Sometimes my stick becomes a cricket bat –and as I walk on the by-pass I drive an imaginary ball to the long-off boundary or deftly steer it for four past fine-leg. When I did play cricket I hardly ever rose above number 9 in the batting order, so this is a fantasy squared, as it were.
Today my stick became a garden tool, when I probed a series of mole hills which were at 10-yard intervals along the field verge. Very satisfying to prod them. What soft earth: all crumbly; I could do with some of that in my garden. There was no sign of a mole, of course. Acres of young crops extended to the next village. They look like coarse grass but will probably turn out to be wheat. It’s difficult to tell.
I turned towards a gate on which I like to lean, and with a few cross-bat strokes delivered a treacherous and muscular snake of bramble off the footpath and back into its hedge – just as a figure paced vigorously up behind me.
And we knew each other. My friend is a true pillar of the community, an untiring church worker (Presbyterian) and volunteer driver with charities for the old and frail. He’s a loving, warm and generous man, even through his own recent widowhood. He grinned at me: ‘ What are you doing, hitting things?’ he teased.
He was taking a walk from town to Towersey and then back again along the old railway – it must be four miles. He must be in his mid eighties by now, older than me by a decade. We mentioned aches and pains and he continued his walk, while I leant on the gate.
I saw him disappearing into the distance. He was marching along with the spring in his step of a thirty-five year old.
Before he left me he said: ‘We have to keep going’.
No hint of criticism; a platitude but, for me, a very gentle warning.
And I do think the encounter had been a bit of a tonic for him too.