Last weekend I spent some time with my friend Betty in Shrewsbury. Betty is 81 years old and she is an inspiring woman. She has been an intrepid walker for years, and she continues to lead Betty’s Assault Course ScRambles (my name for her activities) with groups of women much younger than her, forging the way up many a steep climb.
Saturday dawned brilliant sunshine with only a few threatening clouds. Contrary to weather predictions, it looked like the sunshine was destined to win out. So we set out for Wilstone, one of the hills outlying Shrewsbury where Betty has spent much of her time walking over the last decade, solo and in groups, but nearly always accompanied by her good-tempered border terrier. She knows each of these hills like the back of her hand and can walk without much thought or planning because the routes are engraved on her mind. It is as if each of the hills is a separate character with a different personality. How many people do you meet these days who have such a lifestyle and such an affinity with the natural environment? No i-phone applications are needed by Betty.
There, said Betty, pointing to a peak. How do you feel about heading for that? I was a little aghast, it looked like a purely uphill climb. It was basically that. Short and sweet, but lovely verdant footpaths, a steady climb with consistent but not overwhelming exertion involved. We both could have gone on further but lunch at the Acorn cafe in Church Stretton beckoned.
Betty is not internet-proficient but she does a lot better than many people only just over half her age. She had struggled to find her way on to my blog and before my arrival she had asked me to print out and bring a hard copy of my post, ‘Walking to hear the music’ which she had seen online. At last, I thought (mistakenly!), someone who appreciates the content and knows the music. I suspected Betty might be someone who had listened to Oysterband for many years, as she would be more than a little sympathetic with their politics. Only to be proved wrong again…but not exactly disappointed. Not only had she never heard of Oysterband (though it was a pleasing surprise to hear that she knew Holly Near’s music, who almost no one has heard of, from the peace movement in the US 30 years ago), but because of her IT system (soon to be upgraded) we couldn’t even listen to any of their music online.
However, she had read my piece with more care than I could ever have imagined and particularly understood the comments about how it feels to be in a different place in a walking group – the front, middle or back. She explained that in her walking group everyone naturally but also perhaps deliberately makes a point of joining different people at different stages on the walk so that by the end everyone will have spoken to everyone else. Discussions start and then flow into each other, but what needs to be said is always said by the end, or comes up again in the tea shop later. It sounded like a seamless flow, and once again the image of a patchwork quilt came to my mind.
I had many interesting discussions with Betty. Each morning when I got up she was waiting for me and had been reflecting on yesterday’s conversations. We each challenged each other on our thought processes and even on areas of shared agreement. But it was always very companionable.
Betty used to lead a discussion group where people brought along topics to explore, with only the group leader doing any preparation – kind of like a live blog I guess. She had once initiated a discussion on ‘inadvertent collections’ which I thought was an evocative phrase – collections you end up with that you never set out to have. I guess we all have these to some extent whether objects, pets, books or even people. And you could call life itself an ‘inadvertent collection’ – whatever it is you end up with along the way, the various paraphernalia that you accumulate and patterns that can be traced in the process.
One of the areas we seemed to diverge on consistently was whether or not you should address problems and conflicts head on. I was more of an accepter and/or avoider, she more of a confronter. In our last walk before I set off on my journey home, Betty suddenly turned to me and said, ‘So who was right? The dwarf who swept the dust under the carpet or Snow White for telling him off?’ This made me think of Michael and some of his comments on this blog. I, of course, can think of arguments for both, but I wonder what you think.