Saturday, August 20, 2011
On the North Downs Way
Limited time and internet access has restricted my blogging activities of late. It can be hard to summon up the enthusiasm to blog when the prospect of a day in Oxford beckons or we end up looking after my sister's kids as well as the two we struggle to look after on a daily basis, a recipe for double trouble.
It's a far cry from the day I first arrived in England almost two weeks ago. It was good to see my parents but after the initial quickfire 40 minute update on all the people I don't know who have died, contracted serious illnesses or lost a leg or two, I found the conversation drying up. This was all rather disconcerting as I hadn't seen my parents for more than a year, although regular conversations on Skype made it possible to get these death and doom bulletins on a more regular basis.
Fortunately I was saved by the bell, or more specifically my brother, who came round to visit within an hour of my arrival.
His partner was due to give birth in days so he was grateful for any pretext to escape from the raging hormones that had been dogging his every movement for the last few months. My arrival was apparently a better excuse than the call he has taken from the local council to inspect all of the manhole covers within a 10-mile radius.
Desperate times require desperate measures and outwardly these were desperate times. Rioting had broken out in London for the second night and the headlines made it seem as if the nation was on fire. Some people from overseas were reacting as if this was Libya or Syria and armed insurrection was underway.
The reality was rather different. London has seen graver threats such as the bombs of the IRA and the nights of 1941 when the skies were full of German bombers. Just 60 years after the death of Christ Boudicca's savages burned and sacked Roman London leaving bodies strewn across the flatlands by the Thames.
In 1351 Wat Tyler led a band of angry peasants from the plague ravaged countryside of Kent and Essex to the heart of London, almost overthrowing the unpopular King Richard II in the process.
London has seen much worse than the bands of rioters who went out in search of some free flatscreen TVs.
On the Sunday of my arrival I left jetlag behind to walk up on the ridge of the North Downs, along an ancient path that pilgrims once used to reach Canterbury cathedral in the days that Chaucer wrote of such journeys.
These are gentle hills where horses roam in paddocks, a world away from the simmering suburbs of London. Little has changed in this landscape of quiet villages for years, although a few pubs have closed. Contented folks who made money in London now meander around in their BMWs. The hills remain almost empty and they look away from the M25 to the garden of England with its oast houses and vineyards, the same place that simmered with abject poverty, disease and resentment back in 1351.