Walking Back to Happiness by David Aitken

Good health is all about illness.  We want to enjoy one and keep a wary eye on the other.  Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?  (Does it? — Where have you been living lately, in some sort of bubble?)

The Louvre in Paris is the longest building in Europe, and would stretch farther than three Eiffel Towers laid end to end, always supposing there were three Eiffel Towers and they had all fallen down neatly.  I once set out to walk its 3-mile perimeter, goodness knows why, my feet were younger then, I suppose.

The point is, halfway through my Eiffels tour, if you’ll forgive the pun, my enthusiasm waned as my weariness waxed.  This was in 1966, and trainers had not yet been invented, so my Cuban heels were not ideal footwear, unless you pulled me onto a dance floor and asked me to tango.  Then, ay caramba!  Castanet alert!

This unusual preamble was prompted by the realisation that during a time of maximum danger to public health, we are almost being asked to walk it off.  In the past this was supposed to counteract the effects of a large meal or the excesses of the night before — an alternative to the hair of the dog (which used to be placed on a rabies bite, yuch!)

Walking, of course, is something people do almost as soon as they can crawl, and the benefits of bipedal locomotion have frequently been celebrated in song.

Helen Shapiro, who is 74 now, was Walking Back to Happiness when she was 14
Helen Shapiro, who is 74 now, was Walking Back to Happiness when she was 14

Helen Shapiro, who is 74 now, was Walking Back to Happiness when she was 14, the Goons were Walking Backwards for Christmas, and Dire Straits sang about The Walk of Life.  Perhaps most heart-wrenching of all is the prophetic pre-coronal lyric from Burt Bacharach: “If you see me walking down the street, walk on by.”  It easily equals The Four Tops’ eerie prognostication in Just Walk Away, Renée: “The empty sidewalks on each block…”  A haunting evocation of the future, half of which is buried in the past.

I’m beginning to sound like one of those retired colonels who write splenetic letters to newspaper editors, but I just missed National Service conscription, which at least would have taught me to walk in formation.  Although we’re more likely to have to swerve now and then when we walk outside these days.  (“About— turn!”)

As my life stretches out behind me, I find myself wishing I had spent less of it on my feet and more of it in my armchair.  The French philosopher Pascal stated that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” and I personally would find that a piece of cake, which I would also enjoy.

I ought to have strolled into the Louvre that day in 1966 rather than trying to march around it, and then I could have walked indoors, looking at the paintings and stopping every so often to draw breath, not literally of course.  A dawdle like that would have been a doddle.  Although my Cuban heels might have made the Mona Lisa frown.

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