(For those who wish to see a photo of Lil, read to the end, where the photo is)
June had twisted her ankle, Margaret (there are two Margarets), didn’t like the rain. Betty and John were worried about the roads and weren’t coming; floods had occurred in Devon and Cornwall and although this was North Yorkshire, you never know. Mary rang early to check conditions up with me, a mere 5 miles from her house. “Was traffic going passed the bungalow? No black ice? No trees down? And no floods”, I assured her all was well. She bravely offered to pick me as we had organised the walk together. It had been a rough night, the BBC had said so. Pamela, another regular had rung in to my bungalow to let us know her heating was off, a real menace for the over eighties, and she didn’t feel she could walk at all. The logic and fears of the over 80’s was beginning to panic even me. The weather could be so overwhelming as we all sensibly assessed out own worlds and worked out what could be managed.
I clambered into Mary’s car, Mary is 89. All went well if a trifle slow till we met some flood water straddling the road, about two inches deep. Would we make it, what about underneath the car, would it rust? I gave brisk reassurance and we made it before bravely crossing three more watery places where we slowed to a halt and crept through the muddy puddles. Crossing the Nile had nothing on driving down a lane after heavy rainfall in Yorkshire and floods in Cornwall. After all the BBC is always right. At last we arrived only to find another obstacle to be over come. A horse box, complete with horse, parked in our slot, the one we had used last time, the safe one. Signs all about us said we could park, no problem, so long as we kept off the grass. Mary took to the grass as to the manor born and came slightly belligerent. I gently persuaded her off, there was much grinding of the gears, clutching of the wheel and finally we managed to park somewhat in the middle of a gravel lane. There was enough space to get by, it would do and I held my peace.
Then Doris and the other Margaret arrived. According to Mary, Margaret was an only child, mighty spoilt and left several houses by indulgent maiden aunts. She was rolling in it and had experienced never so much as a boo from a goose in her eighty odd years, let alone ever been told NO. We gossiped as we slowly did the most important thing. Change out of the driving shoes in to the walking shoes. Somehow reaching ones toes became a drama in itself, they puffed and strained and finally made it, then there was the checking for gloves, woolly hats, whether to take their hand bags or hide them somewhere safe in the car, and keys, those small but vital items with a mind of their own. At last, all was ready, my little group sallied forth.
The idea was, we would walk along a private drive, turn into a track through fields to a pretty bridge, and cross over the river. After that there is a delightful walk through woods and back to the cars. But Mary was doubtful, Margaret was apt to slip on woody paths and the rain would make the path very slippy. Margaret also had a way of walking very slowly in protest when unhappy, anyway we should do the walk the other way round, so the difficult bit would be first. I said nothing but seethed silently. It was my walk, I’d introduced it to the group, I’d never done it the other way round. Damn and blast these old trouts. But I smiled and wished heavy rain to wash the old dears away. We never made the wood, Margaret true to form, said she couldn’t make it, not in the rain. Doris agreed but then Doris has spent the last twenty years agreeing with Margaret. I can’t say we started off at a cracking pace, we shuffled off towards a cattle grid, but none of my little band did cattle grids, so we never even crossed the bridge.
Then there were the leaves, Doris knew someone who broke their ankle on leaves. Margaret went one better, she knew someone who had collapsed and died on a leafy walk like this. Mary and I walked on at a moderate pace and I heard all about her brother’s cancer, her water works and several other goulish tales of medical misshap. The other two might have gone faster had they turned and walked backwards. And there was mud. Margaret didn’t do mud, her maiden aunts had never done mud, and she had spent her whole life fighting mud, and anyway and she had cleaned her boots, just before the walk. Doris did do mud but didn’t let on, very sensibly. Carefully avoiding the mud, on a metalled road, we chose safe subjects. It was cancer on the way out and waterworks on the way back and a trip, or rather several trips down memory lane. The idea of Mary showing a leg in a car showroom in order to sell a Hillman Minx seemed a little far fetched, but there we are. The rain changed from drizzle to a mild cats and dogs, we got back and headed for the pub.
The pub did baked potatoes, homemade soup, sandwiches and hot coffee with ridiculously small sachets of milk. We moaned in a sufficiently focused way to get a proper jug of proper milk. Margaret was useful at this, the rest of us would have kept quiet. Over our lunch we discussed grandchildren, Margaret, who had never married, had strong opinions about the younger generation. Their manners, their clothes, their sexual habits, rabbits, just like rabbits. Doris agreed although her three sounded dull enough to satisfy the most pernickety grandmother. Mary’s were alright too, but did she know of some others, who you know, had grandchildren who ….why her friend Gwen had one in prison, fancy that; and a good education, private, you know. It was drugs! I didn’t dare give a peep.
But goodness it’s important, these old women, all in their eighties, walk every week. Not very far, about three miles is max. They are fit and cantankerous, alert and still with plenty of opinions. They might over react to weather and refuse to walk up hills, but they are still game. I only hope someone will take me on the “Over 80’s and Alzheimer’s group walk” once I have passed the rubicon.