Failed Hate Crime

Last night in New Malden I witnessed a failed hate crime. A bunch of idiot young white men drove past a popular Korean BBQ restaurant and shouted “Napalm!” at the people queuing outside.

A Korean restaurant in New Malden

Now, these morons didn’t even have the confidence of their racism; they didn’t shout it particularly loudly. No one heard it except me, as I happened to be walking past.

They drove off quickly up the hill, and I was so shocked and discombobulated by what I’d heard, I didn’t even manage to catch their license number.

And of course, as a racist attack it was at best confused. Sure, napalm was used in the Korean War, but not to the same level or indeed infamy of later wars. 

Were they true racism scholars, aware of the historical context of this horrendous weapon and its traumatic impact on the peoples who suffered the West’s assorted imperialist interventions? Or were they just thick cunts who had confused Koreans with Vietnamese people?

The answer is obviously the latter. But the whole incident, over in seconds and noticed only by me, left me feeling depressed and frustrated. 

I wanted to challenge these people, but they were gone. Who knows what else they shouted as they drove around suburban London on a Saturday night. Racists are cowards, and a car is a shield of armour and a getaway vehicle all in one.

Wimpy #4: Worthing

A hiatus! A palpable hiatus! It has been ten months since my last Wimpy visit, before Lockdown III came along and made burger restaurant-based geographical sagas tricky.

It’s been ages since the government’s specific ban on travelling up and down the country reviewing Wimpys was lifted, but I’ve been busy running comedy nights, walking dogs and having the occasional existential crisis. From now on, you should expect a new Wimpy post every week, and if there’s a branch near you, and would like me to visit it with you, get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.

This is Worthing Wimpy and you absolutely cannot touch us now.

So why Worthing for Wimpy #4? No rhyme or squiggly psychogeographic justification here: I am buffeted by the winds of fate.

This particular fate was my friend Kelly, who was desperate to get out of London and remembered Worthing had a Wimpy.

We didn’t go straight there, though. When visiting a new Wimpy, you have to approach it carefully, like an injured hedgehog or unexploded WWII bomb. Blessed with unexpectedly amazing weather, on arrival off the train we threw ourselves into the sea next to the fabulously Art Deco Worthing Pier, its shoreside end resplendent with classy theatre advertising talks by Suggs and comedy from Reginald D Hunter.

Some pretty good comedians are playing here.

The water was as calm as a millpond, and from the pier’s head we could see boats twinkling in the hazy offing. [1]

Worthing is just up the coast from Brighton, and similarly shares its existence to a 19th century fad for sea bathing and being seen at the same places as the royals, if you can imagine it being trendy to hang out in the same place as such people (these days you’d have to just go to Woking Pizza Express).

Before that it was merely a fishy hamlet, stinking mainly of mackrel.

As a seaside resort with its best days behind it, Worthing is a very typical place to find a surviving Wimpy.

But we are still in East Sussex. There may be some seediness, and there may be a higher than average proportion of quiet desperation. But this is a more affluent than usual spot for a Bender in a Bun.

Refreshed and salty after our swim, we plotted our next move in the cafe of the Dome cinema, one of Britain’s oldest. And it was agreed: we were to flee the town by deregulated bus up to the Downs.

Ah, you were not expecting this. But there is a certain logic to our actions. The first humans of to inhabit this area, approximately 6000 years before the Wimpy opened, were those mining for flint a few miles inland and upland from the town.

A tree of Cissbury Ring.

More recently, if still a fairly long time before burger restaurants, an Iron Age Hill Fort [2] was constructed at Cissbury Ring. And it was to here that we were headed, for magnificent views of the Downs and the coast.

People lived here, people farmed here, and people carved and decorated boar’s tusks here a mere 2,400 years ago.

Now, there are wild ponies.

It’s an idyllic place, with more tree cover than one is used to on the exposed ridge of chalk that constitutes the South Downs. But there are absolutely zero franchise burger restaurants, so it was time for us to head back towards the sea.

