On not doing housework

I hate housework. Really, I do. I don’t find it relaxing, or satisfying or any of the other things people swear they get out of it. I like the end result, all right: everything clean and in its place. But the doing of it? Nope.

What’s the solution then?

My solution is pottering. This is the means by which you can do a lot of housework while telling yourself you aren’t doing it at all. ‘I’ll just tidy that sock drawer,’ you say to yourself, and half an hour later the sock drawer is pristine because to tidy it you tipped it out and then you dusted the corners. Without really seeming to do very much, you can do rather a lot.

Take today, for example. In theory, I am taking it easy because I’ve got a bit of a cold. I went for a walk in the park this morning, and came home for lunch. While cooking lunch (putting leftover lasagne in the microwave and filling the coffee machine with water) I  tidied away last night’s washing up, washed up breakfast and in a radical move, hung out a load of washing that I did last night, instead of leaving it to fester for three days.

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By this time, the lasagne which had been hotter than Vesuvius, had cooled down a bit so I pressed ‘go’ on the coffee machine and went and ate the lasagne, nipping back to the kitchen for the coffee which was at the correct temperature for drinking, less five degrees.

You’re thinking Pooter had nothing on me, right? I see myself more as the Provincial Lady in her London era. New York yet to come.

I’ve spent the afternoon going through my week’s ‘to do’ list, written on Sunday night. You see? I get around to things, but eventually. The list includes a look at the Sneezy Towers finances and oh dear. I have concluded that Netflix and BT are on their way out, while we are likely to break our Rupert Murdoch duck. With regret, of course, but needs must and this will save me £30 a month, which is £360 a year. I don’t calculate savings in pounds, mind you. £360 savings is a long weekend somewhere in France, Brexit permitting.

Having taken the decision, I’ll now sit on it for a month or two before doing anything. It’s pottering, see?

One for the women

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Today is International Women’s Day. You know, we’re always having a day for this and a day for that and a day for a bit of the other . . . It get a bit tedious. So I celebrated International Women’s Day in a low-key kind of way. I got up at the time I usually get up at, made my breakfast, fed the cat and took myself out on a hike. Packed the bare minimum: bottle of water, phone, enough money to buy a sarnie, book for the train journey out to Chingford.

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I hiked about nine miles through Epping Forest without a map and didn’t get lost (always a source of satisfaction). It was busy today, being the first sunny Sunday of spring. I saw loads of people, riding horses, bikes, walking dogs, walking children, walking themselves. I saw at least two dozen groups of people hiking together, including some groups of schoolchildren with maps who were clearly trying orienteering.

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I stopped at the tea hut at High Beach and had tea and a sarnie and cake. I admired the view. The tea hut is popular with cyclists and there were loads of them, also walkers like me, people who’d driven up to park their car and look at the view, people of all ages. Families with toddlers in buggies, small fry on pink scooters, hardened hikers with sticks and gear . . .

Then I came home and had a hot bath and fed the cat again.

So you think this isn’t about International Women’s Day? You’re wrong.

I woke up this morning in my flat, in my bed, bought with my money from my job. I decided what I wanted to do today and did it. I took the tube/train journey on my own and read a book of my choosing, and got off at Chingford and walked nine miles on my own. I didn’t feel unsafe at any point. I said hello to people and felt safe doing so. I encountered groups of people of all types. I gave directions to a group of girls of about 14 or 15 out on their own orienteering. I gave directions to two women with dogs, who wanted the pub. I saw single women out running, walking or cycling.

The fact that I’m free to do all this is partly down to me: I’m independent and like doing stuff on my own. It’s also partly down to living in a country and a society where women are educated, where they have choices, where they have careers if they want them. Even in our society some women don’t have those choices and it’s time they did. It’s up to the rest of us to support them in that. Often, we don’t remember how lucky we are. Today’s a good day to remind ourselves.

Forager 1

bramblesCouple of years ago, when people started to feel hard up, journalists (I blame journalists for many of the world’s evils including Marmite and homeless kittens) started writing about food for free, or foraging. ‘Go out into the country,’ they told us, ‘and you can pick yourself a dinner of herbs.’

Top of the list are things like dandelions, bitter but ok if you like bitter salad, and nettle soup, which is fine if you don’t mind the fact that they smell like cat pee. As to the rest, it was mostly mushrooms which a. might poison you b. only grow in the autumn, for the most part, and c. tend to grow in places like Epping Forest, where you are not allowed to pick them.

The exception, of course, is brambles. ‘Blackberries’ if you must be posh. The things on the left.

