A walk on the wild side with friends from long, long ago.

8 Months, 25 Days, still sober.

God! Where am I?

Things have been so hectic that my feet have barely touched the ground. I haven’t even been able to tweet much, much less write a blog, but anyway, I thought I’d better make a start and see how far I get, as if I don’t, it will all soon become distant, blurred memories.

As ever, I am exaggerating, but enough of this Mobi-babble, let’s see how far I get.

Where was I? I am writing this in a sunny lounge in a peaceful suburb of Nuneaton, near Birmingham – at the home of Natalie, my eldest daughter. I have been here since Tuesday afternoon after having variously been in Tonbridge, Stamford, Allendale, Stamford again and then Nuneaton.

So my last blog took me through to Thursday evening and on Friday morning I packed a few things in advance of my brother Sid, and his wife, Jane, picking me up around noon for the journey up to Allendale, in Northumberland, a few miles west of the Geordie city of Newcastle.

A long lost friend’s home, just outside Allendale, was the location for this unique, long planned, much anticipated ‘get together’ by a group of friends, some of whom hadn’t set eyes on each other for more than forty years. There were 20 of us all told, including a few odd wives who had tagged along for the ride, the men all originally from the East London suburb of Ilford, which is situated on the border with Essex.

We had all been Wolf Cubs and Boy Scouts together from the ages of around 7 or 8, right throuigh to our late teenage years when most of us scattered to the far corners of Britain, and, in some cases, the world. This was the remnant of a happy band of kids who had grown up together in austere, post war England in the late fifties and early sixties.

It had been a totally different era, when there was little for us kids in suburban London to do and was a  time when youth organisations like the Scouts, played such an important part in our lives and in our physical and mental development.

We all wore short trousers, and we met weekly to play silly games and learn silly, useful things to do, like how to tie knots or how to cook rabbits over open fires or how to send semaphore messages to each other using coloured flags.

In the long winter months we would rehearse and perform musical Scout shows and in the spring and summer we all went camping on weekends and during school holidays in all manner of rural, English locations; and even to far flung foreign fields, such as Wales, and even, can you believe? – France and Germany.

It was a different world and we enjoyed our inexpensive, innocent fun, which kept us largely out of mischief. We grew up to be a friendly  hardy, fit  bunch of youths; tacitly accepting the moral and ethical codes which were the very embodiment of Baden Powell’s ‘Scouting for Boys’.

Such a far cry from the moral degeneration that seems to have embraced  so many of our modern British youth; who only seem to be interested in making selfish demands on society without ever thinking to give anything back. It’s almost as if the acts of rioting, looting and destruction have become a ‘rite of passage’.

I confess to having been somewhat leery, and not a little nervous about meeting with long, half-forgotten pals that I had not set eyes on for so long, but in the end I needn’t have worried. After the first, hesitant opening exchange of greetings, the years seem to suddenly slip away and once again I was with my mates of so long, long ago.

It was uncanny; it was as though we had never been apart, such was the nature of our instant rapport and camaraderie. We were back, once again at one of our Scouting get-togethers. It was quite an incredible feeling – almost akin, I would guess, to meeting up with long lost brothers – for that is what they were: ‘Brothers’.

Our host for the weekend was Jack, a guy who, for a period of time during my teenage years, was one of my closest friends. Indeed Jack and I  shared many happy Sunday evenings together and  with others, some of whom were also at the reunion, when I used to drive my ancient pre-war jalopy out to the pubs in Essex, loaded to the gunnels with teenage scouting mates, for an evening out.  Yes, I was probably over the limit, even in those far of days, but back then, the beer was as weak as piss, so I actually doubt it.

Jack and his wonderful wife live in a large sprawling home that had been converted from an ancient barn. It was a beautiful, rustic impressive structure and boasted a dining room large enough to seat the entire gathering of 20, plus one gorgeous, almost  white cat, (see pic below), at one sitting, on a single, long table. The hosts truly did us proud with a feast fit for a king and on that first evening, we sat and chatted about old times as though we had never been away. Most of my companions were of course getting quite merry on the flowing wine, but yours truly wasn’t in the least put out and never once did I hanker after a drink.

The following morning we had the dreaded walk along Hadrian’s Wall. After a sterling breakfast, cooked, courtesy of Jack’s wife, we all took off in our cars for the 30 minute journey to the countryside car park where we could access the wall.

