Saturday, 8 August 2009

Bibliotherapy: What to read when you don’t want to go for a walk



I am writing this in the certain knowledge that I must go for a walk; my dog is looking at me quizzically, and we both know that it will be good for us to stretch our legs, despite the fact that it is a drizzly Sunday, and the park will be filled with disconsolate walkers who would rather be somewhere else instead. It is at times such as these that I am tempted to stay at home and read; in particular, Max Beerbohm’s ‘Going Out for a Walk’ (from ‘And Even Now’, a collection of his essays published in 1920).

‘It is a fact that not once in all my life have I gone out for a walk,’ observes Beerbohm at the outset. ‘I have been taken out for walks; but that is another matter. Even while I trotted prattling by my nurse’s side I regretted the good old days when I had, and wasn’t, a perambulator.’ His reputation as an aesthete and a dandy at Oxford, and a member of Oscar Wilde’s literary circle thereafter, did not protect him from the exhortations of heartier acquaintances to accompany them on walks. These outings were uncomfortable for all concerned, the conversation diminishing with every step. Here, for example, is his account of an enforced Sunday morning walk with a fellow-guest at a country house weekend: ‘We pass an inn. He reads vapidly aloud to me: “The King’s Arms. Licensed to sell Ales and Spirits.” I forsee that during the rest of the walk he will read aloud any inscription that occurs… I see far ahead, on the other side of the hedge bordering the high road, a small notice-board. He sees it too. He keeps his eye on it. And in due course “Trepassers,” he says, “Will Be Prosecuted.” Poor man! – mentally a wreck.’

Lauded by his peers – Virginia Woolf described him as ‘the prince of his profession’; Evelyn Waugh as ‘a genius of the purest kind’ – Beerbohm’s fame has faded, but his prose still glitters with wit. You may not have time today to read his sweetly satiric novel, ‘Zuleika Dobson’ – though it’s well worth it – but do find a few moments for his essay, before you go quietly for that walk…

12 comments:

kairu said...

Last weekend my father needed a walk (I have no dog, so my father is the one who drags my reluctant self out the door) and so we headed off to the Sculpture Park, which rambles down a slope and to the sparkling waters of Elliott Bay. A path winds around various modern sculptures, across a bridge that spans a busy road, and it was hot (for me) and the sun blazing down (I know you will have no pity for my whining as you head out into grey drizzle) and I felt like a petulant five-year-old as we kept walking farther, farther than my legs wanted to go.

I could see from my father's expression that my own face was settling into that mask of stubbornness more suited to a small child instead of a grown woman, nearly thirty years of age. And it is true, once I had drunk my rosemary limeade granita and we were home and I was going over the photographs I had taken, I was happy with our outing. But oh, walking uphill under a blazing sun, how I hated being out for a walk...

Justine Picardie said...

Your story made me laugh; and actually, the sun is shining here, albeit weakly, so I do feel comradely at the thought of your enforced walk. I think it's being the taken for a walk that makes one feel truculent. But going for a walk -- in the right place, at the right time -- suits me down to the ground (upwards and onwards!).

savidgereads said...

I do like a walk now and then but sometimes even in the summer I just want to lounge about and have a rest from it all which sounds slightly melodramatic.

Has anyone else noticed that top picture looks a bit like Anthony Hopkins?

enid said...

Zulieka is a wonderful read. I am off for a walk as we have a lovely sunny day. I like a walk at my own pace. There is nothing worse than those walkers who make a religion out of walking ande are determined to show one how good they are at walking. A walk is the time to enjoy surroundings and to think. I shall try to find the essay you recommend.

Justine Picardie said...

Yes, you're right, he does look a bit like Hopkins, and there is another very good picture of him at the National Portrait Gallery, as if ready to go out for a walk, but looking rather disconsolate, even depressed...
Enid - good point - the pleasure of going at one's own pace...

kairu said...

"Enforced walk" just about covers it. I do a lot of walking because I live so close to everything - work, shopping, post office, downtown Seattle - and it is nice to able to walk everywhere instead of driving. On a beautiful day I take pleasure in watching people play in the park and seeing flowers in bloom. In miserable wet weather I find happiness in splashing through puddles in my fleece-lined Tretorn rubber boots.

But on a lazy day when all I want to do is curl up with a book, I don't care that the sun is shining. Although today it is grey and cloudy outside.

Have ordered 'And Even Now' and 'Zuleika Dobson.'

elspeththompson said...

Sorry not to have kept up, but re the RAIN post a week or so back, do you know this poem?

WHO LOVES THE RAIN
By Frances Shaw
“Who loves the rain
And loves his home,
And looks on life with quiet eyes,
Him will I follow through the storm;
And at his hearth-fire keep me warm;
Nor hell nor heaven shall that soul surprise,
Who loves the rain,
And loves his home,
And looks on life with quiet eyes.”

I try to remember it whenever the rain gets me down...
xx Elspeth

elspeththompson said...

And forgot to say.. re walks, having a dog means one sometimes has to venture out for a walk in the rain, which can sometimes actually be rather magical, however much I might moan about going....
x E

Justine Picardie said...

Elspeth -- thanks so much for the poem. We must see each other in the virtual world!

simoncadbury said...

but i would still say that going for a walk would had been much better for your health and your dog's health :)

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