This is a pedestrian story. Long ago, but not so far away, I went to live on Rhodes. I am a walker; not a hiker, not a rambler – a walker. I like it. It serves me well. The locals viewed my love of walking with curiosity; it was not within the realm of anyone’s experience to choose to walk. My behavior was passed-off as English eccentricity, which was fine. However, despite this ‘acceptance’, attempts were still made to change my mind.
On one memorable, quite typical, occasion, I set out for the coast to see how far I could go before nightfall. It was an autumnal Sunday and the weather was perfect for a walk; warm sunshine, cool breeze and clear air. I had only been on the road for ten minutes when my landlord’s car pulled up alongside and I was offered a lift.
‘Where are you going?’
‘For a walk.’
‘No, where are you going?’
‘For a walk.’
Five minutes later, I was able to start moving again, but the car motored next to me for a further five ‘in case I changed my mind’.
Now, I walk here and others choose to do the same. There are sponsored walks and runs. On medical advice, people walk up and down the waterfront at the nearly-new marina development. Dog-walking brings yet others out. This has seen a growth in sales of specialist clothing; many feel unable to take to the roads of Rhodes without the full kit. At one charity fundraiser, many of the participants were in outfits so new, they still had the price tags attached. They want to look the part. They want to be seen to have ‘changed their mind’.
People forget how to walk. It’s true. They can do the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing, but put them out in public and there’s no pathway code. This much is clear in the summer, when thousands of visitors are disgorged from planes and ships onto the streets. Far from their cars, in the heat of the sun, they forget (if, indeed, they ever knew) that they are in a living, working town and they wander. They wander everywhere. They wander off. Stop/start/left/right/back/forth. Walking with purpose becomes a slalom course. As a resident, you’re often invisible. I am at once irritated, frustrated and exasperated. Yet, I smile.
Why? You may ask. Because this experience, wandering on Rhodes, just might ‘change their minds’ when they return home and help them see that ‘for a walk’ is both a purpose and a destination.