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I think I recall, somewhere deep in the recesses of my memory, a 50s television show (perhaps “Sgt. Bilko”?) that began with troops marching to the above refrain barked loudly by a drill sergeant. He was obviously determined that there would be no slackers and, by God, he was going to make them walk ’til they dropped. And so began my week in the UK with Gill…

Now she had forewarned me that we’d be walking a lot and I, feeling somewhat smug about the fact that I go for a long walk at home every day, figured I was up to whatever she threw at me. And I was ready with my new sturdy runners (complete with orthotics) to keep pace with her. The funny thing is that, whenever we go to malls together, I am always the one exhorting her to ‘pick up the pace’. Being small, I am able to dart and weave through crowds at a good clip — almost before anyone has seen me coming. And I have, in the past two years, marched through Australian rain forests and large cities.

The first two days in the UK, we were in London. We walked for hours — to a pub lunch with her friends, around the Islington (Angel) district, to the area in Hackney where she first lived, along the Regent’s Canal, to the train station…if it was on our agenda, we walked. It was fine. It helped me stay up all the first day after my flight, fighting jet lag and lack of sleep. Gill’s theory apparently was, ‘if I keep The Mom standing up and moving, she’ll recover from the aftermath of the flight better than if she naps the day away.” And I was with her on that. However, I must confess, after the long flight to Australia, flying to the UK seems like child’s play. I mean, piffle! Six-and-a-half hours as opposed to eighteen hours?

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing ‘her part’ of London through her eyes. It was an experience the ordinary tourist doesn’t get — and it helped me understand why she loves the city (or some of it!). I wasn’t miffed or my nose out of joint at all that she seems to prefer there to here at home. Well, perhaps just a tiny bit…

Back in Bristol where she lives now, we had a jam-packed week…all of it involving walking. We walked on cobblestones, sidewalks, through parks, a nature area beside the Avon Gorge (in a futile attempt to spy the bearded goats that the signs claim live there but Gill has never seen), along a beach that is part of The Jurassic Coast, up the stairs to reach the top of the cliffs to walk back with a different view, through the streets of Bath Spa, up the olde tyme Christmas steps in Bristol, along the Avon river…we walked and walked and walked. But at least Gill had the good grace not to egg me on by shouting:”Ma, Hup, One, Two, Three, Hup! No, she was more subtle than that. Tiring a bit, my feet sore from blisters caused by breaking in my new runners, I’d ask feebly (as she and her siblings asked when we were on road trips when they were small):”Are we there yet?”

“Oh, so close, Ma! Just a little bit farther.”

Half an hour later, “Are we there yet?”

“Nope…just up this hill…”

“THAT hill? The one with all those steep steps? My ‘dogs’ are barking and I think I feel heart palpitations coming on.Perhaps we could stop for a cuppa or something to eat?” I really meant a glass of strong liquor or, at the very least, a glass of wine. After that, I wouldn’t care how sore my bunions and hammer toes were!

And I believe I heard Gill mutter under her breath at some point during the hours of marching, something about ‘payback’ time. Well, I guess I had it coming. I did tend, when she and her siblings wee young, to use walking as a disciplinary tool, a punishment, a solution for sleeplessness, an attempt to give them a stab at badly needed healthy bodies (kind of a losing battle), as a relief from boredom, as a way to learn about nature (mostly birds), and sometimes even a treat…as in, if you agree to walk to the store with me, I’ll buy you a special candy/cookie/ice cream or in Gill’s case, a new Nancy Drew book. It worked wonders.

Walking obviously made a lasting impression on all of them, so I guess I am now reaping what I sowed…although, despite the fact I thoroughly enjoyed our hikes through the UK, I realize I should have done this before my ugly, deformed feet turned on me. But to be fair, that happened at a young age…so no point complaining, just soldier on! Or as a t-shirt I desperately wanted to buy — but couldn’t since it didn’t come in my size — had emblazoned on its front: ‘Stay calm and carry on’.

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