One of the things most affected by having children is walking. I love going for a stroll and pride myself on never using the car for a journey of less than a couple of miles.
This infuriates Mrs C, for even when we’re in a rush but need an item from the shop, I’ll insist on going by foot rather than driving. This leads to an argument about my time-keeping and selfishness and then a long day of icy relations between us.
‘Think of the upside,’ I’ll say, ‘as I do so much walking I’ll probably live till I’m 100. That means you get to enjoy my company for longer.’ She’s not thrilled by this.
What I most like about walking is it allows me to be on my own for a while. I may be slightly weird as I’m happiest when no one else is around. While others enjoy being with large groups and having fun, I’m content sitting on a bench feeling miserable.
But since I had children – or since the eldest has reached an age (two-and-a-half) where she wants to come with me when I go out – walking has become a chore.
Take a trip to the shops. On my own, it’s a pleasant 10-minute stroll to my town centre. Now it takes an hour and 10 minutes as we have to pause every five yards to say good morning to the trees, the lamp-posts, the ducks in the park, the cars, the postbox, the yellow motorbike always parked outside number 25 (Mary: ‘Hello yellow motorbike. How are you today?’) and a million other things.
In the garden of one house we pass are three small pottery cows and two sheep. We have to stop while Mary asks them about their day.
When passing the other morning, the householder – a kindly middle-aged woman in a disturbingly floral cardigan – saw us loitering and came out. I feared she was about to tell us off, but she was nice so I explained we had stopped to talk to her pottery collection.
She could have been forgiven for asking if we were insane. Instead she said, ‘would your daughter like to stroke one of the cows?’
And so it was that at 11am on Saturday I found myself holding the hand of my two-year-old while she patted a tiny cow and asked if it was having a nice day. The fact the cow didn’t respond didn’t perturb Mary who continued: ‘Have you eaten much grass today? How much milk comes out of your udders? Are you friends with the sheep?’
The householder was delighted and kept saying things like ‘isn’t she adorable’. I could only reflect on how my life had stooped to such a level.
I did manage to temporarily cure the problem of Mary wanting to come out with me back in January when I took her to the Lakes. On a day so cold Captain Scott would have stayed by the fire, I got a boat across Ullswater and strode back around the lake.
Early in the walk Mary began whimpering. ‘What’s wrong,’ I asked. ‘It’s cold,’ she replied.
‘Nonsense,’ I said, checking my travel thermometer. ‘It’s minus seven, it’s fine.’ I then had a pep-talk with her saying she was now two and should start acting like a grown-up. By the time we’d completed the seven-mile walk, Mary had turned an off-blue colour and couldn’t move her fingers.
Initially I felt bad but then realised the benefits as for months after, whenever I said I was off for a walk, Mary began sobbing and pleaded, ‘don’t take me with you daddy’. Alas she appears to have forgotten this experience and insists on accompanying me again.
Yet it does lead to some unexpected moments of pleasure, like the other day when we approached a bus stop.
‘Look Mary, there’s a bus-stop,’ I said. ‘Would you like to go on a bus?’
‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘Can we go on a bus now?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘they only come at certain times.’ ‘Is it certain times yet?’ she asked.
Maybe she’s worth having as a walking companion after all.