They grow on waste ground all over northern Europe. If you live in the UK, chances are you’ve eaten one. Quite possibly, one was enough. They don’t taste of that much when raw, and there’s always a danger of Maggots.

Yes, precisely.

Cooked, however is differentnot least because any maggots have merely become extra protein. Cooked, they have a fruity woody taste that is like the essence of autumn. Made into jelly to spread on bread, they become a fond reminder of the day you picked them.

Off I go today, to pick brambles. I’m not saying where, but I live in central London, not the sort of place you’d expect to forage for food unless you were a fox in a dustbin, so it’s safe to say anyone can go brambling. First off, I get on a bus and it’s diverted because of Notting Hill Carnival. Ah, Carnival. I’ve lived near it for more than 25 years and every year when it comes round, I plan my weekend’s activities around avoiding it.

Bah humbug!

So, I’m on the bus and it starts a detour that eventually deposits me about 50 metres from my bramble patch of choice. This is not the buses usual route, but I’m going to make a note of brambling on this day again next year, because it is much more convenient than the usual two buses and a 15-minute walk.

I head for the thickets. The first thicket has no brambles, which is a bit odd and I am momentarily worried. The next one though, is very brambly. Set out brambling equipment:

  • Suede gardening glove for left hand
  • Plastic container for fruit
  • Bottle of water which I always need but have never brought before

Am already wearing thick cotton drill gardening trousers, and hiking boots. Normally I cover up to pick brambles but it’s a very hot humid day so I’ll just have to make do.

Insert myself with care into bush, lift up bramble branch, and start picking. It’s wise to respect bramble bushes. They have thorns like nobody’s business and additionally I seem to be slightly allergic to the leaves. Not, I’m pleased to say, to the fruit.

People who are given to saying ‘nom’ should say ‘nom’ at this point.

Remember how my bestie told me her dad offered her 5p a pound (which was serious money) for brambles when she was in her teens and she picked several stones of them so he had to pay for them all. Reflect on last time I picked brambles when I tripped over a tussock and sprained my ankle and resolve not to do this again. Pick pick pick. My technique is to pick seven brambles at a go then drop them into the container. Pick for about 40 minutes. Drink water. Pick for another 10 minutes. Decide if I am out much longer, I will burn. Also feeling knackered. It’s like a pilates class, this bramble business.

Pack up and head back to bus stop. Bus nearly doesn’t stop for me as this is not its usual route, and they are creatures of habit, buses. However it does and I hop in. Bus deposits me, 20 minutes later, outside my flat, with brambles.

Take them in, wash them, take photo, cook them, put in sieve to drain overnight for jelly. Do not talk to me of Muslin. There’s no need. I am not competing with the WI. I am making something to eat. I don’t care how clear the jelly I get is. I’m not bothered about depth of colour etc. I want something to last me through the grey days of winter.

And dinner tonight. I saved enough for a crumble, natch.

Look to the rose that blows about us

Today I go for a hikette in Epping Forest. Have not been there for a couple of months, owing to sore foot, but I think I’ll give it a try wearing my Birkenstocks.

Train to Chingford, out of the bus station and 100m up the road you’re at the start of Epping Forest. It’s actually not forest, this bit, it’s meadow and in June after a wet winter and spring, it’s in all its glory. The sky is grey but bright and it’s very warm and humid.

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There’s a warning sign about cattle, but no warning about being careful not to get a slug under your big toe if you’re wearing sandals. I say yuck a few times and shake it out.

Well I wasn’t going to use my fingers, was I?

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There are myriad paths crisscrossing the meadow and I am navigating by radar diagonally across, aiming for the edge of the woodland. Quite a few people are about, mostly exercising dogs. I’m looking to pick up the nice clear trail that will take me to the tea ‘ut at High Beech. The meadow is a haze of buttercups. This bit is nice and grassy (ref slug) and so there is no problem with gravel under my toes. There is what looks to be a cricket pitch right in the middle. It’s about the right size, but there are a couple of rabbit holes in it, so not too sure.

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Stomp along, counting the flowers. Come to a dog rose bush in flower. Gorgeous. Keep going and there’s enormous amounts of honeysuckle just about to burst into flower. Then I’m on the main path and coming to bits I recognise, always a good thing. I’ve been lost in Epping Forest half a dozen times and that’s six times more than I want to be, especially at this time of year.

Why this time of year? Because there is NO visibility through the trees. The undergrowth has grown up and it’s what you might call verdant.

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There’s bracken taller than I am (average height for women in the UK in case you are wondering) and the trees are at their prime. There are nettles smelling of cat pee, as they do. Apparently you can eat nettles but I can’t say I would fancy them.

