Obese or fat?

No pictures are available for obvious reasons.

Over at fat club this evening folk were waddling in as fast as they could manage to shelter from the unexpected thunder storm outside. ‘It’s been threatening all day’, said the person of restricted growth ahead of me. I was pretty entranced by her: in any other context, I’d assume my usual aggressively defensive inclusive demeanour but there’s a hint of political incorrectness in my thoughts. Purely from an academic point of view.

So, how does the ‘consultant’, who’s about as PC as Plod, know what a midget’s ideal weight is? Well, for a start, you’re not allowed to say ‘midget’: you have to say ‘dwarf’. If you Google the difference, you find that a midget has normal body proportions. Clearly, this is untrue or else they wouldn’t be in front of me in the queue at fat club. A dwarf, conversely, weighs 150 pounds. What, all of them? Surely that’s a massive (or tiny) discriminatory generalisation. And in any case, we should use the term ‘small person’.

There are lots of small people here tonight as the joint is full of post-natal types who haven’t yet lost the weight accrued in pregnancy and have brought their offspring along in order to have someone to blame. I should know, I’m one of them. Not that I’m accompanied by my children, but it would be nice to weigh less than I did 41 years ago. Fat chance.

Time I got away from small people so I start on the bloke behind the book stall. All the recipe books are £5.99 apart from the one I want – Mediterranean Stuff. They’ve only got one copy and it’s been here since I joined in 1873. It’s got a picture of mussels on the cover and I want to know how you cook them without wine and cream. Badly, I suspect.  ‘How much do you want for that dog-eared book I shout?’ The PORG in front turns round to laugh. ‘Not £16.99’, says consultant’s sidekick, ‘only £6.99 to you’. ‘I’ll give you a fiver’, I say; ‘everyone in the hut’s had a butchers at it’. ‘Ask Jon’, says the sidekick incapable of taking a good offer when he hears one’.

We trundle on and eventually I get weighed. I’ve lost half a pound which is the same as last week and the week before. ‘I’ve reached my plateau’, I say to Sherpa Tenzing in charge of the scales. ‘I’m the same’, says she. ‘It says here your BMI is 26. You need to get to 25 for the breakthrough’. How do they explain this to small people? ‘So’, I continue, ‘I’m still obese’. ‘We’re not obese’, she confides, ‘we’re just overweight’. Well, I was overweight in January, I don’t say because she is kind.

I take it out on Jon: ‘I’m going to give you a fiver to take Mediterranean Stuff off your hands’. ‘Done’, says Jon. ‘We’ve been trying to get rid of that old thing’. Should’ve offered him three.


Getting away

On a gloriously sunny morning, when vast swathes of humanity are indoors watching an event on TV, I head north to the old Neolithic chalk grasslands of Martin Down. Actually, these earthworks aren’t so old: they’re the remnants of a WW2 firing range.


The ancient downland, which has been unploughed for centuries, is important for ground-nesting birds. (Have you noticed how this blog is evolving into a birding site?) This morning, the grassland is full of sound: some insects, but mostly skylarks which, every now and again, ascend, soaring into the sky. I doubt those latter-day riflemen disturbed them: I recently read Lewis-Stempel’s moving account of nature at the front in WW1 wherein, despite continuous shelling doing its very best to destroy the habitat of the once beautiful Somme, the larks continued to soar; much to the delight of the battle weary country type Tommies.

Naturally, I have instructions to follow for this walk and, as ever, I lose my way. This overgrown hollow is full of butterflies and moths, none of which stay long enough in any one spot for my photographic skills to capture. In this very sheltered place, the sun is fairly beating down and the temperature is akin to the hothouses at Kew. Alas, and not according to the plan, I end up back on the track I’d previously followed.


I’m supposed to be walking diagonally across a field and past a barn. No sign of either. No sign of anything, in fact until four horses and their riders cross in the distance. ‘Fancy a canter’, shouts the one in front? ‘Definitely’, says the one at the rear in an uncertain voice.


