A Point Too Far
I’ve got a terrible reputation up here in the mountains: mad Englishwoman, works late into the night, sleeps late into the morning, lazy as all Hell.
It’s half-true of course. My hours are be anarchic, and I don’t like walking, but you should see me up a step-ladder. I’m no slouch with a scraper, I can tell you.
Not that I care what the neighbours think. In fact, rather the opposite. I’ve been teasing them for years, telling them I eat breakfast at midday, fussing about lifting so much as a twig, deliberately leaving the lights on all night...
But when it came to them all agreeing that I’d never manage the annual pilgrimage to the mountain peaks, for some insane reason I was er... piqued.
“Of course I could walk up there if I wanted to!” I declared. “Nothing to it!”
“It’s steep”, they said. “A real scramble. You can’t wear flip-flops. You’ll have to wear jeans. Have you got any jeans? It’s high, it’s far away. You need strength. You need stamina. A night-owl like you... well, it wouldn’t be wise... you’ll never manage...”
“Oh I don’t know,” I said. “It can’t be that steep or that far. Perhaps I will come with you.”
“But we leave at 7am!”
“And you have to carry your own picnic!”
“Mmmm. Is it still dark at 7am?”
They gazed at me in scandalised silence. I laughed. “I’ll bring my umbrella,” I said.
“But it won’t rain! It’ll be boiling up there!”
I left them gloomily shaking their heads, and took the precaution of going to bed early. And a good job too because 7am was as hideous as I’d always suspected: chilly, misty and faintly blue round the edges.
“Are you sure this is wise?” they asked anxiously. “Don’t you think you ought to stay in bed?”
Hackles raised, I hared off up the mountain taking surreptitious slugs from a bottle of black coffee, and at first it was a breeze. But things got trickier after a couple of hours. The path had run out and we were scrambling single file through rough scrub, with the loose shingle skidding underfoot and the sun rising. I put my umbrella up and drank some more coffee.
“We can walker slower if you like,” they offered.
That was a red rag to a bull. I didn’t pause for breath before I reached the top an hour and a half later - a good fifteen minutes before anyone else.
They were impressed. “Elle a bien marché!” they exclaimed, handing round the song sheets for Mass.
Later, after apéros (from the lorry that had driven up that morning and set up business for the day) and an extended boozy picnic, it was time to walk down again. A cinch. I knew I’d already cracked it. Going down would be faster and easier than going up, and I set off with a will.
Wrong. Very, very wrong. The route chosen for the descent was loose gravel and my Looby Loo sandals were like skates. My brolly started to weigh a ton, and although my rucksack was now empty, the wine, beer, pastis and Poire Williams began arguing at the back of my skull. The water bottles we’d filled at a mountain stream proved to have tiny animals swimming about in them, and the fountain half-way down was inexplicably dry.
“Are you holding up?” they asked. “Would you like a walking stick?”
“No, I’m fine!” I lied. “Doing grand!”
My feet were rubbed into blisters. My legs were cramped and my knees were jelly. I was hot, tired, breathless and thoroughly pissed off. I’ve always hated walking anywhere except Oxford Street and at that moment, all I wanted was a convenient juice bar and a taxi.
“Isn’t this fun?” I grinned and managed to scoot through the pack to the front.
Down mountains, up mountains... we walked for hours.
“That’s 20 kilometres so far!” called the leader. “Nearly there! The village is just over that peak!”
“Do you want to stay here?” they asked. “We can send someone back with a car...”
“No, no! C’est magnifique!” I exclaimed, and off we went again with me bounding along, skipping and swinging my arms, cracking jokes, and smiling like one possessed. Finally, we got back to Moisson. Twelve hours after we’d left that morning.
“Qu’elle est forte!” they said, nodding vigorously. “Ces Anglaises sont hards!”
I grinned in triumph, and just about got indoors before I collapsed in agony. I tell you, next time I go up there, stuff showing the neighbours what the Mad Englishwoman can do.
I’ll be in the lorry with the guys from the bar.
Next column will be uploaded around 15th July.
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