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I get to a place on the path that I know to be a sandy quagmire and it’s dry. A tiny stream runs under it, and there is a clump of water speedwell so blue the eyes can’t process that much colour. Just beyond it is a tangle of red campion, and a bit further along the path, a large patch of yellow pimpernel.

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There are grassy paths everywhere, and they’ve clearly been mowed to make it clear where they are. I’d love to explore some of them, but I didn’t bring a map today so I don’t. Get to an enormous mass of dog roses, so lovely I name this blog after them (it’s a line from Omar Khayyam and if you think you don’t know who he is, dear reader, I bet you do, he’s full of quotations you’ll know). Then a patch of comfrey in flower, absolutely full of bumblebees. I do not like insects but they are so happing zzzing about their buzzness that I take some photos of them too.

It’s odd how many flowers I see just the one patch of today. Comfrey in particular is very common in this part of the world. Pass a sea of bracken and some that looks very architectural and come out on the road, cross it and go into the bit that leads up to the tea ‘ut.

I first walked this route in autumn after the leaves had fallen and think of it as being light and open. Now it’s summer and the trees are in leaf and it has simply closed in, a green and mysterious world again. There are some rhododendrons growing wild (yes I know they are a pest plant) and when I take a pic, the automatic flash on my camera comes on. That’s how dark it is.

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Arrive at the tea ‘ut and the dragonfly pond is still dragonless, but there are flag irises, which I love.

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Sit down with a ham salad sandwich and a cup of tea and a piece of cake. It starts to rain.

Review my options and decide to press on. The nearest bus stop that I know of is 20 minutes’ walk away and in fact I have to pass it anyway. There’s a chance that the rain will stop before then. Keep on, get to the fabulous view, which is looking . . . er . . . misty and just beyond it the road and the bus stop, passing a beech tree that must be hundreds of years old.

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I don’t know when the bus is due and I’m in Essex not London so the app on my phone can’t tell me so I choose which side of the road to wait (it doesn’t matter which direction I go, as buses in either direction go past a station) according to which is most sheltered by trees. After just 10 minutes, a bus comes and I hop on.

And that, darlings, is the beauty of hiking in the Home Counties. There’s nearly always a bus.

There’s nearly always rain too, of course.

If you go down to the woods today . . .

Yesterday I moped around and did nothing particularly constructive. Today I decide it’s going to be different. Wake up definitively at about 9.50 which is entirely the result of taking antihistamines. Try to catch the vestiges of the dream I was having and realise it is so weird I shouldn’t have bothered. That’s another antihistamine effect.

So, at some point when I was awake during the night, I decided to go back to Philipshill Wood, which I visited a couple of weeks ago. It belongs to the Woodland Trust. At the time I was suffering a camera malfunction (flat batteries) so I didn’t get photos of all the primroses, violets and wood sorrel that were out. Time to try again.

Get to Chorleywood station, get out, walk straight into a fancy French market. Normally speaking wild horses wouldn’t keep me from a fancy French market (I have a thing about soap in multiple flavours, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my blogs a while), but 1. I have no money and 2. I don’t want to carry it all the way. Wherever all the way might be. I am in denial about the faint possibility of a hike.

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Trudge up the hill and get to Old Shire Lane. View is wonderful. Notice with some excitement an arum lily growing in the hedge. These can be hard to spot, the flowers being green, except in the autumn when they have bright red berries. My heart jumps into my mouth as a small ginger animal bounces out of the hedgerow at me, but it’s only a small and pretty cat wearing a fetching pink collar.

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Reach the start of Philipshill Wood. This is owned by the Woodland Trust. It’s fabulous. The first bit is relatively new planting (it is classified as ancient woodland but you can see this is fairly new because the trees are in rows) and is absolutely carpeted with bluebells. Even I can smell them. A bit like hyacinths, which they are related to, but with something green and woody in there too. Also, close inspection reveals they are English bluebells (long tight narrow flower) not continental bluebells (more open bell-shaped flower). The effect of thousands and thousands of them is to produce a mist a foot off the ground, quite dizzying.

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Now, the main tracks through this woodland run east to west but I’m following the path less taken, which goes north to south. I’m heading for the clearing at the bottom of the hill where there was loads of wood sorrell and primoses a couple of weeks back. It’s the most beautiful walk. At one point, my path goes along a belt of pine trees and the scent of them in the sun is indescribably lovely. Two breaths of it and the world is a better place. The woodland canopy is full of birds singing their heads off, but of course I can’t see them, they are about fifty feet above my head. Keep on going downhill and come to a patch where there are little round pine cones on the path. If you’ve ever trodden on a marble, you’ll get the picture. I say ‘oops’ a couple of times.

