I should have known this would mean redefining the words ‘a bit’. Dad and I and a couple of his friends had just finished the fourth of our summer walking holidays. Dad retired in the late 1980s and to celebrate he and an old friend had walked the North Downs Way that ran from Winchester to Canterbury. They were both in their early sixties, fit and looking for something to mark this life watershed. I joined them for a long weekend, doing a stretch from Dorking in Surrey to somewhere near the Medway river in North Kent. I enjoyed my dad’s company, in the small dollops of a weekend visit, but it wasn’t that long ago that he and I had not spoken for the best part of two years – I moved in to live with my then girlfriend; he decided that this was disgraceful behaviour; I thought him a pillock and told him to grow up; he called me a smart arse lawyer; I said… well let’s say neither of us were good at backing down.
Then I got engaged and everything was ok. Only… you know, there were those unspoken, unresolved issues that men of a certain generation find it difficult to debate. So we skirted around and behind and over that large grey be-trunked animal that sat in the bar with us and got on with things.
The Textiliste was all for me joining in. ‘Talk to him.’
‘Yeah, right. I can see that going down well. I’ll be as popular as a fart in a phone box…’
‘You’ll never have a better opportunity.’ Then the clincher. ‘Do it for your Mum.’
God, she really plays dirty that one.
She was right. We were passing close to where I was born, where he spent most of his life, where his old Alma Mater sat. He started talking about his father, about how it wasn’t until he brought my mum home as his girlfriend that he felt his father actually respected him. How it was only when he joined the Parachute Regiment that he began to feel his father spoke to him as a man. It took me a while to realise he was really talking about us, about how that parent-child relationship changes and how it is the parent who has to change the most, to accommodate the increasing adulthood of the child, to allow them their choices, permit them their mistakes and still be there for them.
He sort of apologised. I sort of accepted it. He said I could perhaps be a bit more gracious. And I hugged him. I’m not sure if either of us expected it. He didn’t hug me back so it did feel a little like I was trying for a front-on Heimlich manoeuvre but it was the thought, you know.
And over three days we laughed like… well, like he did with his friends. The tone of the relationship changed. Subtlety. The banter became standardised.
At the end someone suggested, the next year, they should do the South Downs Way. And include me. If I wanted.
I did so we did it. This time I did the whole thing with them. Then, the next year, the Cotswold Way.
Which brought us to this point, this ‘a bit’ different.
‘Let’s do the Coast To Coast walk.’ St Bees Head on the West Cumbrian Coast, across the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and The North York Moors to Robin Hood’s Bay on the East Coast. 200 miles, less some small change through some of the greatest walking England has to offer. A fortnight. If I could blag the holiday. If I could stand two whole weeks with these old men.
‘Ok.’ I thought, ‘If the Textiliste is happy…’
She was. She’s like that. She understood me. Still does.
Thought she’s never approved of my sock choices…. I mean, what’s wrong with it. They match the hat.
Next Time: St Bees Head, the pebble dash, minivans and Stan the Van, coffee flasks and ‘those fucking hills’.