The Dordogne has long held a mysterious allure for the people of Surrey - Untold Surrey
PUBLISHED: 15:20 15 July 2013 | UPDATED: 15:20 15 July 2013
Amateur ‘historian’ Morris Otley strikes out alone to bring us further outlandish tales from our county’s past, with a healthy disregard for historical accuracy...
Attentive readers of this column may have noticed that this month’s is penned not by Otley & Wimblefuss, but by me, Otley, alone. Yes, regrettably, a parting of the ways has occurred. However, in the feverish world of local history, this should come as no surprise. As anyone who has witnessed the fisticuffs commonplace at any postcard fair can attest; local historians are a quarrelsome caste.
Fortunately, the Otley Wimblefuss divorce is an amicable one. Though, to be frank, the Wimble’s various foibles (cheap sherry, online scrabble and an unhealthy fixation with the 1970’s TV series, Poldark) have rendered him completely unreliable. As for his claim that I just make stuff up, well, that’s a matter best left to the Professional Conduct Committee of the Royal Society of Local Historians.
Of course, this is hardly the first collaborative endeavour to founder on a rock others might regard as inconsequential. Who, for example, could imagine that a portion of brie would scupper the friendship of two of Surrey’s most intrepid explorers?
It was a time when an Englishman’s idea of good sport was to pilot something uninsurable up a river thick with piranha, or to race a Norwegian to the heart of some insanely chilly vastness. No, I’m not talking about a Top Gear special. This was the age of adventure, long before tight denim and the sedentary perspective became fashionable.
Flying the flag for Surrey, Messrs Wally Carp and Egbert Rankle embarked on one foolhardy expedition after another. Though due to their paltry annual leave entitlement, theirs tended to be short odysseys to some of the world’s nearer flung places. In fact, it was on their only trip abroad - a quest for the source of the River Dordogne in France - that the aforementioned fromage drove a wedge between them.
The plucky pair had left Woking in understandably high spirits. Unwittingly, however, they’d picked the very worst month to tackle such a challenge: August. Not only was it considerably warmer than they could have imagined, but large groups of dawdling natives severely hindered their progress. Setting free their pack-donkeys and ditching most of their kit afforded our heroes greater speed, but in so doing they made another grave miscalculation. For, as is well-known, if an Englishman is to accomplish anything he requires tea. Or a cup of instant and a half decent biscuit.
With nerves rubbed raw by the incessant rasping of cicadas and no whistling kettle or ginger nuts to soothe them, the mood of the expedition plummeted. And when Rankle discovered that Carp had quietly polished off the brie, he flew into a rage. Carp’s flippant retort, “But you don’t like cheese!” did nothing to defuse the situation, and in a parting shot lacking the nobility of Captain Titus Oates’ famous goodbye - though in truth far more typical of what generally passes between men pushed to the edge - Rankle stormed off back to Woking.
With the words “Cheddar, you oaf! I don’t like cheddar!” ringing in his ears, Carp trudged on alone. But with the Dordogne not getting any narrower and his feet beginning to kill him, he very soon called it a day.
One can only imagine Carp’s thoughts as he squatted, gasping and lonely, in the shade of the tree he’d chosen to mark the end of his quest... and his irritation when a queue of impatient tourists formed on the other side. Well, if your name is Wally Carp, you really ought to be more careful where you carve your initials.
For more tales from Untold Surrey, visit morrisotley.co.uk