2016: preparations.

Preparations for 2016 actually began in October 2015, when I found I’d been accepted for an expedition to a place less people had been to than had been up Everest. Hiking in 4 hot countries with uphill climbs and a jungle river had proved decisive. It was a real triumph for someone of my age but I felt “you’re in the army now!” And got the training going with much more exercise and tapes to grasp the basics of 3 languages. Where was I going? To keep the suspense up more will be revealed….much later.

2016 started with a dire January: flu wiped out much of the exercise and a previous good trading record was marred by a record loss; which set an unshakeable trend of bad luck though the losses weren’t as heavy. The only good thing about January was a good time at my place with the SF book club. It was my choice and my planetary mapwork was appreciated.

Winter in fact was a time of bad luck everywhere and an ending I didn’t need: I would have to go on to blood pressure tablets though at least it was the minimum dose.

Spring brought improvement and change.

After the programming fiasco of the last Easter SF convention I expected very little from its successor in Manchester apart from getting drunk with a few friends. The wet weather seemed to bear this out when I arrived in Manchester after nightfall making the place look like ‘Blade Runner.’ The weather improved though and so did my luck. The only thing this convention was disorganised at was letting programme participants know they were participating in programmes. The result was the best convention surprise I’d had;- finding when I arrived that I was on a panel. On Sunday morning though when the Saturday night drunks were sleeping it off or coping with breakfast. Shouldn’t be a major event then, but the advantage would be it being a laid back affair. Wrong! It was in the main hall which was packed with people – plus spotlights – who’d come to hear the exalted and I was one of them! It was a thoroughly good event but there was more. A creative writer buttonholed me afterwards to discuss a planet he was going to write about and wanted me as consultant. One hears all sorts of ideas at conventions which usually disappear afterwards especially if money is involved. This one didn’t though and I found myself receiving my first payment for consultancy work!

Meanwhile my writing was suddenly making progress. A creative writing lecturer had become interested in my Chernobyl article, a friend of his compared me to Ballard – an SF author it was an unexpected honour to be compared to – and the word was I should be paid for that kind of article. I was invited to read some of it out in person for the great and the good at a university do. Very heartening!

Otherwise Diana – the woman whose acquaintance led to Terraforming Mars for the Chicago planetarium at the turn of the millenium (The Great Martian War) and who was the reason I’d come to live in Rowner – had quit America and returned to Britain for good. Her mother had died, the same woman who’d given me invaluable support in finding my present home and who’d had the idea of saving the neighbourhood from a new housing estate by buying shares. I’d wound up being the only person able to buy them in 2014 and had become a local hero.

I was also looking after a cat. A couple well regarded in SF circles had broken up, the woman was moving into our area. Molly the cat was hers and and arrived amidst a fragrant pong of cat poo. Caught short in transit. I was given a fortune in cat food plus cat litter and Molly became my companion for summer while the woman was going through the throes of buying and selling property.

I’d started indoor climbing and found the blood pressure tablets did not hinder things; including a successful tackling of ‘the pain train’ which was an overhang traverse. I thought the name was that of a punk rocker band.

Then there was the every 2nd year sponsored walk for my special needs school. This time up the ‘Shipwrights Way’ from Portsmouth Dockyard round Southsea seafront then north up through Havant, Petersfield, Liss, Liphook, past Bordon, then finally to Alice Holt Forest and Bentley railway station on its northern edge. There were supposed to be sculptures on the route and I wondered if they were still there?

It was really all part of the training for the great adventure to come so whereas I usually devote several articles to a walk I’m squeezing this one into ‘preparations.’ It was 50 miles long anyway as opposed to 65 and fairly uneventful.

I had a few ice creams hiking along the long Southsea seafront for the weather was sunny and warm with the promise of heat to come. I seem to bring this weather out every time I go on a sponsored walk.

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Southsea also had its museums. The Royal Marines one was handy for reminding me of toughness of spirit and body and what I’d already achieved with that.

The ferry to Hayling Island – where Shipwrights Way went – was closed so I had to remain on the Portsmouth side of the muddy marshy wastes between. By the time I’d got round that I was tired and grateful to reach Havant for it was late. I’d started after 2 in the afternoon after getting the kids home from school.

It was the latest I’d get home for I was up at the crack of dawn for the rest of the journey; catching the first bus down to the harbour then across on the Gosport ferry for the train which would take me to Havant, Petersfield and Liphook just short of Haslemere. North of Havant station was a vast council estate. On the other side of that and clear of it by just a mile was Rowlands Castle: a lovely village around a long green with a Shipwrights way sculpture. Proof that they existed. Very nice breakfast there too; salmon on toast.

