Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Footpath to Dunton Green

January 10 2007 was a memorable day for me. Memorable in the sense that I can't for the life of me work out how I found myself, not a million miles from anywhere but, surprisingly, in the middle of nowhere and in real danger of having to spend the night sleeping rough. The whole situation was almost too ridiculous for words but at least it inspired me to write a poem, of which more later, and now, of course, this blogpost.

It was a typical day at work. The new year was only 10 days old and all morning I had been writing about potatoes. Yes, potatoes. I was, at the time, the editor of the great Potato Processing International magazine, a title which took me around the world talking mainly to Americans in baseball caps and checked shirts about potato processing machines. It was a great job, but back in the office, which was in Dunton Green near Sevenoaks in Kent, there was little to do at lunchtime.

In fact, the main lunch time activity was going for a walk to a huge Tesco in nearby Riverhead, a shortish walk from the office. There were a few pubs but it wasn't a very sociable office and lunchtime drinks were rare. People brought food in and heated it in a microwave oven. As for me, well, having been the editor of a number of hotel and restaurant magazines, I liked to get out at lunchtime and sit in the pub or, as I did on January 10, take a wander around.

"I'm just nipping out to Tesco," I told Jennie, the receptionist. "Do you want a newspaper?" She said no and off I went. It's about a 10-minute walk to the supermarket, enough time to change my mind, which is what I did: I'll go for a walk instead, I thought, heading past the pub beyond the Tesco, the Bullfinch, and then right. The road took me along a pleasant street of large houses and leafy front gardens and soon I found myself in Chipstead village. There are two Chipsteads, one in Kent and one in Surrey. I was in Chipstead in Kent where there is a very pleasant pub with an open fire.

I had enough time for a pint of Timothy Taylor's and then it was back to the office. Nobody of any importance was in, there was little to do bar a bit of issue planning, so 10 minutes either side of my alloted hour would go largely unnoticed. The big question was how to get back: do I retrace my steps along the pleasant road with the large houses or walk on and find an alternative route?

As I stepped outside the pub I saw a sign: 'Footpath to Dunton Green'. Perfect, a short cut to the office, I thought, as I plodded along the alley and eventually came out on a road near a lake where I found a woman walking her dog. "Dunton Green?" I asked and she told me to follow the footpath. I figured it would be a simple route back to my desk but I was to be severely mistaken.

It started off fine, a dirt path running alongside the back gardens of a few houses, but then it opened out and I found myself in fields, near a huge lake, trudging along on muddy ground, the sort of mud in which I could lose my shoes. Remember that I had on a navy blue suit, shirt and tie and the shoes I was wearing were Polish, purchased the previous June when I attended (and chaired) the International Potato Convention in Warsaw.

The mud gave way to mud and water and for a while I managed to skirt around the outside of the water-logged fields, taking smaller paths that ran alongside the lake and eventually turned out to be dead ends. Along the way there were many occasions when I did get my shoes stuck in the mud and had to hold on to a nearby branch and pull hard until a squelching noise announced that I had freed myself. There were three or four dead ends and soon I realised that I was lost. Fortunately, I had my mobile phone so I called the office and told a colleague that I had nipped out for a paper, decided to take a walk and now found myself, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. I took a few photographs of my surroundings as I couldn't believe that, while I knew I was not that far away from civilisation, I was in some kind of wilderness. There were no houses in sight, nothing, just green fields bordered by trees and shrubs.

My colleague was no help but I told him I would be back just as soon I worked out where the hell I was. He said he would pass the message on. My shoes were now covered in mud and letting in water and my trousers were ruined and would need dry cleaning. My socks were like two wet flannels. There was no question about it, I would have to push on. The time was now approaching 3pm, it was still the winter and within an hour or so it would be dark. I trudged across fields up to my knees in water and then had to climb a muddy incline to reach a higher level field. Unfortunately, it wasn't easy and I slipped numerous times, covering my entire suit and face in a light brown mud, until I realised I would have to clasp a thorny branch to haul myself up.

By now the whole situation was beginning to resemble that scene in the Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins, having crawled through the prison sewage pipe, fell out into the stream and then waded his way to freedom. Except that I wasn't free at all. Darkness was falling, I was covered from head to toe in mud and drenched through. All I did was nip out for a walk at lunch time, I kept saying to myself, wondering whether I would ever free myself from this watery hell.

In the distance, I could see houses so I headed towards them and eventually, after falling flat on my face a dozen or so times, I found myself on a road, not far from the local curry house and about 15 minutes' walk from the office. Another half an hour and darkness would have forced me to consider sleeping rough. I started to imagine myself calling home and explaining the ridiculous position I found myself in and how, even if I tried to explain where they might find me, it would be nigh on impossible. Fortunately, I had found the road and began the mildly embarassing process of squelching my way back to the office some three hours after I had left.

My arrival was met with laughter which grew louder as I explained my predicament to my colleagues. I sat at my desk, covered in mud, smelling a little rank and I was completely soaked. I managed to take a photograph of my Polish shoes, just for the record, and then decided I ought to get home. The whole, silly situation was, I suppose, of my own making, like most things in life, but when I reached home and explained all to my wife and children (who laughed uncontrollably) I sat down and penned the following poem.

Footpath to Dunton Green

I’ll nip out for a paper

I’ll be back in half an hour

A walk to Riverhead Tesco

But it all turned rather sour

I need a walk, I’m feeling fat

I’ve eaten too much candy

I’ll stroll around the block today

And then I’ll feel quite dandy

Chipstead village, very quaint

I stop and have a beer

A pint of Taylors by the fire

I really like it here

Soon it’s time to leave the pub

And walk straight back to work

Along the footpath to Dunton Green

Where many problems lurk

It started fine with little bridges

Old ladies walking dogs

But things turned dark and murky

And soon I’m water-logged

Walk around the lake she said

It shouldn’t take too long

So off I went in Polish shoes

But things went badly wrong

Laughter almost turned to tears

The pathway disappeared

Desolation everywhere

It really was quite weird

I saw some houses far away

Warmth and civilization

Mud and water round my ankles

I longed for sweet salvation

A dead end path, a padlocked gate

Is there another way?

I slip and fall flat on my face

And land in dirty hay

But soon a metal gate appears

I’m back in Dunton Green

A short walk up a muddy path

I’m home at last I scream

I squelch back to the office

I’m looking pretty cheesed

Wet shoes and muddy trousers

But I’m feeling pretty pleased

Pleased, that is, to be at work

And not in dire straits

Walking round and round in circles

And climbing over gates

1 comment:

  1. Like your amusing tale and poem. Hope to hear more about the potato journal! From Berkeley, California, I am yours truly:


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