A walk in the Life of …Me

This will be a very short series of posts, written by various contributors who I’ve forced into unpaid employment on the CMB.

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Going for a walk every day is a good thing to do if, like me, you took early retirement at the age of 27 and used your husband’s hard earned cash from the laborious daily grind as a kind of housewifely private pension.   In the early days of SAHM-hood (see post) walking was a healthy break in the day.  A way to get the kids and myself out of the house and into the fresh air (as fresh as most suburban air can be, which isn’t very.)  The NHS website is in full agreement that walking might just be the answer to life, the universe and everything, being that it costs nothing, in the way of expensive gear or gym membership, and is thought to stave off cancer, heart attack, diabetes, stroke and dementia (makes you wonder why they bother with all that  expensive drug research)  guaranteeing that you’ll make it to 103 – well, 81 for women and 79 for men (according to the latest average life expectancies – OMG, I’ve only got about 26 years left, if I’m lucky; I’d better increase that daily walk to twice daily.)  Mind you, things could be much, much worse – 26 years is a bit of a gift really.

The NHS believe that you can’t just do any kind of walking though.  It must be the sort of walking that raises the heartbeat to astronomical levels and makes you break out in a light sweat (the NHS seem to have confused walking with running here) and furthermore you MUST walk 10,000 steps a day (that’s 5 miles to you and me – that’s doable don’t you think, if you want to be a candidate for extensive orthopedic surgery.)   They then suggest that 30 minutes is the least amount of time you should spend walking every day.

I’ve always walked for approximately 150-200 minutes  a week which, according to a 2012 American study, guarantees me an extra 3.4 years of life, compared to your average blubberous couch potato.  What?!    Son No.1 is a great believer in Almighty Statistics but listen up (or read-up)….there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics, as Benjamin Disraeli once said (maybe….well, according to Mark Twain he said it, when actually nobody knows who said it, least of all Mark Twain.)

I happen to know at least three couch potatoes who fall well into the ‘you’re really, really fat mate’ area on those BMI charts, who have all made it well past your average life expectancy, whilst continuing to grow like Topsy.  Oh, but that’s just one or two people, out of the vast people numbers that the Statisticians work with, you might cry at your screen – which is kind of the point – statistics fall apart at the individual level.

Ignore the medical profession and ignore statistics because, like most public health statements, the health benefits of walking require qualification.  ‘Get off your lazy butts.’ the medics shout from their NHS ivory towers, forgetting that going for a daily walk might be fine and dandy, if you find walking a stroll in the park that is (which it often is actually) but it’s not so much of a lark if you’re riddled with chronic inflammatory disease (rheumatoid arthritis etc) or are disabled and maybe in a wheelchair.  You’d love to take all this NHS advice to get out there and EXERCISE, if only you weren’t in so much chronic pain, finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other.

Unfortunately most medical advice, aimed at keeping us healthy, applies to the people who are already healthy , and most of those lucky few can pretty much defy all medical advice and live as long as old Methuselah, whilst drinking way too many of their allotted alcohol units and smoking their way through a daily pack of 25…….interesting digression here; a woman from Croyden began smoking at school when she was 7 years old in 1914 and kicked the habit at the age of 102, because she ‘didn’t fancy it anymore’.   A scary fact:  approximately 16-24,000 Americans die of lung cancer every year, who have never smoked or been within a mile of a cigarette (unless you count the second-hand kind.)

So I don’t walk for health reasons, although it does keep me within the overweight range on those BMI charts, or else I’d be hurtling into beached whale territory and, as I’m currently trying to shift an extra stone I don’t need (for appearance purposes, being as I carry most of it on my face, so that my eyes, nose and mouth gradually disappear) – every little helps.

Even though I know that healthy eating, moderate drinking and exercise isn’t going to protect me from any of the nasty killers out there, being that those nasty killers are all a combination of luck, genetics, environment and probably only a tiny bit to do with an NHS-type healthy lifestyle – I still go in for the healthier lifestyle thing because I’m an anxious, cautious, control freak who’s a stranger to the phrase ‘letting your hair down’ which, for me, means allowing myself to drink one glass of wine, maybe every two weeks, and then spending the rest of the evening worrying if I’ve entered my own personal, alcoholic-based Armageddon.

But this is about my daily walk and I’ve become side-tracked, which I never do when walking, being the kind of person who’s worked out three 30 minute walks in the local area and never deviates from said routes.

