The hot weather continues; not a drop of rain since leaving London. The fields of Cambridgeshire, immense and silent in the sunshine, are becoming ominously dry. Many townsfolk, especially the young, are capering about half naked, unable to believe their good luck, so there is a good deal of very white flesh on view, some of it startlingly tattooed. The farmers, however, are getting worried as the drought threatens their crops.
This morning, on the road from Chatteris, I stopped outside the farm of J. Everitt & Sons, where a grand sign with the royal coat of arms indicated that they are "By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, supplier of hay, straw, horse feeds and bedding". Mr Everitt chatted and I for a while about this and that, and he then offered me some advice: if you get blisters, he said, you know what to do about them? I told him that I was well stocked with Compeed and other assorted plasters. "Them's no good" he asserted, "you need meths". Methylated spirits, I asked. "Yes, just dab it on and they will disappear before your eyes". Remembering that meths were once used for heating lamps, asked him rather facetiously whether I should ignite it after application. "Of course not", he said rather gruffly, "and don't drink it either".
Luckily I haven't had any blisters since setting out, but I must confess that the big toe on my right foot has caused me problems. It wasn't in very good condition when I started, but by the time I reached Harlow it was getting quite painful, and starting to resemble -- in colour, not smell I hasten to add -- a red Leicester cheese. By the time I stumbled into Ely, it had evolved into something closer to a dollop of summer pudding, and was aching dreadfully. By good fortune I found a clinic where the kindly and efficient doctor prescribed some powerful antibiotics. As I left the surgery, I collected the pills from the dispensary and asked the pretty receptionist how much I owed her for the medicine. Nothing at all, she smiled brilliantly. Really? And why is that, I asked? She leaned forward over the counter and whispered confidentially "because of your age". I have nothing but complete admiration for the NHS.
Walking along, one passes occasional notices tacked to trees, fences and posts, often appealing for the return of missing pets. One such notice, near Saffron Walden, carried a picture of a West Highland terrier called Harry. The accompanying text stated that the author's wife had gone out shopping and when she had returned home she found the house had been burgled. The thieves had taken their little dog too.
Today, just outside the town of March, I came across a little roadside memorial to a 27 year-old lad who had been killed at that very spot last November. There was a picture of him, and a short poem which went:
"On a silent night,
When thoughts are few,
We close our eyes
And think of you.
A silent night,
A silent tear,
A silent wish
That you were here."
I wonder who wrote that...