I walk for some miles with the downland to myself until, suddenly, the place is teeming with birders. Clearly, I’ve hit an ornithological hotspot. ‘Seen any turtles’, one group asks of another? ‘Loads, comes the reply. Not a drop of water in sight but even I know they’re talking about turtle doves. I wish my friend Sally was here: she has a deep-seated desire to see a turtle dove.


It’s so hot, and I’ve walked so far already, that I decide to take a rest on Ronald’s bench. Poor Ron – he didn’t last long did he? Anyway, I’m surrounded by birding types. I’ve noticed that they fall into a typology of two: those (always men) who hang around in flocks and are dismissive of people whom they deem to know nothing; and those nice ones who are embracing and keen to make helpful conversation. Luckily for me Sean, who asks if he can share the bench to eat his lunch, is of the latter variety.

Ever since I purchased the binoculars, folk seem to start their conversations with ‘looking for something special’ or ‘have you seen anything of interest’? No and no I have to explain. I wouldn’t have a clue what I’d seen. I just got the binoculars so I can see further. I don’t say that last bit. Yet. ‘Lot’s of turtle doves’, says Sean and, at my request, he helpfully tells me how to spot one. Apparently, I have to know what a collared dove looks like so I lie and say I’m familiar with that breed. Sean has come all the way from Yeovil with his pal. ‘You might call it a bit of a twitch’, he says. This is helpful because now I learn that twitchers rush around the countryside to see birds whereas birders just go for walks.

There’s no sign of Sean’s pal so we have quite the chat about one thing and another until the lost friend appears from nowhere. ‘Lots of turtle doves here’, says the lost friend. Who knew? He gets nowhere with the turtle doves so we move on to my favourite bird – the red kite. Forty-six red kites at Beaconsfied recycling tip last weekend. ‘Did you happen upon them when you were recycling’, I ask? Sean’s friend looks askance. Of course he didn’t; he went there to see the red kites. Eighty-three in Cornwall. Well, obviously England is fairly overburdened with red kites and turtle doves I muse as I munch on my Slimming World Louisiana Chicken.

My redundant instructions mention a church so I head off down a handy lane for about two miles until I begin to see roofs and suchlike. Must be near civilisation.



Now, this old water pump in the village of Martin is definitely on my crumpled piece of paper so, even though I’ve misplaced a barn, I’m back on course.



This memorial isn’t listed in the points of interest which is irritating. I would like to know why, in the middle of nowhere, there’s a sign telling me I’m 37 miles from Glastonbury.



Here’s All Saints’ Church which I’m supposed to visit. It’s got a beautiful overgrown churchyard but the joint is very disappointing.


Oh look, is that a turtle dove?



And I wander across sheep-ridden pasture trying to find my way out. Who wrote these instructions?


Eventually, I end up back on the reserve but not before I’ve been accosted by a woman who asks me if I’m looking for anything interesting. I can’t be bothered to fill her in so she starts telling me that turtle doves are just sitting around the place. Really? However, she does tell me how to hear one and this is very useful because, as I’m running away from her, up Pentridge Hill, I hear one purring in a hedge.

I walk all the way up to Grim’s Ditch which is either a bronze age or early iron age earthwork running for fourteen miles. And let me tell you, I feel like I’ve walked it all. There’s not a soul in sight but every time I think I’ll stop for a pee, around the corner comes a type muttering about bloody turtle doves or, just for a change, early orchids.


Mind you, the view up here, across the Wiltshire/Dorset/Hampshire countryside is pretty spectacular.


Daughter number two texts at this point to say the wedding dress was simple and clean. Clean? Did she think it had been bought from a car boot sale? I finally find my way back to the car. From the instructions and the actual route and the state of my feet I calculate that I’ve probably walked at least eight miles. And let me tell you, I could think of worse places to be.


Garganey spotting and frescoes in Sussex

It’s been quite a while since I ventured along the coast into Sussex. The last planned visit was, like most things over recent months, deferred due to meteorological conditions: too wet, too cold; too something or other. Actually, to say ‘Sussex’ is a bit confusing as they sliced the county in two in 1974. I’m off to lovely Lewes in East Sussex just so I can retrace my steps back to West Sussex the following day: destination Pulborough Brooks. It’s a convoluted route.