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Get to the bottom where about five paths meet. There are still primroses, but the wood sorrel flowers have gone, there are just a few leaves left. We’re now getting things like enchanters nightshade, which along with dog’s mercury has a wonderful name but is not much to look at. Turn left along the path and walk along, observing a thatched roof to my right. There is a building marked on the map and I’m very curious as to what it is, but there’s a thicket between me and it and it’s none of my business anyway so I keep going. See what looks like an orange tip butterfly but tell myself I’m imagining a more interesting existence for a cabbage white. A great tit is watching me from a tree and then flies off, with another great tit following. Things tend to be in pairs at this time of year.

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Reach the edge of the wood and get out map. I know I wasn’t planning a hike as such, but . . . it’s beautiful weather, and a shame to miss it, and I’m enjoying myself. Plan out a route that will take me over a motorway, passing through a couple more woods. I’m back on Old Shire Lane, which is clearly an ancient path, the hedges are full of different plants. Stop to photograph the first red campion of the year, and a second later an orange tip butterfly lands on it and in my excitement my finger wobbles off the shutter button and I miss it. Ah well, there’ll be others. Get to where I want to turn off and go across a field and it has horses in it. Nice horses: they ignore me. It’s only a couple of hundred metres anyway. Cross a road, go across another field and into a new wood. Bottom Wood. It’s heard all the jokes, thank you.

IMG_3598 IMG_3601Well, Bottom Wood is gorgeous. More bluebells than ever and not another person in sight. I follow a meandering path downhill, stopping to take more photos (you can’t have too many photos of bluebells) and also find quite a lot of lady’s mantle. I come to the edge of the wood and an open field. There’s a little arrow pointing me helpfully across and the map says go diagonally across so I do this. There’s no discernable path, just grass and buttercups and a view of the M25.

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At the other side of the field I walk down the edge of a belt of woodland to a bridge over the motorway and turn right through another belt of woodland with – you’ve guessed it – bluebells in. This one is Ladywalk Wood. Go down to the farm and see something rather surprising. A mallard flies in and perches on the apex of a roof near me.

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Mallard, perch? Mallards haven’t got anything to perch with, have they? It’s quacking its head off too. I leave it and quack on. I mean crack on. The weather has not stayed sunny and it’s starting to spit with rain. I observe a cute little pied wagtail perched on a dungheap and wonder if it thinks it’s a metaphor for something.

Emerge on main road, just 100m from a bus stop. There is a bus due in 16 minutes although it’s Sunday. This makes me very happy as I’m cold, my foot is hurting and I didn’t bring food or drink out with me as I didn’t intend to go for a hike.

Just shows what you can do if you let your subconscious loose, eh?

Missing words

Ever have a phenomenon or a situation that you need a word for and there isn’t a word?

I had one today.

After much thought, I decide to make a quiche for lunch. This is not ground-breaking stuff for me, I first made a quiche at the age of about 14, at school. I set to with flour and butter etc and the first setback occurrs. My kitchen scales, which have been increasingly arsy about things, keep weighing everything at zero g, even when I try switchign to oz. I am left to estimate how much butter I’ve got (50g) and then estimate 100g flour to go with it.

Anyone who bakes and is reading this knows that guessing quantities when baking is primarily a recipe for disaster.

Roll out pastry, line pie dish, put in oven to blind bake, mix milk and egg, chop mushroom and ham, grate cheese. get pastry out of oven and observe shrinkage. Not just shrinkage but holes in the pastry.

Sigh.

Put doings in pastry anyway, pour in milk/egg mixture, listen to it sizzle as it gets through the holes and on to the pie dish, put it back in oven, bake 25 minutes more, got it out and it’s still wobbly so decide . . . to finish it off in the microwave.

Yes, you know your cooking hasn’t gone well when you decide it needs nuking.

Remove from microwave, note that it’s still a bit liquid, pour off liquid.

Attempt to slice. Yank. Yank. Rive. Where the egg/milk has got through the pastry, it’s sticking. Surprise. Tip thing on to plate, unpeeling from pie dish as I go, and decorate with ketchup.

It does taste surprisingly good.

I’d had a vision in my head of a browned and tempting work of art, with little bits of mushroom smiling up from an eggy setting.

Instead it looked like a particularlly nasty accident.

Photo? You have very odd tastes.

So that’s the word I’m missing. The difference between my fond imagining and the horrible reality.

‘Lacuna’ might do.

Grange Hill to Abridge

I never watched Grange Hill on telly, it was a bit after my time, but when I moved to London I was intrigued to find it’s an actual place.

