We need a new calendar!

One of the strange things about the pandemic is not having plans for the future. My calendar used to be packed. Even as the world starts to recover, I still have mostly blank squares ahead of me.

Someone joked about how Groundhog Day in the pandemic wouldn’t work, as it would be days before Bill Murray’s character realised things were repeating. In Brighton, we’ve lost the normal markers of the year. The Fringe Festival and Pride were cancelled, along with various smaller events and parties. Some people have joked that we in an endless March, and there is an online calendar suggesting that the date is March 179th 2020 .

It got me thinking about something John Higgs wrote about the Celtic calendar in his book Watling Street.

The old Celtic calendar comes from a time when life did not change rapidly… it divides time up into chunks of about six weeks, each separated by a party, which is an agreeably human way to think about your life. It tells you that things more than six weeks away are things that you don’t need to worry about yet.

That sounds quite promising. The end of this pandemic is more than six weeks off, but maybe it’s best not to worry about exactly how far beyond the horizon it is. And a celebration every six weeks would certainly help to break up time until then. As John writes, “The Celtic calendar doesn’t come with quite the same level of stress and anxiety as the Gregorian one.”

There are lots of other possibilities that can be brought in. Some friends of mine bought a French Revolutionary Calendar, and celebrated Jour de la vertu with a running race. Rosy always makes sure to celebrate Patrick Swayze’s birthday on August 18th. (I missed it this year, but will be watching Roadhouse on Netflix this weekend). November brings Diwali, which will be difficult for some of my colleagues this year, but I will try to do something to mark it for my team. And, as an Erisian, I could also add in The Discordian Calendar.

But the Celtic Calendar looks like a good basic rhythm for pandemic time. The next celebration is the September Equinox on September 22nd (also the first day of the French Republican Calendar). This is known as Mabon and is a harvest festival. In a world without crowds we need new new festivals – possibly asynchronous ones that allow people to gather and meet in abstract ways. But we still need to celebrate.

Pandemic Retreat, Day 162

The 150-day mark passed relatively unnoticed, and soon it will be 6-months since I stopped going into work because of the pandemic. I keep coming back to the government’s blithe reassurances that things would be back to normal within 12 weeks. Now, it’s obvious that things will not be over by Christmas.

I think I’ve said already that the first stage of this was relatively easy for me. (If I have said it before, this reflects how repetitive things have got). Life was certainly simple. Since June things have felt strange and alienating. In some ways the world is bounding forward, but it’s only pretending to be normal. It’s easy to feel bleak about the future.

Track and Trace was one of the important routes back to normality, but it has been a disaster. Using a centralised, outsourced system instead of bolstering existing local resources seemed a strange decision. It definitely hasn’t worked well. Local tracing has been used in hotspots and these are achieving contact rates of about 98% compared with 50-75% from the national organisation, depending on which reports you take.

Meanwhile, Dido Harding continues to fail upwards, the mess of track and trace being rewarded with a promotion to run a new body replacing Public Health England. Reorganising departments is an old trick for failing governments, since it looks decisive, but I’m not filled with confidence. Harding’s main qualification for the job appears to be connections via horse-racing – and somehow being involved in one of the worst data leaks in UK history does not count against her.

On top of the current crisis, we have the deadline of 31st December, when the current EU transition period ends. While there’s a lot of talk about a last-minute deal, I’m not sure how so many complicated issues can be solved quickly. The Prime Minister has been on holiday too, missing the exam crisis. Johnson has form for holidaying in the middle of a crisis, as shown by his disappearance during the London riots while he was mayor.

My personal part of the pandemic feels bleak right now. I’m doing my best to prepare for winter, planning for cosy rather than confined, and catching up with friends for strolls. My work recently announced that staff would not return to work before July 2021. There’s a long way to go in this crisis.

Among the doom-scrolling, I do follow Toby Young’s Lockdown Sceptics blog. It’s an odious site. The jibes at left-wingers, PC and trans-rights suggest that Young’s resistance to lockdown is less important than furthering his other agendas. The only reason I sift through the bile and conspiracy theory is that it does turn up the occasional hopeful report. I tend to feel quite grim about how this crisis will develop, but it’s good to see that there are also less pessimistic scenarios for the future. I like to read about these deus ex machina solutions even while preparing for things to grind on for months more.

