Pavement Etiquette

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As we know by now, routine is important in our new, scaled-down days. Here at the schloss we rise as always, never early and one of us stumbles down to make tea. Tea is accompanied by the news and the latest round of grim statistics, peppered with small sprinklings of hope and the usual puerile online offerings of entertainment.

I dress for exercise, following my self-imposed regime of Pilates on weekdays, varied by Yoga at weekends. We have coffee. I write, bake, correspond.

After lunch there is gardening or the permitted walk. Walks have taken on a new significance since the arrival of the virus, as the area we may explore has shrunk to our own locality. Though we are near to beaches and harbours and The New Forest National Park, we stick to the streets around our small town, where domestic gardens, concealed pathways, copses and lanes provide the interest.

In one direction lies a cemetery. Given the current situation it may seem a morbid choice for walking, but it is ancient, beautiful and peaceful as well as a treasure trove of historical discovery. I like to read the names on the stones, the ages of the inhabitants of the graves, the touching eulogies. Of course it is a melancholy place, with an area allocated to infants, their tiny plots adorned with toys and memorabilia revealing a universe of pain.

Inside the cemetery it is easy to avoid others. We can veer off around the paths in any direction we choose.

Outside on the streets, avoidance is a different matter. While a quiet street wit pavements both sides offers plenty of scope for diversion, the narrow pavements on the bridge crossing the river is a virtual minefield, with walkers both sides jostling with joggers and cyclists on the narrow path. At times you get stuck, walking on one side with no escape-then I resort to turning my back, since this is no time to worry about manners.

But we are fortunate, here. We have access to large areas of marsh, or woods, or country lanes and can escape into spacious landscapes with no more than a distant sighting of others.

And when we do cross over, or pass at a distance there is a small smile, a nod or a greeting, which all mean ‘we are in this together’.

One week later and the cemetery is closed to all except the users, so any of us may get to visit at some point…

The weather is perfect, sunny and spring-like, softening the pain of lock-down for those of us who are not sufferers of the virus or key-workers. We take to the saddle for our first cycle of the year and ride around the quiet lanes where avoidance is relatively easy, although even here there is congestion in places, some understanding the new ‘rules’ and some not.

But as time goes on the neighbourhood becomes quieter, there is increased understanding. What will life be like in the great ‘After? Will we have become institutionalised? Will we continue to creep about and cross the road to avoid others? Or will we gallop, whooping into the streets and fling ourselves at all and sundry? Only time will tell…

A Foot on the Beach

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If I’ve learned anything during the large number of years I’ve now lived, it’s that travelling under your own steam [bike or feet] in the open air helps to alleviate all kinds of problems. This is much documented, of course; but since I began to exercise with any kind of regularity [post children-in my 30s] I can vouch for the benefits.

Once upon a time I ran. I ran almost every day, from my 30s until my mid-50s. When you run almost every day it starts to become essential and a cessation of the activity is a source of stress in itself. But here is the injustice of health and ageing. Some runners are very lucky and able to continue into extreme old age. Others, like myself and Husband have had to hang up their running shoes and admit defeat. Injury has forced us off the jogging trail and on to the hiking path-or perhaps, in summer, the cycle path.

When you have overcome the bitter disappointment of giving up running, walking can take over as the meditative, cathartic activity you enjoyed before. As a writer I can drift off into the plot and characters of my current project, ponder tricky domestic issues, compose, get ideas, think. 

What, then, if walking is not possible?

Since last May I’ve been inflicted with an annoying, painful inflammation of the membrane under my foot. This inflammation is known as plantar fasciitis and I have been subjected to repeated bouts since the running years, having had steroid jabs, ultrasound treatments and physio, worn jelly pads, worn condition-appropriate footwear, religiously kept up targeted exercises and been strapped up. This time the problem is particularly stubborn and slow to respond to the twice-weekly physio I’ve opted for.

So as part of the regime I’m on for recovery I must walk on sand. This,  according to Alice, the physio is particularly beneficial if I go barefoot. Barefoot? We are now, officially in winter!

I am nevertheless fortunate in that where we live we are spoilt for beach choice and I can select from varied stretches of beach; from sheltered harbourside bays to wide expanses of sand washed by waves. Coasts are beautiful in any weather condition. A walker has only to wrap up and don appropriate footwear to appreciate a beach. A variety of wildlife abounds, now and then a curious sight, such as this alien-like skeleton adorning the sand. [In reality a dead swan].

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At the start of the regime it goes swimmingly, my foot responding well to the massage style of walking on sand and I stick to the modest distance Alice has recommended. But a subsequent,  over-ambitious walk sets me back and the offending foot complains stiffly. Baby steps then, and I have to remember I’ve had this condition [this time] since May…

 

 

