The paths of glory …

…lead but to the grave

Apart for the opening lines – ‘the curfew tolls the knell of parting day’ – I feel I am guilty of unfamiliarity with Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. On visiting St Mary’s, Lytchett Matravers, I can only reflect on this omission in my personal literary canon as unforgivable unless it previously meant nothing to me; a feeble excuse. The word ‘elegy’ requires less thought than ‘country’.


A busy morning, occupied with little of significance, demands an afternoon foray into the near-at-hand countryside, just to make sure the sunshine isn’t wasted. On my way down the proverbial long and winding country lane, an animal bounds along the tarmac in front of the car. What is that? Too big for a cat; too small for a deer; wrong shape for a fox. It’s a hare! My second in a week.

‘…that yew tree’s shade, where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap’. Truth be told, I’m here with my trusty little camera because someone said the place is pretty, and is home to several birds. I don’t see them so I wander around for a bit. Obviously, the church is shut. Then I take look around the graveyard and find myself in the extension. Which is when the notion of ‘country’ hits home.


For we are not just talking countryside, we’re talking ‘my’ country. Whether or not I’m a patriot is disputable: I don’t stand up for the national anthem, for example. And I don’t much care for what I perceive as us interfering in other folk’s problems. On the other hand …click the picture to read the inscription.


Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife … I know their base is to hand, but there are other churches closer. For reasons that are presently unclear, St Mary’s is the resting place of many Royal Marines – SBS, SAS, killed In Iraq, Afghanistan and so-forth. They are decorated with poppy wreaths from their squadrons and crosses signed by their compatriots, but their stones bear the inscription ‘daddy’; which gives meaning to the young age at which they were killed. For their country. These are the men who left England’s green and beautiful for some other foreign field. They are the collateral of war games.

It’s unclear why Gray wrote his elegy. 270 years since, it resonates so succinctly that it might’ve been constructed yesterday. And that says a lot about how far we’ve come. Which is nowhere apart from making me wake up to what is given for country. And what is forgotten, unless you happen to be in an English country churchyard.



We’re on the road to who knows where

There was always going to be some confusion surrounding this walk. That chap on the swing might look settled enough but, given we’d intended to go to Pentridge and are now parked outside the C12 church of St Bartholomew in Shapwick, derived from the words meaning Sheep Village, things have clearly gone amiss. Blame it on the weather forecast: all points in the direction of Salisbury were giving rain. In any case, the air around that city doesn’t seem to be too fresh at present.


 Wikipedia excels on the merits of the interior of St Bart’s.The church is shut so we have a wander around its gardens. I’m in the company of those birders once more and they always claim there’s all sorts of birdlife to be spotted in a churchyard. Well, nothing to see here apart from a solitary war grave. Move along please.

The River Stour is close at hand. So close, in fact, that there are flood barricades outside the church. ‘Where are we off to then?’ I ask Sherpa Tony. I’d brought along printed copies of a possible route and emailed an alternative which seemed to be the same walk backwards. Tony has a third option: a map of a not apparently dissimilar path on a nicely coloured printed card. The first two routes suggested a 4 mile meander so Sally and I assumed the one that was chosen would be more or less the same.

Having left the village far behind, trudged the long and winding road and made a left up a muddy track in the direction of Elm Tree Cottage, we arrive at this signpost which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. No matter, our leader has switched to his iPad and we gaily follow him up a hill and into the open countryside. And when I say ‘open’, I mean ‘open’..


Some hours later, we hit such dizzy heights that the snow that left Dorset four days ago still lingers in these parts. Sally and I are both currently committed to Slimming World so have been content to discuss food for the last couple of miles. Suddenly, she remembers her husband is also on this walk so falls back to keep him company for a while. Actually, she’s really keeping the peace as the Sherpa has two of us questioning his directions.


