Walkers of the World, Unite!
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December 10, 2008
LONDON - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was made to feel uncomfortable on national television last Sunday when an inquisitor attempted to pin him down on the inconsistencies of his non-smoking pledge. Clearly Obama has some trouble in not, as he put it, ”falling off the wagon”.
But, m aybe, whilst he is at it he should get completely off the wagon- and start walking. It has been reported that in the inauguration parade gas-guzzling SUVs will not be used. But why not go a little bit further and insist that everyone walk?
Here is a man who likes to go to the gym every day, but a 45 minutes walk would do the job just as well and set a car-crazed world the example it needs. We have had bicycling heads of state before- look at Queen Beatrix of Holland and today David Cameron, the likely next prime minister of Britain, cycles to the House of Commons. So why not a walker?
Someone, you will protest, might take a pot shot at the new president. But then however tight has been the security so far there have been ample opportunities for assassination- as when he gave his victory speech. There were bullet proof glass panels on both sides of him, but nothing in front or behind.
When Barack Obama takes his children to school, it could happen. But, watching the man's rapport with his children, I doubt if that is a parental pleasure he will want to totally forsake. After all one of the first words his wife, Michelle, was supposed to have uttered as they sat and watched TV after they had learnt that he had won the poll was, ”Will you be taking the kids to school tomorrow?”
A new book on ”The lost art of walking” by Geoff Nicholson, says that walking can be likened to sex, ”Basic, simple, repetitive” but ”capable of great sophistication and elaboration. They can be completely banal and meaningless, and yet they can also involve great passions and adventures. Both can lead you into strange and unknown territories: a walk on the side.”
Apparently, during the First World War, British troops on long forced marches were given cocaine tablets to keep going. For many people, bottoms erect in their cars for decades, it might be necessary to repeat the treatment to get them going a pied. But it need not be- if a very popular president sets them an example.
The best thing about walking, as a writer in The Economist recently said, is that ”You are your own boss. Start and halt, look at everything or nothing. Think about a lot or a little.”
Walking is totally different from other forms of locomotion. You see things you have never seen when you go a little faster - the elegant cornices on an old building, the movement of the leaves on a tree, the direction of the clouds, the strange antics of the birds...... (Last weekend, out walking, my girl friend and I watched a father swan struggling to insist that his family - one wife and four youngsters - follow him on a long Sunday afternoon walk up a steepish hill away from their home. We laughed until our sides split. The kids just didn't want to follow. In the end mother took them on a quick flight, while a rueful dad waddled back to the lake to wait for them. )
In the days when my long-time paper, the Paris-based International Herald Tribune, was on the Rue de Berri, off the Champs Elysees, I would often walk there from my hotel in the Marais, three or four miles down the Seine. It is quite remarkable that one can conveniently traverse the length of one of the world's larger cities without having to leave a towpath or a back alley, except for the last 500 metres dash up from the river.
The same is true in London. Setting off from an hotel on the edge of Kensington Gardens where the Patriotic Front stayed during the constitutional conference on Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, it was possible to walk, without touching a main road, through three of London's great parks, one after another, until I reached the Foreign Office.
Nothing will stop me, wherever I am in the globe, trying to find the walking ways. As Bertrand Russell once said, ”Unhappy men would increase their happiness more by walking 6 miles every day than by any conceivable change in philosophy.”
Copyright © 2008 Jonathan
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of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging
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