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Bristol to Weston - Part 4 Tue 11th Dec, 2007

 

I walked and missed the country lanes and pretty benches and found myself resenting the people who live in the places i walked past. I pride myself on being a people person, revelling in the positivity of human interaction, but the juxtaposition between the peace and quiet of the last 18 miles, and the screeching of R and B coming from mobile phones made me tempted to turn around and head back in the direction I came, looking for solace and scampi.

 

 

 

I trundled on, adding yet another variation of walking style to my trip, this trundle caused less by blisters and muscles and more by an overwhelming desire to sulk.

 

The original plan was to walk to Weston and do the gig, but the walk had been quicker than I thought and there were still over three hours before I would be expected on stage. As I arrived in Worle, another 3 miles past the M5, I sat and ate the last segment of chocolate orange and tried to decide what to do.

 

I could walk on, find a pub or cinema or bench to collapse on for a few hours or I could jump on a bus and do exactly the same thing. I didn't think anyone would resent me cutting my walk short by 3 miles, and I was fairly confident that public transport would not steal away elements of beauty from the experience of the Weston-Super-Mare suburb.

 

My internal dialogue lasted no more 15 minutes, and after deciding that I would carry on towards Weston train station, get a train home and bath for two hours, I stood up and began to amble on.

 

My legs had stopped. My thighs felt like two bickering twins forced to share a long journey in a Ford Ka, every step making them angrier and every moment spent in close contact driving a wedge between them that would last forever.

 

My calf muscles were burning and my feet had decided to go on strike. I have no idea what happened in that 15 minutes, but the lack of activity had obviously given my body time to create a plan of rebellion against the previous seven hours of over activity.

 

I had stopped.

 

3 miles short of my target.

 

22 miles into my journey.

 

8 hours since leaving home.

 

Bereft of chocolate orange and with an overdose of lactic acid I had finished.

 

I want an end to this story that is magical and melodramatic but all I did was roll to the train station in Worle and went home.

 

When I got back to Bristol Temple Meads I dragged myself off the platform and got into the first available taxi to drive me back to my flat. The driver was my first human contact for hours and the first person I could share my story with.

 

When he asked me where I had been i told him “I have walked to Weston” I said.

 

“Why?”

 

“I am training to walk from Bristol to Edinburgh next year”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I want to give myself a challenge. Because I have never achieved anything. Because my life is too easy, and i am too lazy and I want to do something extra-ordinary”

 

“Oh. That is good. That is a good challenge. Well done”

 

“Where are you from?

 

“I am from Rwanda. I have lived in the UK for 15 years after escaping the civil war and now drive this taxi so my children can have a good education in this country”

 

“Oh. Um. Do you know why scampi is often the most expensive meal on a menu?”

 

Bristol to Weston - Part 3 Mon 10th Dec, 2007

 

 

The next stage of the journey was back along the main road. The weird thing about walking along main roads is how boring they are. Country roads, where nothing happens and no cars pass and no strollers are strolling, should be dull compared to the hustle and bustle of a main artery between the two cosmopolitan areas of Bristol and Weston-Super-Mare, but in fact the opposite is true.

 

The speed that cars past me as I walked along the narrow pavement was making the walking difficult, and the noise of passing coaches and lorries was annoying. I made it, finally, to the Full Quart pub, with sore feet, fume filled lungs and a grump on.

 

My feet were hurting so much that i did consider for a moment if one of my toes had fallen off, or at least a toe nail. Several people have talked to me about how important healthy feet will be for the journey next year, and in my usual way I dismissed these concerns, but after walking for over 17 miles with just one long break, my feet were starting to suffer.

 

I sat on the wall of the pub garden, removed my shoes and socks and studied my feet. It was not pretty, but at least i had the full compliment of digits. Both feet were blistered, around the toes and the balls of my feet, with my right foot taking the brunt of the damage.

 

I was bored. Bored and hurting and frustrated and hungry. I am always hungry. The chocolate orange was disappearing, and as i was deciding to continue, or to give up, I looked up and noticed that I was sat under a bus stop. I could go home, all I would have to do is stay where I am, and then stumble onto a passing bus, arriving back in Bristol in about half an hour.

 

I had walked much further than i had thought I would and no-one would say I had failed if I gave up now. My legs were getting stiff and the blisters were beginning to gain their own personalities, angry personalities, and I was getting stared at by a family sat in the beer garden.

 

As I got closer to giving up, and listening to the pleading requests of my feet, I began to hear something. A low, grumbling rumble in the distance. It was faint, but I realised that I could hear the motorway, the unofficial boundary between Bristol and Weston. I would feel stupid finishing now. Why finish sitting on a pub wall with my shoes and socks off when I was so close to being able to finish my walk standing on a bridge across the M5.