Easter Circus

A bright spark at the BBC has hatched a cunning new celebrity, reality TV programme called ‘The Road to Santiago’. With scheduling aplomb, it is airing now in the run-up to Easter. It consists of seven individuals, some of whom are minor celebrities [a comedian, a comic actor, a singer and the widow of a semi-famous magician] one lady vicar, one ex-convict and someone else. They are an eccentric mix prompting you to wonder why they’ve been selected, or if they were selected at all-more a random sweep of anyone whose flagging career needed a kick or who has designs on fame.
The comedian [Ed Byrne] and the comic actor [Neil Morrisey] provide some much-needed entertainment during the walks to historic Santiago de Compostela, although spiritual enlightenment or succour is on neither of their agendas. Ed is a habitual walker, Neil has probably been pointed the way by his agent. The widow [Debbie Magee] is seeking ‘answers’-the questions, presumably not having been answered by taking part in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, another celeb series, which aired before Christmas. I’ve no idea about the ex-con or the other person but it is the vicar who interests me, since she appears to become less Godly as the series progresses.
That this is not one sustained walk but a series of selected walks along the way feels like cheating. Nevertheless, the vicar struggles up the hills, complaining and sweating, neither svelte [like me] nor used to exercise. She is not spiritual, serene or exemplary. In one comical scene her group happens upon a tap offering an unlimited supply of wine free of charge, a blessing of which she avails herself by glugging the wine directly into her open mouth in a most un-Godly fashion, after which she straightens, smacking her red, dripping lips and rejoicing in the best freebie since communion wine.
I’m always amused by the antics of religious nuts. Returning [late] from the pub a week or so ago Husband and I passed a stream of cross-wearing hikers wending their weary way through our little town. Where they were from or where headed we’d no clue, but I remembered that years ago, when on an American west coast road trip with a friend we stopped in San Francisco for a few days. It was August. We were taking in the sights of the city, beginning with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge which was half-swathed in cloud-commonplace weather for San Francisco. As we sat to enjoy the spectacle of the rose-tinted towers rising from the mist a small, excitable group of young adults arrived, one of whom trailed an extremely large cross on his shoulder and prepared to tramp over the bridge with it. I raised my camera, only to spot, at the base of his cross, a small trundle-wheel. Was Jesus afforded this convenience, I wonder? And why was this little charade taking place in August? I will never know; but it was one of those wonderful, whimsical moments that make life entertaining.

Hard Work, Dedication and not a small Amount of Luck

                Nadeem Badshah, the world’s oldest runner, who is 102 years old, has retired from marathon running. Oh not from running, you understand-he is continuing to run, though not competitively. Nadeem only started running in his eighties, but has still managed to clock up an impressive number of jogging years. A fall whilst competing in a 10k race in Hong Kong in February has led him to retire from competition, though he still runs, jogs and walks every day. Little wonder that Nadeem has become a celebrity, a superstar of the world of running. Last weekend he officiated at the start of our own town’s marathon festival, an event that attracted 9,000 entrants.

                Elsewhere, in the football world, a relative youngster at 87, Harry Hardy was awarded a medal for his services to the sport. The footage showed Harry, resplendent in his ref’s shorts, shirt and whistle, galloping up and down the pitch with the lads, for all the world like a man half his age.

                What are we to make of these feisty, fit old fellows? First of all, both of them are whip thin, with not a milligram of excess fat on them. They both love what they do. They are dedicated. They work hard at their chosen activities. You have to admire them for their dogged determination and stamina. But more than anything I’d say they’ve been extraordinarily lucky to be able to pursue active sports into great old age.

                Ten years ago I was running with a local [all women] club and beginning to compete in the odd race. I ran distances of ten or twelve miles at weekends. I was never a ‘talented’ runner-more a plodder, but still I knew what it was to have run so much it was a joy [just as Nadeem explains]. Then injuries began to crop up. “Run through it!” advised an enthusiastic running friend. I did continue to run and ignore the injuries, long after I should have stopped and listened to my protesting limbs. Eventually I hung up my running shoes and pursued alternative exercise.

                During our recent stay in the South of France I attempted to resurrect my jogging with a couple of feeble turns around the local lanes. The result of these attempts has been that now I am crippled and unable to do any Zumba or to walk anywhere and fitness is confined to cycling or Pilates.

                So it’s ‘Bravo’ to Harry and Nadeem, but tempered with a touch of envy, because they have both been very, very fortunate.

The Metamorphosis from Hare to Tortoise, and other stories.

                If you consider the multitude of myriad, divers physical activities that can be pursued, from mountain biking to beach volleyball; from skiing to scuba diving, walking does not come across as a very sexy way to get exercise. Although I’ve listened to a riveting radio programme extolling the virtues of a ‘taught’ walking course somewhere in Yorkshire I admit I succumbed to a certain scepticism-after all, it isn’t a very difficult skill to master. Most of us manage it in the first year or two of life.

                Ten years ago I was still in thrall to running, a concept that seems as unlikely to me now as tightrope walking the Grand Canyon, but I did really come to love pounding the pavements, even though I was one of those cross country runners at school who hid behind a bush, waited until the pack returned and tagged along at the back.

                Once I’d got the hang of jogging and could stumble around the block without fainting I began to enjoy the meditative sensation I got. Husband, however pointed out that this did not lead to much progress in the way of faster speed. Apparently you are supposed to concentrate, do a mysterious thing called ‘interval training’ and various other improving activities. I was unconcerned. What I became was a long[ish], slow runner.

                I was not aware of my dependence on loping along in a trance in the evenings and at weekends until increasing decrepitude forced me to hang up my running shoes. It was a blow. I realise that during this transitional period I was about as amenable as a premenstrual rattlesnake, but eventually I came to terms and replaced running with…walking. Of course, it burns fewer calories, it is slow; it is not impressive to one’s friends. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a ‘walk-keeper’ that you can pop  posts on to Facebook with-‘Grace Lessageing has just completed a 5k walk with Walk-keeper’ doesn’t sound like a remarkable achievement.

                But walking does have its own, modest advantages. Other than a pair of comfortable shoes and a water bottle there is little equipment needed. It can be a means to an end or the purpose itself. Weather is of no consequence. A stop for shopping, tea and cake or beer can be incorporated. A solo walk can now induce that same period of meditation that used to be brought about by a run and is perfect for sparking off loads of little ideas for stories, or working out a difficult chapter of novel, or coming up with another load of drivel for this blog.

                Walking these days is a popular activity, although most walkers are accompanied, either by other walkers or a dog, or both. I enjoy company on a walk but don’t find it indispensable, and much as I like other peoples’ dogs [sometimes] I really don’t want one of my own. So two or three times a week I stride out for the good of mind and body [even if, just once in a while. I do come home on the bus].