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Then it was a long hike up a long dry valley to Queen Elizabeth Country Park on top of the South Downs. Got lost here twice because Shipwrights Way twisted about here and the Park consisted of forest. Not around when the Romans were farming this area I found.

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Eventually there was a good South Downs view with what seemed to be a hanging valley: a landform usually associated with glaciated terrain. See the Lake District and Scotland. The way descended through an overgrown chalk quarry anyway to a lovely duckpond and village; Buriton. Then later Petersfield.

Next day I had off for the new boots I was trying out were wearing through a toe. Later I found the arrangement I had to return them if this sort of thing happened would be reneged upon by the head of the footwear department. Meanwhile the company concerned had got into trouble through mistreating workers. He didn’t like being reminded of that so I took care to hammer him on that target especially! Such is my loathing of commercial crap; regardless of whether it happens to me or anyone else at all.

Next day was a good test of mapwork: finding my way north east from Petersfield along the railway line through varied terrain;- wooded, almost suburban, minor roads and paths but without much in the way of hills.

Lunch was at a pub where I impressed the landlady enough with my endeavor and adventures for her to give me a fiver. First time anyone has donated en route. The only other company was a girl working there and revising for GCSE’s and a local character later who’d had some bad luck rolling cars. I advised stock car racing which was well received.

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The landlady told me to photograph their monkey puzzle tree on the other side of the pub when leaving. Helicopters used it for navigation when heading for army country nearby she told me. I could see why for it looked as tall as a redwood with an umbrella of dark foliage on top.

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Restricted areas lay to the north. What I call army country. The one I trekked along the edge of sat on the steepest ridge since the South Downs, forested with heathland below. The sort of wild looking place that sported danger notices where I wondered if a helpful Alsatian or Labrador had ever trotted back to its owner with a mortar bomb in its jaws?

This was part of the same broken up escarpment which formed Leith Hill too. It was older rock than chalk so in theory one could say it was Dinosaur country too.

After that it was downhill to a well kept pond and estate. I only realised when I reached the gates at the other end it was supposed to be private. Goodo.

I had to wait for an hour for the train back from Liphook.

The day after that I had off for the weather was deteriorating.

The day after that was little better but it was the last day I had.

Not long after leaving Liphook I began to feel I needed the loo. Because it was so early nothing was open so I had to walk miles and miles down the backlanes under pressure – of a sort – until eventually – when desperate – I discovered a leisure centre at Bordon. Even then it was hidden in the centre of a school and the only gents toilet was occupied! Lucky there was a disabled loo next door that wasn’t.

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After that it became a nature walk through woods which were a strip following a stream amidst housing estates it seemed. One of the Shipwrights Way sculptures was there. A toad which seemed to be on silent vigil guarding the limited natural sanctity of the place.

Much of the route from Petersfield had seemed to be a jumble of fields, woods, streams, the odd pond and nature trails amidst houses great and small, on gently rolling terrain.

The ground rose again though to Alice Holt Forest. A little known but substantial forest south west of Farnham. This was where the timbers for the old warships at Portsmouth had come from. Hence the significance of that and Shipwrights Way. The trail I was to follow stretched for 3½ miles through it. Journey’s end was on the other side.

There was a childrens party in there amidst habitations made from branches in a clearing. Then I heard more noise. A whole tribe of council house people were wandering up a trail crossing mine in a small valley. I pressed on ahead of them up to flat high ground where there was comparative civilization: a car park, visitors centre and cafe where I had a good chat with an old couple. My luck was in for while this was going on under cover there was a downpour outside, which stopped when I got going again.

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Last of all? Downhill through the woods to a little railway halt called Bentley station right on the northern edge of the forest. The train arrived and I was on my way home. Except that one stop up the line there was a points failure at Aldershot with only a bus to get us there. Except the one I spotted was going to Haslemere, only one stop up the line from Liphook, a short cut across a big corner plus the chance of catching a mainline train rather than one that stopped at every station! Another sponsored hike successfully done.

After that? There was the disaster of Brexit on June 23rd. Guess which way I voted. But I also hadn’t got any foreign currency by then for the next great journey.

Wednesday 20th July. School’s just broken up for the summer holidays and in a few hours I’ll be leaving. There’s that feeling I often have: of canoeing down a river through a gorge with the current increasing and a great thundering noise up ahead. Soon I’ll be shooting the rapids. Taking off from Heathrow for adventures in strange foreign worlds.

© D Angus 07 16.

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