I rearranged my socks, tied my boots up really tight to stop rubbing, wiggled my legs about to get my muscles working, glared back at the family who had been watching me, and then began to wander. My legs had forgotten how to stride with confidence and the final few miles of my walk were going to be conducted at a more sedate pace.

 

I walked on from The Full Quart for just under a mile, and then turned left towards Wick St Lawrence, the first stop after the motorway. It was a relief to get off the main road and enjoy the tranquillity of country roads again.

 

I am rubbish at boredom, always constantly needing something to hear or see or do to keep my mind occupied, otherwise I tend to spiral into odd thought processes and fantasies. One of the things this walk taught me though is the joy of silence. Most comics are quite good at being on our own, longs drives or train journeys, and times waiting to go on stage when all the other acts have gone, and i think this could be because our basic egotism makes it easy to enjoy our own company.

 

I was glad of the break from incessant traffic to let me hear my own thoughts again, and the isolation allowed me to go back to singing out loud to myself, this time Regina Spector. As I walked, and sang, and thought about the improvements I will make when Leader of the World, I could see the road begin to incline as it turned into a bridge over the motorway.

 

I know this is not Weston. Weston is about four miles further along. But it felt like Weston. As I wandered past the bleak industrial estate/conference centre nestled next to the M5 and then up over the bridge I felt like i had made it. 7 hours ago i was planning my trip around buses i could get home. Only half an hour earlier I was sat on a wall, eating Terry's Chocolate Orange and sulking. But now i was here, striding over a bridge, the complaining feet silenced for now, and stopping to lean and watch the cars make their way south. I had achieved something, something pointless, and manageable for fit and determined people, but i had done it.

 

It wasn't funny and there was no one around to bask in my glory with, i was alone, with my Ipod in my pocket so i could enjoy the disgusting noise of lorries galloping below me, signifying that i had arrived. Well, not arrived, but at least left Bristol behind me.

 

I walked on, feeling more and more deflated, wishing a car would whisk past and take me home. I had images of finishing the walk spread eagled on Weston beach, or at least spread eagled enough while still avoiding used condoms and crisp packets. I wanted to get an ice cream, or maybe chips in a cone, or maybe play a solitary hole in a crazy golf course, as a symbol of my arrival at the sea.

 

The rush of excitement i felt when reaching the motorway has dissipated however, replaced with a desire to go home, probably enhanced by the fact that I was now walking through a giant estate that seemed to stretch from the motorway to the sea.

 

Red brick houses turned into estate flavoured pubs, which turned into open grass spaces where 15 year old girls walked dogs and smoked fags and snogged 18 year old boys in overalls and greasy shoes.

Bristol to Weston - Part 2 Sun 9th Dec, 2007

 

I walked from Flax Bourton, along the A370 towards Backwell. This was the area in my head that i thought would end up being my destination. Regular buses, 7 miles of walking, getting on for lunchtime, this will do and then i will go home. The music in my ears and the fact that the sun was out made me think differently. My feet didn't hurt and the boredom had gone. I was about a third of the way there and this felt easy.

 

I decided to make my way to Yatton, hoping to be there for about 1pm, and have lunch. Yatton was another 7 miles away, and took me off the main road. I walked nearly all the way along country roads, swapping Madness for the Housemartins, and questioned my music taste, and then answered that question by putting the Proclaimers on.

 

Before Yatton i arrived in Claverham, and walked past a nursery school just as the day was ending and became embroiled in the process of the school run. I resented these yummy mummies in their 4 by 8's interrupting my peace and quiet and Hootie and The Blowfish, by driving their tanks to pick up Jacasta. But also relished the fact that I was not the last person on earth.

 

This thought did actually occur to me during this part of the journey. The earlier parts at least had the passing presence of cars and lorries, but for over an hour and a half I was alone again. I wasn't even in the middle of nowhere. The road I was on ran parallel to the main road only 50 metres away, but it wasn't until I stumbled across three year olds being released into the mild that the fear of having to repopulate the human race with just myself and 1980's pop totally exited my mind.

 

I arrived in Yatton at my scheduled time, 1 o'clock, and found a pub for lunch. I have a fear of a certain type of pub, the type that tends to survive on the patronage of old men leaning on the bar, but snuck in, made no eye contact with anyone about from the girl behind the bar, ignoring the three boys huddled by the fruit machine, the two old men with red noses drinking cloudy pints, and the party of six having their obvious end of the week liquid lunch.

 

I made a little office for myself in the corner of the pub, laying out my newspaper, ordering a pint of diet coke (for my mind), two pints of water (for my sweat), scampi and chips (for my hunger) and a pile of white bread and butter triangles (for my nostalgia).

