Christmas cheer and resolutions

Andrew Stuck, founder of the Museum of Walking writes

“When I was a child, I was told to remember the 3 Rs: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. I never understood why you needed to remember, or to remember them in this ungrammatical way.  These days, as we mangle the English language to fit a Tweet, text or What’s app message, or replace it all together by using an emoji, we can probably forget about the 3 Rs.  Back in the 90s in the States, while trying to win a free place at Tufts University, close to Boston, I encountered the 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink.  To me it is amazing that here in the UK, we haven’t actually all embraced recycling as yet, and the current trend is trying to get supermarkets to reduce plastic packaging.  How is it that the world’s most profligate nation (the US) managed to raise awareness amongst its population to embed the 4 Rs almost 30 years before we have?

So our ‘featured image’ on this blog post, is the re-use of a pertinent Christmas card that artist Fran Crowe sent to us 10 years ago – at the time Fran was creating installations and distributing ‘contra-souvenirs’ created from plastic that she had picked up from repeatedly walking the shingle beach at Thorpeness, on the Suffolk coast.  It is one of my favourite memories from recording interviews for Talking Walking, as you hear our footsteps on the shingle, and how often we stop, as Fran spots another bit of plastic for her collection.  You can listen to the recording here.

Back in September, I laid out a challenge (call it resolution) to listen to each of the published Talking Walking recordings, one for each day as we got closer to Christmas and the end of year. The plan was to Facebook and Tweet about each in turn, and at the close of every week, post a blog about the previous week’s listening on this blog.  I called it the #100dayastogo challenge and it came to an end on Sunday, listening to fellow podcaster Rick Pearson.  That tells you that I came up short on 100 interviews – 8 days short to be precise – which means that I have managed to interview, record, edit and publish 92 episodes of Talking Walking since I began, publishing the first in 2008.  You guessed, I had hoped to complete 100 episodes by the end of the year, but alas that hasn’t been achieved.  I have however, recorded more than 100 interviews, just not had the time to edit and publish them!

The Christmas holidays have always been a time for catching up with editing Talking Walking recordings, so I am editing an interview with Stefaan van Biesan, that I recorded at Made of Walking in September 2017…so there is quite a few recordings ‘in the can’ waiting to be edited.  It is far from a chore however, in fact it is a delight, as I get to relive those walks and conversations, happy memories and reflections.

So who is it I have listened to in the final days of the #100daystogo challenge?

Terence Bendixson has lived in Chelsea since the Second World War when he returned there having been evacuated as a child to Canada.  As an eleven year old, returning to a post-war London, walking to school must have made an impression on him, as he is now the world’s longest serving pedestrian advocate, and still keeps batting for those of us on foot.  He became a campaigner, after writing an article in The Guardian about how cars were becoming to dominate our cities. It was a delight to walk these streets so familiar to him and hear him tell his story and why it is as ever important to put the pedestrian first in all transport planning decisions.  Listen to Terence here.

Rarely does the weather intercede and preclude a walking interview, but that’s what happened when I met Maggie O’Neill – there was a terrific downpour, and typically, London’s traffic came to a halt, with pavements flooded, and people bustling here and there to try to avoid a soaking. We crept into a busy hotel lobby and undertook the interview there.  Maggie was a recipient of a Leverhulme Fellowship which offers academics the chance to take time off from teaching to undertake research they are passionate about.  Maggie chose to research ‘walking borders‘ with refugees and migrants, and those involved with migration and sex workers.  We had little time so the interview was quite rushed – but it makes compelling listening.  Listen to Maggie here.

How well prepared are you to take a long walk?  Clearly I am not one to give out advice.  I strolled along the banks of the River Cam in a pair of open-toed Teva sandals, and to my cost, was stung on the ankle by a bee!  This would never happen to Country Walking Magazine‘s Nick Hallissey – for a start he has been testing out walkers’ kit and writing technical critiques for years, but don’t feel too sorry for him, he gets paid to do what we all love – going for a walk.  Listen to Nick here.

