Thursday, 3 September 2015

Distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless…


Going rambling means freedom to go out and explore the countryside and enjoy the scenery and landscapes that I used to enjoy when able-bodied…. It lifts the spirits and gives a huge sense of contentment, especially after a ramble that becomes really special.

Walking, for me, is as easy as pi (or, to be more exact, calculating its cube-root to forty‑two decimal places, in my head, in hexadecimal; whilst simultaneously chewing on a Carolina Reaper chilli; listening to Metallica – or, perhaps, Disaster Area – at full volume, with my hearing aids turned up to eleven; and marking time by jabbing myself in the eye with a blunt chopstick). It is also precisely as pain-free. Patting the top of your head (gently with a medieval mace) at the same time as rubbing your tummy (soothingly with fresh nettle leaves and brambles), by comparison, is a cube of frozen excreted nitrogenous waste. Funnily enough, though, it – i.e. walking – is one of the most rewarding, relaxing pastimes I know of and experience.

Although a mere amateur – or, more accurately, tiro (my technique is terrible: but my “artistic impression” almost certainly ranks alongside the Chuckle Brothers’ mighty pinnacle) – I’ve written frequently on here (even including the occasional ‘pome’) about my deep and lasting love of the pursuit: especially clumping through the countryside. I’ve also mentioned (more than once, no doubt) how such apparent masochism (which it most certainly isn’t (I think)) makes a major positive contribution to a life where every waking minute is spent dealing with being disabled: especially carrying on with constant (and inconstant) what-the-DWP-laughingly-refers-to-as “discomfort”.

Ironic then, isn’t it – the predicament of medicament, I suppose… – that the ‘remedy’ for the hurt I live through is more of the same… – well: more of the similar.


This is because, I believe – as I’ve (also) explained before (nevertheless, it bears repeating (like Yogi, but especially Boo-Boo)) – there are “two levels of pain”. Not that these cancel each other out, as with matter and anti-matter; or one acting as the less-toxic antidote to the venom of the second. Just that you can, with a little ongoing practice, manipulate the first to distract from, or sometimes temporarily supersede, the second, marginally lessening its impact; whilst also (and more critically: and therefore more profitably) “commanding your body”, and managing its exposure to suffering, its experience of it… – “Always [dealing] with what pain is and never with what it means.” From this “commanding” – allied with my drug of choice: the production, through such exercise, of my “own private narcotic”, the super, supernatural endorphin – comes the willingness to push my frame beyond its restrictive infinitesimal aptitudes. From this commanding – some of the time – comes control. From this commanding – when it does work – comes satisfaction, delight, and almost-addictive enjoyment.

Which is why – simply put: because the gains, for me, far outweigh the drawbacks – I walk. When I can. (How I walk is a completely different matter. Basically, badly: “doing my habitual impersonation of a slightly inebriated penguin”. Although this does mean – yippee – that I consume more calories than those with a ‘normal’ gait.) Additionally, the associated continual shift of scenery is intensely preferable to the unmoving view of our bedroom ceiling (only varied by the writhing attempts to find the holy grail of a restful, comfortable state); or the stultifying, stabbing solidification of my joints when glued repeatedly to the goggle-box. And, as another beneficial side-effect – despite the increased (always hopefully temporary) physical distress – the odd bits of me that can be strengthened gradually increase in fitness (including, importantly, my mental welfare – which is at the heart of all this, of course): leading to a more robust ability to cope, the next time around. (Which there will be. (I hope.))


There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss…. Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

This is not to say that after any exercise I won’t be in a worse physical state than I was before – at least as measured in quanta of pain. Undoubtedly, I will. And for some time. But, being stubborn – and not solely because all the components of a good walk toiled come together serendipitously to produce transitory, momentary intoxication – it is an activity I refuse to relinquish: whatever barriers may be placed in my way (such as disobedient or immobile limbs; or a lack of proprioception and sensation). Therefore, as I wrote a few posts ago, after each successive, periodic downturn in health, I have had to force my unwilling body to repeatedly relearn and regain what should be an innate ability (similar to how Arthur Dent acquires skill in flying, and then teaches his “human soul-mate”, Fenchurch – although, sadly, I don’t have the equivalent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to instruct me).

When you’re permanently in possession of “this terrible pain in all the diodes down [your] left side”, keeping fit can obviously be a bit of a challenge (in the same way that “lleng” is…). But, to me, it’s one definitely worth accepting (even for the umpteenth time); along with overcoming (if not demolishing) those barriers – however obstinately permanent they may at first appear. (Screw your eyes up tight; or retrieve that mace, and aim for somewhere tender: and they’ll soon start to drift out of focus. Possibly accompanied by the sound of a harpist’s gentle, receding glissandi.)


Even if your health is relatively sound (especially compared to mine (ha‑ha)), a recent newspaper report detailed – again – how walking is good for you, anyway; and for your longevity. Sadly, I’m not convinced that what I do can in any way be described as “brisk walking or slow jogging”: but…

Exercise buys you three to seven additional years of life. It is an anti-depressant, it improves cognitive function and there is now evidence that it may retard the onset of dementia.

