Monday, 4 January 2016

Thoughts On A Walk To Work


Needless to say, it was a sleepless night. You apply for a simple job, after years of not being employed at all, and your mind can't settle. Nor be realistic. I got up shortly after four. The World Service was very interesting. I was going to iron my trousers, and then decided against, as I'd only get it wrong and I couldn't afford to make them worse. I chose a jacket. They are pretty informal types at the Baptist Church, and I'd have worn a jumper, but all mine are in the wash. Or rather, in the laundry bin, waiting for enough jumpers to justify a wash, and the central heating required to dry them. And then I posted things on Facebook. It must have been five by then, and still dark. And the cats demanded to be fed, and that done, to be let out into the unknowable gloom. Tea, of course. Shoes. Diary. Notebook. Nearly out the door, and then remembered the church keys. All 40 of them. And then out into the light that would smack you in the face if you called it twi.

At the top of the hill, at just before 7.30, I looked over the reluctant dawn over an even more reluctant Barton. It is always a most inspiring view. So English, tranquil, uninterested. It invites you to play, but if you don't want to, well, it doesn't much care.

Through the underpass, following three girls on their way to school. Teens of some sort. Two quite modishly skinny, the other broad as a bus. Fat or thin, they couldn't work out that to get through the bars that are welded into the pathway to slow bikes down, you can't go two abreast. I sped up, pondering whether the plump girl was keeping up with the cool girls, as her face hung around them like a nosebag. It was a nice face, compared to the other two. But what do I know about girls?

I overtook, and carried on through Old Headington, and the newly-tarted-up tower of S. Andrew's Church, and through into Marston. It was a nice time of day, not night, but not light. I saw early starlings flittering and hoped for brief moments that they might be late bats. Of course, you never see bats that size in England. (You do in Brasil, though, and they're fruit bats, and shit all over the cars, and are VERY unpopular.)

Then through Mesopotamia. The waterways have never, in the two and half years I've been walking this route, looked so high so busy and so furious. Like angry, but milked-down, streams of irate coffee, with the mud and silt all stirred up. No roe deer. Some determined people cycling or jogging or just nose-down and power-walking into work. The University is still asleep - Hilary Term doesn't start for a while yet - but we were told on the Farming Programme at 5.45 that there are not one, but two, agricultural conferences going on in Oxford this week. I'd rather like to listen. But that would be eccentric.

And then I was there too soon. What to do? Anxious enough for the loo, that was open. And wandering round the market, to see that the Poles haven't quite finished off all the carp (did you know Eastern Europeans like to eat carp at Christmastime? Tried it once, thanks to my friend the Gastronome. Fiddly, and fatty, but once you've got over that, not bad meat).

I couldn't find Werther's Mints in Sainsbury's (they never melt, depressingly, in your pockets), so suddenly it was time. I walked to the door. There were no lights on. Would one of my keys open it? What if an alarm went off? Better to wait. Others arrived, for a different part of the building, so I was admitted to another, in which I could try out my keys. I felt quite clever. Two out of forty isn't bad odds. I rootled round the drawers in the desk. And then someone arrived, a grown-up, to show me around and what's what. And gradually this knot of uncertainty became little problems that could be solved. With other nice people who also wanted to solve them. It was very different from being at home alone. I always want to solve problems - so do the cats - but we're not so good at the nice bit.

And eventually, far sooner than I would had guessed, the time had passed, and the computer and the printer and this and that were set up, notes made, and a fire alarm test done, and there was a real small sense of achievement in my (I was alone now) office.

I hadn't worked like this for years, if ever, and I had survived. And I had enjoyed it.

But the day wouldn't be complete without my last visit to Maximus. Although officially signed-off, I was told that this could be beneficial. I am a compliant beast, as anyone knows. The deal is not miserably ungenerous, although it is certainly eccentric. Maximus can't give you money to tide you over, but it can give you vouchers. Not any old vouchers (what is cash but a voucher?) but for favoured, very large, stores. I made a fuss about the sum not being enough to get me a free delivery. I got my wish. We shall see what arrives.

Home was more than welcome by then, through streets now darkened by the dying of the light, but not, I'm sure, as badly as just before Christmas. I passed the tall elegant figure of a jogger wearing that rather odd modern combination of stockings and shorts, and thought "how nice" until he coughed violently into a hedge (whilst still jogging), and changed my mind. He was followed by two equally athletic, but diminutive girls. I suppose another man might not have still been thinking about that nasty cough.

And so I happened again on my view of Barton, now in darkness.

Well, that had been a new thing. And it would continue tomorrow. But it was a good thing, and that too might continue. Until the cats caught sight of me and berated me soundly for stranding them outside all day in the rain. We went indoors, and I consoled them with ham.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016


  1. Thank you. I always find the journey to work interesting - although I catch a bus into college. It would be too far and too dangerous to walk. How far do you have to walk? Only school girls? No boys? I wonder why they weren't on a school bus or in cars. I used to enjoy the school kids' chatter on the bus into Chichester, but more recently, they have those wretched bits of hi-tech, and the interesting conversations have dried up. Sleep well for tomorrow - and try not to get up too early.

  2. Hope you had a decent night's sleep and have a good second day.

  3. Great post. Love the word imagery you portray.

    And praying that this venture proves to be long term and fulfilling.