My stars advised me to "let others take the lead". One might almost have thought that the compilers of my horoscope had heard about our primary school's sponsored walk in aid of a new adventure playground.
To begin with I imagined that a few words of maternal encouragement and 5p a mile for each daughter was the most that would be required of me. I had reckoned without Anne's attention to detail.
"It says here," she announced, "that this walk is for the children but any parents are welcome to join it. So who's coming with us?" she demanded, fixing me with stern, unbending eyes. It was not so much a gracious invite, more an
I said I thought her father would probably benefit from the exercise; he however had other ideas. What is more, like a typical, sneaky male, he actually produced valid reasons why he would
be unable to accompany our daughters on their five mile farmyard trek while I, taken by surprise, couldn't manage so much as a dental appointment or a visit to the hairdresser's.
So it was that I lined
up with Anne and Hilary at 1.30 p.m. on the hottest Saturday of the year so far and with an obstinate Little Nan in tow, declaring to anyone who had time to listen that anything Anne and Hilary could do, she could do every bit as well. Her sisters paid her
scant attention; they spent the first mile and a half worrying over whether the numbers scrawled on the backs of their hands for identification purposes would come off in the bath water or whether - dreadful thought - they might be branded numbers 286 and
287 for ever. For myself, I was too busy regretting having worn last summer's down and out sandals - half a mile out and this sponsored walk was turning into a sponsored hobble for me.
To be fair it was a beautiful setting for a walk - across cornfields, apple orchards and meadowland. Somewhere above my head, a cuckoo called. I couldn't help it if the state of my feet led me to take its taunt as a personal insult.
To complicate matters I had with me a four year old who wanted to stop on average once every five minutes to remove stones from her shoe, or dust from her eye, to quench her thirst from my dwindling orange juice
supply, or to inquire after the whereabouts of a loo. "Come on, come on, we'll get left behind!" was my panicky reaction to every enforced halt as I saw the main body of walkers getting further and further ahead of us.
Half way round and it was time for an official pit stop. But so far behind were we that I only had time to kick off my sandals and unscrew the top of my orange juice bottle before the rest of the walkers had risen to their feet and started off downhill
and my daughters were urging me onwards in an agony of impatience.
Little Nan and I made it to the finish in just under two hours - Anne and Hilary, growing more and more impatient at our plod-and-piggy-back
progress, had forged on ahead and were sitting on the grass verge, drinking lemonade and looking unspeakably fresh and composed as we staggered up.
Now I have sponsored a lot of activities in my time.
I have pledged support for knit-ins, swim-ins, sponsored silences and walks over the bridges of London and not made so much as a token protest when the people I agreed to sponsor swam more lengths, crossed more bridges, knitted more loopy squares and
held their tongues for longer than anyone could reasonably have expected. But this is the first time I have had to both take an active part in the proceedings and fork out the necessary at the end of it all.
My daughters, for their pains, earned unbounded satisfaction in their achievement and a yellow certificate. I, for mine, got a blister on my big toe and a blue form waved before my glazed eyes as I wilted on the grassy bank.
"That's 50p you owe us, Mummy. Will you pay up now or shall we wait until you're feeling a bit better?"
Kent Messenger: April 1974