It hasn’t worked: there’s Tony in another world whilst we two discuss the merits of BBQ chicken without fat; and oil; and anything else that’s ‘bad’. In the far distance, we can see Badbury Rings and remark on how the countryside that falls away from them is so remarkably – well, open. Not a lot to see in these parts.


Suddenly, Sally sees the hare: an apparently enormous specimen bounding away with such speed that none of us manage to capture it on our cameras. It’s a treat, nonetheless. Just as we’re discussing our luck, a small herd of deer magically appears in front of us. There they go.

After we’ve finally escaped the pastureland, which involved a number of detours and the crossing of a barbed wire fence, we head off downhill. Generally, I’m a fan of ‘downhill’ but the way is comprised of slippery mud from last night’s rain. Sherpa Tony informs us that, according to the iPad, we’ve come nearly a mile. The peasants revolt: how can that be so? We’ve been walking for over two hours and lunch beckons. The leader informs us that, to our left, we can see the church of Tarrant Crawford. Well, sorry old bean but the only visible church is to the right and it belongs to the parish of Tarrant Keyneston. Apparently, the iPad stopped recording some eons ago and has about as much of a clue where we are as we do. I’m hungry.

The sun appears in all its full glory as we’re wandering along a stream – the Tarrant. Rounding a corner, we spot the welcoming site of the Church of St Mary, Tarrant Crawford. Listen reader, if you think this weasel is dragging on a bit, what do you think it was like for us? I spotted a handy luncheon bench and we partook of our frugal, Slimming World inspired grub. For some reason, best known to herself, Sally starts harping on about how culinary life changes mean no more pasties. I hadn’t even thought about those Cornish delicacies – too busy grieving over the loss of cheese – but now you come to mention it.

The door to the church is, amazingly, open. And look – they have frescoes. They date from the C13 but look much older to my untrained eye. What a treat. The church interior is, otherwise, a sullen affair but I can’t help but think they could’ve promoted these beauties a bit further afield.


When we emerge from the church it starts raining. Then it starts pouring. And next it begins with the hailstones. And Sherpa Tony turns over the brightly coloured route card and informs us that the walk is 7.5 miles long. And it bloody well feels like it. We decide to omit a field or three and walk along the road; which is just as well because, otherwise, we’d have missed this mediaeval way marker. The bottom and the top cross are later additions but I love it. And it’s stopped raining.

We wander down another long road to see Crawford bridge, first recorded in 1334. It has nine arches spanning two streams of the Stour and was widened in 1819.



There are handy pedestrian refuge points if you want to take photos of the view; and of lurking egrets. You’ll have to spot them yourself.

And here am I, looking jolly.



We cross another million fields and finally emerge close to our starting point, welcomed by miniature cyclamen. It was a grand walk, much of which I’ve omitted. Thank-you Sally and Tony



Unspoken conspiracies

On the surface of it all, these are quite the days for the sisterhood. Years of institutional  discrimination and abuse are now openly shouted about. Deafeningly so actually as the rich and famous cling together in solidarity, outvying each other in expensive black dresses that have little significance in the lives of the rest of us. Well, that’ll do it then. Not. Just one of those black dresses would pay for a year’s child care for ordinary working women who wouldn’t then have to depend on their own mothers to step in, thereby perpetuating a cycle that will continue ad infinitum.

It’s not just that the grandmothers I know seem to be constantly worn out and ill from experiencing childhood ailments for the third time – their own, their children’s and now their grandchildren’s – it’s the guilt that’s all pervasive. And I don’t mean the guilt bestowed on them by their children: I’m talking about that unspoken conspiracy amongst grandmothers who ‘care’ towards grandmothers who don’t. Forget the sisterhood because it’s only for young women. Women who look after their grandchildren are in a club marked by embitteredness. How dare we older women live our own lives devoid of other people’s children. Clearly, we’re not ‘proper’ and ‘good’ family types.

