It was good weather for a walk. Overcast, cool, autumnal freshness, the leaves a quilt of golds and russets and goldenrod, the puddles small and the turf springy. It came wrapped in mists and occasional glimpses of azure sky amongst the murk. The smell of recent spent bonfires in back gardens spliced with woodsmoke and sharp air and the eggy scent of the tidal Stour at ebb. And Tel's Sauvage for Men, worn so liberally it seemed he took inspiration from 'Enry Cooper's entreaty to 'splash it all over'.
Yes, a walk with Tel. He came reluctantly of course. We'd been in the pub the evening before, sans Indian or Chinese as he'd had an indefinable episode of gastric turbulence from the week before, something he gave the generic name 'Gut rot' and then changed the subject. We ate in the pub instead. The pub that's not the local, by the way. The local, suspecting Tier 2 lockdown in our fine county means disaster for hospitality, has shut. Pre-emptive, yes. Surprising, no. It hardly had any punters before.
We drank too much as usual, and, fortified and cheered by the blend of cheap mass-produced cognac and beer and the large Baileys he bought us at the end ("fancid it" he said by way of explanation) and my latent urge to exercise some of these empty calories off my rotund form, he agreed to come for a walk yesterday. "We'll start early" he said, enthused by the drink and agreeable to a good stiff ten miler. It was a good evening. My head was pounding in my dream as I slept. The hangover was a pearler. Everything but the 'desperation at closing time' lady in bed with me, and the rancid guts. It even included the self-loathing. Must've been the Baileys.
It was a country gent who sat waiting for the knock from Tel at 8.30am. Socks tucked into moleskin trousers, Karrimor boots, tweed country jacket and rucksack with a freezer bag containing egg salad sarnie on bakery bloomer bread wrapped in foil, bag of Wotsits and two peanut Trackers, bottle of water, small can of Coke, hip flask full of the dregs of the bottle of Glenmorangie I found in the drinks cupboard which has been there since last Christmas. Trusty walking stick. I nearly forgot my binoculars, then remembered and shoved them in the rucksack. In case we saw any unusual birds, I told myself. They're not heavy. Might see a Marsh Harrier. Or an Avocet. Or an eighteen year old attractive virgin. All count as rarities round here.
Tel arrived at nine, dressed like he was out on a run in Adidas tracksuit top, sweatshirt, woollen scarf and grey tracksuit bottoms. He wore an old pair of scuffed black trainers and those sort of half-socks kids wear. We looked an odd couple. Two burglars returning home after a good night's thievery in Brantham.
"Why've yer tucked yer socks inter yer trousis?" demanded Tel, truculently. He eyed me with misgiving. "Got a bleeding' 'ead like a steamdriver's footplate an' now ah've gotta go for a walk wiv you dressed like Mr Bleedin' Toad". He sniffed and sneezed, blowing his nose on a bit of kitchen roll he found in his trouser pocket. "Gotta bleedin' cold already" he said, mournfully. We set out.
The river bank was a lot muddier than I'd expected. Tel, his track bottoms pristine on the paths, grumbled to himself behind me, then stopped briefly to slip the rest of his foot back into his trainer as he trod in a particularly boggy patch. He emerged back, face a sharp mirror of his disquiet at being made to slither along river banks at 9.30 on a Saturday morning when he could have been in bed, Mrs Tel frying bacon and eggs downstairs. "Nearly lost me right shoe" he said accusingly at me.
We stopped at 10.30 for a breather. I had my water. He fished in a Gola drawstring bag and brought out a small gunmetal thermos of coffee. "Forgot the biccies" he muttered to himself. He unscrewed the cup from the flask and poured a cup. He got distracted by my quiet shout of 'Kingfisher!" and ended up pouring coffee over his fingers. It wasn't a Kingfisher either. It was a bit of faded orange polythene in a tree.
We reached Dedham at just after 11am, rosy-cheeked and slightly breathless, Tel eyeing me with distrust as I walked while having a fag. "Undoin' all tha' good work, you are" he said, disapprovingly. The local pub was open but Tel didn't have a face mask with him, so I gave him one of my spares. "You aint worn it?" he kept asking, with mistrust. No, I said. He eyed me with uncertainty then slowly put it on. "You bleedin' 'ave worn it" he mumbled. "It smells of fags". No I haven't. I said and showed him the packet it came in. Mollified slightly, he pulled the straps over both ears.
We ordered pints of real ale and sat outside. The steam from our heads whirled and dissipated into the ether. We stayed in the pub for three hours, leaving at two for the walk back, both carrying stomachs which sloshed with ale and a quick large brandy. "We gotta walk all the way back?" said Tel, plaintively. Then he asked how much cash I had on me. I found a tenner, crumpled into my wallet so tightly it was nearly a ball. We waited at the bus stop and caught one back to within half a mile of my house, where Tel would wait for Mrs Tel to collect him. He moaned about the half-mile walk. I made a mental note not to bother inviting him again. I'm sure he made a similar one.
I made it for the game on I follow. Mrs Tel arrived at 3pm on the dot. She's still medicating on anti-depressants but they've now levelled out, so she resembles a sixties hippy rather than a maniacally happy potential serial killer. She narrowed her eyes at my greeting and smiled like a Siamese cat. I wondered if she should be driving, but she seemed safe enough, just sort of absent in a minor way. Tel carefully wiped mud off his trainers and trousers as he got into the passenger seat. He was merrily calm. I was anxious for them to go so I could watch the Town on the laptop. They went. I waved them off and then went in to my laptop.
It was a strange game. They were better than us in the first half, but we were so much better than their best in the second. We looked clinical, level-headed, energised and organised. They played with a youthful ebullience which tired and flailed as the game wore on. Accrington weren't a strong overall team and we deserved the win. Their defence made some shocking errors. Mid-table for them. The Chelsea kids they have on loan will be too good for half the teams in this league.
2-0 said Brenner. Yes, said the boring stolid Mick Mills. I switched off as he launched into analysis. The PR pitch disappeared into the black screen and I checked the other results. Then I started preparing supper. My own burgers, made with rump steak I ground myself in my Magimix, with cayenne pepper, half a clove of garlic, horseradish sauce and some chillis. Two poppy-seeded burger rolls from the baker, raw onion slices, two thick slices of Keens Cheddar, gherkins and my own relish made from tomatoes, chillis, a drop of brandy and a bit of mustard.
They fell to pieces as I lifted them to my gob later. But they tasted great. Let's hope our league position doesn't fall to pieces in the next week. Two difficult away matches. Could be the defining part of the season. Unlike Tel earlier, we'd better not start getting stuck in the mud.