I walk a lot, and think nothing of it. I would like to say that this is indicative of a healthy lifestyle, but it is just something that was instilled in my nature a long time ago.
I grew up in a residential area, an area not served by public transport. Due to its relative proximity to the town centre, a walk from my childhood home to the nearest bus stop was, in effect, a walk to where I would want a bus to take me. The two primary schools I attended were similarly located, and my secondary school was not much further away. I had a bicycle for going longer distances – my friend’s bit at the top of the town; the local parks – but I made a two-mile round trip to school every day, by foot and whatever the weather. As a teenager, if I wanted to go somewhere, I walked.
When I moved to Glasgow, my first flat was situated at Charing Cross. This busy city intersection, where several motorway junctions converge with Argyle Street, Sauchiehall Street, and Great Western Road, was not well-served by public transport either. From the front door of my close, the nearest bus stop was at least halfway in the direction of where I wanted to be. Given the congestion, and our notorious one-way streets, I found that I could easily cross the city quicker than the average bus. While a double-decker bound for my destination idled at yet another set of traffic lights, I would be cutting down side streets and darting across junctions, making good time despite the weight of an extra couple of quid in my pocket – coins unspent on a fare.
As I came to know the layout of my adoptive hometown, I realised that everything is near everything else – if not geographically then psychologically. Aided by the grid system of the city centre, I quickly discovered that there are a dozen different routes to a given place, and it is remarkably easy to work out in which direction you are heading. I love this city (and its people) and, as much as I despise living in the UK, I cannot envisage living anywhere else. Part of my loathing for shopping malls stems from this desire to roam freely – I resent being herded along a single, congested thoroughfare.
Now that I live four miles from the centre of Glasgow, I still regularly make my way home on foot. One of my friends sees this constant walking as me seeking solitude, creating a space where I allow my thoughts to breathe, and this observation is astute of him. The road I walk, literally and not figuratively, is largely straight. Despite the distance, this makes it seem closer than it is – closer still if I have the partial company of someone who lives on the route. It is this last stretch, once we have gone our separate ways, and often in the early hours of the morning, where my plans formulate. The stillness of the night is remarkable, in stark contrast to the noise of four lanes of jammed and stationary vehicles which will congregate there a few hours later.
Whether I walk to think, or think because I am walking, it is a useful way to sort the notions and ideas in my head. Many is the one-liner or wee story that has come from this quiet time, or from an encounter just prior to it. Scenarios suggest or present themselves, and I twist them until I find the perfect way to express them – as a sentence, as a set of jokes that build, or as an entry on this site.
Earlier this year, at the West End festival, we followed it into and out of Kelvingrove Park. The park has a number of entrances, leading onto at least four main roads, and as the crowd dispersed a disoriented chap next to me stopped to get his bearings. “Whit street’s this?” he asked, as I passed, before working out which direction he needed to go in.
This incident came to mind late last week, when I went for a wander along the canal that is beside my home. I knew there was a path from it to the Botanic Gardens, but had never successfully found it. Although starting aimlessly, I took a turn off the towpath as idle curiosity drove me to seek it out. Taking this unknown route, passing through avenues of trees and diverting past some high flats, before negotiating down to and following the river, it would be easy to lose track of your position. I did not fear becoming lost, confident that I could always retrace my steps, but I imagined an exchange with the adroit wit of a typical, though non-existent, Glaswegian. We meet as we are walking in opposite directions along the canal, with me trying to find my way to this park.
“If I keep walking in this direction, where will I get to?”
if i was still doing stand-up comedy, I might have used this or transformed it into something else. Instead, it went unwritten. At the weekend, I came to relate all of this in conversation – an acquaintance asking:
“Which canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal?”
“Then it would take you to the Forth, or to the Clyde.”
“Oh yeah. It was well-named.”
You would still get to the coast, you would just come to a tidal river first.
Had I turned this into a tall story, I would now have a second or possibly even third laughter point in it. I yet might. I did, however, chance upon the correct turn-off – my walk along the waterway cleared my head, gave me a new joke, and the idea for this blog, and enhanced my knowledge of the local area. Compare that to the constant stop-start of smelly buses, noisily polluted by modern technology, arguing neds, crying children, and accompanied by the sounds of unnecessary air conditioning and a loudly-throbbing engine.
Buses can go fuck themselves. There is a more serene and scenic way to travel – foot.