The main issue for me at the moment is balancing the risk of illness against the need to get out of the house. I’ve been enjoying my hikes, while being very cautious about meeting people indoors. When I was expecting things to last three to six months, it was easy to plan. Living in a world where the pandemic could continue in some form for years is more difficult.

Two Short Walks on the South Downs Way

I feel like I’ve been suffocating this summer: sitting indoors, every day the same, becoming so bored that I pretty much stopped walking. At the start of August, I decided to waste no more days sitting inside. Last Saturday (the 15th), I headed to Pyecombe with a couple of friends and set off east towards Ditchling Beacon.

The day was overcast and cloudy, with visibility heavily restricted. Coming up from Pyecombe it felt as if we were heading in the wrong direction until we reached the ridge on the Downs.

It was another day of excellent foraging. The brambles were thick with fruit, all freshly-washed by the rain.

We stopped for lunch under a thorny tree where the ground was dry, just near an empty dew pond, and shared our picnic lunch. It was a place I’ve stopped before.

The coffee wagon was at Ditchling Beacon, same as it had been the last time I’d been here, just before lockdown. We bought drinks for the next stage of the journey, cutting back through the hills to the woods near Stanmer Park. Here, someone had written ominous messages in chalk on the trees:

The Stanmer estate was as lovely as ever. And it was good to see the sculpture near the house, which we used to refer to inaccurately as ‘the bear tree’.

It was a good short walk, and I’d avoided the promised storms once again. I was starting get complacent, telling my friend on the Sunday walk that the weather would be OK, whatever the forecast said. (Besides which, as they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only a poor choice of outfit).

We took the train to Southease where we joined the South Downs way, intending to walk west until we reached the A27 crossing, when we would head back into Brighton.

It’s a familiar stretch of path, but one I love. There is the Norman church at Southease, with its round tower, currently closed:

Between Southease and Rodmell is a lovely valley, which heads towards Telscombe if followed all the way.

As we headed onto the yellow brick road, we could hear thunder behind us, and Seaford was blotted out by the clouds. We were going to be caught in the rain. It wasn’t the epic storm we’d been promised, with a disappointing lack of lightning, but it was wet. The choices were to head straight to Lewes (2 miles away), head to the coastal fringe to get an Uber (3 miles), or carry on the the current walk. My friend was getting soaked so we decided to head down the hill to Kingston and, from there, aim for Lewes Station, guided in by the This Way markers. The route led us along the meadows to the edge of Lewes.

The highlight of the walk was the wild sunflowers growing near the yellow-brick road. Two short walks across a weekend, but good opportunities to explore small slices of the South Downs Way. And both walks, despite the weather, were better than staying cooped up indoors.

Amberley to Devil’s Dyke

I booked a Thursday off to do some hiking, waking up ridiculously early to travel to Amberley before rush hour. I’m not actually sure whether rush hour is a thing that still happens, but decided not to find out. My colleagues had warned me that there would be thunderstorms all day, and when I left home at 5am it was raining after days of hot weather. The weather turned out to be pretty mild, with some cooling winds.

I’d walked this route recently, and I remembered the way pretty well, knowing the paths before I saw the signposts – including the first devious turn where the signpost is hidden by a fresh growth of bushes. It took a little time to get my muscles moving. After my last trip, I’d actually packed enough water, so my rucksack was heavier than usual.

I ate breakfast on a hill barrow. The path around Amberley is a good one, bouncing over hilltops where you can’t see too far ahead, and there are always new views unrolling. All along the way were bushes thick with blackberries and I plucked a couple of them, loving the sweet taste and crunching the pips.

The walk is a familiar one – along the hilltops towards the Adur valley, passing through a pig farm on one side, then Truleigh Hill on the other, before following the edge of the Downs to the Dyke. I think the bullet-riddled roadsign on the A24 has been replaced, but still has the ‘bullet holes’. I also passed three signs within a short distance of the road which gave different distances to the Adur.

I reached Chanctonbury Ring about 10am, where I stopped and read for a while. I am writing about that stretch of the walk for someone else, so I won’t not talk about it here. It was a good, calm walk, relaxed and enjoyable, more so than the frantic ones in the first days after lockdown was lifted.

A while back, I went to a talk by writer Tristan Gooley. He’s an excellent public speaker, and in an hour gave the audience the feeling that, just by paying more attention, we could understand the landscape. And, a few days ago, I read a piece in the Guardian about Nick Hayes’ Book of Trespass. Walking along, I thought about how, in the English landscape, there is more that needs to be understood about fences than birds.