For a start, this bird spotting malarkey is getting out of hand. I’m not even a twitcher (although I did invest in a pair of binoculars courtesy of my recent winnings). Firstly, I blame it on Sally and Tony who I have allowed to commandeer Wednesday walks and transpose them into ornithological events. Secondly, I blame Paul Martin – he of Flog It fame. I saw him visit a church in West Sussex and suggested to Bev that we also go there. That’s Bev in the photo. I have sliced her in two a la Sussex mode. All those other bods are birding types who we joined for a guided walk of RSPB Pulborough Brooks.

This is what they’re looking at. Pulborough Brooks is a site of Special Scientific Interest in the Arun Valley. It’s a mixed habitat of farmland and water meadows, overlooking the South Downs, that floods in winter so is good for water birds. We don’t care. The sun is shining and the bird people, are all-embracing. They’re quickly alerted to the fact that we know nothing about anything and are keen to tell us all.

I expect you think you’re about to see a load of pictures of birds. Well, you’re not. And I imagine you’re wondering what this is a photo of. Well, you have to click on it quickly and you might just see a couple of slow worms slithering away. We also saw adders but they’re slippery little beings and a bit camera shy.

I could make up any old story such as the sighting of a Dodo. Here’s a Lapwing with its babies. Allegedly. I have to say, even though I enjoyed this walk immensely, I think we have a greater variety of birds in Dorset. Well, excluding the Garganey which was today’s special. We didn’t know it was a duck and were looking for something exotic. Well, that could be said of most things in life.

And as I always say at dinner parties, there’s nothing wrong with a sparrow. And these little fellows were happy enough to keep us company over lunch.



Speaking of Paul Martin, which I was some time hence, here we are at St Botolph’s Church, Hardham. Interestingly (or not), it was only a few weeks ago that I visited the Postman’s Cemetery outside St Botolph’s Church in London and what do you know, here he is again? Look how beautiful it is outside. But we have come to see it indoors.

I don’t imagine my photos really do justice to this place which contains the most complete collection of church frescoes known in England. Like Bev remarked, when you go in, you think it’s a load of wishy washy stuff. Then your eyes become adjusted and you can appreciate the treat in front of you. How lovely. Thank-you Paul: a man who my youngest daughter always hoped I’d marry.


And thank-you Bev for driving us miles around this beautiful countryside for a lovely day out.

The Willows in summer

‘Who’s that taking photos’, asked Mole?

‘It’s her father’, said Ratty. ‘He’s got his own blog’.

Are we going viral’, enquired Mole?

‘You can go where you like’, said Toad. ‘There’s a lot of wine flowing in this garden and I’m staying put’.

‘What’s going on’, asked Mole?

‘Her parents are coming to lunch. She’s scrubbing the deck’.

‘Is she scared of them’, said Mole?

‘Have you met her father’, asked Toad?


‘What’s an understatement’, asked Mole?

‘For example’, said Ratty, ‘when you said things weren’t going too well, that was an understatement.’

‘Does he know he’s cut two identical pieces’, chortled Toad?

‘He will do when he tries to put the other one up’, replied Ratty.


‘Present for you old boy, said Toad.

‘Thank-you very much’, said Mole who was quite overcome. ‘It’s lovely. What is it?’

‘Magazine rack’, explained Toad. ‘For your periodicals: Country Life, Horse and Hounds, Racing Post, The Spectator, don’t you know’.

‘Radio Times’, asked Mole timidly?

‘Pfff’, said Toad.


‘What’s that’, asked Mole?

‘It’s an old tool trug’, explained Ratty.

‘Trug’, repeated Mole. ‘That’s a funny word’.

‘Truck’, asked Toad? ‘Toot, toot’.

