Paper, Scissors, Gone Again

Grand Union Canal near Berkhamsted, Nash Mills, Sheppeys Lane, Bedmond, field near Shenley
Grand Union Canal near Berkhamsted, Nash Mills, Sheppeys Lane, Bedmond, field near Shenley

This mp3 is a walk I used to do every year at midsummer in the early 2010s. The walk, from Berkhamsted to Kentish Town was 36 miles and used most of the daylight on the longest day of the year. A text version is available on the excellent Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive.

Mon 22 Jun 2020: Introduction. (2 min read, 350 words)

I am proud of it – the writing, not the walk, although I can see its faults. Twenty years ago, I read an article about blogging that suggested ‘write for an audience of one’. This was both helpful and unhelpful. It got me writing, at least, not too self-consciously. Now I realise that if you don’t edit your work with an audience in mind, you can’t blame them for repaying your lack of consideration by not reading it.

This walk contains digressions on paper making in Hertfordshire and Italy, a parachute spy in St Albans, a mass grave in Abbots Langley, exploding horse dung in Barnet, a lost landscape on the old border of Hertfordshire and Middlesex… The first draft barely paused for breath. One prospective literary agent suggested I was trying to kill him.

I now realise that my feet were directing their own psychodrama. It wasn’t a coincidence that I passed the remnants of the charmingly named (on 19th-century maps) ‘Metropolitan District Asylum for Imbeciles’ which we knew, growing up, more prosaically as ‘Leavesden’. I couldn’t remember a time when I didn’t suffer from a low level (mostly) but constant depression. The parachute spy is, I now realise, also perhaps a metaphor for my own feeling of exclusion. What could be more socially isolating than being a Nazi spy hiding out in a wood next to the North Orbital Road in May 1941?

The walk, from my childhood home to my current home, has a kind of reassuring stuckness that only makes sense after my diagnosis with autism in 2019. As do my intense but sometimes random interests. I prefer to think of them, like Laurence Sterne, as hobby horses. The world would be a dreary place without them, especially now. People of all neurotypes surely need to know that Borehamwood once produced silk maps that could be sewn into the lining of a handbag and jelly feet which could be strapped to shoes to disguise footprints?

Now I wonder if we don’t always leave the wrong footprints on walks, by accident or design. Retracing them is more difficult than it sounds. And more rewarding.


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