One look at some weekend hikers in their fell walking gear, complete with special boots, sturdy rucksacks and mountain picks only served to heighten my anxiety and give me the shits. I wasn’t fit enough to walk to end of my village driveway in Pattaya, so how on earth did they expect me to walk up these hills?

Not to be daunted, my friends insisted that I give it a try, so we set off, over the nearby dales to the distant hills beyond, where the wall was to be found. Surprisingly – I felt fine. None of the angina pains in my arm or breathlessness that I had been experiencing back in Thailand – a miracle if ever there was one. In fact, I felt so good that I even smiled a smile of victory when, firstly the women, and then, even a couple of the men dropped out, saying it was just too exhausting.

We reached the hills and began our ascent to the wall. By then, I was starting to feel tired, but egged on by my companions, I persevered and gradually we approached the summit.

By this time I was slowing down and was even tottering a little, but my trusty companions were surrounding me from the front the rear and even sideways, to ensure that if I started to fall, they would be there to catch me! Quite like old times!   

Finally after numerous stops for a rest, we reached the top and the start of the wall. I was grateful that I had been persuaded to make it. The view was magnificent, and – more than that – I had actually achieved a physical challenge, the first for many a long year.

So that was it, I thought, now for the descent, but my mates were having none of it, insisting that now I was up there it would be a ‘walk in the park’ to hike along the wall for a while – all the way to a large tree, where, legend has it, Russell Crowe, in his Robin Hood role, leaped out at. …who?… Not sure… was it King John?

In the event we didn’t make it quite to the famous tree. A consensus was established that we had gone quite far enough and if we didn’t turn around and commence the return journey, Mobi might require the helicopter rescue service to get him back down to the ground below.

I confess the return journey wasn’t quite as enjoyable, as I was getting very tired and after the main descent to the ground, we had quite an incline to hike up the valley to reach to the car park. But I just took it very slowly, rested frequently, all the while surrounded by caring, fellow walkers and succeeded in making it back without further ado.

Then, in true scouting tradition, we had a picnic in a field next to the car park and evoked true memories of yore, when it took six, sixty year old ex-scouts 30 minutes to put up a 2-man tent while another 6 eventually succeeded in lighting a paraffin stove, (primus), upon which we brewed our trusty mugs of foul tasting English tea.

Back at Jack’s place, we were once again treated to a wonderful night feast at the long table. Then we all adjourned to Jack’s equally large lounge where another great Scouting tradition was re-enacted – the ‘Camp Fire’.

For scouts of a certain vintage, ‘Camp Fire’ means only one thing, a large gathering of friends around a large open fire where we all sing silly songs and then everyone takes turns to entertain the rest with silly jokes, games or stunts.. Of course it was difficult to have a real fire in a house but Jack did the next best thing, and fired up the open hearth wood fire that looked and felt just as good.

Then the songs and silly turns began. It was amazing! We sang songs that most of us hadn’t even thought about, let alone sung, for over 40 years, yet we all remembered every single word. We sang fast songs, slow songs, ‘round’ songs’, sad songs and happy songs and some very silly songs. The funny acts and games were even sillier – if that were possible.

But the whole thing was simply magical. It truly took us all back in time, and everyone became infected with the enchantment of the occasion. Even the wives could sense it, and they had never before experienced such a thing.

The next morning, Sunday, it was off to the Farmers Market in Allendale which was held on a disused lead mine which had been converted into a delightful little art and crafts estate by the multi-talented Jack, who also owns the place.

A couple of hours wandering around the market to the accompaniment of Northumbria pipes on one side and local folk singers on the other and an earnest gentleman in the centre performing a cookery lesson, and it was time for one and all to wend their various ways back from whence they had come.

It was a sad farewell indeed, as who can say for sure if we will ever meet each other again, notwithstanding many promises to the contrary. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, it will be little short of a miracle, unless any doughty souls elect to take up my invitation to seek me out in Pattaya.

So it was farewell to Jack and co, and back to Stamford with Sid, to resume my UK sojourn with my nearest and dearest.

Jack’s house in Allendale, his garden & surrounding countryside

Hadrian’s Wall & surrounding Northumberland countryside

Allendale Farmer’s Market

Jack’s grand dining hall and Jack’s  magical cat

I would like to recount my further adventures back in Stamford, Barnwell  and thence to Nuneaton, but it is getting late so they will have to await the next appointment with my trusty Acer, which may not be until next week, after the wedding… but you never know…

BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I don’t give a hoot….

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