If one joined the highly competitive ranks of Walk Felling, then one needed to expect knocks and brickbats as well as the bouquets and fillips.
Joanna was not terribly keen, it had to be said, when Thomas suggested her enrolling in the local Walk Felling group.
This group – according to their extremely glossy brochure (so glossy it shone at night without any lights on) – had thrived in Buckminster since time’s immemorial tolling of the city’s church bells. The group’s various ‘Captains of the Trip’, as they were called, had counted Tobias Smollett and Jonathan Swift among their number, although, in those days, these two famous authors must have presided over the group from an enormous distance. Distances have indeed grown smaller as time approached our own time – mainly due to the development of transport techniques but also often due to unexpected factors such as the miles themselves becoming relatively shorter in length (incredible though it may seem that nobody has before noticed this phenomenon or remarked upon it, safe in this account).
In short, however, today’s Walk Felling Captains have an easier task to arrange and, subsequently, control the various Trips in which the Buckminster group happens to indulge.
Joanna was a burly woman, but ‘burly’ is not a feminine word and she preferred, when push came to shove, the word ‘buxom’. But Thomas loved her, he thought, and that fact made any careless use of words quite unimportant and ultra vires.
“Aren’t there any comebacks?” she asked, as Thomas passed the enrolment form towards her. She wielded the unlit cigarette in its holder as if she were conducting the conversation orchestrally.
The clock on the steadfast mantelpiece tick-tocked ponderously, while the bay window was full of a threatening sky outside. Walk Felling was more difficult in the heat. At least wet and cool dowsed the passions.
“Comebacks?” Thomas intoned. “What sort of comebacks are you referring to, dear Joanna?”
She then embarked upon a long diatribe concerning various trial Trips she had experienced as a volunteer, i.e. accompanying those people who instigated the Trips. Thomas, she saw, was not quite himself today. His smooth skin hid his thoughts whilst also belying his age – and she wondered how she could have possibly ended up with a soul-mate so distinctly unsuited to her soul - unsuited if not by age differential, certainly by temperament and quaint interests.
He was under the weather, decidedly out of salts. Take this Walk Felling as an example: the pursuit that Thomas was so crazy about. It seemed more conducive to embittered middle-aged folk like him, not for a relative youngster she felt herself to be. She discarded the unlit cigarette and its holder, despairing of its use as a stage prop.
“Well, you know.” She glanced towards the window where the weather was now disguised by a sudden blanket of fog - probably the ideal conditions for blatant Walk Felling. “It’s all well and good Walk Felling with people but when we also do it with actual parts of their living quarters and with their other belongings, then I’m sure we’re treading on too many toes…”
Thomas shrugged. Joanna turned back to the enrolment form, quizzically sucking the pen that had replaced the cigarette holder as a comforter. There was a wording in the small print she couldn’t really follow.
“What does this mean?” She points with the pen, peering over her own buxom chest with an expression fit to fell Jack and the Beanstalk’s Giant.
Thomas erected his half-glasses upon his face and studied the bit pointed at. And read it aloud with great understanding: “No winklepickers, no trailing feet, no untoward heels, no angular ankles, no misled toes … Hmmm, well, Joanna, that simply means you have to be careful where you place your feet during a Trip. The Captain will have your guts for garters, if you don’t.”
“No, not that bit, Thomas, this bit.” She pointed again, but now not allowing her own upper body to divert the direction of her pen-tip. She read it aloud herself, this time: “Doors and windows can be approached by the signatory but only with great care; I, as signatory, faithfully do testify that those labelled with a red triangle should be deemed permanent and thus effectively ‘unwalking’ features of a house and theretofore ineligible for Felling.”
Thomas frowned. He himself had never been known to hold back when approaching apparent inanimate objects during an official Trip. Everything he saw was fair game to him – and once he’d started caving things in with his metal toe-caps, he’d always claim having missed seeing the red triangle. Yet those very thoughts belied his actual thoughts.
“I can’t sign this.” Joanna sighed. “It makes me liable to counter-tripping, it seems. Even upon my own house.”
Thomas eventually convinced Joanna and they both took her enrolment form to Trip HQ where the Captain held court, as it were.
The latest Captain – in a long line of Captains – had a quizzical moustache which he constantly twirled with his yellow fingers as he read the form that Joanna, with some misgiving, had eventually signed. Each form was indeed different from all other forms. There were no standard rules of Walk Felling – in fact there was potentially an infinite number of ‘sets of rules’, in ever-increasing permutations. The Captain simply had to check what things Joanna was allowed to do and what she wasn’t allowed to do, all within the realms of reason.
Thomas looked on, beaming – proud that his lady consort of the moment was soon to be allowed entry into the ranks of Buckminster Walk Felling. Even the HQ’s inner door swung to and fro in the fresh-gusted air … creaking out its celebration of Joanna’s entry.
Her maiden Trip was to be that very afternoon. Thomas and Joanna traipsed behind the dishevelled shape of the Captain towards Buckminster Common. There, they could see the huge electricity Generators that hulked glossily on the horizon like lowered souls in prayer. These machines hummed, even at this considerable distance, giving the air – which was now generally cool and clear – the odd waft of perceptible warmth.
The Captain was smoking like a chimney. And he, together with Thomas and Joanna, and a number of other Trippers, slowed their own walk to an amble as they approached an area where already the Trip’s catharsis was primed. At least a score of strangers was seen striding vigorously in a circle, round and round an odd burial-mound that was covered with a house door. They were crooning some difficult words that were nevertheless easy to hear.
“We expectorate the Trip, we ooblivate the Trip, we stagnivate the Trip, we duminate the Trip…”
And the Captain’s group itself, whilst approaching these circling crooners, intoned their own reply: “You simply await our Trip!”
Joanna knew, by strength of the wording of the particular set of rules that she had signed with her own fair dinky scrawl upon the enrolment form, that she was the only one of the Trippers who could actually tackle this door.
The door was clearly not walking and it bore a red triangle – of sorts. So it would have been difficult to justify full-blooded Walk Felling in its own case. Except by Joanna.
She would need to swallow all compunction and simply attack the door while it was down. Meanwhile, the Captain, Thomas and the other Trippers tackled the circling crooners at mid-calf level - a surprise manoeuvre in the form of a variation upon ‘weakening ankles’, but it resulted in all participants, Trippers and Tripped alike, sprawling on the Common like dismantled beetles.
Joanna was not among them. She had been seen chasing the door into the distance, towards the horizon where the Generators moaned on and on forever – lighting up Buckminster City and all its pubs, as the place awaited the return of the excited Walk Fellers after weathering a variably hot day on the Common.
Thomas, when in his cups, wondered if he should ever see Joanna again.