Life

What I Miss from the Outside World: Walking Without Purpose

"I never realised until lockdown started how something as simple as a walk home from work incorporated so many small, yet spontaneous, decisions."
April 15, 2020, 9:00am
woman on phone in park

For key workers, the coronavirus pandemic means putting yourself in danger on a daily basis to deliver essential public services. For the rest of us, it's the most boring crisis in living memory: all we can do is sit inside and think about how much we want to go outside. To help you work through that frustration, in this new editorial series we've asked writers to detail the one thing they miss the most from the outside world.

I am the least spontaneous person I know.

Thanks to anxiety, my best friends have always been routine, planning and foresight. Since entering isolation, though, I'm looking back on my past self and seeing a totally different person. She's uninhibited! She's relaxed! She's carefree, super-chill, popular and very, very handsome (sorry, I got carried away there – it's really just the spontaneity I've noticed).

Daily walks were always part of my routine. I never gave them much thought. Whenever I've travelled somewhere or moved to a new neighbourhood, the first thing I've always done is go for a walk. I love zig-zagging along new streets, cruising past houses and parks, and satisfying my nosiness as I go. It's my go-to stress releaser: taking three-hour walks pretending to listen to a podcast, but really processing and dealing with my noisy mind.

Walking without purpose is the thing I miss most. An impromptu meander, a stroll, a saunter… the freedom of taking an unplanned walk that has no real objective.

I never realised until lockdown started how something as simple as a walk home from work incorporated so many small, yet spontaneous, decisions. Maybe I'll go through the park today and befriend the ducks, I'd think, or pop by a charity store and pick up a smelly old cardigan with a horrifying handkerchief in the pocket.

I miss moseying through a grocery store, basket casually draped under one arm, fooling myself that today's the day I'll finally purchase that romanesco instead of just staring at it with horniness in my eyes.

I even miss bumping into someone I know at the shops and having a quick catch up, before hiding from them to avoid the, "Hoo-hoo! Fancy seeing you here!" exchange in every aisle. I miss fleeing the grocery store and shopping elsewhere because I can't handle that level of awkwardness.

I miss extending a walk simply because the warmth of the sun on my back felt so good.

When I first moved to Glasgow, I set off on an obligatory saunter. It led me to discover a delicious bakery near my flat, as well as a park housing Highland cows. I took a wrong turn and accidentally strutted down someone's driveway at one point, but their two boisterous guard dogs were very understanding and kindly escorted me to the exit.

Another morning, I decided to walk through Queen's Park. I got completely lost in the winding walkways and ended up at the top of the hill at sunset. It was a sunny afternoon, which are rare in Glasgow, and everywhere there were people enjoying Tennent's picnics. My annoyingly small bladder piped up, so I jogged home. Looking back, I want to scream at my former self: How could you take that moment for granted? A perfect summer evening, in Glasgow, and you went HOME? Why didn't you just pee in a bush like the blokes were doing, you absolute peanut?

Amid the ever-present despair and stress arrive realisations of the things we took for granted – usually small pleasures, like hugging a mate, or going for a pint, or hugging your mate after too many pints. But it's the even smaller things, like a spontaneous walk, that to me are the most surprising parts of regular life that I find myself longing for.

I'm currently halfway through a government-designated quarantine in Sydney, so I desperately miss the outside world in general (I can only open my hotel room door to receive meals. But on the plus side, I'm experiencing my first ever dandruff outbreak!). Looking out from my locked window, nose pressed against the glass, I watch people go on their daily walk and envy them so badly. But then I see their hurried pace and bags of essentials and know that, once I'm out of quarantine, my walks will also be shorter and far more purposeful.

On my last day in Glasgow, I took one last walk, mourning that I'd have to leave the city in such hurried and rough circumstances. I stretched my legs preparing for the 36 hours of travel ahead, and walked past that bakery, and the park I'd once found. I encountered two other people – a jogger who crossed the road when he saw me, and an older woman with her small dog, who smiled at me from her doorstep. The days of sauntering are long behind us, for now.

It's still way too early to be musing on what life will be like in the future. But when we start recalling this time in past tense, with a mixture of grief and relief, I know my daily walks will feel different. None of us know exactly when that moment will arrive, but when I feel free to detour down a side street just because it has nicely-coloured houses, I'll know that's the time to start counting my blessings once more.

@figgled

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.