Plodding on

Friday September 8, 2006

Today ought to have been a day for putting our feet up and resting before tackling the next phase of unpacking. Except it wasn’t, it was the day when we had to drive back to the caravan so’s Graham could resume his job.

“This doesn’t seem right,” I said. “You deserve a rest after the move and here you are, dressing for work again. Mind you, you might find going back to work less strenuous.”

“Oh, I’d much rather stay home and get stuck in. But, there you go. As you always say, the job has to come first.”

“Yeah. I know. Even so.”

Driving back, operating under strict instruction to take it easy, I called in at Sainsbury’s for breakfast and provisions. The breakfast did it for me, I’m afraid, and within minutes of getting home and stowing the goodies away my eyes were drooping and all I could think about was sleep.

When I stumbled down to the kitchen, in search of coffee, my mobile phone was beeping softly at intervals, announcing a new text message:

 

IF YOU CAN FETCH ME
SUNDAY NIGHT I CAN
STAY OVER TILL 5
MONDAY EVENING. OK?

 

A one-word reply sufficed:

 

       YES!       

 

Not long after that I felt the need to stretch my legs so I picked up my stick and plodded off to see what I might find along the footpaths and cycle tracks in what I think is the general direction of the town centre. This took me off through one of the seedier parts of the town, rather dull, and not likely to be my new medicine walk.

Soon enough I hit the footpath along the bank of the River Parrett. This is a fiercely tidal stretch of the river and the incoming tide, rushing faster than most people can run, rendered the less than salubrious walk between tired old housing on one side and an industrial estate on the other, a lot more interesting than I’d expected.

When the tide is out, steep, muddy banks and the expanse of flat mud through which the river wends its way make for a rather bleak, industrial picture which needs an artist’s hand and eye to make attractive. With the tide rushing past me, covering much of the banks, I found the prospect enticing enough to keep me walking until I reached the Oakley Barge Lock which I’d determined would be my resting point before walking back.

 


 
River Parrett from Oakley Barge Lock


 
River Parrett at Oakley Barge Lock


 
Oakley Barge Lock

 

The lock connects the river to the Bridgwater to Taunton canal. While no longer functional as a lock—the barges are long gone—it has been repaired and restored sufficient for a future gentrification project. Currently it’s a little dowdy but it’s safe from further dilapidation. Meantime, it’s an interesting place to sit, taking breath before getting on with the next leg of the walk, and watching the tide rush past.

Almost all of the way I’d come was a properly formed cycle track, with a footpath running alongside, and from the lock it turns off along the canalside, all the way to Taunton, some 13 or 14 miles distant. A very short distance along it and the canal begins to run through increasingly beautiful countryside. Too far for me to walk, but I’ll give it a go when I get my trike.

I tried my bicycle briefly yesterday while Graham was here and decided finally that it’s not for me. Once I’m on the move I’m fine. Mounting and dismounting are dangerous manouvres for me, however, and I can’t guarantee keeping my balance, making another fall very likely, with more to follow.

I reckon the problem is that my legs are no longer strong and flexible enough to stretch over the saddle. Graham thinks that a ‘step-through’ frame would solve the problem and he may be right. There’s a very good cycle store in town and I shall consult them before deciding. My feeling is that a trike will turn out to be my best option, one with a sturdy frame that will take an electric motor when and if I need a bit of assistance at some time in the future. Bridgwater is very much a cyclist’s town, with cycle tracks everywhere, in all directions, and I want to take advantage of it.

Sadly, unless I can work out a shorter route, the town centre is too far for me to walk on any but a very good walking day. I shall investigate the ‘bus service and, if it looks good, shall obtain a senior citizen’s pass which, for a small fee, will give me free off-peak access to the local ‘bus services, all the way to Taunton, Glastonbury and Wells if I understand the scheme correctly.

Back home, my legs were tired but I’d walked off the stiffness in my calves that’s been troubling me, and a good night’s sleep will set me to rights.

Meantime, my thoughts are filled with the prospect of all the footpaths and cycle tracks, leading not just into and around the town but also out across the fields towards the sea, and to the Somerset Levels. I think well when I am out walking or cycling, and my poetry bone functions properly, too.

Used to be, when I could pace out the miles in a good, steady manner, the rhythms were regular. I can still write that way of course, but as I grow older and less steady on my feet I find that the rhythm of the words tends more naturally to follow the irregular pattern of my gait, short in form and, sometimes, a little short of breath. This is not a problem. Poetry is an exploration of life as much as it’s anything, and I’m content to keep plodding on to see where it leads me:

 

Two walkers, passing
 
I stood aside to let her pass
on the narrow path by the riverside.
She graced me with a grin from the
i-podded world in which she lives
behind buzzing earphones. I smiled back
with some sadness that the birdsong
I enjoy is unknown to her.
 
John Bailey
Somerset, September 2006

 

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