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This one is not about the birds and bee’s, or even tree’s! Or 2poos chasing squirrels. Or Steph catching the breeze. No, This one is about challenging myself.
I don’t know about you but I find my confidence is fickle … some days I’m fine and not too bothered about relatively close encounters when out and about, but on other days I’m just not up for it and keep my distance. It does take some nerve to pass by, face to face, with a stranger or group of strangers when wearing a skirt!
So I decided to heck with my standard walk I was going to challenge myself.
The Common and woods I usually frequent lead into a large newly forested area of around 250 hectares. The newest forest in England – Heartwood Forest. The paths and tracks here are quite narrow. It’s only about 12 years old so the trees are still quite small and set in grasslands. Since the lockdown this area has become very popular … and now its also Bluebell time (one of the old woods in this area – Langley Wood – featured on the BBC Breakfast weather bulletins last Monday.)
I decided … to hell with it… I needed a change. It was going to involve close encounters! The sun was shining and I was up for it. The starting point for close encounters is having the confidence that you are looking and behaving the part.
I dressed in my standard dog walking uniform of lightweight jumper under a black and grey hoodie, my button through denim mini-skirt, 40 denier opaques, and tan ankle boots. I must have been feeling bold because I chose my “Stacey Dooley” orangey-red wig. And I hid behind my oversized sunglasses! Hoop earrings and a bit of orangey lippy and I was up for it.
I devised a point system. Each close encounter was worth +10 points, a slightly avoiding one (5 yards) +5 points, a wide berth worth 0 points, and chickening out and turning back or away worth -10 points.
So we set off down the common – its about 800 metres to where the path splits off and leads up into the “forest.”
First challenge! A swing gate and access point for horses. A choke point. There was a couple with a dog coming the other way, slightly closer than me. What to do? Well, social distancing helps as one is expected to give others a little space. So I waited until they came through, our eyes met briefly followed by a “good morning” and “thankyou.” Inner sigh of relief.. it had gone well. I had been accepted! +10 points.
Well, the walk continued uphill and through a bluebell wood, across a grassy field and into a larger old wood where I did have to pass by a few people, again with nods and good mornings. +60 points.
My confidence was sky high now. The next challenge was a path about a quarter of a mile long bordered by boundary fences screened by shrubs and small trees. No place to hide, or get off the track, which is fortunately quite wide – about 5 yards I guess- enough for social distancing. It is popular with dog walkers, so I was guaranteed to meet some coming up from the car park. And it didn’t take long! They were coming my way in droves! At least that’s how it felt. And I …. well I had no choice, I was committed, so I put on my best smile and went in! I ran the gauntlet with smiles, nods, hello’s and good mornings. Nary a second look or overlong glance … nothing to suggest I hadn’t been accepted.
About +80 points.
Time to head back. I had been out for an hour and a half. The route back was through a massive choke-point straight through the middle of the park to a picnic area, and so back down to the Common. A narrow path about 100 yards long- just wide enough for 2 metres social distancing, fence one side, dense bushes on the other. And coming the other way a man without a dog. This was the crux. The ultimate challenge. This was almost a squeeze past and I didn’t like the look of him. Time for -10 points? My heart was pounding, my confidence in dire risk of crashing!
No! damn it, I was going for it. So best ladylike walk, arm swinging and a pretty smile and I went in. Our eyes briefly met as we passed by. I guess he clocked me by the huge grin on his face, but nothing was said and he didn’t look back. So I had passed the test and also failed. I had been sussed.
You know what? I didn’t care. He was a stranger and there was no problem. +10 points. Yay!
So I finished the walk with a spring in my step and with another +30 points. Grand total about +190 points.
This was another milestone for me. I had confronted my fears and overcome them. I had proved to myself I can be accepted as being a woman by most people I meet. And if I wasn’t …. so what! I must be doing something right! I think the sunglasses played a big part by giving me the extra boost to my confidence.
Stephanie P xx
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