Today I start my hike from Grange Hill station. In 30 years in London, I’ve never actually been on this branch of the central line, so a bit of excitement there. Not much.

Walk up the hill to the start of the forest which means using a path that is part of the London Loop. I have crossed swords with the Loop before and indeed would recognise the style of the concrete path across the playing field anywhere.

Then I’m in the first bit of forest.

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The leaves are sort of half out on all the trees, which look to be mainly hawthorn. Oh don’t ask ME, I don’t really do trees except in a general ‘aren’t they pretty?’ sort of way at this time of year.

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Pass a little pond and a jay flies across in front of me, out of the reeds by the pond and perches in a tree to have a look.

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I’m hoping it was not up to no good among someone else’s nest. Two mallards exit the pond rapidly as I pass.

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Walk up a little path, cross a road, head into the next bit of forest, which is the main bit. I’m on a track that goes up the middle of Hainault Country Park and Hainault Forest. I’ve chosen this walk because Hainault Forest belongs to the Woodland Trust and is said to be carpeted with bluebells but there’s no sign of any at all. On Friday I was in Philipshill Wood and there were masses of flowers, but I don’t see many here apart from some violets. I can hear a woodpecker though, rattling away.

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Anyway, it is very pretty, though clearly the trees are not nearly as old as in Epping Forest. Turn left at a junction and walk along another path, which eventually comes out at a road. Turn up another track and walk along that, still in the woods.

See in the distance three girls on horses. As I approach one of them calls ‘can you pick up my mobile please?’ Sign of the age – you take your mobile with you when riding and of course if you drop it, you have to find someone who’s not on a horse to pick it up for you. It’s a long way down from a horse (I speak from experience – I fell off one once).

I’m looking for a left turn, and think I’ve found it then realise the sign I’ve seen is a ‘private – keep out or else’ sort of sign. However there’s an extremely muddy patch next to it, and sure enough – sod’s law’s operating nicely – the path I do want is across the mud. Today I’m wearing hiking boots, so the only real problems are ensuring that I don’t tread in anything deeper than my boots are high, and not slipping straight in.

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Manage not to do either and head up a narrow footpath with trees either side. To my left I can see tents – clearly a campsite. Continue a little way, cross a road, go up the edge of a farmyard (I always hate doing this, it’s like walking through someone’s back garden) and pick up the path again. The view to my right is fab.

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Ah. This path. It’s a green lane. It must be absolutely ancient, though it doesn’t seem to be marked on the map as anything other than a national trail. There are trees either side and they are mature broadleaves (beech possibly, I really haven’t a hope of identifying trees without leaves).

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This path has been here a long long time. I am seeing the flowers that I was looking for earlier in the main part of the forest: bluebells (not doing too well this year, only a few flowers on most spikes), self-heal, celandines, clouds of stitchwort.

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There’s a fallen tree right across the path; fortunately I can crawl under it – I’ve had a fair bit of practice at this one on different walks and know it’s fraught with danger. I put one knee on the ground and expect it to get wet, instead of which it is amusingly speared in half a dozen places by a dried out holly leaf. Hm. Pass some of last year’s bulrushes gone fluffy and hardly recognisable, in a little pond. There are ponds all the way along and they must be year-round ponds else they wouldn’t have bulrushes.

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I keep on and come at length to a road, get out the map and turn left along it, past a small white church with a steeple, which is St Mary and All Saints. This is the most interesting blurb I could find about it online.

The stone bit in the middle must be part of the original construction. Then 100 metres or so later, right again, along a track down the edge of a wood labelled as ‘private’. I’m not sure the owner has the right approach here as anyone intent on mischief would do it anyway and the rest of us only want to take photos and look, which I do anyway.

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The track goes diagonally across two fields (much glaring at map because there’s a sign saying ‘please keep to the path’ and you can’t actually see the path but two other people come up behind me and I follow them at a polite distance) and stop to look at a paddock full of assorted goats.

Come out shortly afterwards on a narrow road by a cattery and walk down to the main road, where there is a bench next to a notice about the cattery.

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You know why I’ve put in a photo of the sign, don’t you?

Ah, luxury, that bench. I’ve been walking three hours, haven’t had a single break in that time largely because since I left the forest there has been nothing to sit on except damp grass. Eat egg sarnie, and debate whether to walk to Theydon Bois, another couple of miles, or not. Wander up the road till I find a bus stop with timetable.

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A nice lady stops and tells me that to get the bus today I need to keep going up to the Log Cabin cafe and stick my hand out when the bus comes, rather than using a bus stop. The bus is due in 15 minutes which is really good timing as it only runs every two hours. This works a treat.