I had been planning to blog about our earliest form of transport for a while, then walking took on yet another aspect last week with the royal funeral, the various processions leading up to it and of course The Queue. But first back to basics.
I don’t do hills. I don’t do walking. I don’t like walking.
I was once watching a comedy in which the teenager daughter greets her mother’s return home. ‘I didn’t know where you were, I thought you’d gone for a walk.‘ Mother replies ‘Walk! I’ve never been for a walk in my life.’
Someone describing how the heat was not a problem in Singapore with the air conditioned malls… I asked ‘What if you want to go for a walk?’ He replied looking puzzled ‘Why would you want to go for a walk?’
Why would you not want to walk, the most natural activity for humans, exercise that costs nothing and a handy way to get where you want to go. During Covid lockdown it was one of the few activities allowed and non dog owners discovered new delights. I love walking, but I have no desire to trek to either pole or up to Everest base camp; solo or with companions, who I would be intensely irritated with by the third day… But ordinary walking, enjoying the fresh air, scenery, perhaps photography and probably ending up at a nice cafe or pub is fun for everyone… What do non walkers do when they go for a day out or on holiday? You may think National Trust Houses have large grounds because the original owners owned all the local land; no, it’s so we can have a nice walk before having lunch in the restaurant and looking round the house. No holiday is complete without a walk along a cliff path or a steep ascent up a hill to enjoy the view.
Modern technology, from super electronic wheelchairs to state of the art artificial limbs allow many who are disabled to get out and about with their friends and family who are fit and able to walk. Walking is freedom and not to be taken for granted; those under repressive regimes or living in dangerous areas cannot just go out for a walk. If you are used to walking everywhere it’s a reminder of the privilege when you ‘do something’ to your back or knee and suddenly can’t walk. The leaflets we were given when having chemotherapy suggest that ‘going for a short walk will help combat fatigue’ – this turned out to be a joke as most of each three week cycle it was a struggle to get to the front gate or up the stairs. It was an insight into the chronic fatigue that people with Long Covid and other debilitating medical conditions have to cope with.
So back to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth 11. Whatever your views on royalty or television ( blanket ) coverage of the events, there was a fascination with both the formal traditions and the spontaneous acts of those who came to queue to watch a procession or for The Queen’s lying in. There is something dignified and humbling about the men of the family and others close to the royals walking slowly behind the coffin. Princess Anne joined them, as she did for her father’s funeral, a token man for the day? Presumably it is tradition that only the men walk. If any of the chaps didn’t like walking they were in for a tiring time. I like a brisk walk, walking slowly at a measured pace is much harder, I have tried it round the house. Nor did I go up to London to join The Queue, almost a pilgrimage. They had a long distance to cover at a very slow pace, I wondered if there were escape points for those who changed their minds and just wanted to go home.
There are environmental benefits if everyone walked on short journeys and for writers it is one of the best ways to see real life, but those are topics for another blog.
Are you a walker or non walker? If you enjoy walking what is your favourite sort of walk?
Which door will you go through to find what is real?
Take a walk…
…round and round
and upside down.
Where will you end up?
All pictures in this week’s blogs guaranteed taken this week and within walking distance of my house. For stories set in or inspired by my local area try one of my short story collections.
TAKE A WALK TWIXT RIVER AND SEA
FROM TUCKTON TO HENGISTBURY HEAD
RIVER STOUR, DORSET
HENGISTBURY HEAD – IRON AGE FORT
Covid has not gone away by any means, but officially in England we are back to normal; yesterday was the second anniversary of the day we went into the first lockdown. I have had my end of treatment visit to the oncologist so officially I am back to normal. For all of us the past two years have been strange. Perhaps because it is spring, or because Ukraine makes us appreciate our mundane lives, but everything seems more vivid, interesting, exciting even. I haven’t been further than a walk round Poole after my hospital visit but every walk, every coffee stop is ‘an experience.’
But we do have to face the fact that our town centre shops were already in decline and life is going to be hard and drab for many people with the economic disaster of Covid and Ukraine. Shopping therapy is going to be a thing of the past, though there is still coffee…
Looking on the positive side people have made new on line friends, got to know their neighbours better and become more empathic, helping those who have been isolated and those whose financial struggles were made worse by Covid.
For those of us who have lost partners and loved ones we see the proof that life always does go on, returning more and more to our previous lives doesn’t seem right, but unless we move to a different place or go sailing round the world, it is almost inevitable and a comfort. Some parts of my life have been rejigged while others miraculously slot back into place. Our writing group has resumed in the library; our tutor and founder is now ninety, recovered from a broken hip and more on the ball than the rest of us!
