Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Out Walking

I've been walking again, now that the weather has cooled down a bit. Near where I live is a mountain covered in bush. Although it's only a 15-minute walk to the city centre, up there you're usually on your own. Which is great, except when you are completely on your own, but for one approaching figure. I discovered this today when, right at the loneliest spot on my walk, I spotted a man in the distance. I don't think of myself as mistrustful and yet, without really being conscious of it, I began to study his appearance straightaway. As he came closer, I scrutinised him surreptitiously, trying to tell whether he was going to be a threat to me.
And what I realised then was that somewhere in my head there is a template of normality against which this person was being measured. My mind took in his pale blue shirt and his moleskin trousers and matched it to the figure of a farmer at a country show. So that was all right, (apart from the absence of a tie). Next it turned its attention to the man's shoes - garish yellow and black things, no leather involved, the kind of contraptions joggers wear. These belonged to a different uniform altogether – RM Williams would be the farmers’ choice - but there was still nothing truly alarming about them, apart from lack of taste. The goatie beard was a bit unsettling, but it could mean he belonged to the class of mild mannered men who are fond of them locally.
So no worries then? And yet my mind was still anxious. The way this man was walking wasn’t quite right, it suggested - it simply wasn’t normal to walk as slowly as he was doing.
Until then I hadn't been aware that the speed you walked could be a factor in how you were judged, but my unconscious seemed convinced this was the case. It had taken against the way the fellow was dawdling and the more I tried to convince it that this was silly, the more stubbornly it held to the view that it was a sign of extreme peculiarity. In addition, it noted triumphantly as we drew nearer, the man was humming – and that was definitely weird. Nonsense, I told it - or, rather, myself. A man's entitled to hum, isn't he? Aimless, tuneless humming? The humming you might expect from Ophelia in her mad scene? Don't be so judgmental, I insisted, trying to rid myself of such a prejudiced kneejerk approach to the world. It was at that point that the man drew his hand from his pocket. His other hand was bare, but on this one he was wearing an old-fashioned, spotless, white kid glove.

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