The South Downs Way ran between two fences much of the way. Most of the time, the ownership is hidden. I can’t read the landscape in terms of ownership, and how I’m not supposed to. And then I found a little sign on a fencepost, showing the local farmer. It told me that the land I walked through was owned by ‘The Norfolk Estate’. This is actually owned by a hereditary line dates back to the 13th Century and King Edward I.

Another thing I’d been reading recently was James Meek’s How to Grow a Weetabix an excellent article about farming, which looked at the economics – how much the subsidies paid to some of the richest landowners are. There has been so much in the press about the difficult financial problems farmers have. The solutions always involve subsidies of one sort or another – rather than, say, removing the rent on the land they pay for. And why are the richest people in the country receiving subsidies in the first place?

GPT-3 and the future of writing

Liam Porr recently askedWhat does it mean when a computer can write about our problems better than we can?”. He backed this up with the claim that he had received 26,000 views on a blog post written by GPT-3. GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) is a tool based on 4.5 TB of data that can generate text that seems like it has been written by a human. One of the Liam Porr’s blog posts even made it to the top of the hacker news site, with only one person asking if the texts had been generated via Machine Learning. Porr went on to say “I believe that GPT-3 has the potential to change the way we write“:

All I need to write is a good title and intro. I could write five of them in an hour and publish them all in one day if I wanted to.  In other words, one good writer with GPT-3 can now do the same work that took a team of content creators before. 

This is a bold claim, and worth looking into. After all, if Porr is right, then I need to be paying attention to this. I could, at least, save time on writing by giving GPT-3 some seed text and letting it write my blog posts. Right?

The text that emerged from the algorithm was not perfect. It needing some editing but “Cut out irrelevant stuff, write a conclusion, and boom – people don’t stand a chance of telling the difference.” Porr then takes the example of Buzzfeed, suggesting they can reduce their headcount if they use this new platform, suggesting there is space for “a new kind of media company. One that’s fast and lean. The writing team will be small, but experts at bending GPT-3 to their will.

It’s interesting that Porr chose to work with self help, admitting, “GPT-3 is great at creating beautiful language that touches emotion, not hard logic and rational thinking”. The reason for this is that a lot of online writing has a particular style. It is already programmed by the requirements and restrictions of search engine optimisation, or sharing on social media. The fact that GPT-3 works so well for these texts may be a reflection of how restrictive these styles are.

There are already tools that produce news articles without human intervention. Stories, particularly those based on reporting numeric data have already been automated. GPT-3 offers a means of producing more complicated text, which can fool casual readers.

The effect of a large amount of generated text appearing on social media platforms might produce problems beyond the need for quality control. We already have an avalanche of generated text on social media platforms, and this has not gone well. Twitter has never dealt properly with its bot problem, and the idea that these fake accounts are real has distorted politics for the last few years. Using GPT-3 to produce large amounts of political opinions makes it all the more important for journalists and politicians to understand how the web works.

Of course, all the above aside, Porr managed to release a set of blog posts that produced far more readers than I have acheived with this blog. But that assumes that all readers are equivalent. I’m writing for a smaller audience, but a more engaged one.

Do I believe that GPT-3 could produce literature? It could – but there is more to literature than language. Given some good samples, GPT-3 could churn out beat poetry, and it might even produce things that produce an emotional response. Some of the Beat writers such as Burroughs and Gysin were even involved in early experiments with computer texts, but these are remembered mostly as a curio. But a poem like Howl connects to other stories, just as Kerouac and Burroughs wrote meta-novel novels that resonated with their own lives. A computer might be able to produce poems, maybe even new Ginsberg poems – but there are things missing which means a computer would never produce a ‘body of literature’.

We might be willing to accept vacant life-advice from things that are alive, but for art we want some connection with the authors. Remember how angry people were when JT Leroy was revealed not to be a real writer, but a character? Or when it came out that James Frey’s book was a novel marketed as a memoir?

But, as far as the text goes – would I read a novel generated by a computer? I could imagine doing so. But that’s another story, for another post.

Nemesis the Warlock

I’ve recently been re-reading Nemesis the Warlock. This was an 80s comic strip serialised in British weekly anthology 2000AD. I was amazed at how well this held up, particularly when compared to contemporary American comics.

