I’d walk briskly if those lazy am­blers weren’t in the way

Sunday Herald - - WEEK IN PERSPECTIVE - Hardeep Singh Kohli Satire

YES­TER­DAY, I had to walk up the Royal Mile for the first time dur­ing this Ed­in­burgh Fringe. This short, less-than­jaunty walk is the pe­riod dur­ing which I en­gage in my most con­cen­trated bout of swear­ing at strangers. Bi­sect­ing our cap­i­tal city’s cen­tral strasse – a re­gal road be­jew­elled with sump­tu­ous ar­chi­tec­ture and fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory – should be a su­perla­tive stroll. In­stead, given the mobbed masses of art lovers, it’s akin to tread­ing trea­cle, or cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing syrup. I’ve spent half my life in Lon­don, a city teem­ing with tourists who ap­pear to wan­der through life at their own dis­tinct pace. I’ve spent years in Ed­in­burgh where things are very much the same. There’s noth­ing more frus­trat­ing than hav­ing to ac­cel­er­ate and de­cel­er­ate, bob and weave, duck and dive just to get to work. It led me to posit the no­tion that, just like our mo­tor­ways, our in­ner city pave­ments should be di­vided into dif­fer­ent lanes re­quir­ing dif­fer­ent paces of walk­ing. There would be the fast (over­tak­ing, jog­ging, power-walk­ing) lane, the mid­dle (brisk stroll, for the mid­dle-class, mid­dle-of-the-road types) lane and the slow (tourist, pram, surly teenager) lane. As­ton­ish­ingly, the idea gained lit­tle trac­tion but plenty of ac­cu­sa­tions that I was a foot­fall fas­cist. I say this since it has been sug­gested by Pub­lic Health Eng­land that more mid­dle-aged folk (like me) should take up brisk walk­ing. It ap­pears that from the age of 40, walk­ing tails off dra­mat­i­cally. Al­most half of those aged be­tween 40 and 60 fail to walk briskly even 10 min­utes a month. Yet the im­pact of just 10 min­utes walk­ing a day can in­crease life ex­pectancy by 15 per cent. On the face of it this seems like good news. Ob­vi­ously we want to en­cour­age bet­ter health and well­be­ing. Who wouldn’t want to have their dad/aunt/gran round for 15 per cent longer? These are all wholly no­ble sen­ti­ments.

But no-one has thought this through. Are our pave­ments in our vil­lages, towns and cities ready for an in­flux of mid­dle-aged life­style walk­ers? We will need to po­lice and con­trol our pave­ments like we do our roads. As we have an ever-in­creas­ing older pop­u­la­tion (and I al­ready walk among them, al­though clearly not nearly enough) can you imag­ine the pedes­trian pave­ment pan­de­mo­nium that will en­sue if we fail to in­tro­duce a new ap­proach to walk­ing?

I pro­pose, in ad­di­tion to the “walk­ing lanes”, that we em­ploy some of these sil­ver sashay­ers as pedes­trian war­dens. This suited and (walk­ing) booted army will leg­is­late against the le­gion of lazy and lan­guid loafers who refuse to abide by the newly-writ­ten “Pave­ment Code”. Slow-walk­ing penalty charge no­tices will be is­sued, fines will be col­lected and the re­sult­ing rev­enue will be chan­nelled into im­proved pave­ments and pedes­trian cam­eras to catch those who jump ahead at a junc­tion.

There must also be a sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment in off-road walk­ing ar­eas, spe­cialised walk­ing tracks in places like Rouken Glen and Mug­dock Coun­try Parks near Glas­gow. (Ob­vi­ously the Mug­dock site will need park­ing for co­pi­ous four-wheel drives and a spe­cial wellie-clean­ing trough).

In and among all my non­sense lies a truth that we, as a wider so­ci­ety, seem in­tent upon not ad­dress­ing. We have a top-heavy pop­u­la­tion, more peo­ple who have served so­ci­ety than are serv­ing it. And yet we have made next to no pro­vi­sion for them. At the sharper end we have wit­nessed a vac­uum of creative think­ing when it comes to so­cial care for our older cit­i­zens; I mean, look at the last Tory sham­bles re­gard­ing the de­men­tia tax.

More and more adult chil­dren are mov­ing home to care for their folks while wait­ing for the gov­ern­ments that were quick enough to col­lect the taxes but glacier slow when it comes to ac­tu­ally of­fer­ing sen­si­ble so­lu­tions to pro­vide a qual­ity of life for sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian and oc­to­ge­nar­ian old-timers.

Maybe some­one in high of­fice should take a brisk walk and have a wee think about what a civilised so­ci­ety ac­tu­ally means. Hardeep Singh Kohli is a Scot­tish writer and broad­caster. Fol­low his an­tics @mis­terhsk

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