a ticket from him, and be asked no questions. So I went back down the road to the crossroads to look at the signpost. The signpost said
Oswestry, 15 miles
, and the timetable had told me there were connections with the London train from Oswestry. Fifteen miles. I looked at my worn, thin shoes. They wouldnât make it. I walked back up the street to the general shop, and bought a pair of boots; good tough ones, which laced up high, and had heavy studs in the soles. They cost thirty shillings, with a spare pair of laces.
âShall I wrap them up for you?â the shopkeeper asked.
âNo, thank you, Iâm going to wear them right away.â
âYou shouldnât do that, boy.â
âYou should put Dubbin on them first. If you Dubbin them well, now, when they have never been wet, they will be nicely waterproof for months. Good thing, that is.â
âI donât think I can afford Dubbin,â I said dubiously, looking at my change.
âMrs Williams-on-the-hillâs London boy, isnât it?â
âWell, now, Mrs Williams is a good friend of mine. You will find a tin of Dubbin over there, on the shelf under the counter, and an old rag with it. Off with you now.â
I sat behind the counter for about half an hour, smearing Dubbin into the boots, and rubbing them up to a nice shine. The shopkeeper didnât think much of the shine I got at first, so I went back and tried again. Then he let me put them on.
I liked him. And I didnât find his being Welsh a burden to me, not now. Straightening up from lacing the boots I said to him, âBoro da!â He smiled at me, and answered incomprehensibly.
I set off. I had no idea at all how long it would take me to walk fifteen miles, for I had never done anything like it. I must have been on bus rides as long as that, but I couldnât even remember how long the bus took. I tried to work it out from the cross-country runs we had done at school, but we did those at a trot, and on the flat, and it was pavement most of the way, and anyway, I wasnât much good at it. I gave up trying to work it out, and just walked.
Outside the village I met the bakerâs van, and I bought a brown bap from him, and stuffed it in my pocket. It wasnât raining that day, for once. I looked up over the river, and the roofs of the toy-town houses to the Williams farm. From a good three miles away I could see the white sheep clustered in the dipping field, and the expanse of hillside devoid of white specks above it. I remembered Evan giving me money for the stamp, and Mrs Williamsâ warm new-made bread. I felt quite friendly towards them.
There was nobody else on the road. It twisted a good deal, winding down the valley, with the stream beside it all the way. Every mile or so there was a farm gate. The valley widened out as it descended. Over the other side the railway to the quarry scored a straight line on the lower slopes of the hillside, and once I saw a string of trucks go down, and heard them rattle, the rattle rebounding in the valley all the way.
When the sun stood high in the sky, and my new boots began to feel hot and heavy, I stopped and lay down in the hedgerow, and ate my bap. Then I climbed a gate and wandered across the field, and drank from the stream in my cupped hands. Vaguely I remembered an Old Testament story about soldiers drinking from their hands; but I couldnât remember whether the soldiers who drank with cupped hands were chosen, or rejected. I went back to the road.
It didnât take me so terribly long to reach Oswestry. I got there in the late afternoon. I found the railway station, and bought a ticket to London. I ate horrible cheese sandwiches from the station buffet for tea, and waited for the train to leave. It left an hour and a half late, and struggled across England in the murky darkness, stopping every few miles, or so it seemed to me, as I drowsed in my
John Skipp Cody Goodfellow