Our bus was operated by Stagecoach, owned by a notorious homophobe. So it was with much amusement that the bus’ automated announcements introduced us to the phrase “tap off”; definitely a euphemism for wanking. Don’t forget to tap off before leaving the bus! We’ll mop up the resulting spunk later on!

Finally, to Wimpy. Opposite, a workman was hitting paving stones with a hammer, for no discernible reason. This made the obligatory “outside the Wimpy” photo more awkward than usual. I never look my best when being angrily gawped at by men in high vis.

The Wimpy was your classic design: long and thin, seemingly stretching on forever, like a matte painting in Star Trek. To the right, the usual island of tills and burger cooking paraphernalia. To the left, booths! Booths with post-Covid plastic screens, but still, booths. We had come home.

Our server was a trainee, called Nick. He was Canadian. This was unexpected, despite Worthing being filled with Canadian soldiers and even hosting Canada’s military headquarters during World War Two. Nick was simply too young to have anything to do with his country’s wartime presence. He was great-grandson at very best; the accent would have melted away generations ago, like a Brown Derby left out in the sun.

Nick carried the weight of the world on his young shoulders. Kelly suggested I ask him to recommend a local pub for a pint; Nick was both too young and too old for drinking. His body was young but his mind was very old. He had seen too much, already, via obese regulars and furious geezers demanding to know where in America he was from. “Ontario”, he would answer, hoping ignorance would reduce banter to silence.

You’ll notice I’m making many assumptions about Nick. And that’s because we barely talked, other than agreeing it was very hot. And this is because he was already too perfect, a 16 year old Canadian inexplicably working at Worthing Wimpy. Any explanation would have ruined the magic. I prefer to imagine ludicrous scenarios, and wish him well wherever he ends up, or indeed if he decided to live and love in Worthing forever.

We ordered. Bit of a bombshell, and a complication for this entire project: I am supposed to be vegan now. I’ve read too many articles about the consequences of industrial meat production on the environment. How does Wimpy abide in an era of climate change? This is not a question I was expecting to seriously posit when giggling about benders in 1996.

Kelly ordered the vegan burger. Hoisted by my own psychological petard. In a kind of brazen mockery, i ordered the half pounder. I needed the protein, I claimed, pathetically, convincing no one.

Our food arrived. It’s time for the ratings.

Childish Wimpy Rankings

GREASINESS OF CHEF: 3/10

BUSY-NESS OF RESTAURANT: 8/10

PROXIMITY TO MY HOUSE: 7/10

There’s always a certain melancholy to the proximity to my house ranking. Ground zero is New Malden, where – conveniently – I am writing from right now. But my family’s link to this place is coming to an end; my grandma died in spring, and this house will be sold in late autumn. I thought I’d visit every Wimpy before my geographic association with this place ended, but I was naive. Time keeps rolling on.

Grown-Up Wimpy Rankings

FRIENDLINESS OF STAFF: 9/10

QUALITY OF MEAL: 7/10

VALUE OF MEAL: 5/10

There’s no getting away from it. This was a pricey Wimpy. Yes: I plumped for the performative arrogance of the Halfpounder meal. Yet I was still surprised at the bill, which was approximately 1.2 Wagamamas. And their vegan menu is considerably more comprehensive.

A word, though, for this Wimpy’s notable strengths. The original salt and pepper pots were in situ. There was a mighty Wimpy logo adorning the wall, in silver, between assorted awards for its food, service, and champion status amid Wimpys. The toilets, upstairs, were extremely classy and well served by local radio. The service, though raising more questions than I care to answer, was kind and warm.

This was, in short, a classy Wimpy.

The Denouement

A murmuration.

Stuffed with meat or meat substitute, we lumbered back towards the sea, irritating local drivers by using the pier front roundabout as a photography spot.

