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