“I’ll tell you something that you don’t know” wrote Dorothy Osborne in 1654, in a famous love letter: “that I am your Valentine and you are mine.” If I understand the story correctly, Dorothy cut out Valentine missives for three people and a random selection assigned her to her sweetheart and future husband: an early example, perhaps, of the cut-up technique conjuring something new into being. Today’s walk took place on Valentine’s Day and was in part an attempt to avoid the romantic stories pegged to this date.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo
Valentine isn’t a big deal in our household, as we are of the opinion that we don’t need a special day to be affectionate, and in any case don’t want to buy tacky products or consume Cava and chocolates just because it’s the law. Nevertheless, today was haunted by love, as I walked through many kissing gates on the ♥ of England Way. We drove down quite early to my last finishing point, listening to Patti Smith (‘G . L . O . R . I-I-I-I-I-I – G-L-O-R-I-A…’); wondering, inconclusively, how to manage these walks as they get farther from home; and discussing what George Fox meant by ‘walk cheerfully over the world answering that of God in everyone’.
In the car park of the Navigation Inn at Lapworth, Jennie drove away leaving me to start the walk. I took the first of a series of random photos – one every 30 minutes, not setting up a shot but just pointing the camera south – the idea being that with less involvement in the process of taking them, they might reveal ‘something that you don’t know’ about the walk. Here below are the whole lot of them…
…not sure what I think about these yet. Here’s a fuller account:
During the first part of the walk, the sun shone on ice and mud.
After a couple of miles I arrived at Baddesley Clinton, a National Trust property last visited with Jennie 18 years ago. It is an attractive place, where in the words of one of its former residents (Victorian Romantic author Edward Heneage Dering) ‘the blackened timber holds the worn stone in thrall’.
Jennie pulled into the car park, we had a cup of tea and went round the house. It was here that we joined the NT all those years ago, so maybe we were being ‘romantic’ after all coming here today. Without being ardent Royalists or aristocracy wannabes, we have visited many NT places over the years. I suppose as well as sometimes being aesthetically pleasing, they show how people lived in previous societies. Baddesley Clinton, for instance, has several ‘priest’s hole’ hiding places and a sort of hid-in-plain-sight chapel. I can’t imagine those times; hiding one’s religious culture from the cops would be bad enough, but imagine hiding one’s core spiritual beliefs. It would be like living secretly in an outlawed reality.
Leaving Jennie again I set off towards Hay Wood, paying a brief visit to St Michael’s church where, despite there being a wire-mesh door to keep flying things out, a trapped bird flew at the stained glass windows.
Outside again, the wood felt huge and silent, perhaps reflecting the ghost of the vast Arden Forest of which it was once a part.
At Five Ways I found a pub with a great name – The Case Is Altered – and stopped for a beer (Hook Norton Outside Half, a hoppy session beer.) I liked this place, with its ban on mobiles, and lack of children, music and food. It reminded me of the old pubs I visited in Kent doing the Shepherd Neame Passport in 1981. There were some shelves of books, offered for charitable donations. (This seems very civilized to me: like Quaker Meeting Houses, everywhere should have some kind of library, however modest.) I picked up a book: Sex and the Supernatural by Benjamin Walker, a 1970 paperback, ‘one of an exciting series of specially commissioned works forming a popular guide to the world of the supernatural’. I thought it fitted loosely with a Valentine theme, though statements such as ‘Men and women are drawn together without knowing the metaphysics of sex or the subtle alchemy that could transmute their union into a supernatural rite’, or ‘Sex knowledge wrongly applied, said a Hindu sage, could interfere with the continuum of creation and bring on the final chaos’ are unlikely to appear on Hallmark cards or the packaging of a pink Cava promoted for today’s love feast.
