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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, March 25, 2008
    Pontiflunk in Duffield

    "Eccentric, resistant and unusual walking is a passion of mine," writes Phil in the programme notes to his play In search of Pontiflunk, which I saw performed excellently by Josh Darcy in Duffield this evening.

    If you've read any of my other posts about this play then you'll already know it's Phil's portrayal of the walk he did last year in the footsteps of Charles Hurst, who a century earlier had taken it on himself to journey south from Manchester with a box of acorns, planting oak trees along the way. Hurst made it as far as Northampton before giving in to the pressure from the letters from wife and livid friends urging him back home; the tragic death of Pontiflunk, his canine companion, on the road the previous day probably triggered his journey's end. But the play shows Phil's delight as he discovers some oaks - clearly Hurst's - living and thriving in places en-route, an epiphany on the dangerous edge of a thundering trunk route into Nottingham, which took place a couple of days before I joined him.

    The play is almost as good as going on a walk with Phil: full of inquiry, speculation, rummaging and making connections. "Walking," Phil writes, "is the encounter with the world, at the pace that allows the walker to affect the places they pass through, and allows the places to affect the walker." The play clearly has that affective quality too: the man sat next to me was gripped by the story because he was a keen planter of trees; the actor and others in the company I spoke with tonight had gained from their encounters with Phil and his other companions who they'd met on the road or in the various East Midlands theatres of this tour.

    "Walking is part of the forgotten art of being a stranger, and it doesn't make the seas rise," Phil writes. I enjoyed being the stranger in an East Midlands town today adding that little extra to a few people's evenings by acknowledging my tiny role in this story. What made the day even more special for me, though, was ceasing to be a stranger to Dave, a college friend who lives in Duffield, who I had a pub lunch with fourteen years since we last met.

    Pic: Phil's map from the In search of Pontiflunk programme