Nemesis is set thousands of years in the future. Earth, now renamed Termight, has been hollowed out to form a massive city which includes huge gravity-defying roadways. The Terran Empire is ruled by Torquemada, an reincarnation of the 15th century Spanish priest who led the Spanish Inquisition. This modern Torquemada leads a genocidal campaign of extermination against both his own people (including dream scanners – ‘Sleep is no refuge for impure thoughts’) and against the galaxy’s aliens. An alien resistance movement called Credo is fighting back, led by a powerful warlock called Nemesis. The saga focusses on the struggle between the two.

Comedy is an important part of this story. Fascism is repeatedly mocked, with bigotry portrayed as, not simply evil, but ridiculous. There are the slogans (‘Be pure, be vigilant, behave’ turned up on the Holy Bible album) and ridiculous hypocrisy. One double-page spread features a Torquemada convention, mocking the sort of events held in the comics industry., where the dictator’s ‘fans’ buy expensive tat.

The early books, illustrated by Kevin O’Neill and Bryan Talbot, are incredibly detailed. Kevin O’Neill, the first artist, was actually once banned by the comics code authority for his very style. There are also photo stories by Brighton’s Tony Luke, but my favourite artist on the character is John Hicklenton. He worked on the two ‘historical’ books, one set in the Inquisition, and one set in the Thatcher period. The very figures of the characters here are twisted and grotesque, Torquemada’s body seeming to be bursting from its skin.

I read Nemesis for the first time when book 7 was originally published. This one featured Torquemada travelling back in time to meet his ancestor during the Spanish Inquisition. I was 11 years old at the time, and the comic is strong stuff. Setting a science fiction comic during such an ugly period of history is strange but works to great effect.

Book 9 was set in (at the time) contemporary London. Torquemada has been sent back through a time accident, and has set himself up as chief of police. At the same time, he takes advantage of people displaced from ‘time accidents’ as a slum landlord. It should be a disaster, but it worked – even the section where Torquemada was obsessed by one of his tenants, a Goth student.

For me, the most shocking thing about Nemesis was how well it had had aged, with the satire hitting as hard as it did at the time. The oppressive Britain in Book 9 is probably slightly less of an exaggeration than it was at the time, when the home office send squads to capture illegal immigrants. It would be easy to fit a Farage or a Johnson among the characters of the Terran empire.

Few artists working in contemporary superhero comics are creating such detailed work (although the pace was brutal for the original artists). The book’s complexity probably stands against it being a classic and it never worked in the US editions, where is was shrunk and recoloured. I don’t think there would be much culture I enjoyed at 11 which would impress me as much as Nemesis has decades later.

A River Walk (Lewes to Peacehaven)

I’m not a huge fan of riverside hikes. I hate how a long stretch of walking beside a meandering river covers so little distance. Despite that, when some friends suggested a walk along the Ouse I decided to join them.

I took my first trip on a train since March. The train station was strange and oppressive, and also very quiet. We set out for the Ouse via the ruins of Lewes Priory.

We’d started out early, but the heat was already brutal. I kept slathering on the suncream and went through my drinks faster than planned (last night I ordered a couple more aluminium bottles ready for future hikes this summer). Waterbirds darted about and, on the opposite bank were a menacing line of cows, the young ones sheltering in their parent’s shadows.

The landscape south of Lewes is beautiful, with views of Firle Beacon, Mount Caburn and Lewes castle. And, while the river was taking long loops it didn’t feel too irritating. As Frankie pointed out, it meant our view of the scenery kept changing. The route was more interesting than the equivalent section of the South Downs Way, where you have the same ridge of the hill ahead of you for hours.

We did walk a tiny section of the South Downs way when we met it at the Southease swing-bridge. We walked from one side of the bridge to the other than back to continue our journey along the Ouse’s west bank.

On the east side of the river, we found a short trail of muddy hoof prints.

We couldn’t follow the banks of the Ouse the whole way, since private property forced us inland near Piddinghoe. Instead we had to follow a fast stretch of road with little pavement – but at least it gave us some shade.

The river was very low and, in the end, only one of us took a dip. I sat on a bench and enjoyed the view of Itford Hill.

For some miles, we’d seen thick smoke rising from Newhaven. At Piddinghoe we encountered a couple of walkers who’d left the town for the day to avoid this cloud. When the wind changed for a time we could see and smell the smoke, so we decided to change our plan of heading to Newhaven and strike out south-west for Peacehaven.

