Every time I walk through Durham (so, at least once a week on a Friday) I think of something someone told me more than ten years ago.
As you walk over Framwellgate Bridge, heading down from North Road, you are greeted by lots of lovely cobbles, which are one of the many features that make the historic town so charming and appealing.
The imposing buildings to the right of the bridge may have something to do with the feel of the place too…
Dividing the mass of cobbles are two narrow walkways made of paving stones. Concrete slabs. Not as pretty as the cobbles but a whole lot easier to walk on.
If everyone followed these narrow paths the city (? – more of a city than Sunderland but not exactly Newcastle) would quickly come to a standstill as people filed in single formation. So, people generally crisscross from cobbles to path and vice versa as they wind their way up to the market square or make their way back to their student accommodation from University.
This all works well and doubtless has for a canny long time.
Back to my memory from a decade ago.
A colleague of mine who has since moved elsewhere in the country was recalling a tale about her family and the personalities of her sons (she had two as I recall).
She told us (it was break time and there were 4 or 5 of us) that one of her sons had a particular approach to the aforementioned walking routes in Durham.
He stepped onto the easier to tread smooth runway when he was walking along with his family. Fair enough – we would all agree you can move more freely and with ease if you opt for this route.
In my experience though you would quickly encounter other pedestrians who were either walking toward you are stepping in front of you. My immediate and natural reaction is to step aside and wind and weave my way onwards. Probably throwing in the occasional ‘sorry’ for good measure.
Not for this woman’s son however. Oh no. She went on to tell us with an evident sense of pride that her boy ‘puts his head down and keeps walking’.
This seemingly innocuous statement has haunted me ever since. Every single time I walk that route I think of this woman and her son. To manage to walk from the bridge to the square or the same journey reversed and stay on this narrow strip you would have to blindly ignore dozens of other people. The elderly, infirm, able bodied, children, dogs and all would be invisible to this blinkered child.
It alarmed me then and still does that his Mother thought this was something she could confess to others. She didn’t see it as a confession of course – she saw it as a badge of honour.
Her son put his head down and charged ahead. Not for him the cobbles you trip over and the need to continually watch your step. Why would you when you can wipe out innocent bystanders and charge up that clear strait?
I have often wondered what sort of young man this child became. He would be in his early twenties now I reckon. I wonder if he has managed to find like minded individuals who share his joy of being single-minded and determined and immune from the consideration of all around him. Let’s face it, we are surrounded by these people. I can just see his Mam’s smile of satisfaction and pride as he hurtles through his life getting to where he wants to be.
In the meantime, I will get nowhere in particular with little speed or aim. Still, I know which surface I would rather tread.