My father taught me how to walk. He marched through the mud at the edge of the field and scissored his legs over barbed wire and into the copse where it said PRIVATE in red paint. I had to follow or there’d be no crisps at the pub.
I watched his back, always ahead, always disappearing. One more mile, he’d shout, over his shoulder – Chilcomb, Kilmeston, any high chalk ridge with paths like stippled scars. His calves bulged, his thighs took the strain and he wouldn’t wait at the top, couldn’t wait to be gone.
When he was buried up on Magdalen Hill I kept his legs. Long, they are, with dry, cracking skin and tough sinew and yellowed bones that flex and grind. You have to work your joints, you see, feel the stretch from hip to knee, keep ankles loose and heels alert to the roots and flinty shards.
Sometimes I track him in the darkness, striding up to Cheesefoot Head. I feel him in my marrow when I walk the South Downs Way. Beeches shiver where I tread. Pheasants shriek in my wake.
One more mile, he urges, between the hedgerows, beyond the moonlight. One more mile.