But the light was perfect and Kelly clocked a murmuration in progress. I’m sure she won’t mind my mentioning she once dated a birdwatcher; but it goes beyond that. She berates herself for not having memories all our indigenous butterflies; without her spotting and explaining, there’s no way I would have appreciated the magnificence of this sunset display. Imagine iron filings in GCSE experiments, but infinitely more beautiful. We were in Worthing but the seafront belonged to the starlings.

Not a Lido.

There isn’t much else to add. We briefly visited Sussex’s answer to the Peckham multi-storey, the prettified concrete making me think of a Brutalism-appreciating ex.

The car park.

And we tried to visit a micro pub, with local ales and a distinctly Whovian theme. But we had been lead astray by the lies of google: of course this perfect slice of eccentricity was closed on a Monday.

I know I caught it on a perfect day, but I was pleasantly surprised by Worthing. From ancient fort to the eternal vagaries of the sea, there was more going on than I gave the place credit for.

And amid everything, open until 9pm, and with booths and chips available to all, stands the Wimpy, as hopefully shall ever be.

[1] Today I learned this is a nautical term to refer to a boat that’s within sight of land.

[2] an Iron Age Hill Fort, you say?

Open House: South Norwood Library and St Bernards, Croydon.

South Norwood Library

My understanding of London’s Open House began with a vision of queues: hoardes at the gates of the Foreign Office or some other shining city on the hill grudgingly opening up for the hoi polloi for one weekend a year; to reveal where all those tax dollars go.

The social media moans about the wait outside City Hall would seem to confirm those prejudices, but Open House is HUGE. If you want to go see the starchitect erections, by all means go. But there are as many treats further out as further in.

You don’t have to wait til Open House to go to South Norwood library. It’s open, as a library, though for how much longer is uncertain. Croydon council went bust, and even before then, a decade of austerity had stretched non-essential services [1] to the limit.

Inside.

Our guide, part of the Brutalist Library campaign, wasn’t even a fan of postwar architecture to begin with. The building grew on him, as these tend to, while he spent time campaigning to save services.

The council plan is for the library to be demolished, and to be sold to developers. Campaigners plan to make this as difficult for them as possible, through raising awareness, and hopefully acquiring Grade II listing status.

The view from the top.

Our next visit was a bit of a gamble. We hadn’t booked St Barnards Estate, a private, Swiss-influenced modernist housing project, but assumed not many people go to Croydon for this kind of thing.

This was a good guess. And the humans who lived there were extremely welcoming, as we were given a comprehensive history of the place[2] and the chance to tour three of the houses.

There is something a bit weird about exploring such beautiful and well designed homes when you’re housing insecure yourself. It feels like visiting a reservoir in a drought; but at least we were out of towners. The Croydonites on the tour had a wistful aspect, knowing they could look but never realistically own. I shared it.

At the other end of the class spectrum, I was mistaken for an architecture student by one wealthy, older local, who couldn’t understand why we’d come so far to see these buildings, and why we didn’t simply live in modernist homes ourselves.

St Bernard’s

Still, this was at least another good reminder that modernism, if maintained, can provide gorgeous and still oddly futuristic living spaces. I would happy have lived in any of the places I saw today; even the library.

An architect lives here.

[1] Aka statutory. Any society that doesn’t consider libraries to be essential have gone very wrong, and we have gone very wrong…

[2] It was initially supposed to be much bigger but the developers panicked! The estate it’s based on has spectacular views of the Alps, here you can see the Surrey Hills!

All of Euan’s sketches from August’s Next Level Sketch show

I had the idea of getting someone to draw our show on Tuesday, justifying it via some spurious tale of Victorian era sketch comedy legislation. Euan very gamely did so, even coming on stage after the interval to talk us through his drawings.

“Jesus, Euan. I wasn’t expecting you to attempt every single one”.

“I do as I’m told.”

Next Level Sketch with Luke Rollason and The Awkward Silence – August 31st 2021

After our July show was wiped out by the pingdemic – one of those neologisms you feel dirty for using – it was lovely to be back at Hoopla at The Miller with my fellow Next Level humans for some preposterous, funny nonsense.

