I couldn’t remember the last time I had walked so far on urban pavements. I generally avoid going into town with all the dedication I would show to avoiding, say, a dinner invitation from a ravenous vampire…and for much the same reasons; both leave you limp and lifeless. But, with the car off the road, the cupboards bare and the fish needing medical supplies, I had little choice.
It isn’t that I don’t walk… just that I live in a rural area. A tramp across the fields with the dog is a very different affair to walking on concrete. Quite how different, I had not realised until today. It isn’t just the external stuff like traffic, noise and scenery… walking on concrete changes everything.
The first thing I noticed was how much my pace and posture changed, from the relaxed mooch to a business-like stride. The rhythm of my steps was very different, I covered the ground faster and my back was straighter than usual, shoulders low and head held high.
The next thing I noticed was that the few people I passed all smiled before looking away. This, in itself, is unusual in towns, where most people avoid eye contact at all costs. Then it dawned on me why… I was singing.
I could see why I was getting the covert glances… and smiled to myself as I realised exactly what I was doing.
When I was very young, we did not have a car. My mother didn’t drive, my father was stationed abroad, so it was either the bus or Shanks’s pony. As far back as I can remember… and my memory is pretty good… as we walked, my mother and I, we would sing. It helped pass the time and took my mind off the distance my little legs were covering.
It started with my mother singing to me until I learned the words, which I soon picked up. There used to be a tape of a very small girl singing Gracie Fields’ ‘Sally’. I was so young at the time that my logic was a bit odd by adult standards; I could only sing that song and no other because I had a poorly finger… and the finger was poorly because my mother had made me eat cabbage.
Later, we would sing old music-hall favourites, popular songs, lyrics from musicals and even the odd aria. We could sing the entire score of ‘The Five Pennies’ between Town End and Waterloo Lane, and we knew the scores of any number of films. Sometimes we recited poetry instead, from Spike Milligan to the monologues of Marriot Edgar, via Wordsworth and Keats. And we always practised any numbers I needed for the musical comedy routines of dancing school.
When my own sons were small, we walked everywhere too. I did not drive and, in a city with excellent public transport, did not need to learn. And, as we walked, we recited those same poems and sang many of the same songs.
Perhaps it was the rhythm of my footsteps, but walking into town today, I found myself singing those old songs. And, quite apart from the fact that I should never be allowed to sing in public, for fear of offending passing eardrums, most people don’t do that.
It is one of those things that is simply not done, though I cannot for the life of me think why that should be so. If I’d had a child by the hand, no-one would have batted an eyelid, but a solitary adult, singing to themselves, draws strange, strained glances followed by a rapid averting of the eyes. Had they been close enough to hear me sing, I could have sympathised.
I did have a child with me, though. She has never left me and will always sing as she walks. We may simply see the inner child as the first psychological blueprint of our growth, or we may see it as the soul-child and a link to something deeper still; the two do not preclude each other. For me, she is more than nostalgia or memory, I carry her within and she is, in many ways, the ‘mother’ of the adult. She exists as a purer state of being, uncontaminated by the failures, frailties and falsities of an adult existence. It is through her eyes that I see a world filled with wonders. It is through her that I touch excitement, faith and hope and it is she who still reminds me that love is unconditional. And, if she wants to sing, that’s fine by me.