A few weeks ago my friend was making coffee for the new monthly coffee morning at my local library – one of their activities to welcome real human beings back into the library. I went along for moral support, just as well as only two others turned up, both mature chaps who have just returned to England. We had a really interesting hour and it turned out one of the men, Mike, went to a writers’ group back in the USA. I told him about our weekly group and he turned up the next week and has really enjoyed his two sessions. Our tutor was glad to have someone else who also remembered the war ( WW2 ) for our new chap was born in 1935 and spent fifty years in the USA after he and his wife emigrated. He is adamant that he is back in England for his ‘last years’ ( he is very spritely so there could be a good few last years), despite leaving all his family behind; a story that is his to tell not mine, but he is obviously making new friends as well, with the philosophy that every day he is going to engage in conversation with a stranger. This week another new bloke turned up at writers’ group, invited along by Mike.
It has been a strange few weeks. I received an email from my old high school friend in Australia who I have not seen or heard from since we were teenagers at college; fifty years of having no idea how both our lives panned out. She is helping with a research project on founder members of the college and with some difficulty ( as with all the girls who had married and changed their names ) managed to track down this website and found my email address on the contact page; I think that is the first time someone has used the contact page! It was really interesting catching up, though I have no idea what she looks like now!
If you walk dogs, walk or cycle everywhere and work in your front garden, you see familiar faces and smile or chat. Since Covid people seem even more likely to engage, with the silent sub text ‘Isn’t it nice not to be wearing masks and be out and about?’
A lady often passes by on her bicycle with a sweet poodly dog attached alongside, ears flying in the wind. I can’t help but smile and she gives a cheery nod. The other day she was on foot as I arrived back at my front gate and stopped to admire my front garden. It is hardly worthy of Gardeners’ World, but has burst into colour with bulbs out and the addition of the ubiquitous primula to fill in gaps in my tubs.
‘Are you a friend of Carolyn?’
I was pretty sure I didn’t know a Carolyn.
‘Carolyn and Amos round the corner?’
‘No, I definitely don’t know a Carolyn and Amos.’
‘Oh, you would certainly remember if you did know them. You look like one of Carolyn’s friends.’
I am still pondering if I have met Carolyn and Amos, perhaps anonymous faces I pass by often. And did she mean I am a twin of a particular friend or just look like the sort of person who would be a friend of Carolyn’s? Has the lady with the bouncy auburn curly coated dog only been greeting me for several years because she thought I was a friend of Carolyn’s?
Do you feel your life is back to normal, have you made new friends or found old ones during Covid?
Where will you set out for today?
What bridges will you cross?
What tracks will you follow?
Will you find the right key?
Or the right door?
Or will you just end up going round and round?
Until you find yourself back home.
It turns out to be true. Week Three of chemotherapy you feel back to normal. Perhaps even halfway through Week Two; watering the garden and a little light dead heading turned into a pile of branches in the middle of the
lawn grass as I attacked the buddleia ( common or garden variety, well known for colonising railway banks and derelict buildings ) that was taking over the garden.
Even going over to the letter box seemed an adventure, then a walk round the block to confirm I was back in the land of the living…walk to a friend’s house and by Wednesday it was time for a proper walk across the River Stour to meet some writer friends for coffee then back by ferry… 6Km circular walk according to my phone. The weather has been hot and sunny so come along…
VISIT THE PICTURE GALLERY FOR MORE LOCAL PICTURES
In one of my previous incarnations I was walking home from the bus stop after a late shift. When I turned the corner and approached our quiet cul-de-sac I was surprised and a little alarmed to see two suspicious characters lurking on either corner, their cigarettes a tiny glow in the dark night. Dressed in black leather jackets they looked like East European gangsters. What could I do except look straight ahead, pretend I hadn’t noticed them and head for my house.
Then a voice said ‘Hi Mum.’
It was my fifteen year old son with his friend, who was waiting to be picked up by his mother. Their leather jackets were the ones the friend’s mother had ordered from her Littlewoods catalogue.
You don’t have to be female for groups of more than one strapping teenager to look threatening. Hanging around with mates and walking aimlessly in town is what teenagers do. Some may show off to their mates by calling out to hapless passers by, most are harmless. Real gangs armed with knives or selling drugs are more likely to be harming other young men.
The males that women have been complaining about recently … and for centuries … are those who don’t just hang about, but call out abusive remarks, follow lone women, slow their cars down or touch them in crowded tube trains. And of course far worse.
For many of us these perpetrators appear to be a totally different species from all the men in our lives. From our dads who made our pet cages to boyfriends, brothers, sons and work mates who fix our cars and washing machines, give us lifts, husbands who are lifelong companions; why would we want to hate men? It is a truth not often acknowledged that many of us preferred men teachers and male bosses. Women are not a united single species any more than men are and what girl hasn’t dreaded working with the bitch in the office or feared the nasty nurse on the maternity ward?
Little girls who have no reason to fear men adore them, batting their eyelids innocently when the firemen come to visit their playgroup, clutching the hand of their friend’s dad. When we visited my friend’s parents once, my little girl said to the mother ‘I like your Daddy!’