I have a good excuse – and let’s face it, I need one. My grandson, of eighteen months, lives 140 miles away so the daily commute would be a bit tricky. Also, he lives in Greater London and I, selfishly, live in the country, by the sea. And I know which is best – for me. His mum, who to my knowledge doesn’t possess an expensive black dress, works harder than anyone else I know. His dad probably does too, but this weasel is about women. In order to give the child the best possible life, she follows a very strict regime. Out of the blue, I am asked whether I can offer some temporary help.

Dad is away working in another country and mum has to stay late at her place of employment. This will be the first time that H has ever been put to bed by someone other than his parents. I’m a bit scared; not by the prospect of looking after him, but by the bloody regime in all its frightening detail. My memory’s not what it was. Remembering the running order seems a lost cause. Life will surely fall apart if I miss a step. They come to stay with me for two days so I can get the hang of it, but things are different in my house. In my house, things are different from the rest of the world.

The mornings are not too bad: get him up and dressed, give him breakfast, play for a while, then take him to the childminder (because she’s already been paid for and anyway, is part of the plan). It’s snowing in their part of the world and their house is exceptionally old and, to my frozen mind, a bit draughty. I’ve discovered a so-called air vent in their front room through which Storm Emma is blowing. H has these jig-saw shaped things that form a play mat. They also form a handy barricade against Emma and I’ve piled them up against the wall. H wants to play with the jig-saw mat. Have you ever tried to explain the concept of a draught excluder to an eighteen month old person? Intellectual explanation fails. I remove the jig-saw pieces and hold his tiny hand against the vent. He’s horrified and replaces the mat. Job done.

Next, it’s time to go out but I can’t find his shoes. ‘Where are your shoes?’, I ask. For such a small person, he’s extremely helpful, looking under tables and around corners. He searches one room, I search another. No shoes; funny because I distinctly remember seeing them earlier. That was before I moved the pushchair to create more space. Finally, I discover the missing shoes have become lodged under the buggy. We are both greatly relieved.

The evening regime is far more tricky as there’s a limited window of opportunity. Whilst play is ongoing, I must cook dinner, then feed him whilst he looks at a book, put the heater on in the bathroom, run a bath, prepare the night-time bottle, go upstairs and turn off the main lights to create an ambient reception, allow him to put the last nappy in the rubbish bin, bath him, remembering to play with the ducks in a certain order, get him to remove the plug, remove him from the bath, allow him to switch off the light, take him up to his room, cover him in anti-eczema cream, dress him for bed, get him to say nighty-night to all his toys and throw him in the cot. Easy from a distance.

Whist he’s eating his dinner – apparently, I gave him the ‘wrong’ pasta – H becomes very involved in his farm book. We have a long discussion regarding how farmers’ markets and farm shops exploit middle-class customers by palming them off with discoloured, malshapen vegetables dressed up in fancy wicker baskets. H agrees that he much prefers Sainsburys. Meanwhile, I’ve succeeded in the rest of the pre-bed preparation, although this has involved a lot of running back and forth and shouting from the kitchen: ‘are you still there?’ I’m just coming’ and suchlike. Fortunately, H is busy writing a letter to the Guardian about farm shop produce.

Having got him in the bath, I suddenly notice the discarded nappy on the floor. ‘I’m so sorry’, I say. ‘Would you mind terribly if I put it in the bin tonight?’ H doesn’t mind; he’s busy trying to get an ancient ET into the water. I think it’s a precious, sacred remnant from my daughter’s childhood. ET’s head falls off. ‘Oh dear, I think ET has a poorly head. Shall we leave him there?’ H regards ET with disgust. Getting H out of the bath is difficult enough but carrying him up the stairs of the Himalayas is another story. And smothering him in cream and trying to fit him into his nightwear in the ambient darkness is a non-starter. ‘I’m terribly sorry’, I explain, fumbling around, ‘but I’ll have to put the light on. Grandma can’t see a frigging thing’. H laughs and I’m amazed that he falls into his cot and goes to sleep instantly.

