On the day everyone else went back to school, I took my staff, my rucksack and my pilgrim's badge, and took the train for Liverpool Street. The idea was to meet Hugh and Ann on the train, and travel to Southwark [and lunch] with them.
But late running trains caused confusion, and despite mobile phone calls, we didn't manage to meet up till Shenfield.
We walked across London Bridge to Southwark Cathedral, where the walk was due to start. After a quick look round inside, I finally set off form St Mary Overie at 12 minutes to 12.
Across Borough Market, onto the High Street, and the George – London's only surviving galleried inn – for lunch:
George ale, fish and chips [ale batter] and spotted dick. Chaucer's pilgri
ms, at the Tabard just along the street, would have understood.
I left there at 13.15, watched on my way by Hugh and Ann. Past the queues at the London Dungeon. London pavements, and drizzle most of the way through depressed, depressing areas. Greenwich predictably the exception, the park deserted in the chill and the damp. Two mounted policemen just outside the north gates, letting their mounts have a canter as soon as they got off the road and onto the common ...
Shooters Hill and into Kidbrook, mostly posh, getting dark now, and took a wrong turning onto Rochester Way, eventually losing over an hour.
A lad on a bike asked me if I'd seen his friend, and then returned to wish me a Happy New Year. When I finally consulted a bus map – a very useful check on progress – I decided to follow the 286 back over the same ground, past the same discarded Christmas trees. I was tempted to take the bus to make up for lost time ...
The start of the short cut I'd planned, Birdbrook Road, had its name obscured by a sizeable makeshift shrine – soft toys and cellophaned flowers, messages like playbills – faded now in the dark and the drizzle, the accident some time since. Touching faith in the sacredness of that second when life was snuffed out, or a mute desire to express what can't be said, or just the exhibitionism of public grief: not just anyone, anywhere, though. Young, usually, and the pointlessness of the death – a careless moment, a drunk driver, whatever. Not at A&E, or in the hospice ward, or in the aisle at Safeways, someone struck down by a fatal heart attack between the soft margarine and the artificial sweetener.
The route down to Eltham Green worked well in the end, and I arrived at the Weston House Hotel about 5.30 to a very friendly welcome from the [?] Thai proprietor, plus wife and small child. He couldn't believe I'd walked from London Bridge, and nor could I really.
I've rung home, answered a text from Hugh, been out along the main road to find a Coop where I bought something to eat and drink, planned tomorrow's route and now I'm listening to a repeat of the Michael Tilson Thomas prom I was at on September 1st last year ...