Every now and then, someone will tell me they always see me reading and walking.
I feel like I’ve always read books while I walk and it’s never felt strange. Growing up in south-east London, I used to see a lot of people reading on their way to the bus stop or train station, or walking through the Tube, and I can clearly remember dawdling up the road on my way home from primary school, lost in a book, ignoring my brother. I started because I love reading so much – I’d be reading while getting dressed, and didn’t want to leave the story – and later it became a way of escaping from the world. Reading on my way to secondary school or on my way to work cut down the amount of time I had to think about being there.
It’s not that I don’t like walking – I love it, I love the time for thinking, and observing the world. My favourite walks to jobs have had boring sections to read on, and then getting to the river or the Harbour, where I stop reading and look at the water, how different it is ever day, how it always changes – the swallows over the water, the wagtails on the banks, how the light hits the river mud and transforms it. And I love smiling and nodding with the people I saw everyday, going in the other direction. I like taking time to think about things, and then read a little bit, while the ideas percolate in the back of my brain. And it’s a real boon for those times when I’m stressed and anxious, and my thoughts are racing a mile a minute – I read, and it relaxes me. It’s normal for me – when I leave the house I check I’ve got my keys, my phone, my wallet, my camera and a book.
It used to bother me that people mention it so often – when they pass me and ask don’t I bump into things – but now I smile and tell them no, I have radar, or that truly, I am paying much more attention to my surroundings than when I’m not reading, and pinballing off walls and pavement furniture, because I’m lost in a daydream. And it makes me feel part of the community – when I go to pick up a parcel, or a prescription, go to the coffee shop or the launderette, people will tell me they always see me reading and walking, and it’s the start of a chat. I like that, being part of the neighbourhood, like I belong.