Friday, 23 November 2007

An echoing silence

Seventy-five miles of flat path over seven days, with way-marks so clear the brain is redundant, were never going to be a gruelling test. Still, we were quietly smug that the daily miles on our Thames practice walk seemed so slight to our bodies. The weight of our packs – ‘burdens’, as a friend more poetically described them – though daunting at first became less so; and anyway we quickly picked things to discard.

What we hadn’t expected was the extent the weather affected not just our enjoyment but our very consciousness of the walk. If the sun shone we gazed on beauty and stopped often to comment. In the evening we looked back and could realise the day as a continuum; the commentary had committed it to memory.

But if the sky was at all overcast and chill, we pressed on with increased speed and decreased halts. At the day’s end we were left with a grey blur and little to tie us to where we had been or what had evolved in us or in the landscape.

And how long the afternoons and evenings were without a computer or TV! If I chose to write, I depended on David to be out with his camera; otherwise shouldn’t we be entertaining each other? Faced with the requirement to converse day after day when we have shared exactly the same experiences throughout, silence falls. A passing visit to my aunt in hospital gave us welcome subject-matter; and occasional conversations with third parties were stewed till every scrap of goodness fell into our eager mouths.

Is conversation usually so hard-won? Probably not: it’s rarely fought for. TV, radio, music stand in at home, and theatre and cinema outside. Since couples infrequently spend their days together there is always anecdote or gossip to pass for conversation.

Then, right at the end, we broke through. Just as day three had made my body long for a day off but day four was fine; so on day six, without knowing how, we found ourselves thrashing out the psychological tipping points in Macbeth. Perhaps conversation has its own natural gestation period, too.

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