Poster by Madeleine Horsley

I wasn’t able to attend the meeting in which the sketches and performers were selected for this particular show [1], but my fellow producers did a fantastic job balancing the talents available with the stupid roles we needed them to perform.

Left to right: horse, horse, Paul Creasy.

So Sarit Wilson Chen was absolutely the correct person to be a lunatic housewife spewing nonsensical pseudo-cockney; Paul Creasy exuded the deadpan authority to be a CEO trying to shoehorn his own screenplay into a corporate meeting; and Jenna Cole was hilariously believable as a superhero furious that her local multiplex is only showing movies from the extended Ken Loach universe.

Ghost Sexbusters.

Manisha Patel, making her Next Level debut, was dryly amused to play a bunch of service roles (even if one of them was technically Wonderwoman); Madeleine Kasson was an actress playing an actress, taught us all how to stage fight and unleashed her full mime skills; and Roderick Millar committed, absolutely, to every role he played, no matter how palpably absurd. And we often make Roderick do palpably absurd things.

Doris, Bert, and Wild Steve in “Fast and Furious: Skegness Drift”.

And me? Well, it would be wrong of me to judge my own performance, but I was amazing.

Madeleine Kasson mimes Nicholas Box.

Joking aside, I was really happy to be MCing again, and think I wrote a funny intro and came up with a fun conceit to keep Euan busy sketching every single sketch, and getting him on after the interval to show the audience what he had come up with. Look out for those in a future post, they’re worth waiting for.

Sarit Wilson Chen and James Walsh, with Roderick Millar as the local solicitor.

Way back in January 2020, when we started this venture, with wild optimism and no idea a global pandemic was lurking in our collective near future, we had a full year of second half acts booked for our shows. Part of the reason we wanted to do this in the first place was to give a regular space for sketch acts often stuck on bills with stand-up comedians – we wanted ours to be THE place to come and watch sketch comedy in London.

So obviously, next up we had Luke Rollason, a clown. Got to keep the audience guessing.

Is this funny?

We’ve had Luke perform at Factually Inaccurate and it was a joy to welcome him back for our other venue, despite his stretching of the remit. I don’t think I’m actually qualified to review the mad, repetition-based, physical and even existential comedy that spews out of Rollason’s mind, so I shall simply say: go see him. You will laugh a lot.

Rounding things off for us were The Awkward Silence, who definitely are a sketch act. There are two of them, they are well but contrastingly attired, and their sketches all jump out of each other, like a Russian Doll but with jokes.

This was their first gig in a long while, but there were no specks of rust here. Vivyan Almond can get a laugh with an eyebrow or a semi-gurn; Ralph Jones is never funnier than when channeling his inner camp into a femme fatale from the pulp noir novel of your dreams.

The Awkward Silence.

It was so glorious to be back, three days later and the buzz has not disappeared. Thanks so much to everyone who wrote, produced, and otherwise helped out with this show.

And a special mention, because I forgot to do so on stage, for Jamie Clarke, who did tech for us with such incredible precision and talent, despite only having a single run through and a million last minute instructions. Jamie: you are an absolute star.

We will be back with Next Level Sketch on 28th September, with special guests Egg. Come along!?

Credits

Next Level Sketch’s August show was written by Muireann Kelly, James Walsh, Paul Creasy, Rob Smyth, Jenna Cole, John Dredge, Dan Smith, Roderick Millar, Sarit Wilson Chen, Jonas Jamarik, and Charles Hutchence.

It was performed by Sarit Wilson Chen, Jenna Cole, Manisha Patel, Paul Creasy, Roderick Millar, Madeleine Kasson and James Walsh.

Tech was by Jamie Clarke and the door was personed by Maddi Sainsbury.

Poster by Madeleine Horsley.

Next Level Sketch is produced by James Walsh, Muireann Kelly, Nadine Bailey, Euan Brown and Paul Creasy.

All photos and drawings by Euan Brown.

http://www.nextlevelsketch.com

The cast.

