Go wild

Richmond park deer

Just me and you, deers

‘Wild go wild, go wild in the country, where snakes in the grass are absolutely free…’

Bow wow wow

At the end of the seventh week of lockdown, the Prime Minister broadcast an update, during which he clenched his fists in an attempt to look prime ministerial, and confused almost everyone. Except, I imagine, The Dailies Mail and Torygraph, who love him whatever.

If I understand correctly, which I probably do not, because I have gone into a period of continuous deep sedation, people are now allowed to go further afield to take their exercise. However, if they think they’re going to meet more than one family member, who’s not already living with them,  in the taking of that exercise, they can forget it.

That means, I think, I can take a train to Hampshire and go running on the chalk downs near my sister’s house. I think I may be able to have a cup of tea and a piece of cake in her garden, because she lives alone. I’ll bring my own mug. That would be lovely.

I would quite like to run somewhere countrified and lapse into that wonderful, mesmeric state of unthink, as you run along muddy paths and rutted fields, eyes always scanning for the next potentially ankle-turning bit of terrain and forget about all the bollocks going on inside your head.

Running in London – even without all the latest physical-distancing disapproval you deflect as you swerve into the middle of the road to avoid upsetting someone, who swears at you anyway because they hate runners – is beginning to pall. I have run hundreds of miles round all my local parks, and this last week have been cycling loads to explore distant parks. The nearest I have come to wild remoteness is (don’t laugh) the Royal Park of Richmond.

Richmond Park is very big, the biggest in London (the perimeter measures 7.75miles) and, I discovered having cycled there, the current pandemic means you’re not allowed to cycle in it. You’re allowed to run or walk in it though, So I did. With no planes drowning birdsong and no cafes open to attract human foragers, it felt remarkably rusticated. It’s easy to get lost.

Best of all, it was bizarrely deserted when was there last Friday, given the heaving population of south-west London, the heat of the day, and the unwonted clarity of government advice on daily exercise (ie, take it). Once the bike was chained up, I trotted off across the grass and up some wooded slopes, around various ponds – all of which have names, (I tremble to think about Gallows Pond’s history )- along sandy trails and very soon went into a sort of trance.

That’s the lovely thing about running in places where there are no cars, no fences, no petty rules or angry farmers, you can lapse into a state of thinking but not thinking. You see things that burn on to your consciousness, such as the pretty dappled back of a young deer, the tiny blue butterfly you disturb as you pass, the crow chasing the squirrel across the grass and they all absorb you. Everything about this weird time; loss of income, loneliness, anxiety about those you love or those enduring hardship goes on to the back burner while you enjoy the springiness of the grass.

I will probably always live in London. It’s too much of a leap in the dark to move away now, and the tumbledown house I have here in Catford is my children and grandchildren’s inheritance – I have nothing else to give them being an improvident, pension-and-savings-free, workshy loser. However, escaping this city, whenever possible,  has become a gnawing obsession, exacerbated by the lockdown. Not forever, though, because I have no wide-of-the-mark romantic illusions about the countryside.

It’s easier to carry the countryside in your heart and take a deep draught of it whenever time, budget or Covid 19 allows, rather than decide to invest your whole life in some bucolic dream that no longer exists.

The views are lovely in Somerset. Lush and green they are, admired from the hilltop above my mother-in-law’s house. Black and white milk cows graze on some of them. Two of the biggest dairies are less than a mile away. They produce cheese for many supermarkets, on an industrial scale. I fear many black and white cows, and the calves separated from them at birth, are grown on an industrial scale, too. Heavy silver milk tankers rumble through the lanes, pressing you into the hedgerows, taking the spoils of intense bovine lactation across the country. There seem to be an awful lot of lorries, tractors and  top-of-the-range Land Rovers whipping down the country lanes. I don’t like to think about farming too hard. Or ingest any of its brutishness towards animals. Yes I’ll eat its cabbages. A woman’s got to live.

And the Daily Torygraph once listed the village next to my mother-in-law’s one as the most desirable place to live in England. That’s enough to put anyone off.

So, I cycle to parks, near and far. I’ll take a train to a Home County and run up and down The sunny Uplands and Downlands. I’ll dream about Snowdonia and my little tent. I’ll harbour no illusions though, while I run unthinkingly, off the tarmac and out into the green.



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