Bus from Nightingale Lane, Richmond to Kingston 1st March
‘It’s technically a ticket’, she says, ‘so it doesn’t count’. ‘But I paid the fare’, I point out, ‘and this is what the driver gave me. It’s a receipt.’ This is a typical argument. No heat or malice – just a desire we both have: to be right all of the time. I think it sustains our marriage and keeps us both on our toes. It’s mental jousting. Of course we have our proper scraps, but there are kisses in the kitchen, tender smiles and incidences of hand holding in public too. Like on the walk we did today: heading out from our house around 3, up to Kingston Gate, then right across Richmond Park.
It was a gorgeous afternoon, the sunshine casting a dream-like, soft-low winter light. Long shadows from thin branches formed spider webs on tree barks. Deer looked on nervously as we beat a path right through them, heading for two small wooden goal posts, marking a bridge across a narrow gulley. The kids got nervous as the deer peered at us. Was that strong smell deer-fear, or just deer-dung?
We wandered on waterlogged muddy paths. Headed through ancient woodland and came across a long, high fence protecting a tree plantation. We found an entrance through an old iron kissing gate. Then worked our way along a mysterious, winding path. I was getting fed up of all the twists and turns and wanted to get out. ‘In cavemen days’, said Hazel, ‘there were forests everywhere. You can understand why monkeys got fed up and started swinging through trees so they could travel in straight lines.’ She studied biology at school, so I didn’t disagree.
Charlie was happy getting muddy. He still jumps in puddles aged 12. I guess he always will, he’s that sort of boy. Leaping into life whole-heartedly with gleeful abandon. Not worrying about the practicalities and mundane realities of a 40-degree wash. Soon we left the plantation, but were not as far across the park as we thought we’d be. We’d been going for an hour and Millie wasn’t happy. She doesn’t like mud but makes a wicked Victoria Sponge. Gender stereotypes are alive and well in our house. She’s more critical than Charlie. Knows her own mind and is happy to share her point of view. ‘We could’ve been here ages ago if we’d followed the road,’ she moaned. ‘Sure’, I said, ‘but that’s not the point, we went on an adventure.’ And so we did in our own small way.
We left the park and strolled past languid drinkers at the top of Richmond Hill. Lounging in the sun, supping pints or sipping on chilled white wine, overlooking one of London’s finest views: The river slowly curling like a cat’s tail before heading upstream to Ham, Twickenham and home.
We headed down the hill, halfway to the Hollyhock Café, our final destination and favourite place: a bribe to be honest, but an effective one. We swigged our drinks as the sun went down, it was nearly five now and time to head back. Winter was nearly over, springtime only a blossom away. We walked down the rest of the hill and waited for the No 65 bus back to Kingston. The girls had remembered their Oyster Cards. Charlie and I had forgotten ours so I paid the driver our fare. He gave me a ticket… or was it a receipt? I think it’s both actually. Marriage is a compromise after all.