Monday, 4 January 2016

Random Acts of Kindness

Approaching St. Cross Hospital

On Sunday afternoon, we went for our customary walk, this time a circular route starting at the Hockley Viaduct, making a slight detour to St. Cross Hospital.  The weather was bright, but the relentless wet weather in recent weeks has flooded the water-meadows alongside the Itchen, and rendered some normally easily-traversed fields of livestock into swamps of trampled dung and mud.  Wellingtons are de rigueur, but not terribly grippy when trying to walk across a wet plank or log crossing a swollen ditch.

Trudging through patches of deep, churned mud is about as tiring as walking along a shingle beach, and it was good to get back to the car, just as the light began to fail.  At which point, I discovered I'd somehow dropped my keys.  Back out there among the shell-holes and barbed wire of No Man's Land.  Oh, dear.  We split up and searched a couple of likely spots, where I'd either nearly taken a tumble or stopped to use my camera, but it was starting to get dark, and we found nothing.

Which left us with the problem of getting back to Southampton from Winchester without a car.  The neighbours we called were all out.  Our daughter is still at home on vacation, but doesn't drive.  I was at the point of calling the RAC when a friendly-looking man walked over – he and his wife had just returned from a similar excursion to their car, parked nearby – and asked what the problem was.  He then offered to drive us home, despite living in Chandler's Ford, midway between Winchester and Southampton.  We were then able to drive back to the Viaduct in my partner's car, and retrieve the Scenic with the spare key.  You can imagine how grateful we were for this spontaneous, unsolicited act of kindness.

St. Catherine's Hill from the water-meadows

Now, I've already described my slightly spooky ability to find lost things (Dude, Where's My Boot Button?).  After a restless night, repeatedly reconstructing and re-imagining our route, with its stops and starts, its slips and stumbles, its diversions and detours, I headed over to the Viaduct, and repeated the walk in reverse.  To cut to the chase, after about 45 minutes I found the keys, lying in the grass next to an old brick-built sluice in a water-meadow we'd used to negotiate a particularly scummy puddle near a gate.  Jumping down must have dislodged them from my coat pocket, which I'd failed to zip up.

So, a lesson learned, and a debt incurred.  Next time I see a stranger urgently in need of help – a lift, perhaps, or a bit of cash, whatever it is – I'll try to remember to behave like the Good Chandlers-Fordian, and not pass by on the other side.  I must also remember to zip up my coat pockets.



amolitor said...

You seen quite the walker.

Do you take part in the charming British tradition (if it still exists) of annually and en masse walking all the walkable paths in order to maintain the ancient rights of way? I forget the details, but I think that's the gist of the thing.

Mike C. said...

Approaching 62, it keeps the essential bits in working order for minimal outlay and pain... I've always enjoyed being outdoors on foot, though -- when younger I'd walk miles around town, just to avoid sitting around at home in an overheated flat. Having been to the States, I realise how outlandish this may seem. I find you can think more clearly when you're walking, and make important decisions more easily. Besides, out there is where the photographs are!

However, just as I'm not a camera club guy, I'm not a group rambler, either! No doubt there are Ming-Thein-style walking sites where the relative merits of boot styles and walking in converging lines are discussed interminably... Not of interest to me.

In recent years, Britain has finally declared a "right to roam" pretty much anywhere that is accessible (with exclusions, obviously) so the "mass trespasses" of the past are unnecessary. Obviously, a country as old and as small as England is riddled with traditional rights of way, but footpaths do require use, it's true, to keep them open.

Artists like Hamish Fulton and Richard Long have made an art medium out of the walk itself, which I suppose is quite a Brit thing to do.


amolitor said...

Oh, I like to walk as well. Here one winds up, generally, walking in either an Urban setting or a Rural one, which strikes me as a different sort of a thing, but the miles still get walked. I dislike driving, always have, and as a result I am bad at it, which leads to further dislike.

There's quite a lot of walking in my life. I cannot really think when my buttocks are compressed, which probably says something.

Mike C. said...

The great thing about Britain is that you can experience a great variety of environments within a small area -- people who think of Norfolk as an "agricultural desert" have never contemplated the Great Plains... there are probably single fields in the US or Canada the size of Norfolk.

The down side is that everything is downscaled -- travelling for two hours in a car seems an inconveniently long way to me, but little more than a shopping trip to American friends.


Andrew Sharp said...

Mike, and Amolitor,

Coincidentally we walked the very same fields this summer on our way to a wedding at St Cross Church. I was particularly taken by the fast flowing chalk streams and am thankful for the relative absence of mud as we were wearing our wedding best.

Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who recently "proved" Fermat's last theorem (in quotation marks because I have to take other people's word for it) remarked that the key to the success for a mathematician was having a good park to wander in. I'm now delighted to be off my crutches and back out thinking in the open air.

I once stopped for a chat with the mum of one of my son's friends and we ended up talking about why some people didn't like walking. Her view was that they were uncomfortable with their own thoughts.

Amilitor. Back in the 80's I spent a year living in Hartford. As far as I could tell I was almost the only person who walked those sidewalks - not jogged - that didn't have a dog; though I did sometimes get joined by young black youths who used me as cover from passing police patrols.

Mike C. said...


Yes, showing up at a wedding caked in mud and dung to the knees is never a good look.

Good to hear you're back on your feet, and testing out the newly installed hardware. I trust it doesn't need oiling...