“I want to walk the forest path. And then – if it’s within my range – I want you to walk it with me.” (Peter @ Naked Blog, August 2002.)
As we leave the cottage, I craftily start the Madonna album at Track 6: just where the pace calms down a bit, after the opening salvo of gay-as-f*ck thumpers. Perhaps that way, I could ease K into the album gradually.
Ten minutes down the road, and still no reaction. I try the conversational approach.
“It’s fascinating: while the album was being recorded, the producer – who’s a club DJ in his own right – would take demos of the backing tracks out with him, to incorporate them into his DJ sets. That way, he could precisely gauge the dancefloor reaction to each track, and then go back and make tweaks to the… you’re not remotely interested in any of this, are you?”
“Not even remotely.”
“I could tell by that stony-faced expression. Puh. Thanks for taking a f**king interest. I mean, you could have pretended. Remind me to do the same thing back, next time you start blathering on about bloody proteomics…”
He doesn’t take the bait. I fall silent. God, I need this walk. Clear away a few cobwebs.
As we turn a corner, the music softens to a light trotting pulse, overlain with sweet, simple melodic phrases. Right on cue, a group of horse riders come into view, causing K to slow the car down to a quiet crawl. The up-and-down movement of the horses and riders synchs in perfectly with the tempo of the track. Clip-clop, clip-clop.
“Actually, this is a good one.”
He’s smiling. We’re getting there.
With the large car park at Monsal Head already filled up by the Bright And Early/Can’t Park Efficiently For Shit brigade, we find one last roadside space down at Little Longstone. Which is actually more convenient, now that we think about it. As we change into our walking boots, the CD switches back to the beginning – thus ensuring that “Hung Up” will stay looping round and round my head for the next however many hours. Extended remix, and then some.
It’s only the second time I’ve worn gaiters, and I’m having a hard time working out how to put them on. K assists, but I’m in a brittle mood. Why can’t I do anything practical? Also, the straps are too long: flapping out either side of each boot, dangling in the mud, swishing annoyingly against the side of my trousers with every footstep. I try to tuck them in, but the gaiters aren’t designed that way and so they keep popping out again.
“God, I hate these gaiters. What’s the point of them anyway?”
“Look: as soon as we get to Ashford-in-the-Water, we’ll stop at the shop and buy a pair of scissors. Then I can cut the straps down for you.”
Patience of a saint. But I’m still stomping through the thick mud, failing to fall into an easy step, making heavy weather of it all.
“My f**king boots look like f**king Cornish pasties! How can I walk in these!”
K looks down at my clag-caked soles, and giggles. I giggle back, the drama-queeniness softening just a touch.
To be honest, I’m still upset with myself over last night. I should have left the unwrapping of the ceramic bobble-fruit-and-pillows to him, like I usually do. You know, get a grown-up to do it for me. But instead, I only had to Challenge the Assumption of Incompetence, didn’t I? Stepping Outside The Comfort Zone, like I’m supposed to be doing, on a day-by-day basis.
Which would have been fine, until the moment that I lowered the bobble-fruit into the special dimple on the top pillow. Well, how was I to know that it would only fit one way? Stupid bloody thing.
And now there are two fragments of green china frond sitting in the top drawer of the sideboard, waiting until we get some glue, which we’ll NEVER DO, because we ALWAYS FORGET that sort of thing, and it will be MONTHS before we even, in fact we’ll probably NEVER, and it’s all my fault because I’ve DESTROYED A MASTERPIECE, and I DON’T DESERVE NICE THINGS, and now I’m over-reacting because I CAN’T COPE, I mean f**k’s sakes nobody’s DIED, and…
In no time at all, we’re in Ashford. It’s a neat, well-heeled place, with a character all of its own: quite at odds with the surrounding villages, with its smart Georgian sandstone facades and its almost Cotswolds-like feel. All of which is marred by the constant roar of traffic from the busy A6 at the bottom of the village. Perhaps they all learn to tune it out. Handy for commuters, though: Bakewell, Sheffield, Derby. And you can sense there’s old money here.
The village store is quaint, but crowded and claustrophobic. I wait outside while K queues, kicking my muddy heels against the kerb, dodging the passers-by on the narrow pavement, feeling in the way no matter where I place myself.
The store owner has kindly lent K his own pair of scissors. The straps are snipped, the scissors returned, the walk resumed, a new spring in my step.
Now for the Big Climb.