Walking is important. Coming from somebody who has two novels out with walking in the title and is the author of fifteen walking guides, this is a statement that won't exactly knock your socks off. Yet walking is important, for the way it's done betrays all manner of interesting and occasionally disturbing stuff about the walker. You only need to look at politicians to see what I mean. Yup. We're going to have fun laughing at our esteemed leaders.
I get terribly excited when Nicolas Sarkosy announces an extraordinary meeting (and they're all extraordinary as far as M. Sarkosy is concerned) of the French cabinet, because it means the cameras are going to be there filming these clowns going in to make obeisance to the little prince. I don't know what it is about French politicians, but none of them seem capable of 'just' walking. They always feel obliged to bounce about like Tigger on Benzedrine and you've only got to show them a staircase to have them skipping up the thing in the manner of Fred Astaire, albeit without the nonchalant elegance and widespread popularity. It's as if they're in training for the triple jump. I presume it's intended as a display of insouciance and vitality, but it's extremely funny to watch, especially since there's always the wild hope that one day somebody is going to go arse over tip. I'd pay good money to see them extract insouciance and vitality from a pratfall.
You may protest that the politicians of other nations are much the same, but that's not strictly true. The Germans always appear to be clasping a small rubber ball somewhere in the region of the perineum and most Italian politicians mince about as if their shoes are too tight. One of my favourites is the walk perfected by Bush and Blair, involving a complicated shoulder roll and slightly rigid, vaguely simian arms held a little too far from the body, a bit like a monkey that has had a minor stroke. And when they try to add the hop, skip, and jump, it's absolutely brilliant. As for the Russians, well, there's something about the way Putin carries himself that suggests he has forgotten to take the coat hanger out of his jacket. Mind you, I wouldn't want to tell him this face to face. Risible though it may be, his attempt to give the impression he could kill you with his bare hands does convey a certain conviction. By contrast, the lanky elegance of Obama is a breath of fresh air. Compared to the strutting peacocks, stuffed shirts, prancing feather-preeners, and muscle bound fencing posts who generally populate the political firmament, he looks positively normal. At last, a head of state who is at ease in his body!
It's not just celebrities who can be pegged by their walks. On my morning outing with the dogs, I can recognize people from half-a-mile away simply by their gait. There's the little Australian-Sheepdog woman, all head down and determined, busy-busy-busy, got to get on, and the old German-shepherd bloke who goes out of his way to hop across large rocks in denial of his advancing age. Cookie, an indefatigably disobedient beagle, is accompanied by a woman whose want of authority is unmistakable in her timid little steps and the way her body leans back, as if disinclined to engage with the future. Then there's the martial looking man who strides along like he's marching off to war (what he's doing in Brittany, I wouldn't know) while his Labrador puppy ('Fifi' - oh, please) gambols along, gamely struggling to keep up with him. I can also spot from afar the slightly crushed looking chap in a cheap polyester shell suit who saunters about, stopping regularly to contemplate the sights, the forthright quick-stepping former sea captain who signals his decisive seafaring nature in every step he takes, the burly bloke who I believe is meant to be jogging yet never goes faster than a stroll, the bitter little woman who takes bitter little steps . . . . there are others, but you get my drift.
Do they know me? Probably. An old friend spotted me in a busy street in a city where he had no reason to expect to see me, his eye caught as he drove past by my distinctive walk, which I would guess is a sort of stooped lope. Am I conscious of it? No, but I am conscious of something else and it troubles me greatly.
Despite the fact that I'm middle aged and really ought to be past trying to impress young women, in certain critical situations, for instance a wide open space with a girl in the distance, I'm appalled to discover that my body is asserting itself and my usual stooped lope, or loping amble, or whatever it is, is shifting into something closer to a swagger. Resist it though I may, a very faint shoulder roll edges into the movement ('Call me Mr. Bush'), the legs feel as if they're slightly further apart ('Oh, hello, I'm Tony') endeavouring to stomp along in a manly sort of way ('Putin by name, Putin by nature'). I'm not sure I'm doing a very good job of describing this, but since when it happens I'm busy trying to ignore it and pretend it isn't really happening at all, I only have a vague notion of the process. Basically, though, everything sort of swings, a bit like a gibbon with a motor co-ordination problem. It's pathetic really. Yet hormones will out, no matter how few of them are being produced.
Even more disturbingly, I've noticed other men doing this as they walk towards me. I don't think they simply happen to be gay guys turned on by a middle-aged bloke with a hairline that has slipped down the back of his head. I suspect it's some sort of atavistic assertion of masculinity in the face of a potential foe. The macho roll asserts itself when only two of us are around and generally approaching face to face in an isolated spot. I've never seen it in a crowd.
The realization that my own walking can be quite as farcical as that of the political popinjays suggests that my mockery of their public appearances is a tad unreasonable. It's all very well heaping ridicule on a few highly visible individuals, but perhaps we are all as ludicrous as our leaders. We put them there after all. And maybe we put them there for this very purpose. A popinjay was a parrot and a target in archery practice long before it became a conceited chatterbox.
There again, maybe we are not entirely to blame. OK, we set them up in order to lament their incompetence and laugh at their pretensions. Sure, we're as absurd as they are. But did we have any choice in the matter? Some while ago, the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, carried the following headline in the run up to elections:
Votez con. Vous n'avez pas le choix.
Watch this space. Once I've perfected my swagger, I'm going to announce my candidacy. I'm not quite sure what for, but walking is going to be crucial to my campaign.
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace