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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

WALK 3. Night walk

I yearned profoundly, yet my wish was rarely granted. "Can we go for a night walk, Mum?"

Perhaps it was my birthday, my tenth or eleventh - the war just over. The very limits of memory. We'd just finished the night walk. My mother and I sat on a roadside bench, she wearing a shapeless tweed skirt, opening a Thermos flask. Me? Was I temporarily satisfied?

The night walk varied perfectly. Starting on an unmade road between the Haunted House and the parish church where I was a choir member. Passing under a brick-built railway bridge near which, later in life, I killed a frog for which I still feel unbearably ashamed. After sixty-plus years! Past Grannie R's front gate and Thorpe's, the ice-cream shop which grew and grew.

A farm, bypassed through gates with catches that worked smoothly. On to a gorse-covered slope from which I could see trains from Bradford Forster Square crossing the Leeds-to-Liverpool canal and entering a tunnel in a flurry of white steam. Then the spinney. Later again my devil-may-care pal, Chub, was to chop down a silver birch in that spinney for burning on Guy Fawkes night.

Beyond the spinney an elegant avenue leading to the sewage works at the village with the foreign name, Esholt. But we turned the other way, to the bench and the Thermos flask. What did I talk about? Perhaps nothing, my imagination in those days was feverish enough to be self-sustaining.

My mother? Slightly distant. Perhaps mulling over my father's infidelities which would soon force her to leave me and my two brothers. An end to night walks.


  1. Good melancholy reach. How often elegant avenues lead to sewage works.

  2. Amazing how the senses come alive at night. And such rich words: catches that worked smoothly, flurry of white steam, spinney, Esholt. Recollection, distance, detail ...

  3. Of such memories are stories even novels made. So rich I find myself both evesdropper and participant.

  4. Some interesting memories evoked by that.

    I can remember many night walks with my mum - mostly to and from piano lessons. Later, I was the guardian of the younger sister.

    Something I still enjoy is the way your shadow creeps up underneath you as you pass underneath a street light. I had an irrational fear of the shadow being behind me - this fear still exists out on Dartmoor in the dark. I usually choose to ignore it.

  5. All painfully nostalgic for me knowing the whole background and also, in detail, the terrain you covered.

    Your description of factors that make the walk meaningful affirm your feelings that it is a worthwhile pursuit, but few people have the gift, or are prepared to make the effort to tax their thoughts, to be able to express these things coherently.


    Your Genoa walk majored on city walking. What is it that bastinadoes the feet so much more quickly than country and hill walking? Half an hour on the pavements of London and I am in enough discomfort to spoil any other pleasant reason for being there.

  6. All: I seem surrounded by walkers, those who take walking really seriously, and I enjoy reading their accounts. From time to time I have matched them, especially during the month I spent at the Outward Bound Mountain School. But never in a sustained way. Not because I'm in any way antipathetic, mainly through lack of opportunity and because I've lived most of my life in heavily urban environments.

    These ten accounts are all, by comparison, unheroic, a couple are distinct failures. But I believe that the pleasures of walking aren't entirely dependent on the vistas we pass through but rather what happens to us when we walk: a combination of physical exercise, the way we absorb and react to change, and the almost obligatory contemplation we are subjected to.

    When I'm finished I shall recommend a book (which I'm still reading) that gets to the very heart of walking, by an author who has gone further and more profoundly than most. In the interim, in putting together my small-scale experiences, I shall be matching what I remember against his somewhat more philosophical conclusions.

    MikeM: Only melancholy now, not then. At the time, at ten, - though I couldn't have reduced it so concisely - I was revelling in the way nightime transforms familiar landscapes. The elegant avenue and its comic destination remains unexplained.

    RW (zS): Words, they're all I've got. Needless to say, aged ten, I was unaware of my mother's troubles but it seems reasonable to suppose - given subsequent events - that her mind was on things other than the walk.

    Joe: Only in re-reading your comment has it suddenly occurred to me that I have unconsciously aped the master of remembering. Thank goodness I didn't start out with that in mind. The event I describe captures more than any other the apartness of childhood. It may deserve expansion but it isn't going to get it. The resonances are enough.

    B2: Nighttime walking (provided we aren't menaced) deserves its own repertoire. Your shadow experience sounds like something that was born in childhood and has stayed with you in a slightly different form. Best of all it is a typical byproduct of walking, the result of moving and being alone with one's thoughts, the continuing possibility of something sublime.

    Sir Hugh: It all happened but only the final scene, on the bench, is clear; the rest is inferred, knowing that that was the only way it could have been. The aim was to try and re-create the essence, not get bogged down in detail.

    City walking. I hope I'm not being cruel here but what you say is akin to a Christian saying he can only pray in church. City walking doesn't involve all that preparation and impedimenta you love so much and thus, in your heart of hearts, it isn't walking. More of a burden. Unfit for grandes randonnées or Munro bagging, I've been forced to take my pleasures where I could find them. Of course my feet get sore because my footwear (in cities) is unsuitable but to pass by St Pauls or for that matter Charing Cross station is to expose myself to a greater range of intellectual speculation than even the most magnificent natural landscape can offer. Simply because cities have a human element which Great Gable doesn't.

  7. Not fair to leave us with that cliff-hanger ending! I wanted to read more, even if it wasn't any longer about the walk. Anyway I look forward to the next one.

  8. "..expose myself to a greater range of intellectual speculation.."

    This phrase has me going 'round and 'round.
    Does it mean "expose myself to that which inspires a greater range of intellectual speculation"?
    Or are you defining the urban environment as(accumulated)intellectual speculation?

  9. Natalie: One or two points. This post was non-fiction, ie, real life, and facts have a right to leave you dangling. See how you encourage me to traduce what I'm aiming for; the world that is "no longer about the walk" is infinite and you for one don't strike me as the sort who would care to read an infinitely long post. I repeat, as I have several times before, my posts (other than the short stories) are limited to 300 words mainly because I don't subscribe to more is better. My creed is, inter alia, discipline - almost always rejected elsewhere. I never want to give anyone legitimate cause for saying I babble.

    MikeM: Come on, MM, you haven't got a ouija board and I'm not Henry James. I try to be parsable but I do stumble; this was after all in another comment. Use the rest of the sentence, before and after, and you'll get there I think. If you really want a more exact sentence send me $5 and I'll reply in a plain brown envelope.

  10. Yes I got the gist of it immediately, first time through, and after posting my quibble I nearly posted again to apologise (I've gone with "s" over "z" here so's not to make you cringe) for hyper-parsing in the comments area, in a comment to someone else no less.

  11. I'm standing in the corner, corrected. Discipline is something I'm not good at but admire in others and am always willing to learn.
    I forgot about your 300 word limit - a good rule.

  12. MikeM: Please feel free to choose the z route (while remembering it's pronounced zed not zee.) I look forward to hearing a recording in which you indicate the difference in pronunciation between "color" and "colour". But why didn't America go the whole hog? That word is actually pronounced "culler". Plus you bottled out of solving the enough, cough, thought, bough problem.

    Natalie: Bet you're out of the corner by now; not your normal habitat. I'm surprised you feel yourself incapable of accepting discipline: in those paintings I saw recently the techniques were disciplined however much the imagination roamed.

  13. Culler here, culluh there I think. I've got an OED full of English pronunciations, and the dearth of "r" sounds is maddening. Practically need an umlaut to describe the pronunciation of "horse" over there. Catchy though.