Out and about on foot in less familiar spots, it is great to have a helpful finger post pointing you in the right direction, so it was a surprise one wintry snow covered day, to find whimsical directions and instructions on a finger post in Queen’s Wood, near Highgate, London.  I tracked down artist Grace Adam, who had self-financed this intriguing way finding intervention, and interviewed her on a return visit to the woods.  “We no longer follow maps, it is the maps that follow us,” was a profound remark from Grace about how smartphone technology has changed the way we explore new territories.  I have recorded several interviewees who are fascinated about getting lost, but this was a new take on what way finding information is provided and when.  Listen to Grace here.

Bibi Calderaro is an Argentinian artist working in the north eastern United States.  She has been  so enthused by creating sensory walks and re-introducing people to nature, that she undertook a course to qualify as a ‘forest therapy instructor’.  She applied several such techniques on a series of walks she created when she was an artist-in-residence for the US National Park Service.  Listen to Bibi here.

It was a challenge you to keep up with Richard Smith – he must be jet propelled.  We walked beside the Regent’s canal, but he apparently wasn’t going as fast as he usually walks.  He is advocate of using walking poles – not the trekking versions, but alpine poles, which are similar to Nordic walking poles.  That plus repetitive chanting means that Richard is covering vast distances in times we can’t imagine.  I was out of breath just along the canal path…Richard shared his enthusiasm for walking in ‘thin places’, making personal pilgrimages, and how he incorporates fast walking and chanting, into his day when he’s an NHS gynaecological consultant.  Listen to Richard here.

I was on a Made of Walking event with 40 artists so was surprised and delighted that amongst them was American walking activists, Wendy Landman from WalkBoston.  I knew of her and the work of WalkBoston, through attending Walk21 conferences, so it was great to have an opportunity to interview in La Romieu, a place neither of us were familiar with.  She talked about how to sell pedestrian improvements by talking to politicians about delightful places and the delight of walking – two facets we are going to pursue in 2019 (we will write more in a future blog post).  Listen to Wendy talking about the achievements of WalkBoston.

If you thought Nick Hallisey from Country Walking Magazine has a dream job, meet Tom Hall, managing director of Lonely Planet, who is as enthusiastic about short walks in London’s Bankside as he is about walking through medieval Rome or ancient Istanbul. I wish I had had a boss like him when I worked in book publishing...listen to Tom here

Is age catching up with you?  If so I would strongly recommend a listen to Pam Patterson and Leena Raudvee who collaborate as ARTIFACTS, for they have tackled diminishing vision and mobility issues, and put them firmly at the centre of their art practice.  They are not shy at coming forward to explain how using a cane empowers one and can be a handy weapon when defending off crowds.  Listen to Pam and Renee here.

I have always been intrigued about Nordic Walking, as I have tried cross country skiing, and also know how valuable trekking poles can be when carrying a rucksack, when going up or down hills (and the occasional mountain).  However, I have always been a bit self-conscious about trying Nordic Walking out.  So I was fortunate to be introduced to Sonya Brennan, a Nordic Walking instructor, working in nearby Lewisham, and managed by former Talking Walking interviewee, Jenny Budd.  Sonya has had a battle with her weight, at one point being diagnosed as clinically obese, but through her own determination, she found out about Nordic Walking and took it up with relish.  So I joined her on consecutive Wednesday mornings for a taste of Nordic Walking.  Listen to Sonya here.

And so we rounded up the #100daystogo challenge with an interview with fellow podcaster, Rick Pearson, who has been undertaking a challenge of his own: climbing to the summit of the highest peak in every London borough.  Rick is a journalist for Runners World, which should have given me a clue as to what I might be letting myself in for as we set out from Knockholt station to climb to the borough of Bromley‘s highest peak at Westerham Heights.  Rick failed to mention that it was also London’s highest peak, and that one has to descend from Kent’s highest peak to reach it….Listen to Rick here.

So ends the #100daystogo challenged and the tenth anniversary year for Talking Walking draws to a close…the good news is that, having not reached 100 interviews this year, we can have a separate celebration for the publishing of the 100th interview fairly soon.  Many thanks for reading and we hope you get a chance to do some listening and walking over the holidays.”

All about walking blog posting is unpredictable – if it’s raining biblical downpours then a blog post is more likely to appear, in most other weather conditions we are out walking and not blogging on a keyboard…..