Today I set out on route 3.

The weather was surprisingly sunny and blue skied, a nice change from the continual dreary rain, but also very blustery in a Pooh bear kind of way.  Walking around your local area anchors you to the place.  It’s a good thing to do when you first move into a new area (if you dare go out of the house that is, and are not shivering in an old armchair for 2 weeks cos you’ve moved 260 miles from home and your new local area looks all strange and scary – but that might just be me.)  It’s a good thing to do because you get acclimatised, noticing various strange faces that soon become familiar.

Over time you get to know every house, every inch of pavement, every brick wall, every tree; on a personal basis.  You notice which trees lose their leaves and which don’t.  You notice UPVC double glazing turning up all over the place.  You notice new street lamps, new road signs, new house extensions, new drive ways, more cars (loads more cars) but you also notice that in all that change, nothing really changes and that makes you feel oddly safe and secure.

Route 3 begins with a walk along a couple of l-o-n-g suburban roads before turning slightly off the beaten track and on to this path that takes me towards a leafier, more ancient part of my suburban town.

walk 1

This path ends at a 70’s, well kept estate where I spent a pleasant 5 minutes or so staring in at front windows, or trying to peek in between slatted blinds, to see what kind of settees, wallpaper, paint colour and fire surrounds other people are going with.  The end of the estate leads to another hedgerow’d path.

walk 2

As I turned off this path the weather also turned (for the worse) and I came to the graveyard, or cemetery as it’s more properly called.  This is where son No.4 is buried and is a place I’ve avoided including on daily walks for a number of years.  Son No.4 was laid to rest nearly 26 years ago at 3 days old.  ‘Laid to rest’ is a term that should only refer to 80/90/100 year olds, who’ve led active lives and end up feeling rather tired and go on to die of “natural causes” – even if a  lot of those oldies don’t feel quite ready to shuffle off their mortal coils and would like just another year maybe, p-l-e-a-s-e, if the non-existent God doesn’t mind. Babies and little kiddiwinks should never be laid to rest before they got a chance to become tired of a life they never lived.

walk 4

A line of trees overhangs the just visible short line of child graves to the left, beyond the wall, as though they’re protecting them from the wind and the rain; the rest of the graves are open to the elements. Taking this photo I thought, when Son No.4 died I didn’t have a laptop, a phone, an iPad or the internet; other than a couple of Kodak photos, son No.4 vanished without a trace. Why not mention him on the blog that no one reads; recording his tiny, long ago existence here, in the internet ether – in remembrance – giving him a permanent, public place in a world he never knew.

That’s what walking around on your own does to you.

Carrying on I passed a bunch of not very interesting trees that were incredibly alive with birdsong; really loud birds too, twittering manically, but I couldn’t see a single bird – and I looked and looked.

walk 6

Then on to the path that leads to the castle.  The wonderful thing about this country is that most people are never far from some fantastically ancient monument, places that even when you see them you can’t believe they’re as old as they actually are.

walk 5

Then out onto the road with the castle looming (but in a very non-looming kind of way) behind some very quaint, olde worlde houses.

walk 7

And here’s the medieval castle built within a former Roman fort.

walk 9

And I passed the church, where the heavy sounds of the organ fell out of the windows as I walked on to the sea.  Son No.1 was christened here, back when I conservatively did what a CofE/Sunday School education had taught me. Two years later I became a Godless heathen (wasn’t much of a leap) and never willingly entered a church again.  The church doesn’t have to be the centre of family occasions.  Once upon a time you had to get married in the local parish church, now you can have a civil marriage ceremony in a hotel, a castle, an opera house, a theatre, a converted barn, the pump room in Bath even – what a lovely idea.

walk 10

The castle sits in a harbour and this ancient gateway leads to that harbour and the sea.

walk 11

Then back home, passing a tree in the middle of 18th and 19th century houses, a tree that hasn’t changed the whole time I’ve lived here.

Walking might be a healthy pastime but, about half way around, my left hip started playing up, as it doesn’t like the elevated heart rate/slight perspiration scenario, and I slowed right down beset by images of hip/knee replacements.

But I’ll carry on the walking, health permitting, because even if those remarkable physical health benefits are not quite true; walking about a bit, in nature, is definitely good for the mind and the non-existent soul.

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