This time last week I was beginning to get quite nervous about doing the moonwalk, all 26.2 miles of it. I was worried about whether or not to wear a decorated bra, that the hanging around beforehand would be intolerable like some gigantic hen party with thousands of shrieking women and enforced jollity, that I would pull a muscle and worst of all, that I would be afflicted with a terrible dose of the scour and there would be huge queues for the toilets.
I wasn't worried about being late or not having enough to eat.
I arranged to meet my colleague M who was also doing the walk at 8.15. I thought we would get there in 45 minutes. I was so wrong. We had to wait ages for a bus and then it was one of those nightmare journeys. At one point we were held up by two fire engines which parked right in front of the bus and didn't move for about ten minutes. We had to change buses at Vauxhall and this time the delay was due even more bizarrely to a religious procession involving many people in robes and a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary being held aloft. I had no idea that such things happened in London and I have never seen anything like it before in this country.
We arrived at the big pink tent around ten to ten and just had time to deposit our bags in the luggage tent before it closed.
Despite being late we still had to wait for a quite a while before getting started. I didn't like the hanging around much. I was relieved to realise a lot of people were not wearing bras and nothing else (although plenty were and I didn't seen any men not wearing them).
I didn't queue for the toilet. Finally at around 10 past 11 our group got called to the start. We had to wait until 25 past before we crossed the start line. By this stage I was freezing and very glad that I was wearing a sensible t shirt and fleece rather than my underwear. M and I walked together for about ten minutes but the pace was too slow for me and too fast for her so we said goodbye to each other and I strode off.
To begin with the novelty of car drivers beeping and people cheering us on from open windows was enough to distract me. A number of poeple, all of them drunk, got caught up with us. I overheard a man yelling down his phone:
"Fuck's sake! Just saw a geezer in a bra and there's like hundreds of nutters walking down the road and I can't even take the piss, cos it's for cancer or sumfink!"
There were in fact thousands of us. The ratio of women to men was something like 100:1.
We walked all round Battersea Park where there was a toilet stop. I kept walking. There were hundreds of volunteers handing out bottles of water, advising us of dangers ahead - bollards! - and cheering us on. The five mile mark was on the other side of Lambeth Bridge. I tried to tell myself that this meant I had completed almost a fifth of the route but really I was thinking over 20 miles still to go.
Thankfully it was a dry and clear night. We passed under the bridge in a tunnel where there was a bottleneck.
This was partly caused by a group of Romanians who were sleeping rough. They were in sleeping bags and all of them appeared to be at least in their 60s. They were all sitting up holding out hats and asking for money. They must have been really perplexed at the numbers of people disturbing their night's sleep. A lot of the walkers were from outside London so were shocked to see this but sadly it is more and more common to see old and sick people sleeping rough. As we walked past the House of Commons Big Ben struck one. A lot of selfies were being taken.
The next toilet break was outside Tate Modern. Once again I walked past the huge queues. I did help myself to water though and followed the instructions to sip it slowly. By now it was very cold and I was beginning to feel a bit achey. I trudged on past the Globe, Southwark Cathedral, HMS Belfast, City Hall. Most people walking seemed oblivious to these sights but as soon as they saw Tower Bridge there was much excitement and yet more selfies.
We crossed Tower Bridge and then walked all the way round the Tower of London. The mile between the 8 and 9 markers seemed especially long. There were more toilets at mile 9 and the queues were insanely long. Someone said afterwards that some people had waited an hour. I did not join them. I did though sit down for about three minutes and I ate half a flap jack. I had already snacked on some chocolate raisins. I felt restored by this and the next 3 miles went quite quickly. I realised that I preferred walking in parts of London that I know. A number of buses passed us and we walked past Cannon Street station. I thought longingly of the train that would take me all the way home. Mile 13 was at Hyde Park Corner. Another half full, half empty moment. I was really happy to have it half completed it but daunted at having to walk the same distance again.
I decided to send a text to M when I was outside Buckingham Palace. I stopped looking where I was going for just a second and stumbled really badly. I didn't fall but I did hurt my back and a number of women rushed to help me. I was actually OK just a bit shaken. The next mile or two was miserable. I was also getting fairly desperate to use the loo. We walked round the whole perimeter of Hyde Park. I had never realised before just how big it is.
By this stage it was beginning to get light. I was hoping for a spectacular sunrise but all that happened was a gradual lightening of the sky and a lot of birds making a racket.
On Kensington High Street I sat down on a wall for two minutes and ate the other half of my flapjack
We walked round Knightsbridge, past Brompton Oratory, where my grandfather had gone to mass while living in London in the 1940s and 50s, and then past the V and A which I visited a lot when I first lived here (and still do). The best sight of the night was just round the corner. Outside the Natural History Museum were a bank of toilets and a really small queue. I only had to wait for about three minutes. I also cheered up when I realised we were already at mile 18.
After using the toilet I felt much better. I had a vague idea we were going to the Kings Road next and then it would be the homeward stretch. I had forgotten about Earls Court. By now it was around 5 in the morning and completely clear. I have never really been to Earls Court. It's one of those areas of London where the very rich live cheek by jowl with the not very rich. We passed a rundown house which I guess was a hostel. A man with a strong Newcastle accent was hanging out the window, waving and yelling at everyone:
"Best fuckin' night of my life. I've never seen so many boobs."
I felt slightly disheartened when I realised we were walking back on ourselves although I cheered up when I realised I'd missed one of the mile markers and we were already at mile 22. London was completely waking up by this stage. The traffic never really stops but we started seeing people who were clearly on their way to work. Mile 23 and we were back at Hyde Park Corner. I worked out it would take an hour from there to the finish.
Usually at the end of any walk or indeed when doing anything difficult, I lose my motivation and the last section is the most difficult for me. For some reason this didn't happen. I got a second wind and my pace picked up.
We crossed the river at Battersea Bridge and I was struck by how beautiful everything was.
From that point onwards we were just walking back to Clapham Common. I walked as fast as I could, which wasn't very fast at this stage, as I wanted to get over the finish line in less than 8 hours. We were on the same road we had started out on. At the beginning I hadn't realised we were going downhill but I sure as hell knew we were now going uphill. There were lots of men with children waiting to welcome their partners as they crossed the line. I felt a little sad that there was no-one waiting for me.
I crossed the finishing line at 7.20 exactly 7 hours and 55 minutes after I'd started. A woman came up to me and put a medal round my neck. I burst into tears.
I'm very glad I did it but it was very difficult and I don't think I'd ever want to repeat the experience.
I did raise a lot of money though.