There was a path clearly marked on the OS map, so we took that for it. I learned a useful lesson: just because a path is clearly marked, it doesn’t make it easy to navigate. This one was thick with brambles, some of which drew blood from Frankie’s legs. The branches were also thick with fruit, which I guess is a fair exchange, and Frankie emerged with an armful of forage. The hedge beside us was also full of butterflies.

The difficult part of the route did not last too long, but it was definitely one of those neglected paths which seem to have been actively made unwelcoming. The footpath was actually blocked at one point by a low fence.

But we did have some great views on our way to Peacehaven’s Centenary Park, from where we headed to the the meridien marker before taking an Uber home. It was a good day out, and walks in company are generally much more fun that solitiary ones – I even learned about how PCR testing works. And I managed to add another 10 meters towards my re-walking of the South Downs Way.

Thinking about other problems with nature writing

After encountering a reference in a review, I ended up reading a lot about Scottish writer Kathleen Jamie. To my shame, I’d not read her books before, although I’ve since picked up Findings on the Kindle. What attracted to me about Jamie was her aggressive critique of nature writing, particularly how it relates to class and gender.

Considering such things is not just virtue signalling on my part; and any responses need to go beyond writers just acknowledging their privilege. I think there is a deeper question about how people from comfortable backgrounds justify their writing (in the same way that many writers from minorities might feel forced to as a matter of course).

I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my writing about the South Downs Way. It’s not simply about being ‘better’, which reinforces the idea of writing as a competition for scarce audiences. For me, it is about being aware of what makes my writing worth showing to anyone else. If I simply write from a position of privilege, I am merely a ventriloquist for society. Instead, I need to ask what I can say that nobody else can, and make sure I am doing that.

Jamie wrote in her 2008 LRB essay:

What’s that coming over the hill? A white, middle-​class Englishman! A Lone Enraptured Male! … Here to boldly go, “discovering”, then quelling our harsh and lovely and sometimes difficult land with his civilised lyrical words.

Jamie is not fond of nature writing, saying in one interview I can’t even say the words ‘nature writers’, I can’t get it out of my gob … “. In an New Statesman piece, Death of the naturalist: why is the “new nature writing” so tame?, Mark Cocker linked Jamie to another writer, Jim Perrin, who

argues that new nature writing is quintessentially an urban literature with a primarily metropolitan audience. [Perrin] suggests that for both author and reader, engagement with nature is an act of remembrance rather than a daily, lived experience. Given that most Britons now dwell in cities, one could argue that it is therefore a perfect literature for our times.

As Cocker continues, this literature often involves:

clothing a landscape in fine writing, both the writer’s own and that of other historical figures… John Crace’s mischievous “Digested Read” for the Guardian of Macfarlane’s latest book, Landmarks, defines “Macfarlish” as “the process of praising other authors to make your own book better by association”

In a 2019 Guardian interview, Jamie talked about how “has been colonised – by middle-class white men“, suggesting that “if you understand how that’s happened, you understand the whole godforsaken political state of this country.” The same type of people as usual have emerged at the top of a field that Jamie says was “barely there” 15 years ago. The same calm competence ends up running things again.

One of the assumptions this leads to is the idea of ‘the wild’. This means different things to different people, depending on how secure they feel, their sense of safety, and, yes, their financial background:

There’s nothing wild in this country: every square inch of it is ‘owned’, much has seen centuries of bitter dispute; the whole landscape is man-made, deforested, drained, burned for grouse moor, long cleared of its peasants or abandoned by them…

James also points out that our relationship to the wild has changed because

with our (almost) guaranteed food supplies, motor engines, vaccines and antibiotics, [we] have begun to make our peace with these wild places, and to seek recreation in land which was once out to kill us, where we can be reassured, in some way

These points raised by Jamie link in with the issues raised by Angus Carlyle when he was interviewed on Justin Hopper’s Uncanny Landscapes Podcast. Where does the authority and competence of these writers come from. Kathleen Jamie describes our interaction with this figure:

The danger of this writing style is that there will be an awful lot of ‘I’. If there is a lot of ‘I’ … then it won’t be the wild places we behold, but the author. We see him swimming, climbing, looking, feeling, hearing, responding, being sensitive, and because almost no one else speaks, this begins to feel like an appropriation, as if the land has been taken from us and offered back, in a different language and tone and attitude. Because it’s land we’re talking about, this leads to an unfortunate sense that we’re in the company, however engaging, of another ‘owner’, or if not an owner, certainly a single mediator.

