Swiss Maid

"Oh for the wings for the wings of a". Isn't music wonderful; it can lift the most leaden soul, bring a tear to most heartless breast (Ed:surely not) and transport the home-loving frump to sun drenched beaches and soaring peaks.

I mention this, not because I've been listening to an exquisite riff by Beethoven or a heavy groove laid down by Vivaldi. No, it's because yesterday the sight of my neighbour and friend Gregg in hiking boots, cagoule,Tibetan headgear and shouldering a knapsack brought to mind the lyrics and tune of the "Happy Wonderer".

Gregg's Tyrolean appearance had me skipping merrily next to him Val-deri'ing ,Val-dera'ing to my heart's content. Not only that, in my mind's eye I espied the majestic Alps, quickly followed by cows with bells around their necks, lonely goat herds, Heidi and...Julie Andrews spinning around as the camera descends and she shrieks "The Hills are Alive To the Sound of Music".

Ah, such visions.. it took ten years of group therapy to tone them down. But I digress. The reason why Gregg was dressed thus was because the Coidans and their neighbours Chris and Gregg were about to head for the wilds of Epping Forest. After a week of near putrification in front of the telly, and with waist lines that mimicked  the curve of the earth as seen by Challenger astronauts we decided to take a hike.

Our route had been well trodden by Gregg and myself. It was a four mile stroll through leafy glades and grandiose woods of oak.. and other sorts of trees and shrubs. Our destination was a renowned watering hole "The Royal Forest" next to Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge on the edge of the village of Chingford and (Royal) Epping Forest. There we would reward ourselves with a glass of ale and a "Two for a Tenner" meal, reflecting on the joys of the arboreal life and winter's glistenings.

I was masterly; leading my gallant band I breasted each hillock and forded each ditch, unerring in my endeavours to find the driest, least slippiest path. I might as well not have bothered. As I strode on I caught the litany of complaints from the others. It was extremely muddy. Plenty of snow and a rapid thaw had made the paths rivers of mud but was it my fault that my wife found it difficult to remain up right?

We had, I must admit, severely underestimated the amount of mud and its ability to suck off one's boot if one was not careful in its placement. Also, the nonchalant manner in which Gregg and I dismissed the ladies' concern about the time it would take to reach the watering hole was, on reflection, unfortunate.

What had taken Gregg and I little over an hour in mid summer required over two and a half hours on a foggy, mud splattered day. So concerned were we of our lack of progress - due in main to my constant back tracking and meanders that there was a serious risk of mutiny. That was only subdued when Lesley quoted verbatim "The Royal Forest" website which assured us that meals were served all day.

I will not describe the beauty that we passed through as we wandered along the ancient footpaths laid out by the City of London Corporation in 1965. As Chris pointed out "I'm sure the forest is magnificent. Unfortunately I didn't see any of it as my eyes were fix firmly on the mud and my next faltering step."

We arrived at our destination carolling as our gaze fell upon Chingford's answer to Trump Las Vegas. It was packed and it wasn't even "Pensioners Parsimony" luncheons. We queued for a drink, a meal and a pee. But it was worth it. The hour we spent waiting for our meal passed in a thrice watching demented parents and grandparents trying to control monstrous kids grown hyperactive overdosing on Coke and french fries. Enquiries as to the readiness of our meal invoked images of December's chaos at the airports. Our meal was in a stack, circling overhead and scheduled to arrive in 45 minutes.

Fish, chips and mushy peas have never tasted better. My wife's veggie curry received two thumbs up. Starvation engenders appreciation. And so back to the grime and scum of the metropolis. It was only a bus ride, but it was a world, away.

The bus driver was really pissed off as I counted out £2 in loose change for the fare. It's their own fault: they will not take credit or debit cards - when will they join the 21st century!


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