I go to my room, put on my little black dress, step lightly downstairs to clear up the carnage, before sitting in a darkened room to watch Midsomer Murders. Hello, John Nettles. I’m ready for you. John seems unamused.

There’s a moral to this story but I’m too exhausted to decipher what it might be.



Peeing in the Purbecks

The weather was so gloriously sunny this morning that I could imagine folk sat under sunshades on Wareham Quay sipping their Campari and orange juices. I even managed to get to the wheelie bin in a short-sleeved tee-shirt without a hint of frostbite. Time for a walk in the Purbecks.


The viewpoint at Whiteway Hill is 610 feet up in the air. By the time I got there, that little orange snowflake that lights up the dashboard to tell you it’s a bit nippy outside the car was boasting 3C. It didn’t mention that it was also blowing a hoolie but the car door did that teasing thing whereby it nearly blows away upon opening.

It was a furry hat day which tells you something of the severity of meteorological conditions: I rarely wear a hat – too irritating. But I’d seen the shrunken faces of those already returning from their rambles. All thoughts of Campari cocktails had already turned to welcoming hot chocolate.

Actually, although it was a little bracing, I made it up and over Flowers Barrow and on to Mupe Bay. And I didn’t rush because it was all so spectacular. Just as the French Mistral blows all the airborne garbage away to give a clarity of light, so it was up here. I must’ve had at least three different conversations with passing folk regarding the way conditions seemed to have made the edges of the countryside, especially the cliffs, stand out.


Apart from the idiots with Nordic walking poles who, without exception, never bother to speak, one can come across all sorts of unexpected people on top of the world. Just as I reached this point in the photo, and was wondering how many more hills I could climb, I met a man who drives the miniature railway in Poole Park. We had quite a discussion on the problems of securing a driver, guard and ticket distributor at the same time.


Speaking of problems, mine is always the same: old ladies’ bladder. You may think from these pictures that locating an apposite spot in these wide open spaces would be easy, but there’s a clue in ‘wide’ and ‘open’. For a start, those unfamiliar with the area won’t know that the way isn’t always open due to it being slap bang in the middle of an MOD firing range. Thus, one must avoid leaving the path for fear of going up in the smoke of unexploded shells.

Further, whilst there weren’t exactly coach parties of folk enjoying the landscape, there were quite a few people up there. Every time I thought I’d found a handy gorse bush, over the top would come another set of walkers. Just when I thought I’d spotted a useful dip, I’d descend to find people enjoying a picnic. See the woman in the photo? She’s only pretending to be on the phone. I mean, how’s she going to get a signal up here? No, she’s waiting for me to clear off so she can explore a potential peeing place she’s identified.

It’s alright for men. Well, it’s not because there are probably pee spotters in the lookout searching day and night for folk without the wherewithal to control their bladders. And the trouble is, once it’s occurred to you that you need a pee, there’s no putting it off; especially in this wind. I could write a book called Memorable Pees in the Purbecks. I remember that time on the Swyre Head circular route when, descending through open fields, I was taken short. There was no-one to be seen in a five mile radius but just as I’d dropped my drawers, a tractor appeared silently over the ridge.

Then there was that incident up on Houns Tout. I found a handy swallow hole that was deep enough to preclude anyone seeing me. However, as I was replacing my clothes in an orderly manner, I looked up to find I’d been encircled by a flock of nosey sheep. The potential for interruption is even greater up here as Flowers Barrow is said to be haunted by an army of soldiers, thousands strong. Mind you, rumour has it that you can also hear them coming. In 1678, over one hundred people were alleged to have seen the army and rushed to Wareham for assistance.

I stopped at Wareham on the way back to buy some cherries for a new recipe. I didn’t notice anyone who might be bothered either about armies or peeing ramblers over on Flowers Barrow.


