‘Mind yourself, he said to me, as I headed up the hill. A skinny man wearing a denim jacket and a pair of red suede classic Adidas, he looked like he’d slipped out of the side door of a bar for a smoke, taken a wrong turn, and ended up walking around Arthur’s Seat. He had a started look, or maybe it was one of relief; relief to be down off the height, back to paths that were salted, secure. I wondered if he had slipped on the ice himself and if that was why he was warning me. I thanked him, told him I would be careful, and, even though I already said as much to myself before I set out, it was nice of him to alert me.
I think I am fit for walking. I clock up thousands of strides daily, but, for the last week, I have been sore in parts of my body that have never ached before. It’s not because I have fallen on the treacherous black ice underfoot, it is because, without realising it, I’ve adjusted my gait, held myself differently, taken shorter steps. I’m walking with knees slightly bent, putting my weight into my thighs, making myself squatter to the ground. In short, I have been walking in a constant state of heightened alert, braced for the earth to play a trick on me: tip, trip, slip me. I am a walking ball of tension.
The ice has been here for about a week, perhaps longer – time means little these days – and each time I venture out I ponder my footwear. What I’d really like are shoes that would that allow me to hover a few inches above the ground (like that wee board Michael J. Fox had in Back to The Future II), but I can’t find them online, so instead I’ve taken on this clenched style of walking, one I have suddenly realised is an analogy for the way most of us are right now, ice or no ice. You would think that one of the things that makes us feel most groundless is when it’s hard to walk on the ground, but it turns out that a pandemic does the same trick: makes the earth shake beneath our feet a little, has us all walking about in a state of vigilance. Small children: they are the ones who seem to be able to navigate ice (and pestilence) best. Especially those who have just learned to walk and so falling over is de rigueur. Their bums are close to the ground, their bodies more squashable that our grown forms, and they haven’t a clue what an R-rate is. Also, they (hopefully) have someone else to mind them as they hurtle off into life fearlessly.
This morning, the ice has gone, and so I can take my foot off the brakes of the funny-jerky way of walking I had developed since the new year and instead I can look at the hues of the winter sky and the exposed land around me as opposed to obsessing about whether or not that shiny patch of path two paces ahead is going to send me for a burton. I’ll still mind myself, but I am thankful that the thaw has made this unsteady world a little steadier.