While Rome burns

Work is so intense at the moment that spare time is spent with friends or the seductive cocktail of Matt and the idiot lantern. What with the coming election, the marginal status of my constituency and the activities of the BNP in Hainault, this rampant hedonism must surely stop. But for now, specially for Barkingside 21, here is something lovely from last weekend when we showed some visitors, old friends from Barnsley-way, a good time in Claybury Park with a solar airship from the Science Museum.

The last weekend of summer: a treasure hunt, Claybury Park, the New River, and a sponsored walk

It was a cracking weekend.

We held a modest but well-attended get-together. The afternoon began with a barbecued lunch. We had a gazebo in case of rain or too much sun on the babies, but the darned thing kept casting its shadow in the wrong direction, and it was a perfect day anyway.

I tried out a pictorial treasure hunt for the young children which seemed to go pretty well. First you plan the hunt – work out where you’re going to hide the clues. Then you go round your home taking pictures of those locations. If you can, you make the pictures a wee bit cryptic so you can ask them “Where is there a wall like that?” or “If the sofa is there, then which table is that one? or “Where is there a piece of furniture with feet like that resting on a floor like that?” Then you put the pictures into a table in your wordprocessor and do simple captions in case anybody can read. Print, cut out, and you may like me decide to use your workplace laminator if, like ours, it has been dormant for years. Then you hide the clues, reserving the first one to start them off. In the event they needed a little assistance – for example, under-fives don’t necessarily know about pillowcases – but not all that much assistance; I hid 9 clues and they didn’t get bored. Turns out that treasure hunts are a good way to acquaint children with the ins and outs of a home. The final clue led to a key in Matt’s pocket and anticipation was at its peak. Just one caveat – the word “treasure” creates certain expectations which, no matter how polite the child, cannot be fulfilled by board games linked to the government’s numeracy strategy.

Then the parents and children departed, the booze flowed and strange and funny things occurred. We pushed on until 4 and (because it was Barkingside and you don’t get to pop home) had a sojourner in every room. Some were more comfortable than others, I fear – a selkbag doesn’t make the floor any softer, even with a yoga matt and a bedroll underneath. Then our friends’ dogs, whom we’d initially worried might be a problem for the babies, spent the small hours understandably going berserk whenever a cat came through the garden, so at about 5 I visited the guestrooms distributing earplugs. But in the end they were allowed upstairs. I had kind of expected the neighbours to understand, given that you could make a strong argument that the cause of the noise was their cats, but our more-considerate dog-owning guests didn’t want to test that understanding.

The next morning the place looked like a festival site. After cooked breakfast under the gazebo we took our friends and their dogs for a walk to Claybury Park, a peerless local beauty spot. After soaking up views of the city from Hospital Hill, we started picking and returned home with sloes for gin, incredibly sweet and perfumed blackberries and several varieties of apples. I made a crumble for afters and for once correctly judged the water content so that the topping didn’t suffer from too much steam.

Bank Holiday Monday fell on the last day of August. Matt and I are walking 32 miles in 10 hours with my dad and brother for a charity which helped my dad when he had cancer last year. Yesterday we took the train to Ware which is a couple of miles south of Hertford in Hertfordshire, and set off on foot for home in Redbridge, London along the New River path (see Google map).

The New River was created by goldsmith and merchant Hugh Myddleton in the early C17th to bring clean water from Hertford to Londoners. It runs in dug channel and aqueduct, following the contour lines to drop only 8cm per kilometre and eventually ending in Islington. I enjoyed reading about the C17th nimbies – they had a sure-fire antidote back then: get the king’s approval. If I permit myself a short digression, of course nimbies today are not local landowners, but ordinary inhabitants who feel that they are being disregarded and their interests sacrificed for some lofty and unproven idea of the greater good – this is why I was so pleased to hear last night’s edition of Costing The Earth on BBC Radio 4, Turbines or Tearooms?, which I heartily recommend to any environmentalist. The message: involve local people in decision-making to generate their renewable energy for their own community, organising a scheme for contributing back to the grid so that they can cover their costs. The way things are now, with attempted pariah-isation of the objectors, is very strange. New Labour embraced choice, market, profit and property in this country, and here is Ed Miliband (somebody I like, by the way) asking rural communities to make what many perceive as huge sacrifices for the good of the many in a way which is breathtakingly out of keeping with the other political currents of the time. I think that what we need is cooperative energy generation, devolved to a community level and coordinated and supported at a central level.

Back to the New River – even now it supplies 8% of our drinking water and it was nice to think about that as we watched various dogs plunging around in it. Peak water is never far from my thoughts in recent years. You might perhaps think it was a canal but the give-away is the bridges which only just skim it. Because nothing travels along it except water fowl, it’s a wildlife haven and we ate our sandwiches with our feet dangling above minnows, weed and crayfish (even English crayfish, I think – at any rate, it was pink. And, sorry to say, dead). The walk was slightly marred by dogshit, but there were many high points, not least the diversity of housing backing onto the river, from vast estates, through modest 1970s boxes, to beautiful big old houses with velvet lawns. My favourite part was crossing the M25 on a massive footbridge with the New River slung underneath. Then we were in Enfield, and soon after that we turned left onto the London loop to take us closer to home. At Enfield Wash I had a passion fruit off the vine overhanging the footpath! Epping Forest was gorgeous. Update: in fact perhaps my favourite part was climbing up Barn Hill to the edge of Epping Forest and turning back to see the tawny evening sun smashing into the KGV and William Girling reservoirs and turning them into lava pools. Round Sewardstone and Chingford we encountered the most glamorous horse rider we’d ever seen, golden-haired, hatless and sporting a splendid décolletage.

Matt and I had our poles and I lost count of how many times we were told “No slopes round ere luv”. This is one of the most unoriginal things you can say to a walker.

At Woodford Bridge, about 4 miles from home, it was 7pm and we figured we should stop. The 275 took us the final distance. We’d managed 20.5 miles and I reckon we had another 12 in us no problem. If you want to sponsor the walk, contact fleshisgrass@gmail.com and I’ll tell you how.