Tuesday 1 January 2008

I visited Virginia Water with my girlfriend and her family today by way of a relaxing New Year’s Day excursion. It appeared that our plan for New Year’s Day was far from original.

Virginia Water is a lake just outside the M25 which serves as a sanitised microcosm of the countryside for Londoners desperate to escape, and this they were doing, in droves. The lake, a medium-sized affair with a few miles of shore, has been surrounded by carefully-tarmaced paths for safe enjoyment by people who don’t own welly boots or harbour a sense of adventure.

This is confirmed by the fact that you don’t have to wander far from the tarmac to lose a significant chunk of humanity. Near the packed car park, it would be fair to describe the throngs of people as a crowd. A short distance down a cleft between two hills paved only with grass seemed to be accessible only to the swarthiest of adventurers. The Londoners were treading carefully: what is this funny green stuff? Does it burn? Do you need to wear special shoes?

The lakeside was swarming with bicycles, which were almost without exception sparkling, brand-new and obviously Christmas presents, children whose little feet on their little legs barely touched the floor teetering on the pristine saddles. ‘Little Jimmy will grow into it,’ parents rationalised to themselves, ‘He will be terrorising old ladies on that bike well into his teens.’ One bike, clearly taking the piss, was trying so desperately hard to look new that it had white wheels (I think it was some kind of horrible Barbie bicycle or something, because it also had a pink frame). Parents were taking pictures with suspiciously new-looking digital cameras, lenses glinting even in the extremely overcast weather. I suspect almost everything everyone was wearing, carrying or riding was a festive gift.

A lazily late start meant that, as we walked around the lake, the light was slowly fading and a thin layer of mist was forming over its surface. It was almost a pretty fade into dreary twilight, but for the sodium lights which glinted in the lake water and illuminated the edge of the surrounding park and reminded me that we were only half an hour from the edge of London.

As we joined the queue of traffic to leave the car park, the car surrounded by exhaust fumes illuminated like a cheap, carbon monoxide disco by cars’ head- and tail-lights, I wondered whether this is what people from London think the countryside is like.

It is. It’s all busy, sodium-lit and tarmaced, just like the city streets, but with occasional scary grass (the green stuff). I wouldn’t bother going for a look if I were you.

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