Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bernard Brown on walking

The 97th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the January/February 1994 issue. The seven-page feature “I Get a Kick Out of This” was a collection of brief pieces by Brian Turner, Jacqueline Fahey, Owen Marshall, Colin Hogg, Iain Sharp, Nigel Cox, Mary-Louise Browne and others – booksellers, painters, publishers, journalists, art curators – writing about more cheerful stuff than most books magazines did at the time: motorbikes, daughters, dogs, poker, haircuts, guitars, ice cream, shoes and more. The intro read:
There’s more to life than books. . . For a start, there’s chocolate. Here are another 20 of life’s extraordinary pleasures.

Bernard Brown
I cherished no schoolboy ambition to be a perambulator. But my hero, Ned Ludd, with his wrecker mates, hadn’t seen the job through. He’d let down the Simple Society. Me especially.

The problem, for 60 years, has been my nervy relationship with machines, even bicycles. Motor vehicles unerringly failed me. They could be induced to go forward smoothly, but only convulsively the other way.

My last driving test – in ]ohore Bahru, 1958 – promised success, until the Hudson Terraplane leaped back onto the examiner.

So walking became the chief and safer alternative, taking me from Boulogne to Paris (three weeks), through Malayan jungles and into a Singapore cricket match (where I was bowled by a chinaman, by a Chinaman), around and about the 20 suburbs in search of the city of Canberra, down bumpy parts of Borneo and, for a few years, New Guinea too (all for malaria, an arrow wound and sweaty tales of Errol Flynn). After which, I turned to Auckland as a pedestrian academe (“Here comes Associate Professor Plod,” the neighbours’ kids would call).

However, the pleasures of walking do outweigh the embarrassments, the inconvenience and the varicosity. You come to know your routes, the dogs and cats (by name), the children, gnomes and concrete bunnies on front lawns, as well as the dapper adulterer who tipped his hat to all he thought might know.

Garbage – yes. You become an authority on who puts out the really classy stuff. The rich are mean with rubbish. And in times of milk in bottles, you were alerted at gates to illness or death –  followed, alas, by For Sale signs, then quick-buck gentrifications of the nice old homes. Even sadder, the last five or six years have introduced this walker to the poor souls who used to be cared for, but who now traipse the streets probing litter bins. Somehow, they miss the odd coin or note dropped at the morning bus stops, but not the fag butts.

Along my ways I have found a homicide knife, numerous booties, a Rasta beret, corsets, lecture notes on Leavis (from which I lectured for a while), photos of a friend’s holiday and, intermittently, myself.

Pavement mores change. Exhausted condoms have become a welcome sight. Indeed, in mid-winter, one marvels.

You learn to smile at all oncoming pedestrians. Even to say hello. One ped, thus greeted, punched me in the throat. Thousands haven’t.

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