Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Up on the Downs
When I lived in London I spent a whole summer walking the entire 100-mile length of the South Downs Way and used to dream of living in the countryside. Now that I've fulfilled my dream I rarely visit the Downs. I can cite a number of excuses, but I suspect that the main reason is because they're so near. I see them every day and know that if I walked out of the front door it would take me less than half an hour to join the route.
It was the same when I lived in London. I rarely bothered to visit exhibitions or museums, but since I moved to Sussex I've become a member of the Tate Gallery and visit the centre of London more then I ever did when I lived in the suburbs.
However, when the summer arrived two months early I decided to celebrate by going for a walk along the top of the Downs for a few miles, then take the path to Charlestone Farmhouse - home of the Bloomsbury Group - and take a guided tour, followed by a visit to the teashop. As the Osmonds would say, a little bit country and a little bit rock'n'roll.
Sadly, I managed to get lost on one of the most clearly signposted routes in England and never found Charleston. I wandered aimlessly for two hours before giving up and eventually managed to find a pub where I rang for a taxi home.
Ten minutes later the taxi arrived and I felt a great sense of relief until, two minutes into the journey, the driver started to have a fit. He started groaning and wrapped his right arm around his head, which rolled around as if it had been partially severed from the neck. I was terrified: 'Oh God, this is it. He's going to crash the car and I'm going to die and I never even saw Charleston.'
Then he suddenly stopped and carried on as if nothing had happened.
I should have asked him what the f*** was going on, but being English I was more concerned about seeming rude than asking him why he'd taken leave of his senses. I contemplated saying 'Er, actually this is where I live' when I saw a desolate lay-by. Anything, rather than being driven by a man in the throes of cardiac arrest. But I remained in the car and during the next few minutes, I gradually realised that the driver had something like Tourette's Syndrome.
In hindsight he was a good driver and it was amazing how well he could drive with one hand on the wheel whilst looking over his left shoulder and groaning, but I couldn't help wondering if he was in the right job. Had his employer demonstrated an exemplary commitment to equal opportunities or were they unaware? I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I had nothing but admiration and sympathy for someone who suffered from a debilitating affliction but still managed to hold down a full-time job. But on the other hand, he scared the shit out of me and I really wondered if I was going to die. It would have helped if could he have warned me first.