I once read an article by a woman who said she was thrilled when her first baby was a boy, because although she couldn’t be a man, at least she had given birth to one. Though it is the man that determines the sex of the baby, some women still feel proud if they manage to present their husband with a son. Perhaps there are simpler reasons why many women are secretly hoping or delighted when they have a boy first; maybe they always wanted a big brother or working with children has endeared them to little boys. Little boys are adorable and though they may hit their younger siblings and the other children at nursery and may not turn out quite as angelic as those choir boys that we all love, they are not often insidiously nasty and spiteful to each other as little girls can be.
Liking men and enjoying their company does not mean we assume they are superior, it just means it would be a dull world if we were all the same. It will be a sad day ( maybe it is already ) when men and women can no longer have a laugh at work, fearful of crossing the ever moving boundaries. When women would rather suffer a back injury than gracefully accept help with something heavy from the chap next door. When girls consider sewing a button on a male friend’s shirt as an insult rather than just being helpful.
But none of this takes away the fear. Why some men see a broken down car and worried female driver, a woman walking home from her late shift at the hospital or a very drunk girl losing her friends and attempting to walk home as an obvious opportunity to rape and murder them remains a complete mystery. It doesn’t feel helpful that crime dramas are so often about young pretty women being kidnapped and murdered, but that is not a cause; terrible crimes were being committed long before cinema and television were invented.
We still have to remember all the times we have walked our dog round the park, chatting to male dog owners who don’t try and molest us or say anything inappropriate. Recall that time your windscreen smashed on a deserted road and the truck driver kindly stopped to help without bundling you into his cab. Remember those times you went on dates with guys who turned out to be very boring or at least not interesting enough to want to see again, but who saw you safely home and accepted your invented polite excuses for not arranging another date and didn’t turn into a stalker.
We shouldn’t have to, but perhaps girls will always have to learn to develop their instincts as to who the bad guys are and sadly that will not always work. But it will be a long time yet before we figure out how a sweet little boy might turn into a monster scarier than our worst nightmares. In the meantime let us stay united as humans who respect and look after each other.
Ellie sipped her tea as she watched breakfast television. Women doing amazing things, how come she hadn’t thought of these ideas in this year of living strangely? Swimming in the Thames every day, wild swimming… cold water was the latest way to keep healthy. If everyone went in the river every day the whole country would be healthy, probably immune to Covid as well. Ellie tried to imagine herself going down to the local river early every morning; alone, bit risky but who on earth would want to join her. Where would she get in, not that swampy reed bed by the bridge, the slipway at the rowing club…
Perhaps it was better to stay in a boat like that English yachtswoman; Vendee Globe non-stop round the world. Ellie didn’t even know the race was on, let alone who was in it, but Pip Hare was and here she was back again and talking to Breakfast Television. She hadn’t actually won, but it was still pretty good. She looked about Ellie’s age and totally normal. A good way to avoid lockdown, or rather it would be like lockdown only with the scenery changing, mainly sea, but Ellie could cope by herself, she had learned that much since Dave had announced his departure this time last year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In lockdown with Dave, Dave working from home, 24 hours of Dave… what a nightmare. If Ellie could cope by herself in this little flat, she could cope by herself in a state of the art yacht. She had only been on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, but she loved the sea, looking at it, swimming in the summer. The open seas, independence, learning about yourself; she had looked into her inner self, but hadn’t found anything yet; well that on line course ‘Unlocking the True You’ had been rubbish anyway. She should probably start by crossing the Atlantic; it couldn’t be too hard to learn how to sail, it was all satnav and computers on board and everything was made of tungsten. Ellie would have to give up her job… she would love to give up her job. Working from home she had realised that it wasn’t just the people at work she didn’t like, she hated the job as well. Money could be a problem, but she could get some charities to sponsor her…
Her reverie was interrupted by her phone buzzing, message from Ruth.
Do you mind if we give it a miss this morning, it’s bloody freezing out there, I had to melt the bird bath and that east wind will be unbearable on the prom, you’d best stay in.
Ruth was chickening out of their daily walk, their daily exercise with one person from another household? The daily exercise and gossip was all that was keeping Ellie sane. It was alright for Ruth with her garden and birdie friends. Ellie would have to go out all by herself. Well a bit of a breeze wouldn’t put her off, she could do it. If she wasn’t meeting Ruth at their usual spot she would go on a different circuit.
Half an hour later Ellie realised her first mistake, she should have walked the other way round, heading east along the promenade the wind took her breath away, the sand stung her cheeks, her eyes were watering, her scarf came unwrapped, her hood would not stay up. The next zig zag path up the cliff looked so far away, who would even notice if she didn’t make it home. Despite hardly being able to see, she could not fail to notice a familiar bright pink hat in the distance. The pink hat was heading towards her, it could only be Ruth and she was walking with someone else. It was galling that they had chosen the right direction to walk, setting a fast pace with the wind behind them. Did Ruth assume Ellie would have stayed at home or on their regular circuit? Ellie was Ruth’s one person from another household, so what was Ruth doing walking with someone else?