I also got The Cinder Creek Pistolman by Lee F. Gregson, from the Large Print Linford Western Library (the only books I can read comfortably without glasses.) I don’t know much about Gregson, except that one of his other books has an intriguing title, ‘The Man Out There‘. The book I took was an ex-library copy. Heavy-duty borrowers of genre fiction sometimes put discreet marks on books (initials, or a symbol on page 17) to show which they have read – like marking territory with cryptic codes – a practice that has been legitimised in the volume by the addition of a sheet of paper with a grid pasted into the inside back cover, with the invitation ‘You may initial here when you have read this book’ – which seems to take the fun out of it somehow.
Moving on, the afternoon was now chilly aspic.
The examples of ‘something that you don’t know’ that I see on this journey are often parts of paths which are largely ignored as being too unsightly, inconvenient or redundant for most routes.
Passing through Rowington, I joined the Grand Union canal, with about five miles still to go. Usually on these walks I pass through an enthusiastic stage at the start, when like Fotherington-Thomas I ‘skip along saying hello clouds hello sky’. By the end, aching and sick of oat bars, it becomes a case of grimly trying to get the damn thing finished. Now more like Conan, I lope along with the ‘mile-eating stride of the hill-bred barbarian’ increasingly willing to sack a city or at least drink a tavern dry should the opportunity present itself. At the end I often feel flat and depleted – it’s only with hindsight that I enjoy the experience. So hooray for blogging, hindsight turned into illuminated manuscript and light entertainment.
This dual-tunnel feature of the canal provided some diversion, requiring me to take one of the random photos in pitch darkness.
The often-driven M40 was out of sight but audible. Promising paths, never to be walked by me, ran off in irrelevant directions.
With no need to navigate, my head started to fill with thoughts of work. To banish them I read page 50 of each of my books. There is some confusion with the Governor’s pardon. Succubi, like vampires, can assume a shape at will. Full o’ dust an’ smoke. Spirits from the vasty deep, a rider seen from some distance away, a creature of wondrous beauty…
Mind rebooted, I trudged on – entering Warwick now, through what looks like a technology-park or enterprise-zone judging by the Playmobil colours of the buildings, grimly cheerful even in the gray afternoon light.
Shortly I moved away from the canal, through the Cape industrial estate and into housing estates. A stranger arriving in town, tired and dusty, I picked up a hand-drawn Polish (?) Valentine (?) from a grass verge (‘co robisz? bo ja ralurke!’) feeling somewhat vampiric for doing so. ‘Something that you don’t know‘ sang the Only Ones’ Peter Perrett in 1978 in a song called Creature Of Doom, B-movie horror with transcendent moments. Perhaps the pilgrim becomes a kind of monster, altered by encounters with the Other, by overfamiliarity the hidden channels.
Esoteric flights of fancy were pared as I met up with Jennie, our friend Rev. S____, and an excitable poodle.
Because the Night
On the drive back we stopped at Norton Cane services for a meal. Yes, our Valentine meal was in a service station though it has to be said the fish was quite good. A wagtail was flying around in there, incongruous in the brightly-lit space.
This took me back to this morning, reading in The English Year how Chaucer and others wrote about birds choosing their mates on Valentine’s Day, an idea that may have started the whole notion. (Like bird flu, Valentine romance has jumped from the avian realm into the human.) This made me think, is this little bird kept from its mate by being trapped in this place? And where is its mate? Maybe all is not lost, and there is still time for a romantic story on this day after all:
Let’s say the bird caught in St Michael’s Church is this one’s soulmate.
Let’s say they both manage to escape.
Flying dazed and free, they find each other through the invisible channels created in the air by the countless Valentine thought-forms rising from towns and villages, from the exchanges of cards and flowers and gifts and texts, the advertisements and news stories, the hopeful meetings at Valentine-themed nights in pubs and restaurants, even from the bitter regrets and boredoms of the occasion. As below, so above.
They fly together, they rise and rise, then swoop down into the forest, where the branches hold shadows darker than the surrounding night.
The bird from the service station sings then, in hours when no other bird would sing, having become used to 24-hour music and light. It sings melodies learned from muzak, fragments of tune, the spaces where words had been: ‘all the stars are coming…lighting up the sky…if you stay by my side.’