When Monday is Friday

Monday is my Friday. You can swap the days around a bit when you’re retired. More specifically, I mean that Monday night is my Friday night. Monday night is when I can have a glass or three of the red stuff because Monday tea-time is when I get weighed at Fat Club. Forget Tuesday morning when I have to take the car for a service and later try to be reasonably intelligent with a friend that I’m meeting at the museum for a spot of culture. Yawn.

Knowing that the weekly weigh-in is imminent, Monday is nothing short of paranoia: up early for the gym and thirty tiresome lengths in the pool. Back indoors for black coffee and a boring Weetabix accompanied by skimmed water masquerading as milk. Walk here, walk there, followed by a sorry attempt at gardening; driven on only by a winking bottle of Shiraz that’s been opened and allowed to breathe at 9am. It’ll need a respirator by the time The Archers starts.

Finally, it’s time to fight a way through the tea-time traffic towards the community hall where all the other fat folk are anxiously gathered. We have a new leader. He calls himself a consultant. The last one got the push for being too fat. When I joined, way back in the mists of January, I mistook Toby for the leader. Toby turned out to be another newbie but it was an easy mistake. He looked pretty trim in my swollen eyes. ‘Oh no’, said Toby. ‘Here’s Roger now’.

Roger was pretty big. Well, not so pretty – just big. A bit like the weebles that don’t wobble. They just fall down. ‘He’s not a very good role model’, said mouth of the south without thinking. Toby pretended he wasn’t with me. I mean, I’m the last person to judge anyone but you need a before and after version in which the before is bigger than the after. Obviously, Roger was very nice. Everyone said so when he was presented with his leaving gift: a large box of Black Magic.

Then the new bloke arrived. Jeff. He turned the joint around. Literally. No-one knew where the hell they were. The books and syn-free chocs were at the wrong end of the room. Jeff was entertaining the next cohort of ginormous Twiggies slap bang in the middle of the weighing queue. Folk waiting for the inevitable disappointment shuffled around aimlessly and the ladies with the scales were lost behind a bunch of posters ten feet high. ‘I can feel a different atmosphere’, said the returner in front of me. Bloody right. It’s bad enough having to rock up here when you could be at home on the settee watching Pointless.

I’ve lost one and a half stones. Will you be staying asks the lady who dispenses the certificates? I stayed the other week when I was presented with my piece of paper for losing ten per cent of my body weight; at which time I was greeted with mass hatred from the onlookers. I don’t think so, I say and make some inane excuse about traffic and further gardening duties. She’s not stupid. She knows I’m going home to down the Shiraz. Have a good week, she says. I certainly will until I get to next Sunday.


New arrivals in the Willows

‘What’s that’, asked Mole?

‘It’s an old tool trug’, said Ratty.

‘Trug’, repeated Mole. ‘That’s a funny word’.

‘Truck’, asked Toad? ‘Toot, toot’.


‘Why is it called a hide’, asked Mole?

‘Because we’re hiding’, answered Ratty.

‘Who from’, continued Mole?

‘Brian Blackbird’, replied Ratty. ‘He’s feeding his new son’.

‘What’s he called’, enquired Mole?

‘Louis’, said Toad. ‘Don’t you read the papers?’

Stour Valley

Indecisive to the last, I decide rather late in the day to walk along the Stour Valley Way named, accordingly, after the river that runs through it. Wait – wasn’t that the name of a long-ago Robert Redford film? No sign of him hereabouts. No sign of anyone as a matter of fact but the place is in uproar: the almost-in-leaf trees are full to exploding with raucous rooks screaming and squawking at each other. Or maybe at me. Or maybe just in pleasure at the latterly errant sun.

I have some of those directions that have proven so entirely useless on previous new walks. Generally, there are pages and pages which I always manage to muddle up but today’s instructions are surprisingly brief: it’s a four mile venture which seems to begin well enough. The river is looking pretty if a little devoid of wildlife.