[1] We’re trying to stick to a 6-7 person cast, for lingering pandemic reasons

The Comedy Arcade – live at the Camden Fringe, Water Rats, Kings Cross, Sunday 8th August

Cor this is a late show! 9:30pm on a Sunday is when I’m usually cowering in existential terror of the week ahead. So it was nice, instead, to be at the Water Rats – historically, one of Kings Cross’ most “anything can happen” venues – to enjoy Vix Leyton and her Comedy Arcade.

The Comedy Arcade exists primarily as a podcast, but here three guests (Rich Wilson, Robin Morgan, and Robin Ince) have been lured out of the audio ether to chat in front of some drunk people in north London.

It’s essentially a panel show, and I have a deep prejudice against panel shows, due to the impending televisual Event Horizon towards all of them being hosted by Jimmy Carr’s head in a jar by 2077 [1].

But live, I love a conceit, and Leyton’s is a fun one, whereby topics emerge from a glued-up tombola (somehow) and comedians compete, in an extremely arbitrary fashion, to tell the best anecdotes.

To be honest, with such a great line-up we don’t even need the questions: for example, we learn Ince’s views on Toby Young (“He thinks he looks clever if he looks like he’s shitting out his ideas”) without him even being asked “who do you think pretends they need to wear glasses just to look clever?”

The eagle-eyed readers will have noticed the show had exceeded its EU quota of Robins (one per panel show).

But thank Brexit for Robin Morgan. He warmed the cockles of my non-Starsailor heart by revealing his deep, possibly ironic hatred of Ince for being the comedian people kept thought they were booking when they were, in fact, booking him.

Fortunately Vix was sat between them, so fisticuffs were narrowly avoided.

On the same theme, I enjoyed Rich Wilson’s tale of initially gigging as Richard Wilson, and the Father Ted-esque “I don’t believe it!” hilarity that inevitably followed him. Rich, you did well to part with the ‘ard.

Over an enjoyably frenetic, free-ranging 45 minutes, we learn important life hacks (skip the middle hour of Midsomer Murders and always get the first round in); tragic tales (has there ever been a choose your own adventure book for stealing choose your own adventure books?); and about the majesty of doing a musical with midlands legend Sue Pollard, who sounds exactly as fabulous as I always hoped she would be.

My favourite moment of the night was probably Robin Ince’s newest fact, about the orb spider dying at the point of ejaculation. “I know a lot of women who would go for that,” quips Vix.

Actually, this show could do with a bit more Vix. I know she’s the host and the facilitator, but with three – admittedly lovely – men, two of them both following the diurnal and eternal path of being a Robin, it would have been good to get a bit more Welsh, female variety.

But this is a minor quibble. These are not lads (though I bet Rich is often mistaken for one). They are nerds. And only nerds would proudly end a show, as the younger Robin does tonight, with the fact that David Attenborough is older than sliced bread.

And this, as a way to spend a Sunday evening, is the greatest thing since it.

**** ⅓ out of *****

Vix Leyton’s Comedy Arcade is available via all good podcast providers. You can catch it in live show form at the Edinburgh Fringe at the Counting House from 25-29th August. Tickets here.

[1] This seems a terribly badly timed thing to have written on the day we find out Sean Lock has died. Read Harry Hill’s wonderful tribute here.

Review: Weapons of Mass Hilarity, 2Northdown, Monday 16th August

“Where do you want to sit?”

“The front”.

Not the usual exchange when attending stand-up comedy, but this was a show with a difference. Weapons of Mass Hilarity showcases comics with links to the Middle East, and the friend I was with is British Iraqi. Of course she wanted to sit at the front and see me picked on for a change.

Fortunately David Lewis, our MC, is an equal opportunities offender. Myself and all the other white guys (also, inevitably, called James) copped our fair share, but so did a septuagenarian Iraqi engineer, an Assyrian family, and Lewis’ own mother, who wasn’t even there but had to be apologised to repeatedly.

