Do you remember that song by Aerosmith and Run DMC? It was a hit in 1991 when I was teaching in a huge North London comprehensive school. It was a real cultural mix but the majority of students were second generation Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The boys had a real swagger. They would patrol the playground in little armies, swinging their shoulders trying to look tall. Everyone who wanted to be “in” tried to walk that way. The girls would generally hang around in rough groups, pouting at the passing soldiers.
I walk in my dreams. It’s always the same: “Why am I walking when I have MS? Oh I must be having a good day!” Now, from wheelchair level, I’m becoming an active observer of the way people walk. It would be far too tedious to begin a detailed classification of walking styles here but there are some distinctly notable ones.
Those on the same level, that is those lucky souls who can walk only get half the effect. I view from the waistline down. Now that’s another level; another level in so many ways.
Firstly a fellow walker will mostly observe the effect on the shoulders and the resultant bobbing of the head. Unless of course, someone is being outrageously weird. We’ve all seen the Facebook collections of Walmart photographs showing the finest examples of extreme clothing.
There is a sort of seal-like elegance of their general movement. The stretched fabric, undulating with the visible rolls of blubber as they waddle clumsily behind their trolley. In such cases, one may be more tempted to view the overall visage of their ambulant progress.
When you think how simple it is to walk; just put one foot in front of the other and lean slightly forward, this simple act becomes far more of an ordeal if one’s feet are unable to do so because of a clashing of the knees.
Please don’t think I am mocking large people. I can talk! I am referring to those that tend to attract more attention because of their inappropriate attire.
Back to the walking. Viewing from the waist downwards gives me a more complete picture of the moving parts. There are striders.
They stretch out their feet building up momentum to a quick march. But it’s when they need to change direction or make a quick side-step, the real fun starts. Mohammed Ali was famous for his “shuffle” in the ring. I see many striders doing their own “Ali shuffle” as they slow down or swerve to avoid a collision. It’s fascinating; a complex choreography of twinkle-toe precision. A delicate procedure, carried out without a second’s thought. My wheelchair certainly gives me freedom but I don’t have the power to dance like that. I’m more Strictly Come Dalek.
The second category of walker, I have named the flippers. their feet flip back and forth at great speed whilst their knees appear static. You may think penguin but I’m too low to catch the overall waddle effect. They too have an amazing range of avoidance procedures. I’d like to describe them but they go to quickly for me to see the detail.
Maybe I could film them on a special slow-motion camera. I imagine it would be similar to watching a bee’s wings. I’d also be hard pressed to give any sort of rational explanation as to why I was filming people walk.
The third category is the bouncers. These are not the rather thick-set raw suited people we often see outside the doorways of clubland.
These people appear to bounce as they walk. A true spring in their step. With great dexterity, a bouncer’s trailing foot will part company with the ground from the toes. I know the bounce will be reflected in the movement of their head and shoulders but below waist level, there is an awful lot more going on. It’s like a gymnastic exercise for the whole leg and waist. The waist oscillates vertically with the combined bending and stretching of knees and toes. How does a bouncer avoid a collision? Well there is no apparent shuffling or side-stepping. Their stride rarely breaks. There is usually a glide to either side and they can go past with no visible form of interruption.
I wish I could walk again. I’d be happy to put up with the pathetic left hand or the inflamed nerve endings which tell me to that my legs are on fire. Or even the fatigue. I’d give anything to be able to walk up Snowdon in January.
It would always be a fight against the bitter cold and the vicious wind. The fine rain would spatter your face with tingling ice while you’re fighting for breath, exhausted by the brutal gradient.
There is a film called Wall E. It focuses on a spaceship full of humans who don’t walk anymore. Despite a slow start, it’s well worth a watch. It makes me angry that some people I have known have always been reluctant to make any sort of effort to walk.
When I was beginning to struggle, I had to walk my year three class a mile up the road. My teaching assistant refused to come with us. I can understand because she had the Walmart knees. But it left me a little bitter because I always believe in making the effort. And it’s brilliant when you finish. Thank-you for reading.