Big skies

Unforeseen events precluded today’s planned outing to the back of beyond. However, browsing through some back copies of Dorset Life at my parents’ house, some time later, it appears that the afternoon might be rescued with a smaller foray into the countryside. A circular walk entitled ‘Knowlton Church to Gussage All Saints’, allegedly a mere two and a half miles, looks promising. I feel that whoever wrote the directions missed a thing or two.





Every cloud … the afternoon’s skies are ENORMOUS when I park, as per instructions, at Knowlton Rings. Said instructions have nothing to say about this weird and wonderful site – they merely want me to press on down the lane. However, I’m having none of that.

There’s bountiful evidence that folk have been here before me. The church, partially constructed from standing stones, is twelfth century and stands in the centre of a Neolithic henge. Thus, 4000 years separate them. There’s no known reason why the two have been conjoined. Oh, I love a mystery. In the fifteenth century, the population of the hamlet of Knowlton was decimated by the plague. Today, the joint is haunted by a phantom horse and rider, a kneeling nun and copious other lost souls.

Here stand two spiritual yew trees. Walk through the gap between them and witness the votive offerings that modern day folk still leave. I love all this stuff although, I have to say, this place makes me feel inexplicably uncomfortable. Apparently, there used to be a line of yews on this horizon.

Anyway, Dorset Life doesn’t want me to hang around: it wants me to continue down Lumber Lane, so I do. Now and then, the instructions speak about the road ‘rising slightly’. Well, that’s your idea of slightly. Seems like a seriously uphill lumber to yours truly. Still, glorious countryside. At the top, I turn left, walk for eons, turn right onto the muddiest track in existence and totally miss the point at which I’m supposed to descend.


I didn’t take this photo. I stole it from the interweb. Some guy called Jim Champion took and doctored it. I don’t take any photos when I emerge from the muddy track to find myself looking out over prehistory. My camera is too tiny to give any worth to what I can see. Whilst I feel the beginnings of panic because I know I’ve deviated from the path, I somehow know that I’m looking over the Dorset Cursus on the edge of Cranborne Chase, crossed by Ackling Dyke. I don’t take pictures because the countryside is simply too big. And too ancient. It’s a tiny bit scary in its vastness.

According to my instructions, I’m supposed to descend into the village of Gussage All Saints at the Drovers Inn. I don’t. I reappear by the church. Those aren’t floodlights – that’s the sun bouncing off the stones.


In Anglo-Saxon, Gussage (All Saints) means ‘the place where the stream dries up’. In my language, it means an extremely affluent village in which no-one can be seen. The phone box now houses a defibrillator. I hope it’s removable; otherwise, folk short of breath will have to stagger up the hill to gain respite. And look – there’s the missing pub.

The dreaded instructions now direct me to Amen Corner. Wait, weren’t they a 60’s rock band? And there’s Amen Cottage. People used to gather here for prayer. Why?








Down in Bowerswain, I must take a left turn, ensuring the stream is on my right. Very good but no-one mentions the snowdrop-covered grave. Who drowned here in the place where the river forgot to dry up? Whoever it was, the land-owners are making sure there’s no repetition and have redirected the path into another abyss. Daylight time is running short and now I’m stuck on a muddy path to who knows where. For the second time on this walk, I’m a little uncomfortable. Still, there are no alternative options.

This is the final treacherous path. In the distance I can see Knowlton Church and press on until I finally meet Lumber Lane once more as the day closes in.




As I relocate my car I look behind to see the dying day and note the skies are still defiant in their hugeness. It was an unexpected walk but glorious nonetheless. On the way home, I play Bowie’s dying Dollar Days in which he repeats the line ‘if I never see the English evergreens I’m running to, it means nothing to me’. Not sure I believe him.





