The Black Death (Alive and Kicking)
They don’t call this country “Blighty” for nothing. It seems like everyone’s always ailing around here, especially me. I get shot of one malady, only to have another swoop down and carry me off in its germy clutches. In the past few weeks I’ve been hit by a cold, followed by what may or may not have been food poisoning, followed by bronchitis (with severe laryngitis) combined with a head cold (that’s still going on). I average something every four weeks now, except for the summers, when I get time off for good behaviour. I shudder to think what would happen if I was forced to join the daily commute in and out of London with millions of germy commuters hacking and coughing and sneezing their way through the morning and evening rush hour. Frankly, I’m beginning to think the plague was never fully eliminated from Britain.
Some time back I was out for an evening in Blackheath with a bunch of Cockneys (I do seem to know a lot of Cockneys, don’t I?) and I was given a most interesting history lesson. Apparently the heath itself – which is a green space situated between some of Blackheath’s village streets – can never be built on. Now let me say to those blissful in their ignorance, the heath itself is one hell of a nice piece of real estate… until you hear that there are plague victims buried there. Oh, sure, there are mixed reports on all this, but when was the last time you saw anyone spending a Sunday afternoon on the heath with a bucket and spade? I mean, would you let your children play there? Er, well… providing you actually LIKE your children, that is.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not blaming Blackheath specifically for my maladies! I guess if I were to place the blame on any one particular location, I’d probably have to opt for Eyam, the famous plague village in the Derbyshire Dales, since I’d been there way before I’d ever stepped foot in Blackheath. When I lived in the dreaded north (by that I mean Sheffield, home of the Arctic Monkeys, Sean Bean, and assorted bits of steel cutlery), I spent quite a lot of my free time in Derbyshire, hiking about in The Peak District, only to end up in some wonderful country pub afterward (that really was the whole point of the exercise, if I’m honest!). If you want to know of a good pub in the Peaks, just ask – I know them all. There were very few Sunday afternoons when you wouldn’t find me at some cosy country pub with a pint and a plate of some tasty pub grub. No frozen rubbish there. The food was fresh and often bordering on gastro-cuisine, and there was always room for sticky toffee pudding. One tends to work up an appetite hiking and climbing and teetering about on cliffs, believe me.
I’ve had some very enjoyable experiences in the Peaks. In fact, I’ve even taken some literary inspiration from the area via my short story “Bakewell, Revisited” originally published in Erotic Travel Tales 2 (
Ca). It’s set in the market town of Bakewell and involves its most famous celebrity: the absolutely divine Bakewell Pudding. Mind you, I’m not entirely certain the Bakewell Pudding’s founding fathers (or mothers) had envisioned quite the scenario I’d conjured up for my story, but…
Anyway, let’s get back to those Peak District jaunts before I get myself into trouble here. I tell you, you haven’t lived till you’ve been right in there among the heather when it’s in its full purple glory. Oh yeah, you’ll have plenty of company buzzing about too, which can be a bit of a challenge. I’d already had some nasty run-ins with wasps on a remote mountaintop in the Greek islands (Epinephine anyone?), so their English cousins were not exactly winning me over – especially when one of the cheeky buggers got up my skirt. And honey, I mean WAY up my skirt. Let’s just say this could have been a la petite mort that would have truly been mort.
I’d probably have to say that one of the absolute highlights of my time there (the Peaks, not Greece) was when I was out one Sunday afternoon with my walking/hiking mate Liz and a couple who were visiting her from France. After a scenic drive, we partook of a brief walking tour of duty along a hilly country lane, which wound past a farm full of sheep bleating and whatever else it is sheep get up to. Indeed, our Frenchman was so inspired by this pastoral English setting that he burst into song, serenading these farm residents with the Edith Piaf classic “La Vie En Rose”. (Oddly, there was no applause when he finished.) We then trudged our way back up the hill to the pub, whereupon he ordered the lamb for dinner. I never quite forgave him for that.
Meanwhile, back to the plague. The crazy thing is, I was never ill this often when I lived in Sheffield – and that hilly city is far colder and much windier than The Big Smoke by a long shot. Perhaps those salt-of-the-earth Yorkshire folk are hardier and not as prone to germs as these spoiled Southerners are – after all, they come from steel mill and coal pit stock. Now I’m not saying the dreaded lurgy never sank its talons into the locals, but I don’t recall anything quite to the extent of what I’m experiencing here. Mind you, it could just be me. In fact, I’m certain of it.
I wonder if someone’s trying to tell me something. Is that a voice in my ear, whispering “Come to California! Come to California!”?
Nah. Guess I must’ve imagined it.
Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: Arctic Monkeys, Bakewell, Bakewell Pudding, Bakewell Revisited, Black Death, Blackheath, Blighty, California, Cockneys, Derbyshire, Edith Piaf, Erotic Travel Tales 2, Eyam, Greek islands, la petite mort, London, lurgy, Peak District, plague, pubs, Sean Bean, Sheffield, sticky toffee pudding, wasps, Yorkshire.