But that’s kinda the point. This night is a reclamation as much as it is a celebration: here are the things that unite us, and here are the things that we have the right to take the piss out of ourselves about, and frankly we’re going to be funnier than you while we do it.

It was a dizzying line-up. Maria Shehata set the tone, the Egyptian-American comedian brilliant in both material and delivery. The audience boiled with recognition laughter at Shehata’s description of parents who think you’re dead if you don’t answer the phone [1]; I especially liked the comparison of women who don’t want children with topless men on the tube – it’s allowed, but we don’t like it, do we?

Next was WMH founder Jenan Younis, already the object of Lewis’ ironic ire due to the number of people in the audience claming to be there specifically to see her [2]. We enjoyed the full range of Younis’ material, from home counties racism, body hair norms and unfortunate autocorrects; and doctors, sexy and otherwise. Our favourite bit? Her white friends planning an adventure on a dinghy post-lockdown, and Younis explaining why her somewhat lack of comfort with that had nothing to do with the water.

Remember the seventy-ish guy in the audience? His son, Yazan Fetto, was on stage next. “Any Iraqis in the audience” was met by a single-person bellow next to me, and a fun riff on how this was not the answer he was planning for.

I enjoyed Fetto’s set, but there were some groaners in there – some of the puns around Christianity teetered the line of so-bad-they’re-good and so-bad-they’re-bad. We were on better ground with the enjoyably tasteless material about his Nigerian wife, whose emails you will probably be able to find in your spam folder as I write.

The hills are alive with the sound of Victoria Howden! Tonight’s headliner was part naif, part diaphragm, with brilliant, witty, and memorable tales of being a musical-obsessed kid growing up in Jerusalem. Though Howden’s stage persona – think Björk in the It’s Oh So Quiet video, only six foot tall – is much looser than one expects from a stand-up, don’t be fooled: the pull back and reveal of why she was even on the bill was masterfully timed, the songs were beautiful, and the stories very funny indeed. 

And poof! All of a sudden, the metaphorical curtain was down, our metaphysical tour was over, and all that was left was for my friend to venture, blinking, into the evening light and go share stories with some fellow Iraqis.

**** ½ out of *****

[1] my friend: “when she looked aghast at the suggestion of her white friends that she ‘just ignore the call’ I was laughing so hard I had to gasp for breath”.

[2] Full disclosure: Younis played our own Factually Inaccurate night last week, but that was a bespoke set about farting, the first time “bespoke” and “farting” have been used in the same sentence.

Proceeds for this show were donated to MAP (medical aid for Palestinians) and Shlama Foundation – click on each charity to find out more and to donate.

Review – Funny Femmes, 2Northdown, Sunday 15th August

The conveyor belt of straight white men never stops. I should know: I myself was made at the straight white man factory. Production is booming, and despite consumer feedback, many of my model think that a) we’re funny and b) people should listen to what we have to say.

And so we are vacuum packed, stuck on lorries, and distributed to open mic nights up and down the country.

I’m sure Charlie George, Alex Bertulis-Fernandes, and Sharlin Jahan have considered sabotage at source, gumming up the gears with our own melted Britpop vinyl. But for now, they’ve joined forces, because promoters still find it difficult to move beyond tokenism on their bills and in their minds.

Sunday’s was a work in progress show but you wouldn’t know it from the quality of the gags. Charlie George was up first, dancing and sliding to the stage like a graceful slinkey. A pansexual person with a clowning and dance background, the physical movement accentuates the stories and tales of uncertain living and how cats only show you their bumholes if they like you.

George’s story of how her ultra-religious parents found out she wasn’t straight deserves to be turned into a six part Netflix series, and whatever the situation, whatever the shame, and the tears, and the opposition, she comes through hilarious and intact. 

Alex Bertulis-Fernandes is a slightly less hopeful proposition, as befits someone with clinical depression. To a fellow sufferer, there was something liberating to see someone be so honest and so intentionally flippant about their condition, even if there were a few occasions where the audience were uncertain whether to laugh. Not me, though. I laughed like the proverbial drain.

