Loneliness of the Long Distance Walker


Posted by in November's Magazine

These boots are made for walking. They’re not, actually. They’re made for general activity. And they’re actually smart trainers. I do walk in them a lot, though. My walking is not in a bagging Munros sense, more in a pounding pavements watching people bagging dogshit sense.

I do a lot of urban walking. I can’t drive so there is no quick run to Tesco to buy biscuits or other emergency essentials, and I value my life moderately well, so at certain times of day the 49 bus is not an option. When I am feeling particularly funky, I brighten up my walks with a number of games in my head. I might slow when approaching a crossing with the aim of timing the changing lights perfectly. If this happens, and I don’t have to stop and thus I overtake static fellow crossers, I feel pretty fucking amazing. Or, I commentate, not frequently aloud, on my progress in relation to fellow walkers, ‘Gray, gradually speeding up here, his eyes firmly on the pensioner ahead. Oh! Look at the way he scowled at that cyclist on the pavement there. Wonderful. Oh and a hop over the terrible paving. The Council really should do something about that, don’t you think, Mark Lawrenson? Surely obstruction there by the young homeless man’s dog. Gray carries on though, oh a slick acceleration and he’s around her, he’s around the old lady! Well, this boy is quite majestic. What more can you say about him?’

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What’s sad is that we urban walkers have no one to speak up for us (this is probably just as well, given that last bit). We have no influential lobbying groups like the cyclists, no billion pound industry behind us like car drivers and no hard-hitting advertisement campaign containing Grant Stott (killer, lest we forget, of Mr Len Dahand) like the buses. No, all we have is a world class ability to skirt around two junkies grabbing each other by the face.

Behaviour formerly known as peculiar
As a teenager, my Obsessive Compulsions veered between moderate and concerning. Getting into bed took half an hour or so as I preformed my rituals (not those rituals. Half an hour?). At various times I could not, ‘in case Mum or Dad die’: step on cracks; leave the house without turning the door handle twenty times with my left hand and twenty times with my right; pass a towel rack without straightening edges; eat my school dinner anywhere but a certain spot. In the 1990s, we hadn’t really heard of OCD, so I just put this down to superstition and the other weird hormonal things happening in my head. By adulthood my behaviours had all but disappeared, filtered into fanatical tidiness and home owner-related anxieties – Mrs Gems loves reminding people of the time she caught me using my mobile phone to take a photo of the kitchen taps being defiantly off before we left the house.

I do have occasional lapses into irrationality, but they are more of the ‘yep, I’ve definitely left the grill on and probably killed the whole street’, normal type. Similarly, there are certain things I like to do in a set order, as a poor checkout girl in Tesco recently found to her cost when she kindly started packing my bags for me. These, though, I do not see as OCDs, more the idiosyncrasies of a slightly eccentric mind. Real OCD is often harrowing and crippling.

These days, you can’t even line your toilet rolls up in perfect rows of six without someone labelling you ‘a bit OCD’. Behaviour formerly known as peculiar is swiftly classed as OCD. ‘I can’t have the TV volume on an odd number.’ ‘I have to let my phone ring four times before I answer.’ ‘Oh, I can’t wear my glasses on the toilet’. It has become a trendy condition, unless you actually have it, and I can’t wait until the same happens with Tourette’s.

Reverse Pompidou Centre
‘It is raining in the house,’ says little blue eyes, and she is not wrong. The water is seeping in and dripping down. It sploshes into buckets. My heart sinks. She giggles and hops up and down, exploding with excitement. ‘Raining in the house, raining in the house!’ After a while I decide to join her rain dance. I warm to the outside on the inside thing, the reverse Pompidou Centre. I plan to move the tree into the kitchen and plot a bedroom place for the shed. Who wouldn’t prefer grass to wooden floors, I think, and a flowerbed in the dining room? Mrs Gems gets home just as we are moving a family of wrens into the bathroom cabinet. She phones a roofer.

This month I’ve been submitting the next book, a rip-roaring tale of derring-do, espionage and high finance in 1970s Oldham…celebrating the fact that everything we ever thought we’d ever want/me and you/well it just came through/ it just came true…

 

Twitter: @d_gray_writer

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