The countryside is where you shed the stress of the city. That’s what it’s for. You exchange car fumes for the scent of wild garlic and discarded syringes for bluebells. So Mervion and I headed for the Surrey Hills with map and guidebook.
Wonderfully, nobody yelled “I’m on the train!” down their mobiles, not in the middle of a field, anyway. There was no graffiti, unless it had been scrawled on the back of the trees. Everyone said “Good afternoon” and there were no teenagers (probably still in bed).
To avoid stress, though, don’t get stuck in a narrow lane behind a horse the size of a lorry. Not when it’s moving at the speed of a slug. The rider’s jacket displayed “SLOW - POLICE” on her back. I suddenly felt paranoid about the joint I smoked in 1976 and the library book I nicked in 1982 until I saw that her dangling pigtail had obscured the word “POLITE”. So we genteelly cleared our throats for a mile but they didn’t shift until we reached a field when the traffic cleared.
Shere’s an old village with lovely whitewashed Tudor houses. And the M4 roaring between them. Actually, the M4 would have been safer, with more space for the trucks. We tried to cross the road to check out a plaque and nearly got turned into roadkill by a convoy of motorbikes. The plaque probably said “Accident Black Spot”.
Time for lunch. For a Londoner, a country pub is as alien as the bar in “Star Wars”. The men wear flak jackets and red neckties, the women brandish huge dogs. A woman with vowels fruity enough to whisk a smoothie was asking a man to mend her broken fence. I caught her accusing glance. It said “obviously knocked down by bloody ramblers”.
Some more walkers ambled in and I could feel the tension as the dog-leash and welly brigade eyed the walking pole and boots lot.
We now found The Villagers, recommended by our “Time Out” book. It was boarded up. Being kept awake by mating cats, reading about an earthquake, blundering into a snake pit – all of these depress the spirits. But not quite as badly as the sight of an abandoned pub.
It took a mile and a half of pleasant canalside walking and the discovery of a coffee shop in Guildford which wasn’t either a Starbucks or a Caffe Nero to make me realise that civilisation’s collapse may just have been postponed.
I’m buying a red necktie for our next walk. I’m determined to fit in.