 

I am always amazed the scampi is often the most expensive choice on a menu. I am not really sure what a scampi is, it is obviously a rare and glorious creature but always comes across as the fish cousin of the chicken nugget.

 

I ate, and reflected, and rehydrated, and then set off again, exploring the mean back streets of wild Yatton town, aiming for the countryside. According to my Ordnance survey map there was a public right of way through a couple of fields at the end of a cul-de-sac.

 

There is a stereotype of the suburb that comes from Tim Burton or David Lynch films. The sinister underside of the small towns that orbit major areas is often the inspiration behind thrillers and horrors, and i am sure David Lynch must have visited Yatton. A maze of streets turning into dead ends with no one in sight, just a random collection of userless lawnmowers and abandoned children's toys.

 

I eventually found the path, or at least a path, and escaped the tarmac maze in favour of a disused railway track. The plan was to save time, and miles, by walking across fields, and cutting off a big corner of the A370, basically avoiding Congesbury.

 

The railway track, which was now a nature path inhabited by flora, fauna and old women, eventually turned into a grass path guarded by a fence and stile. I stumbled, literally stumbled, into a field, expecting to be confronted by a million cows, but was alone in a soggy field.

 

My map reading is not great, and so rather than attempt to navigate using my map, I decided to just follow the obviously trodden down grass, and hope for the best.

 

And the best is what happened, if your definition of best is getting quite lost, prancing around cow pats, climbing over a dozen gates like a fat Colin Jackson, arriving at a river with no bridges for several miles, and then finally, after an hour wasted turn up in the middle of the town your short-cut was meant to avoid. Truly the best I could get.

 

People react to adversity in different ways. Some people give up when the going gets tough, others, like Billy Ocean, get going. I chose a different coping mechanism, and had some of my chocolate orange.

Bristol to Weston - Part 1 Sat 8th Dec, 2007

 

The route I had worked out was about 25 miles long. I hadn't really planned it to the smallest details, I just new that I was aiming from my flat in Cotham, across Clifton and the Suspension Bridge, around the back of Ashton Court and try and meet the A370 at Flax Bourton.

 

I thought this bit would be about 7 miles and that I would be bored by then and might want to go home.

 

The first few miles, across Bristol to the Bridge, were fine. Jon Richardson claims that although i walk a fair bit, that walking tends to be past shops and on the way to eat, and that walking in the middle of nowhere would be more difficult. He, as usual, was right.

 

Crossing over the Suspension Bridge, a walk i have done hundreds of times, and one that still inspires me and fills me with an unnaturally large amount of Bristolian pride, was the end of my contact with other pedestrians, and in my opinion, civilisation.

 

I set off at 9 am, and by half nine i had left all shops, cafes, walkers, joggers and kids on their way to school behind me, and was on my own. The walk along Beggar Bush lane, along the back of the Ashton Court estate, was the most difficult of the day. There is not a pavement just a grass verge, and as a driver and infrequent walker, I was amazed at the speed of cars going past me, pushing me further onto the verge and deeper into the overgrown grass.

 

I was stumbling and swaying and thinking that I wished i had kept all this walking nonsense to myself rather than tell anyone who listened. That way i could just turn around and go home and think of something else to do next year.

 

This was less than an hour into my adventure. It was as if I had walked through the wardrobe and thought “This is a bit nippy, I think i might go back inside” or if Harry Potter had decided he was allergic to owls and fancied sniffing glue with Dudley.

 

This was far too early into my journey to be having doubts, but I don't think i had ever realised how boring walking is. It is not the physical side that will cause the problems, it is the sheer amount of time i will have to spend out and about, with only myself for company. I think I have realised that I enjoy chatting to people because they give me a break from myself, and an hour wandering along a very quiet, completely deserted country road, totally bereft of shops and pretty things, was beginning to test my patience with myself.

 

I passed Redwood Lodge Health Club, where two years ago Russell Howard and myself had a tour of the gents changing rooms, and I had a sit down. It was 10 am and i had walked 3 miles and was bored. I tried the radio function of my pedometer and realised it was rubbish, sent some texts and then decided to at least get to the end of the road and see how I feel. I got my ipod out, put Madness on, and was away.

 

I don't really like listening to my ipod when I am in city centres because i like to know what is happening around me, but when nothing is happening around you, the music becomes the thing that is happening.

 

I walked another 4 miles to Flax Bourton without a single grumble. I passed two people and four dogs. Separately. I mean, they weren't one big group, one bloke had three dogs, disarmingly big dogs, and a little old woman had an evil yapping machine that went for my expensive walking boots and nearly ended up with a Goretex shaped dent in its head.

This solitude with music is great. The knowledge that I was the only pedestrian on this stretch of road gave me the freedom to sing along with the Nutty boys.

