In London (and I presume in other populous cities) before you can become a licensed taxi driver you have to be tested comprehensively to demonstrate you extensively know your city – or at least its streets that most quickly (if not most cheaply!) take you from the proverbial A to proverbial B. It is known as acquiring The Knowledge.
I don’t live in a city but a town, and usually when I travel I do so in my car, passing through my surroundings in a bubble of air-conditioning, warmth and music. I am paying attention to the road, at least subconsciously, and very little heed to the people and places passing me by. Additionally I am likely driving the same tested and trusted routes to my usual destinations.
Of late though out of a desire to add some healthy routine to my sedentary lifestyle I have begun walking. I had tried returning to mid-distance running of my teenage years as an activity I enjoyed and did well at but those years did not want anything to do with me – running now gave me a pounding headache instead – so I then decided by way of a more gentle return to exercise that I would walk, and a minimum thirty minutes per day.
On my walks I often take music though I don’t always listen to it – nature’s soundtrack is often as preferred. But if I am listening to music I use it has a time measurement too, usually walking for about five songs in any direction before turning around and heading home.
And I discovered that walking, by slowing me down, caused me to be taken in by the world around me. I also discovered how little I knew of my town, of my closest neighbourhood, even the long and winding street that I live on.
Usually if I am walking not driving it is still with some purpose – to the Post Office or Grocery store to do the things you usually do in those places! Again I am not paying too much attention to the world beyond my peripheral vision. Whereas walking for the sake of walking and I start to take note and notice of what is going on, and not going on, in my town.
And last week about three songs from my home I came upon a stile-entrance to some woodland which ordinarily I would cast a cursory glance at and move on but here decided I would take up its invite. Once in I quickly forgot about my thirty-minute time-frame wanting to see which part of town the other side of this wood would take me too.
I was in a part of my town only those with The Knowledge or A Knowledge would have – those being not just school-age children but all-ages children – part-time pondering poets, wandering wondering writers, perambulating prevaricating philosophers, sauntering seeking singers, ambling angling artists, and other such vagrants, and was surprised therefore to come upon a sign-post.
It was not as if I were in deep woodland. These trees I was moving among were skirting a housing-estate, their houses could still be seen through the trees. Traffic on both Glasgow and Easton Road (where I had entered the woods from) could still be heard. I could not get lost even if I wanted to. Yet there it was, a sign-post.
Whose ideas was this?
It would have been erected by our local council, West Lothian – perhaps in a particular year they had run a surplus and having sign-posted the roads and pavements to death it was decided that untended nature would be next.
The only sign that was mysterious was Easton Bing. You might know Bing as that old guy who you hear on the radio about this time of year serenading White Christmas. Likely too you know Bing as Microsoft’s attempt to cash in on Google’s search-engine territory. But in Scots parlance it is a term for waste, more specifically mining waste.
But I was pretty sure it was just the route to take me deeper into the woods. So perhaps upon this mining waste trees were planted and this wood grew. When and if that is even possible I do not know. I could find out but for now I like to continue to speculate.
Perhaps had I ventured into it I would have encountered not just further sign-posts but a Woodland Wi-Fi area run by squirrels and have been accosted by boot-shining badgers and busking deers.
Now I have written that I will have to go back and find out!