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comments iconDay 2: A Bridge Too Far

 

Today walk: 27.60 miles 

Total walked: 38.90 miles

Raised Fund: £507.00

 

“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

 

It has become something of a tradition of our walks that they begin with a rousing send off by our British Chinese friends. So it was again that the Chinese community in London came out in force to see us off from Parliament Square. All the major Chinese news media outlets were represented also. Before I get too carried away I should point out that most if not all are coming out in support of the amazing lady whom it is my privilege to call my wife–Xuelin.

Xuelin is a British Chinese community leader; a successful business women; Secretary General of the UK Chinese British Business Association and President of the alumni of one China’s top universities. Were it not for Xuelin then it would have been me and Louisa from the British Red Cross at the start along with a few famous statues and pigeons in Parliament Square.

I joke that the Chinese have a romantic attachment to ‘long marches’ but its more than that I think, by nature they are sentimental rather than cynical and therefore when someone whom they perceive has some ‘status’ undertakes a long solo-walk to raise funds for a charitable cause they think it is slightly crazy but slightly noble at the same time. To the Western audience the response to a politician walking for charity would be to think that the person was indeed crazy but they would incline to be suspicious rather the sentimental in judging the motives. How do I know this? Because that is sometimes how I think too. They greatest tragedy that can befall any person is to sacrifice their hopes and dreams on the alter of ‘what other people might say’.

Meanwhile, back in Parliament Square beneath the statue of Ghandi there were speeches, photos, greetings, more photos, interviews, and yet more photos. I remarked of the similarities to two years ago when Xuelin and I stood in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and began a 1000 mile walk for the Red Cross in China. As I left the temple someone fastened some prayer bells to be rucksack to keep me safe. I had the same prayer bells on this walk. I set off on my walk in a pair of walking shoes bought for me by the Zhejiang UK Association, and again this time I was stepping out in a new pair of shoes again bought by the Zhejiang UK Association.

I set to walk out of Parliament Square and on my way west and turned to bid farewell but everyone was following. They seemed to be having such a good time. I enjoyed their company. We walked through St James’s Park and stopped for more photos and then got to Buckingham Palace and paused for more photos, at which point Xuelin politely told them that unless I quickened my pace then I wouldn’t make it out of Westminster by nightfall never mind Windsor. They agreed and we took more photos, I signed some t-shirts and marched on my way.

I had left my send-off party at exactly the same point in July 2013 when I was walking from London to Londonderry for Save the Children’s work in Syria. That walk out along Brompton Road, past Hammersmith, Chiswick and the A4/Bath Road to Hounslow/Heathrow was still familiar from that walk. I even recall taking my first break during a shower at MacDonalds at Foursquare tips, Hounslow and I did the same again during another shower–Chicken Strips with sweet n sour dip was just what was needed.

The journey out of London was very busy because of the traffic, so I had my headphones on listening to music. Once I got past Heathrow and beyond the M25 I found a certain burst of energy mile a space craft breaking free from the earth’s atmosphere. I picked up the pace in the direction of Slough and then turned down to Datchet.

On arriving into the idyllic village of Datchet I started to fee a tightening of my calf muscles–I had done 23 miles to this point. I sat down on the edge of the village green and after I could hardly stand-up. I knew this would have serious consequences for the next couple of days so I pushed myself for the next four miles to reach Windsor which I did, severely hobbling across Victoria Bridge over the Thames and down by the Eton College sports fields. It was a foolish decision. I should have stopped at Heathrow after a respectable 17 miles. Instead in a false economy I battled on for another ten miles which would cost me at least one and possible two days or 20-40 miles. There is no fool like an old fool.

I decided against staying in Windsor as I needed to get home for a long salt bath–the best remedy I have found for aching limbs. I caught the 8:53PM train from Windsor & Eton Station to Waterloo and limped down the steps where Xuelin was waiting for me with that half worried/ half cross expression which said without saying “see what happens when I leave you by yourself for even half a day!” She was right but I had also just walked 27.6 miles, more than a marathon, so not a bad start for a crazy old man.