I went for a walk today, because I wanted the outdoors. I wanted to walk by water, and to feel the cool of the evening on my face, until it was ever so slightly numb. I wanted to hear my own footstep, pulsing the earth, the gravel making place for me. I wanted to be startled by the odd passing bird, and the change in colour in the sky. I wanted the gloaming and peace of stars unbidden. You know yourself, the comfortable sound, when you’re walking, and you hear your own breath
But it is at my desk, I am. Writing my imagined walk, and pacing in my head and getting more and more bitter with every step. I did try. Don’t get me wrong, I did try. But the air outside was disappointedly heavy with sounds and smells of the city and air breathed out by other people. Let me describe to you the nature of the jungle I am in, and how I came to feel a little like a trapped animal. My first indication that perhaps my walk would be less than peaceful was a cavalcade of police support vehicles, screaming sirens like mad old banshees, clinging to corners at angles that melted the edges of physics. Had I been a small child, I might have been excited for to see them, but instead I was annoyed that they moved too quickly for the counting, and the policemen would not be for waving just now.
Distracted thereafter by a man in combat trousers with his arm aloft to coax birds from low branches, I looked up to the sky for the winged beauties. Two heavy bellied metal birds, rotor blades cutting the sky, and long tails angled upwards like they were being picked up by some invisible hand sang their thrumming song to each other. At that moment, an anorexic looking squirrel fell out of a tree and made a mad dash to the man in the combat trousers, while a drunk-looking pigeon dive-bombed the scene, performing an emergency crash landing and denting the grass.
I persisted. I would see out the gloaming. I would be surrounded by nature. But the further I walked into the park, the thicker came the throng. Like overgrown vines whipping into my face, and sprawling undergrowth grabbing at my ankles, people ambled. A self-contained weekend-paced wandering that swamped my progress. They swam around me, and clogged up the arteries of escape. Even the city dogs seemed to have it in for me; barely calf-height, they positively waddled around like aimless little trundle-wheels. Honestly, the state of how relaxed they were in their own quagmire truly got me going. Could I have swung from branch to branch over the tops of them, I surely would. But I persisted.
And oh me, when I got to the other side of the park, didn’t the dichotomy floor me. Within the park, where my progress had been mired by the twinkle-eyed sloth-like movement of the populus of the weekend, with their selfie-sticks and peanut-laced pockets and magic roundabout pooches. At the boundaries of the park though, and fairly ringing us in, was the mob. The pied pipers of the screeching police calvalcade, and flock of helicopters. A charcoal smudge of a crowd was making its way of the mall, and I tell you never in the history of demonstrations have you seen anything so uniquely ambivalent in all your life. I am still unclear as to what they were demonstrating against, unless it is isolation. There was one young feller with a cardboard sign, borne of the back of an amazon package, that said simply “No”. This concise and reasonable group wound their way along the mall, observing the silence that would deafen you, if it weren’t for the sirens, helicopters and my mounting fear. I was utterly hemmed in. Behind me, the ambivalence of weekenders, swarming in their freedom. Before me, the ambivalence of protestors swarming like thick treacle towards the palace.
I looked again, the panic mounting. Behind me, a pug dog sniffing stale remnants from the cast iron gates surrounding the plume of weekend-narcotised, marshmallow-tense pleasure seekers. Before me, a cloud of well-natured protestors spat out of Westminster square like a cloud of spores from a mushroom.
I stood very still and weighed my options in an unthinking way and did what any self-righteous NIMBY would do. I tutted and called my mother to conduct a telephone conversation to air my opinions slightly louder than was truly necessary. They are obscuring my path! They are not following the rules. I cannot walk through this park, to the other park. It is an outrage. I know you’re cleaning the windows, but listen in to me now, would you. I pay my taxes.
And here’s where I caught myself on. As I puffed myself up into a mauve coloured ball of indignation, like a twitched and self-righteous puffer fish, I renewed the scene in my head. It’s an unusual sensation, is indignation. I remembered that the owner of the pug dog was a gentle looking young girl, in a beige coloured trench coat. I remembered two young boys on the edges of the ever-so polite protest. The pair of them were wearing blazers and ties, though it’s a Saturday and there’s no way they were old enough to not be in school. Then I remembered the family who had the dog that looked like Dougal off Magic Roundabout. There was definitely more than one generation there, and I considered how nice it might be to walk as a family. Then I saw myself as an angry, lone, bluebottle buzzing at speed through the park to get to where I was going. Which was to go for a walk. A walk that would take me home again. How much more had I missed on my jaunt? As I had stood transfixed by the murmurations of the crowds, so different in their expeditions, in my heart I had beaten the peace out of anything, jumping up and down and shouting get off my land.