Third up – I won’t say headliner, this is a communal show – was Sharlin Jahan.

Jahan performed at our own Factually Inaccurate night last week, at extreme late notice, and was extremely excellent. Tonight, there was less material about eggs, but her advice on dating “feedback” from white guys, riffs on nipple-less avatar characters, and contempt for certain age-gap relationships were all extremely funny and tight.

You’d think this set had been performed a thousand times before, such was the confidence, assurance and charm.

They all came on stage together at the end, and though Bertulis-Fernandes’ mic was cut off – probably by the charred hand of patriarchy, rising up through the liquid remains of a thousand Oasis records – the warmth and solidarity these three shared was plain to see.

Catch ‘em while you can in venues this size: soon they’ll be selling out Knebworth.

***** out of *****

Funny Femmes (work in progress) perform at Battersea Arts Centre on 29th September

North Downs Way and the Pilgrims Way, Farnham to Guildford

Frazzled after a gig, I took myself off for a walk. Many years ago, I attempted to walk the full North Downs way with a now ex-friend. But for reasons I no longer recall, we started at Guildford, rather than the actual start point of Farnham.

And so, a decade later, but still feeling early somehow, I made it to the beginning.

We might get there one day.

Farnham station is separated from the town centre by a fast bypass, which takes ages to cross as cars are prioritised. The town itself is little better: the climate crisis has not make it to Surrey, if this market town filled with pensioners hemmed in on tiny pavements waiting forlornly for a gap in the traffic is anything to go by.

This town could be so beautiful.

I bought a sandwich for my walk and had a chat with lovely Jack in the town hall, who explained that this was once very much a brewing town, and that her partner used to organise raves in the abandoned lido back in the eighties. This is now a pretty walled garden, and a welcome respite from the gyratory.

Time to go. I headed out along the river Wey, hoping to connect with the NDW path. But the overgrown footpath spewed me out on to the hard shoulder of the busy bypass, with no crossing. Grumpily, I headed my way back into town, and then out again back towards the station.

Things improved as I left Farnham and its contempt for pedestrians behind. Heading under the railway and reuniting with the river, I passed some idyllic farmhouses as I relaxed into the walk.

I had vague plans to swim in the river if I found a secluded spot, but the waters looked decidedly brown. Privatised water companies have been dumping sewage at an unprecedented rate this summer, so I decided not to go through the motions.

Pausing on a country road trying to figure out where to go next, a fast-paced woman passed me. Catching her up ten minutes later at a gate, she asked me if I was doing the North Downs Way. She explained that she was doing the Pilgrims Way, and had come from Winchester.

A pilgrim! In my mind, big sections of the NDW and the pilgrim route were interchangeable, but there were, it turned out, more deviations than I had realised. As seems obvious in hindsight, this is mainly due to churches: there aren’t many up on the ridge of chalk passing through southern England, so the latter passes more villages and historical sites of habitation.

We fell into step, and got talking. Her name was Amy, and she was a teacher, and religious [1]; I am a gigging comedian and layabout. We got on well, and when the pilgrims way and the NDW divided, I turned left and joined her.

One awesome and very Japanese thing about walking pilgrim routes is each church has its own stamp. I loved Amy’s stamp book and excitement at heading inside cool and hitherto unexplored churches.

The only slight drawback to taking the Pilgrims’ Way was more time spent on the verges of roads; the company and the conversation more than made up for this. It meant, for example, we could both enjoy mysterious sights and signs, like this non-denominational tribute to the five pillars of Surrey.

When will there be a Harvester for the world?

Eventually, the two long-distanced walking routes merged again, and we headed up onto the chalk ridge before descending down into the busy Guildford streets, the station, and home.

We did not see a single other walker all day.

Amy will eventually reach Canterbury. I don’t know where I am heading yet, but I am enjoying the journey.

[1] You don’t have to believe in God to be a pilgrim, but it helps.