and loaded up on sugar. Nuts. Chocolate. The corn. A large drink. We made an absolute mess of our seating area with our clumsy popcorn antics. And it was just great to be in a public place with a friend, surrounded by other actual people, sharing this absurd and wonderful piece of big screen story. I’ve got the taste for cinema again now. Perhaps I’ll go and see the Bond film. I’ll see if I can persuade Lou…

This man is not in Dune. It’s a commercial.

Peaceful Robin

Next to Hampstead Heath station, tucked into a layby between the road and the train tracks, there is a little oasis of calm called “The World Peace Garden”. I’m sitting here, looking at the corralled nature. Some of the flowers are in bloom. There are wind chimes ringing in the autumn breezes. The sun is bright this morning and if I raise my face I can soak up the warmth and bask in direct light. To my right a young man is sitting smoking and reading “Carrie” by Stephen King. To my left, a robin is trying to work out if I’ve dropped enough croissant to make it worth risking a close approach. A small orange child just ran past, followed by the mother and her friend, but normally you can sit here for ages and see very few people.

I think this place was the fevered retirement dream of some rather fabulous artsy Hampstead ex councillor type person. “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, kill nothing but time,” we are told by the laminated sign tied to one of the trees. Somebody else has stuck a “No smoking” sign on the laminate, and both signs are rebuked by a sticker that reads “plastic kills”. A reminder of the febrile nature of this city. Conflicting agendas, overlapping one another and struggling to be seen. I’m fine with the guy smoking. I’m amused at the “Plastic kills” because it answers my immediate feeling that the laminate is twee, ugly and out of place. If you’re going to go to all the effort to make the garden, just get some local artist to carve you a wooden sign with your trite motifs. Or trust people not to be arseholes. The kind of people that are going to steal your flowers, throw shit everywhere and kick the birds are going to do it whether or not there’s a sign suggesting they don’t. They won’t read it anyway.

Still, it’s pleasant here. The path is strewn with woodchip and autumn leaves. Bamboo and ferns, old and young trees, and a little bit of life. Some of the stumps have bracket fungus, and I find myself wondering if there might not be an interesting mycology lurking here somewhere.

I’m just here to procrastinate. I’m supposed to be hauling boxes down the stairs and taking them to my friend’s garage. But the weather is so perfect. Another rare bright autumn morning. After a shit summer, at least the memory of summer lingers here.

I just had a little moment communing with the robin. It came and sat opposite me, close enough that I could see its throat moving as it made its eloquent mimbling twitters. It found a bit of my croissant before two men talking loudly shoved past me and it went and hid in the bamboo.

It’s easy to forget the nature that is waiting in the city. It’s easy to overlook the fact that if we all went to the rapture, the streets would be overgrown in a matter of months. I’m glad I took the time to sit here. Now I’m going back into the throng. Flat white, boxes, cars. I’ll miss the little robin.

More scary walkies

Inevitably now in Hampstead, some people who live in the houses near where we play out to short scenes have cottoned on to the fact that the walk is happening. This evening’s Hamilton Mohun duel was done to the accompaniment of an extremely drunk sounding teenager shouting half remembered bits of Shakespeare from his bedroom window. He might become a regular obstruction, in which case I’ll have to build him in before the audience get to him. “The whole time they fought, the ghost of the actor previously killed by Mohun was attempting to distract him by shouting random lines of Shakespeare. You may find he appears again tonight. Ignore him. He’s a prat.”

If that’s the worst thing we have to worry about we will be fine.

I hate to jinx it, but damn we’ve been lucky with the weather. This would be a very different fish if it was pouring with rain. As it is, so far we have just had lovely clement walks across the heath and through the streets. We have been happy, and we’ve been reasonably warm. Everybody has got nicely tanked up. The mood has been positive and warm.

At some point I’m going to have to do it with the rain hammering down, with thunder and lightning, angry wet audience, very little shelter. I’ve worked outdoors so much I know how much energy you need to beat weather like that. If I had a direct line to the gods of Halloween, I would beg them to be merciful, as it’s exhausting. We only have five more evenings to do. We are exactly halfway through the run. At least the beginning has been kind. We all know what it is now, so our focus can go on the detail instead of the big picture, so long as the weather holds.

The first few walks, in the dark on the Heath, it was a very real possibility that I was going to lead the audience in the wrong direction and end up profoundly lost with a bunch of people following me. Siwan placed lights on important turning points, but then sometimes the lights got moved or taken. I had a couple of moments of panicked uncertainty, but thankfully never led the audience off a cliff and even knew enough that when a light got moved to the wrong staircase I could ignore it.

Now I’m secure enough that even if it was sturm and drang, we would get to the right place. The only thing I haven’t thought about is shelter en route. Making sure when possible that I stop in places that have cover. Perhaps that can be my side focus tomorrow. It’s supposed to be dry, according to BBC weather. Whilst I’m conducting the dry tour tomorrow I can have one eye on contingency stops for when it’s pelting it down. Pretty much all the places I am stopping in have no shelter for the audience should it be a rainstorm. I don’t matter. I can stand where I get wet. I’m a ghost. But I’ll lose my audience if I stop them in the rain, especially if they can see potential shelter.

