I stood on a cold, wet, windy country lane in Lincolnshire yesterday for the best part of an hour and a half – and even there, several candidates for caricature and character assassination passed right by me in glorious full Technicolour (sic).
The first of these were the eight dwarves, whom I named Dumpy, Gropey, Grotty, Farty, Miserable, Miss Trustful, Belligerent and I-Know-My-Rights. Walkers… They are photographed here striding away from the “Public Footpath” sign just to one side of the archway, across a neighbouring farmer’s field.
Not “walkers” in the “Walking Dead” sense, although they might as well have been so. No, these were the sort of walkers to whom walking is a political statement, an expression of will and of defiance, a way of trampling on the world and all of those who are not one with the Walking within it and upon it. Universally of mature years and covered in layers of oilskin and weatherproofed nylon, Walkers really patrol rather than walk, making certain that every inch of every last public right of way in England is walked upon the prescribed number of times to maintain the right of way. It’s a laudable aim, but almost universally carried out in the most miserable of manners. By the size of their back-packs, these ones were at the far end of the bell-curve of their distribution. These were the SAS of the breed.
The real reason for my waiting in the lane was to photograph a “secret route” classic car run that my snitch had informed me would pass in from of my own garden gate. It being raining and blowing a gale, rather than wait at my garden gate I strolled couple of hundred yards down the lane to shelter under the disused railway bridge and it was there that I heard the echoing stomp of marching boots. Walkers of this breed don’t talk. They might whisper confidences among the ranks and some may bark orders, but they don’t talk. Talking shows weakness.
Not one of this bunch of walkers said a word to me, even though forced to pass at close proximity because of the confines of the railway arch. That is how we know that they are “Town Folk” at heart – out of place among the hedgerows, just visiting the countryside and with no idea that it is so much safer to interact here, that interaction and ackowledgement is expected. I said “Hello” and “Good morning” and “Lovely day, isn’t it?” to every single one of them. I did this because it annoys them. Smiling and seeking eye contact makes them even more uncomfortable. ‘Aaargh! Arrgh! It’s a local yokel, dressed in greens and a waxed jacket and a tweed flat cap! Aaaargh!’ is what they thought as they edged past, backs pressed against the opposite wall of the brick archway, like wildlife slinking past and hoping to not be seen. Curious creatures, all. Rude, but curious.
I’m going to write them into a book. I don’t quite know how yet, but they’ll feature and by the time I’ve trashed their in-novel characters they’ll wish they’d just nodded and said “Hello”.
If they’d said “Hello” then I would have warned them that the neighbour had (temporarily) ploughed across the public right of way that runs through his field, but they didn’t, so I didn’t, and they had to back-track and find their own alternative route. Ha! I felt like the caricatured local yokel who, when asked directions, explains that you can’t get to there from ‘ere, you’ve got to go elsewhere first. The only difference was that I was keeping stumm deliberately, and chuckling on the inside.
Grr. Argh. Brains… Basic manners…
Anyway, the classic cars eventually turned up and very splendid they were too. They waved, flashed headlights, slowed and about half of them slowed to a crawling pace the better for me to photograph them. I like classic car drivers a lot more than I like walkers. Classic car drivers, I reckon, are friendlier because they really never leave their “safe” and familiar environment – their cars. No matter where they drive, they are always cosseted in walnut and comfortable seats and familiar switchgear. Walkers are out of their natural environment (the town or city) and are out of their real comfort zone, whereas classic car drivers are sitting in another world entirely.
There is a flip side of course, rather like Dominick Hide. Whenever roles are reversed and I go to town I scare the hell out of everyone by smiling and talking to all and sundry.
There follows a slack handful of gratuitous photographs of classic cars.
Stand still anywhere long enough and all of human nature will pass you by. It may not talk, or it may try to kill you, but it will pass you by.
Two of the walker chaps I shall write in to ladies underwear, two of the ladies I shall write out of theirs. What’s in those vast backpacks do you think? Bodies? The silverware from the Manor House? Illegal immigrants being smuggled in from Norfolk? Radio sets so that they can communicate the results of their countryside espionage to Rights-of-Way HQ in the city? Perhaps I should just write them into a dreadful ploughing accident that might so easily have been avoided had they just passed the time of nodding day with a local yokel?
Let the Walker assassination begin, and begin thoroughly…
Where do you find your best inspiration for characters?