Touched by hedges, wet on the narrow path, and where the path is wider I plunge myself into them deliberately. Beech, privet with its sickly stink, a flock of tiny, dry moths fly up from the wet, wet, green. All up the Hill I go, on my own in the rain with a blue plastic bag that contains a packet of Frazzles, and some digestive biscuits. Past the stone kiss
and up, to the part where it goes from steep to horrible, so horrible that after crossing the small road I can barely raise my foot enough to get it up the opposite kerb. My hands are cold and wet from the hedges, but there is sweat pouring down my back, and things that should not hurt, hurt. Not as badly as they did in January. I did not lose all my ground. I look down, ten feet in front of me and keep walking. There are slugs, tan or brown, and Limax maximus, the leopard slug, which is so jazzily dressed, I always imagine it has a huge white spat on its single foot, out of view, under its body. Garden snails, thousands of them, on walls, on trees, on leaves, on the pavement, on the road. I avoid treading on everyone.
After the steepest stretch, the Hill evens out a little, and then I’m nearly at the top, and then I am at the top and fireworks go off in me. I walk to the highest spot – where I can see my City – and pause there. My whole body is pounding. I can feel it in my teeth, in the soles of my feet and the ends of my fingers, my vision jumps as if I am a drum-skin being beaten, all of me. And I feel sick, but it is the best feeling. I am alone in the park, at the top of the hill. I have not been able to climb it for three months. I feel sick. But it is the best feeling.
I turn and walk back, and because the park is deserted I let myself do one of my favourite things: walk with my eyes shut, walking in my memory of what I was just looking at, not the thing itself. When I run out of memory or something surprises me, I open my eyes for a few steps. I follow the rain running in gutters down the hill, down to the moraine. I could cross that, or take the road around it. The moraine will be flooded, properly flooded. Right across. I break into a little grin and choose the flooded path. The young fox who lives there gives me a dirty look as we pass one another. I swear, he eyes my shoes. Instead of being flooded right across at its usual point, the moraine is completely under in two places. One of the two tiny lakes contains a stranded white van, its wheels almost entirely under water. I clamber through the hawthorn. Where it is usually flooded across, I do what I always do and monkey my way along the fence, with my little plastic bag bopping me on the elbow.
Back home, I touch in, brushing my fingertips against my magic gate-posts. Three little snails are on my doorstep (don’t worry… about a thing). I pick them up and move them carefully so that I can open the door without hurting them. Home again.