For a long time I worked in an office. Ten years, in fact, in a faded high rise in central London. For many of those years I would walk to work each morning - first from the South of the city, over the river and up past the meat market, along a main road heavy with dirt and heat and fumes, so that I would turn up at my desk each day dusty-calved.
And then for many years from the East: through squares and quiet backstreets, past gardens giving up the scent of blossom and wet branches, and houses spilling forth piano practice, breakfast bickering, and gusts of warm, laundried air.
Each morning seemed filled with the small, secret treasures you find as you go: the sound of bicycle wheels and birdsong, the huff of breath. The pleasing broadness of Elizabeth Avenue. The bright sudden roar of morning traffic. And the sense of a landscape in constant, hopeful renewal: the building work that began with the end of each winter; the first tight-knuckled buds, the first blazing leaves, and one particular spring when for weeks my route seemed speckled with violets.
In 1917 the Swiss writer Robert Walser published a short story called The Walk, in which the narrator leaves his writing desk and heads out to the street, walking on through the town and the countryside “to invigorate and maintain contact with the living world” as he put it. It was, he explained, both a way to flee the “phantoms” and despair that circled his mind, and to feed his creativity with detail and fresh stimulus. “With the utmost love and attention the man who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf, or no more than a poor discarded scrap of paper on which, perhaps, a dear good child at school has written his first clumsy letters…”
On my morning walks I found that such study and observation gave new perspective to my own well-worn thoughts. I was at that time quite unsure of my life’s direction, and I came to use those walks to think. There was something redeeming in the rhythm of my step, in the music I often listened to as I strode, in the experience of moving through the landscape. How nice it was to be out in the world; how it enlivened and delighted my mind.