 

When i reached the main road, at about eleven, the music in my ears continued, but my musical contribution to the outside world ceased. I was back in civilisation, and felt that i should behave.

The Walk - Preparation Sat 27th Oct, 2007

 

The Preparation.

 

Bristol to Weston-Super Mare

 

I have started thinking seriously about The Walk. For the last few months whenever i have talked about it I have been able to talk about the plans, the maps, the routes and time-tables. I have been focused on the show, which power point effects i will use, and how i would like to record and archive what i am attempting to do. I have even written jokes, in preparation for The Walk itself.

 

I have done all these things without actually considering whether i can do it or not. Whatever route i choose i can't seem to get it to be less than 100 miles, and no matter how I picture it in my head, i can't bring myself to consider the possibility that i will have to walk up hills. Surely Bristol to Edinburgh will be flat?

 

So, in preparation, and in another act of procrastination, i avoided thinking about the actuality of it for a few days and went out and bought some stuff.

 

This is how I seem to cope with issues. If i can't, or don't want to face it head on, and put effort into overcoming a problem, I go into a shop and try and buy something that will do the work for me.

 

In this case, a 400 mile walk from Bristol to Edinburgh, with performances on the way, staying in accommodation provided out of the kindness of people's hearts, to prepare for a month long Edinburgh festival show, it is very difficult to buy things that will take the strain while I sit on my arse revelling in the glory, but that has not stopped me trying.

 

  • I have bought a brand new pedometer, partly because i broke the previous one, but mainly because the new one is bigger, colourful and has a radio attached.

 

  • I have bought a pair of walking shoes, in the hope that expensive walking shoes have some sort of hidden technology that turns 4 steps in 16.

 

  • I have bought two pairs of walking socks, two different styles, just in case these are needed to make the hidden technology in the shoes work.

 

  • I have bought a pair of walking trousers that can be turned into shorts in case i decide that i want to walk in shorts as opposed to trousers, or vice versa, ir if i am so inclined, to have one leg trouser clad and one leg short clad.

 

I have thought of everything.

 

I bought these items from two shops in Bristol, and have even paid extra to sign up for a store card for regular customers. I have never in my life thought i would ever be a regular customer in an outdoor pursuits shop, but i am now a fully fledged member of the Summit Club. Slightly disappointed that all i get is a little credit card sized membership thing, i was hoping for a giant headdress or massive facial tattoo so that i can recognise other members, and more importantly, they can recognise me.

 

I bought these things on the Wednesday because i my head i knew i was going to walk from Bristol to Weston on the Friday. This seemed like good logic for several reasons.

 

  • It was a dark week for Deal or No Deal (a technical telly term for “we weren't recording”) and so i had the whole day free.

 

  • I was working in Weston that night, and this would be good training to see if i could do a long walk and then do a gig at the end of the day.

 

  • Weston was a good choice because although it was longer than i am planning to walk on The Walk, a lot of the journey will be along a bus route, and if i bottled it i could just jump on the bus home.

 

Oh, and i also bought an Ordnance survey map so that i could go cross country if i so desired.

 

 

I woke up on the Friday morning when Martha was getting ready to go to work. The initial plan was to set off about half ten, and aim to be there for the gig, but seeing that i was up at half eight i thought i might as set off there and then.

 

I have never felt more unlike me in my life. Dressed in my trou-shorts, special super-duper walking socks, light-weight, waterproof, high-end shoes, and other items of clothing that do not require hyphenating. Pedometer clipped to my elasticated waist and map clutched to my chest.

 

Martha often says i remind her of a kid who looks like he is about to be picked up to go on some sort of trip, and never has it been more true.

 

I kissed Martha goodbye, got annoyed that she had not arranged a brass band to play as i stepped out the front door, and set off with all the essentials in my ruck-sack, Guardian, bottled water and Terries Chocolate orange.

 

Comedians are not very good in the morning. The early mornings i do at Deal has not prepared me for the sight of people walking to work. I flounced past them, their heads bowed as the trundled to work, me with a spring in my step, facing the cold October wind with high hopes because i was having an adventure.

 

I wanted people to stop me. Was annoyed that people didn't. Could they not see that i was attempting something brilliant. A podgy man walking 25 miles. An unfit man carrying his hopes and dreams and chocolate orange with him across country boundaries.

 

This was it. This was the beginning of a story. Of a narrative arc that would start with these steps and finish in August having completed something wonderful.

 

These were not just physical steps. These were spiritual steps. The steps i need to take in my life. And these people passing me had no idea what was happening. No idea that they were watching the start of a march towards my creative, artistic and personal destiny.

 

It is at that point that i realised i had forgotten my wallet in case i needed to get the bus home and so i had to go back inside my flat.

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