I’m at the Hampstead flat again. Hopefully I’ll get some good work done tomorrow. For now, it’s early to be in bed by my standards, and considering how many people offered to buy me a drink, I’m remarkably sober. I was worried about this job clashing with something else, and was imagining having to apprentice Tristan into my role with half a day’s notice. But I’m glad it’s working well. These are lovely people. I’m glad to be tangled up with them for this Halloween silliness.

I frequently get asked where I got my costume from. It’s incredible how much you can do with so little. Just two good items from the costume haul. They are both so commanding. A coachman’s cloak that could’ve been made for me. Eloquent and swishy. And a tall silk stovepipe hat that fits me perfectly and adds about 3 foot to my height.

I have very little space in my living room right now, and my wardrobe is full of half sorted costumes. So there’s positive and negative. But they’ve started to go out. There’s another London ghost walk partly costumed from the haul, and tomorrow I’ll be dropping off some bits… At some point I’ll properly engage with moving it off. Mostly right now I’m distracted with other things. Twas ever thus. X

Strangely sleepy

I’ve been back on The Heath. Home now and feeling enervated. Not the best state to be in when I’m going to need to sleep. But ain’t that always the case with the old adrenaline.

A big old group tonight, but not so drunk they weren’t playing. This little old walking tour is joyful in its way. The only issue, as so often, is winding down afterwards.

I’ve had my hot bath. That’s likely got my heart rate down a little. Now it’s the old staple of chamomile tea and then I’ll just lie down, close my eyes and hope for the best.

It’s always such a variety of personalities on the tour. But the thing that binds it is that everybody seems to be there to have uncomplicated fun. We are covering a lot of ground so I’m throwing out energy. But I’m starting to really enjoy myself within this bombastic character I’m making. I’ve given myself license to be pretty broad, and depending on the group I’m dialling up or reining in the sinister. Tonight’s lot got a much jollier version of me than many last week, but I arrived at work in a good mood, and they didn’t seem to be the spook crowd, so we just had fun together.

I’ve had such a lovely relaxing couple of days in the process of saying farewell to Mao. Lou and I really made the most of it and all the noise I was carrying fell away. To be honest I think I’ll probably sleep very well despite my concerns. My body clock has been shifted earlier by synchronising with Lou. I can feel myself just drifting off as I write. All I did was drive back from Brighton and then do a few hours of fun-shouting! Maybe I really AM getting old…

Tomorrow and the rest of the weekend looks to be a bit more work as I’m back to Hampstead again. Believe it or not I forgot the keys to my friend’s place again. Same as last week. I think perhaps a little part of that was on purpose, as it’s really lovely to be home in my own bed with all my strange things around me.

Yeah… This is all I’ve got today. Sleep is climbing up my legs. Here comes Dreamland and I’m not setting an alarm. I’ll be asleep when you read this, probably having more of the wild and crazy dreams that the last full moon seems to have sent my way. Night night.

Weekday pottering back down south

“I might have to get a hamster,” says Lou. “It’s not the same,” I warn her.

We just got back to her flat, empty of a slow and twitchy hairball cat for the first time since May.

We woke up in Benson, picked an arbitrary route vaguely towards Brighton, and struck out through the Chilterns, on the lookout for interesting things. After a little stop at the lovely Norman St Helen’s Church in Benson, we stopped in the Saxon town of Wallington. “The Castle Grounds are Closed for Health and Safety,” barked the sign after we had already paid for two hours parking. Thankfully a local in his active wear clocked us. “It’s ridiculous. Just go up the road, round the corner and hop over the fence.” We do. Thank you to that man.

The castle was vast and important once, so Cromwell tore it down in The Civil War. This is why we were able to get in. You can bet that the whole place would have been Windsored if it was still an important dwelling. We’d have been shot for even trying to get in. We leapt over a fence and stood at the top of a vista of green. The earthworks were, of course, still there. The stoneworks were tumbled.

Most of the stone is long gone. Occasional corners are still defiantly standing. The centuries have brought it back to nature, and recent excellent trends “rewilding anyone?” have helped nature return. We walk through a huge sweeping green area with lush grass, and a wealth of trees and birds. Cows graze the earthworks, mushrooms pop up, red kites swoop. Even though we climbed a fence to get in, we are very much not alone in these castle grounds. Nobody runs at us waving their arms and panting. It turns out that most of the ways in to this gorgeous vast space are still open. We’d have been fine if we’d come from the riverside path.

We spend some time among the trees and then it’s off back into the car to drive and be distracted by signs. The Maharajah’s Well was a quick stop – donated from Varanasi to a village in the Chilterns. Practical for two hundred years, and glaringly out of place in a little sleepy English village. This was our Thursday, while the world was working. We puddled through pretty villages saying “ooh” at pretty things.

Just as sun was setting we arrived at Halnaker Tunnel, which is an old Roman path up a hill, with the tops of the trees bent across. “It’s not ready yet,” a photographer tells us. He’s come with his big camera hoping to find that the leaves were turning, but they are still too green tonight. We are still glad to schlep up the hill and catch the sunset at the windmill.

There won’t be many moments like this where Lou and I are both simultaneously free and mobile over the next few months. There won’t be many days like today, when it really is a spring light in autumn despite the cold wind. An opportunity taken to catch more tiny snatches of how the ancient character of this land sews itself through all the nonsense we’ve stuck on top of it. I feel both tired and well rested. And happy.