There is an important question here about how I write about the world around me. How can I move beyond an assumption of universality? How do I move beyond simply explaining, particularly when that act of explaining often masks an act of appropriation? How do I introduce a space for doubt, for appreciating the beautiful spectrum of approaches other people will bring to a natural space? I think there is a space to talk about my experience of landscapes, but I guess the question is how to do that without assuming that my subjective experience is everything.

Lockdown Day 142 – Winter is… approaching

It’s a shock to realise that it is over 140 days since I took the option to work from home because of the pandemic. I knew I would be away for a while, but I honestly expected things to be mostly back to normal during the summer. The Government has now has given up making any promises about an end to the crisis, let alone talking about ‘normality in twelve weeks’.

I’m struggling with how to live in this new world. Lockdown was relatively easy, as it was temporary and straightforward. All that was asked of most of us was to stay home. Now, we need to decide how to approach the current situation. How do we balance the need for human contact with the dangers of Covid-19?

(A good friend of mine has been suffering from ‘long-tail Covid’ and it is horrific. There is evidence of serious long-term heart and lung issues even after ‘recovery’. The longer I can avoid catching Covid-19, the better – hopefully, until after science has worked out how to limit the disease’s non-lethal effects.).

I was very lucky with the initial lockdown. I have a quiet flat to myself, my parents are relatively safe, and my employer has promised to make no redundancies in 2020. There were difficult points: I personally found the empty shelves very threatening; and, at one point, computer problems threatened to leave me isolated. But those problems are tame compared to most other people.

Winter is on it’s way, with the threat of renewed transmission of the virus. My best friend is moving to Norwich this week, and while I’m very excited about this, I’m also aware that this could leave me isolated. I need to work out how to make connections in the pandemic world, while staying safe.

(Zoom really doesn’t work for me. I spend much of my day on calls for work. And zoom is not a replacement for real-world communication. When you end a zoom call, a flat to myself feels like the loneliest place in the world).

I’m starting to think ahead to Winter. I’m considering what do I need in order to make my house calming and comfortable. I need to invest in a good raincoat for wet-weather winter walks. I’m looking for new people to do my daily walks with. And if the worst comes to the worst, I guess there’s always Animal Crossing.

Hiking the South Downs Way 1: Belle Tout Lighthouse to Alfriston

After very little recent hiking (my last proper walk was June 20th), it was good to get out again. Even on the day itself, it was hard to leave the safety of my nest, but worth it once I was out. I’m hoping to walk the whole of the South Downs Way in August/September, so this 9 mile section was a good start.

Obviously, the Belle Tout lighthouse is not a traditional starting point for the South Downs Way. Katharine thought the trail started from Beachy Head, and I thought she wanted to keep the distance down. Either way, we will have to come back and do that missing three mile section. It’s an opportunity for me to walk the Jevington route, the alternative path for cyclists.

The weather was pretty much perfect for hiking – sunny but breezy, not too hot. My fitness wasn’t so good – I had to rest a few times when climbing the seven sisters. I’ve also developed a bad back during lockdown, and fell over when I slipped on one of the downhill sections.

But the white cliffs were stunning and we even had a flyby from a couple of spitfires, which performed acrobatics above Beachy Head.

At the end of the Seven Sisters was Cuckmere Haven. I recently read about how the valley was once filled with defences to resist the planned German invasion. From there we walked through Friston Forest through to Litlington, where Katharine spotted a turn I blithely missed. From there, we strolled the meadows leading to Alfriston, where we had lunch before heading home.

But, before leaving Alfriston, we popped into Much Ado Books. My first trip to an actual bookshop in months, but they made the whole thing friendly rather than weird. I ended up buying a couple of books, one on foraging, and one I couldn’t resist for the title, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: And Other Excursions to Iceland’s Most Unusual Museums. I’ve been buying from that virtual bookshop recently, and I’d forgotten the joys of a proper bookshop.

The bookshop was giving out vintage postcards with all purchases, so I now have a lovely postcard of Budapest to send to someone. Also, usefully, there was a chart to help you see which authors are the same size as you.

After weeks without a proper hike, it was good to get out again. Katharine had been feeling the same frustrations as me about walking alone. We talked about old friends, future plans and our fears. The best conversations happen when hiking. Next up, we need to book in the Winchester leg.