Three rounds with Mike Dyson

Some folk close to my heart have been moving into their new home over the last couple of days. Yesterday, I helped by transporting various elements of their lives from A to B in my car. Today was the heavy duty stuff: moving furniture, putting beds together and suchlike. Sounded a bit beyond my capabilities (or inclinations) so I offered to go round to the old gaff and do a spot of cleaning. Seemed like the easy option.


I didn’t get the ‘all clear’ until just before three o clock. No matter – won’t take long. Armed with mop and bucket, similar to the photo but mine is red, I arrived at their chaotic new abode to collect the key. A bunch of people with slit eyes staring above puffy black bags below were in exhausted evidence as I happily left: ‘see you – wouldn’t want to be you’, I jested. Didn’t know Mike Dyson was waiting at the old place.

I have a Henry to help me keep my little hobbit house nice and clean. You know where you are with Henry: ‘Go on my son; splash it all over’ says Henry in his lovable London-like way. For Henry is an always smiling cockeney; (yes, I know that’s not how you spell it but it was in olden times). Today, Henry was humming to himself in the cupboard,  squashed in with the ironing board, 4 coats and a bunch of dirty washing.

I let myself into the deserted old place. It was a bit creepy. No sign of a hoover. I crept upstairs and there, in the front bedroom, I came face to face with Dyson. I walked around him for a bit. Then I decided to defer the moment and wiped down a few ledges but there was no putting off the confrontation. I wished I’d brought Henry. Eye to eye, we weighed up each other. The trouble is, I’m an open book but he gave nothing away as I plugged him in. Inadvertently, I pulled out his hose. There seemed to be nothing on the end of it. A brush-like contraption might be handy.

Bent double, I picked up a few stray bits. I felt the pain searing up my back. This isn’t right, I thought and went back downstairs to attack the bathroom with a wet cloth and a bottle of bleach whilst I thought my game plan through. The phone rang: ‘everything ok’, asked someone in the new house? ‘Well, I’m having a spot of bother with Dyson’, I admitted. Instructions being forthcoming, I set about the thug with renewed fortitude. For five minutes, he succumbed. Then, when I wasn’t concentrating, he shot up his telescopic attachment.

I had no idea how this happened and even less of a clue regarding how to get things back to normal. I took temporary advantage of his extension to clean up a few edges but, although I now knew how to get his main body parts at a suitable angle, the telescopic cobweb cleaner had made him taller than me so general hoovering was an impossibility. Brut-soaked Henry would’ve dealt with this in an instant. I thought of him, lonely in the darkness of the dirty washing cupboard and cursed my insensitivity. I tried replacing Dyson’s extension in his tube but the bloody thing was so bendy that the telescope had no chance of successful insertion.

The trouble was that Dyson’s extension was hard whilst his bendy bit was all over the place. Finally, having gained control of the errant tube, and holding it firmly in a northerly direction, I managed to slot his telescopic attachment back in. I finished vacuuming the first room and moved onto the landing with a sense of achievement. Round one to me. Then a small piece, that I’d previously failed to notice, fell off. Unabashed, Dyson continued, his motor now in full throttle. I know your game, I thought as I switched him off and tried to work out from whence the fallen piece had dislodged itself. The phone rang again: ‘do you want to come back for a cup of tea’, asked the caller? ‘No, I think I’ll press on’.

Dyson and I danced around each other all across the first floor. At one point, just as I’d come across a forgotten photo of their now-dead cat, he completely subsided and came to a halt. Turned out I’d overstretched him and his plug had left the socket two rooms previously. Well, if you think that’s going to stop me forget it. Finally we hit the stairs. The stairs are very narrow: too narrow for Dyson’s bulk to rest upon. I managed three steps before unplugging, re-plugging and, although I hate to say so, employing the telescopic attachment. Stairs completed: round two to me.