Obviously the National Trust own this footpath. Let’s be fair, the National disTrust own every bloody thing in England that could once be safely claimed as the people’s heritage. I expect they’ll be a toll box half way across this field. Speaking of which, their directions claim ‘there will be fleeting glimpses of kingfishers, egrets and herons to add to the walks interest’. Firstly, NT, there should be a fleeting glimpse of an apostrophe in ‘walks’; secondly, a fleeting glimpse of the River Stour would make it more interesting.

I’m only at Point Two on the instructions and I’ve been out hours. ‘The riverside walk meanders over rough pasture and arable headlands for 2.5 miles’. Call it ‘meandering’ if you will; I call it a trudge. And where’s the river? The sky may be blue but the wind is whipping up a fair old hoolie as I try to think of something interesting. Yes, the washing will be dry. I look back at the crumpled paper to see if I’ve missed anything. ‘The otter is re-establishing itself after a two decade absence’. Could be true, but not in this field. I have a feeling otters like water. And shouldn’t there be an S in decades?

‘Having arrived at St Bartholomew’s Church …’ what? There’s been no previous mention of this and it’s not marked on the map. Still, here ’tis as we say in Darset. Interestingly, on the third Sunday of the month, St Barts metamorphoses into a Russian Orthodox joint. What’s that all about then? Uninterestingly, it’s shut. Last time I was here it was shut. I hate that. I’m not a big fan of churches but, having ‘meandered’ across miles of ‘rough pasture’, it would be nice to see inside. Instead, I sit on an old wooden bench dedicated to Ronald Triel, he of the Wessex Cyclists Touring Club; another bunch devoid of apostrophes. Overhead, the compulsory ancient yew is creaking and crackling. I look up, hoping to see birdlife or a glimpse of the re-established tree otter. Nothing. Just centuries’ old branches complaining in the wind.

Well, who knew? Seems I’ve been trying to batter down the back door all this time for, on wandering around the back of the church, I gain easy entry through another opening. If you’ve ever been here, you’ll know that the locked door was clearly the main door in times past. Even the footpath meanders through the final field, over the fourteenth stile and right up to it. Still, I’m in. Interesting and welcome it isn’t. What ropes? Are they in the missing river?

I revert to the miserable instructions and walk through Shapwick along the High Street. Considering Shapwick, meaning Sheep Village, is in the arse end of nowhere, there’s a surprising amount of tarmac to pound before I get to my turn-off, Park Lane. I can’t be bothered. I look at my excuse of a map and decide I can probably get down Piccadilly more quickly.

I wonder if Ronald Triel ever queried the incongruity of following the Monopoly board through deepest Wessex. Still, it’s all rather French: where else do they grow their herbs in the ditch opposite their house? I see a type in his garden and stop to ask whether I can get back to my lost car on this route. When I say ‘type’, I mean a scruffy looking bod with a diamond stud in his ear and a large plum in his mouth. Friendly sort, but he comes out of his five bar gate and closes it behind him in a defensive sort of way before answering my question. I suppose he thinks I’m a tramp. Which I am.

Not going down Park Lane means I’ve missed the attractively named Crab Farm plus a stroll down Half Mile Drove. Time was that I’d be excited by a drove. It’s true, I love the traditional ways but, seen one drove – you’ve seen them all and unless there’s the likelihood of spotting any rambling drovers well, I’ll give it a miss. In any case, had I not stopped to lean over a gate, as you do when rambling, I wouldn’t have seen the little deer wondering whether to venture into the rape seed oil field.

And I wouldn’t have seen the buzzard sitting quietly in a tree close to hand. As ever, I didn’t reach my camera in time but here he is soaring on the thermals.



And I’ve reached White Mill and the oldest arched bridge in Dorset. The mill is owned by the National disTrust and is, therefore, shut. Who cares. It’s free to observe such an idyllic scene which seems the epitome of rural England.


See these two morons? Do you know them? They are having fun with a drone. I was alerted to them by the ear-piercing screech of said implement as it hovered over the swan in the previous photo. This has been a walk both boring and pretty. You have to walk a lot to get a feel for nature and sometimes the way can be disappointing but it’s always better to be outside while you can. You never know what’s around the next corner.