CD and me

Hello, friends. A couple of days ago, I saw a car driving very slowly around the car park of Portsmouth Olympic Harbour in Kingston. This isn’t unusual. The harbour is always busy with runners, walkers, picnickers, coffee-drinkers, dog-walkers, cyclists, and all manner of casual idlers. The thing that caught my eye was the small dog trotting along beside the car. Yes, the dog’s owner was “walking” his dog by driving alongside it. I don’t think I’ve led an excessively sheltered life, but this startled me. We North Americans love our cars and we’ve built our sprawling cities around them. I guess the next logical step is to give up our legs entirely?

If you thought I was going to segue once again to Judith Flanders, you’re absolutely right. In The Victorian City, Flanders asserts: “walking was the most common form of locomotion throughout the nineteenth century. By mid-century it was estimated that 200,000 people walked daily to the City; by 1866 that figure had increased to nearly three-quarters of a million.” What I love is that it’s not just the poor who walked: it was most people, including the rich. “In 1833, the children of a middle-class musician living in Kensington walked home from a concert in the City.” That’s roughly 4 miles and it would take about 90 minutes, according to Google Maps. “Two decades later, Leonard Wyon, a prosperous civil servant, and his wife shopped in Regent Street, then walked home to Little Venice.” That’s about two and half miles, or 50 minutes. And “In 1856, the wealthy Maria Cust returned from her honeymoon, walking with her husband from Paddington to Eaton Square.” Assuming the Custs strolled through Hyde Park, that’s a 2 mile walk which might take 40 minutes.

Not everyone walked for leisure, of course. Working people endured extremely long days, by our standards: shifts of 12, 14 and 16 hours were not uncommon. And they commuted by walking. (No wonder they bought breakfast along the way, eating as they went.) My favourite image of the Victorian walking commute features office clerks: “a thick black line, stretching from the suburbs to the heart of the city… [they] plod steadily along… knowing by sight almost everybody they meet or overtake, for they have seen them every morning (Sunday excepted) for the last twenty years.”

All this puts Charles Dickens’s famously feverish walking in a clearer context. Dickens once walked 30 miles from his home in London to his country house in Kent. (He set off at 2 a.m. after a quarrel with his wife, which helps to explain his average walking pace of over 4 miles an hour!) And in his lifetime, he was famous for passionately, diligently, ceaselessly walking the streets of London, which appear in his fiction in such remarkable and evocative detail. But even if I didn’t have Charles Dickens to cite as a model, I would claim that walking is the only way truly to see a city. That’s how I fell in love with London, too. When I lived in Bloomsbury, as a graduate student, I would get up early on weekend mornings and explore the streets. There were other Londonphiles doing the same thing, and I got to know a few of their faces.

These are golden memories, and writing this post has created in me a new resolve: the next time I have 2 or 3 hours, I’m going to walk part of Kingston I’ve never walked before. It’s hardly Dickens in London, but I’ll take it.

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9 Responses to “CD and me”

  1. MelodyJ says:

    You know what I think I’ve heard of people walking their dog while driving a car before. We don’t know if the person has physical limitations are not. Either way it seems a bit dangerous for the dog that way. Here the suburbs are not pedestrian friendly. Many places don’t have sidewalks or street lights. These areas were made for cars. I even wondered if the counties, home builders and car companies are in bed together.

    Does Canada has the same obesity problem the US has? There was a report that people who lived in cities tended to be for fit than people who lived in suburbs. One of the things I missed about living in a city is that you can walk to so many places. My grandpa walked almost everywhere. Someone who grew up with my mom told me that my grandpa would bet the bus home.

  2. Ying says:

    Great points, Melody. I shouldn’t have been judgemental about that one dog owner, specifically. But it looked dangerous for the dog (it was a little dog – much smaller than one of the car tires, so very difficult to keep track of from the driver’s seat) and I wondered if this was the start of a new mini-trend. I’m also shocked to hear about suburbs without sidewalks and streetlights. I’ve seen some suburbs with sidewalks on only one side of the street, but never entirely without. And you’d think streetlights would be a safety issue: they’re helpful when driving at night! Canada’s obesity rates are lower than those of the US, but not much.

  3. HJ says:

    Your post reminded me of a wonderful record of walking around London on the eighteenth century – Trivia by John Gay (who also wrote The Beggars Opera). It’s a long poem, very easy to read if you get a version with modern typeface, and great fun. It was published in 1716, and really brings London to life!

  4. Helena says:

    Can’t believe that! I have a dog and by walking your dog, and making the effort to walk them is a commitment that must be taken when you first get a dog. Fresh air is good too!

  5. Ying says:

    Thank you for the rec, HJ! I’ll definitely have to chase that up.

  6. Ying says:

    That’s what I thought, Helena! But Melody made a good point about someone who perhaps couldn’t walk for some reason (knee surgery, or similar?). Let’s just keep our fingers crossed this doesn’t become common.

  7. MelodyJ says:

    Yes most suburbs in the US don’t have sidewalks or streetlights. But lately there have been quite a few hit and runs. There is talk of adding side walks. But with all the budget cuts it might not happen soon. In this economy some people don’t have cars and have to walk to and from work. Also mass transportation in the suburbs are hit and miss depending on where you live.

  8. Rachel says:

    I’ve never seen a car “walking” a dog, but here in Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs, I’ve seen people in motorized wheelchairs and golf carts walking their dogs. I think it’s kind of ridiulous. I mean c’mon people, either have a big yard for the dog to run around in or don’t be lazy and take short walks with your dog on foot. Heck you can even pay people to do it for you.

  9. Ying says:

    Hi Rachel, and thanks for stopping by! I’ve never seen someone “walking” a dog in a golf cart, but apparently I’ve lived a very sheltered life. Would you agree with Melody (a couple of comments above) that most suburbs in the States don’t have sidewalks or street lights?

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