He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.
For years, I have tried puttting cardiovascular exercise into my daily routine. I have tried cycling, (too many hills, not to mention killer bus drivers and other monster motorists); the gym (prefer rugged pavements to running machines); weight-training (nope); swimming ( I dislike fighting for lane space at the local chlorine-compound they call a swimming pool).
Walking – It’s Like a Revolution
Recently I re-discovered the simple, yet profound pleasure of perambulation. So- you may well ask – how did it come about that you have begun recycling your limbs? Very simple. I grew weary of the ‘Wild West’ commuter hustle; that daily battle to find a seat on the train or a patch of standing-room on the bus. Then I recalled my personal inbuilt transport system known as legs. How fortunate, I thought, that I still have two pegs and that they are pretty much in working order. Granted, I can no longer sprint towards the stationary bus whose rapid orange light shows a driver ready for take-off. Nor can I leap like a gazelle up two-hundred escalator steps at Stockwell tube station. But I can still zip about a bit when the mood takes hold. I say that, but imagine my dismay when dashing along the road one day at a decent clip I was easily overtaken by two tall youths who were moseying along like a couple of water buffalo, without a care in the world.
Moan about the need for more and better trains or more frequent buses and trams but the fact is, over the past twenty years, public transport has evolved barely an inch. Meanwhile, commuter demand has increased twenty or thirty-fold, (we’ve had an explosion in the city’s population, refer to the chart below).
Okay, the various politicos introduced a few half-hearted measures. For instance, Boris’s ‘bendy buses’ (now obsolete) Ken’s ‘congestion charge’, (more money for the coffers but no discernible impact on transport chaos). We all know that much of our hard-won tax money disappears into black holes. Comparatively few of our tax-pounds find their way back into the purse of our civic society, and of that only a relative fraction is invested in Joe Public’s transport system.
What Can We Do About It?
You could start by voting for The Green Party, whose politicos give more thought than most to the needs of the everyman. A quicker solution would be voting with your feet; literally. Voting for your city pavements, your street lanes, your riverside walks and your bridges. Most of all, voting for your heart-lung matrix, voting for human health. The benefits outweigh one or two disadvantages, i.e., getting home a little later than usual or starting out earlier. Find a route to work that lets you walk, at least part of the way. Coming home, get out of your train a stop or two early, and don’t board that overcrowded bus.
Here Are Some of the Benefits;
1. Enjoyment of journey – sights and sounds are better (no more angry stares from disturbed strangers on overcrowded transport systems)
2. Integrated fitness regime, no need of after-work trip to boring gym
3. Taking control, so no more dependency on the whims of TFL
4. Improved mental and physical health – refer to all of the above
Restore Your Natural Rhythms
One of the most interesting facets of walking is the variety of scenes you encounter. For instance, trekking through the gritty urban decay of North West London just after five p.m, I see city demolition projects cheek-by-jowl with Eastern-style cafes and olde-world pubs. I see quaint boutiques juxtaposed along the broken city pavements, I see gentrification schemes melded with long-established London-ethnic communities.
Resurfacing in South West London (one hell ride later), a different picture emerges. Ignoring the teeth-gritting crowds waiting like coiled springs at the bus stop, I amble along a centuries-old, cobblestone alley and meander out onto the town bridge; I see the light upon the water, and sailboats bobbing gently on the tide.
Then, along the river path I stop to examine a fallen tree root resembling an elephant’s head or gaze at the bluebells in the meadow opposite the walkway. Halfway along, I sit and smoke a cigarette while musing on the memory that is honoured by that bench’s existence. I stare at the curious cloud formations in the sky and marvel at the pale outline of the moon, camouflaged by the milky vapour.
On a warm spring evening the round disc of the sun – spinning through eternity – acts as my compass and guide. Occasionally, a grey heron shoots through my line of vision. The river traces my steps, I feel balanced by the water and the earth and by all the wildlife therein. It is so easy to forget that this is the daily crush-hour in the vast metropolis of London.
And now, a poem
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Start the revolution, give walking a chance.