And if you’re a more social (less anti-social) creature than I; but think that any sort of distance is beyond you – it’s not; and I am proof (more of the jelly variety than the pudding… ) – or need a kick up the (waterproof) pants to get moving; then there is always Walking for Health:

Getting active can be difficult. But we’re here to help.
     Walking is great for your health and puts a spring in your step. With Walking for Health, you can take part in a free short walk nearby to help you get active and stay active at a pace that works for you. It’s a great way to stretch your legs, explore what’s on your doorstep, and make new friends.
     For over 12 years, we’ve helped thousands of people like you discover the many benefits of regular group walks. From reducing stress, to losing weight, to sharing laughs, Walking for Health has something for everyone.


With regards to my capability (or lack of it), however: even when I’m game, and my condition is at the top of its sine-curve, there are some days – and possibly a greater number of nights – that are better than others. Equally, no two are ever the same: in terms of capacity, (dis)comfort, and enjoyment. And, sometimes, my ‘programming’ can suddenly go awry (those blasted diodes!) – whether it be a loss of directional control (more inebriated in appearance; more penguin-like); fading coordination; or simply my fingers spasming, as they do, resulting in yet another dent on my poor old walking stick. In all cases, I have found it best simply to stop; gather my breath and my wits (such as they are); and concentrate extremely actively on the impending first step that my body would enforce as the threshold of my abilities, given half a chance. Then the second step. And repeat as necessary, until normal service is resumed. If I do not halt, the chances are I will simply topple (or at least wobble like a Weeble – which must be a very disturbing sight for those around me…).

This is one of the sundry reasons I prefer to walk at night; or very early in the morning. Additionally, in, say, Stratford, in the half-light, it is actually easier to ‘see’: as there are far fewer moving objects to contend with; as well as it being less embarrassing (for all concerned; and with less risk of a collision), should I (and I will) oscillate or dodder.

I consider ‘Stratford-upon-Heaven’ my home town: but, when it is busy, and filled with people soaking up the sun (I will not blame the tourists: all are equally liable, it seems…), it is more akin to Stratford-upon-Hell; and a part of me starts to meretriciously envy those in mobility scooters who appear to see no harm (revenge, perhaps?) in scything their way up Bridge Street, with metaphorical blades attached, Boudica-style, to the hubs of their wheels.

But, one day, perhaps – the Dawn of the Dread – when I can no longer put one front in foot of another more than once, or twice, even in shaky slow motion – perhaps I will be limited(?) to such a device. Of course, then I can join the Disabled Ramblers to get my third-age kicks (right through the night)!

There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath.
– Douglas Adams: Life, the Universe and Everything

But there are other reasons for my tenebrose meanderings: insomnia, of course (often caused by the selfsame pain…); the startlingly distinct perspectives you gain on familiar places (swans spread out on the Avon: no longer compelled to crowd by unwholesome crusts); the rare, precious, crystalline silences; the melding of souls with the genius loci that gifts you temporary monarchy of all you survey, that helps you revel in the momentous aloneness. (Hush.)

And, strangely, I am not the only one with such hankerings. A new book – At Night: A Journey Round Britain from Dusk Till Dawn by Dixe ‘No second i’ Wills – is, according to one reviewer…

A charismatic evocation of what it is to be awake while the world sleeps…. The book’s most delightful passages convey [Wills’] wonder at the natural world that comes to life under cover of darkness….
– Matthew Jones: Walk


So – as I have implored of you before – get out there, and strut your stuff! The nights are drawing in (which, to me, is a good thing…)!

Otherwise (and I’ll be round to check on you), I shall just have to keep pushing the Ramblers’ Big Pathwatch – which seems to be progressing well – down the boots of those, like me, who can only manage the occasional amble, until you do. Although there is, of course, absolutely nothing to stop you making yourself useful – even at the peak of fitness – whilst enjoying the beautiful Warwickshire countryside, and relishing whatever the weather decides to throw (or gently lob) at you. Is there?

Just be grateful that these paths still exist. And be grateful that walking is as simple, for you, as two-plus-two. One day, it may not be so easy….

When the Ramblers Association recently launched its Big Pathwatch, urging walkers to upload pictures of overgrown footpaths, I considered it a bit silly. Poor hard-pressed councils tasked with footpath maintenance – can’t walkers stamp down a few stray nettles? After a stinging wade along the bridleways of Buckinghamshire, however, I’m all for app tale-telling.
     It wasn’t just fast-growing nettles and brambles but teasels, thistles, young oaks and hogweed as high as a horse. And this 35 miles from London, in the Tory shires, where keen trampers take to the lanes in battalions and steel swing gates have been installed in memory of members of the local U3A group.
     Apart from council cuts, the problem appears to be that many landowners regard footpaths as an unfortunate relic from pre-enclosure days, when peasants swarmed unimpeded across the countryside. Virtually every fence has a warning sign attached. “Private” (it’s really obvious where the footpath goes), “Beware of the bull” (there never is one) or “Vermin control in progress”.
– Patrick Barkham: The Guardian


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