Downstairs was a breeze: I had the better of him. Occasionally, he’d throw out that small unnecessary piece but now I knew where it lived. In any case, once I’d vacuumed the front room, I was back to my trusty mop and bucket. Except that, it was in a state of rebellion. Dyson had decided that every time I hit a piece of wall, he would knock some plaster off. Thus, every time I vacuumed a corner, it would be replete with white droppings as if a flock of seagulls had recently passed by. Having decided to ignore him, I attacked the floor with the mop which, unused to anything more challenging than my miniscule kitchen floor, decided to break in half. Round three to me Dyson: round four to the mop (who you may have paid).

The phone rang (again). Person from the new house is on his way to relieve me. And I will be greatly relieved to return home. New mop day tomorrow. Glass (or three) of the red stuff tonight.







Well, I’ve finally taken the plunge and joined a slimming group. I just wish I’d taken a pen and paper along as every joyous moment was worth recording. Even my own ghastly weight wasn’t quite as bad as I’d anticipated. Mind you, I did strip down as comprehensively as decent. ‘You don’t need to take your socks off’, says the weigh-in woman, observing a heap of me struggling to reach my flipper feet. ‘I’m not, the sock came off with my boot’. She looks unimpressed.

I don’t want to identify the group or its whereabouts as I’ve just parted with my email address. Also, I don’t want to be cruel as I’m not here because I’m a super-model. However, I couldn’t help but remark to my new friend, Max, that the group leader wasn’t exactly inspiring in appearance: stomach bursting through lower buttons and apparently with some breathing difficulties. Max has been before. Actually, Max has been on every known diet. Several times. This means he can instruct me on how to proceed with my new regime because he’s the font of all dietary knowledge. ‘How come you fell off the wagon, then?’ I ask. ‘I got married’, he replies as if this will explain all.

I’m the only genuine newbie – the others are re-joiners and that doesn’t bode well either. The leader fairly rattles through the literature, of which there’s so much I’ll be six pounds heavier when I leave. After this, we line up to pay our dues and be weighed. Max is ahead of me and stocks up on a selection of chocolate goodies. Perhaps they’re a gift for his new, fat-inducing wife.

Then we get to my favourite bit where we all sit in a circle and applaud the stalwarts for no good reason. Louise has gained half a pound. Louise winces on public announcement of this disaster and there’s a collective sigh of sorrow. ‘So Louise, why do you think this has happened?’ There’s a palpable hush in the room as we wait for her explanation. ‘Well’, she answers sadly, ‘it’s just taken me so long to get rid of all the Christmas stuff’. The older ladies nod knowingly. ‘How much do you think you’ll have lost next week Louise?’ ‘Oh, definitely three pounds’, she replies ambitiously. The leader, obviously still munching their way through a surfeit of mince pies, slaps their thigh and this is a sign that we must all applaud Louise’s resilience.

‘Lisa, you have maintained’. I don’t understand why ‘maintaining’ is bad news. I mean, she hasn’t increased, but her ordeal continues: ‘what do you put this ‘maintenance’ down to?’ continues the agent of the Spanish Inquisition as she was laid out on the rack. ‘Well’, she explains, ‘last week I had to work in London which meant I had to do an unexpected walk’. Lisa is redeemed: by virtue of the fact that she had to leave Dorset and venture to the city, she deserves a well-justified round of applause. Poor Lisa.

As she’s sitting next to me, I lean over and ask why a decent walk is detrimental. Apparently, walking is unacceptable because your body stores water, thereby weight. ‘I’ve never heard that before’, I tell her. ‘I walk a lot’. ‘Oh yes’, the unhappy lady replies, ‘walking isn’t good for you’. Hmm. Things aren’t looking too good for yours truly.

As I leave, having asked more questions than anyone else has before, the leader comes over and says, in a manner that makes me disbelieve them, ‘it was really good to meet you, Alison’. Mmm. Doesn’t know I write everything down. Anyway, I made a Tartiflette earlier which looks exactly like this picture. Going to have a couple of glasses of the red stuff beforehand. I’ll start the hard work tomorrow.