In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself
Barely a weekday goes by without me making the walk from my flat in Marchmont to the university buildings some twenty minutes away in George Square. To the untrained eye this daily perambulation may seem quite pleasant – strolling past the little shops and cafes of Marchmont Road, crossing the leafy Meadows, and cutting through Buccleuch Place to arrive at the veritable hub of knowledge that is the library, my velocity being directly proportional to the number of minutes I overslept by this time.
However, I have discovered to my horror (and I’m sure it will soon by your horror as well) that my morning commutes are increasingly plagued by an ever-worsening menace. And it has led me to this simple consideration:
The pavement – a safe-haven for foot-sloggers, a refuge from the perils of mechanised modern transport, an elysium for the eco-friendly traveller?
Oh no, the pavement presents us with something far, far worse. The pavement is the site of one of the most severe dilemmas of social etiquette facing the twenty-first century pedestrian: how exactly to time overtaking the person walking slowly in front of you.
This may seem trivial, but (and here I speak from experience) it is apt to turn from a slight irritation into a minor neurosis. As I see it, there are just three options if you should find yourself in this challenging situation.
1. Don’t overtake. This may at first seem like a perfectly reasonable solution to the problem. However, you will soon discover that you are inevitably walking faster than the person in front and will inevitably gain on them rather quickly. Before you know it you’ll be practically hitching a ride in their back pocket.
As cosy and restful as that sounds, I’m not so sure the owner of the pocket would be too happy with the arrangement. So you slacken your pace and allow a slightly more comfortable distance to open up between you and the person who has recently become the menace of your journey. And for a while this seems adequate, you can get past the fact that you now have to walk at an irritatingly slow speed, after all you weren’t actually THAT late for something really quite important. Adopting this strategy does often afford you the opportunity to eavesdrop on some sometimes fascinating conversations.
But all is not well. For you will soon discover that you have become a lurker. Trailing along behind someone and copying their every change of direction (because of course they’re going the same way as you) like a fairly effective stalker or a very poor spy. Before long they are bound to sense your presence, hearing your footsteps alarmingly in synch with their’s. And when that happens, I’m afraid it’s time to abort.
2. Attempt to overtake. This can have mixed results. A common outcome that I have discovered when trying to employ this strategy is that you realise the person in front wasn’t actually walking that slowly after all. In fact, they were walking at pretty much the same pace you were. This turns into a very awkward situation indeed, as you have now found yourself walking side-by-side with a complete stranger, and they are of course once more going exactly the same way you are.
Maybe some people would find this favourable, to have unexpectedly acquired a travelling companion, one with whom you can share merry anecdotes and comments on the weather. To me, having a very English sensibility and being generally quite an awkward person in most social situations, this level of inappropriate familiarity is rather mortifying. In order to recover, you must either slow down again and concede defeat in your attempt to overtake, or speed up and power walk the rest of the way, arriving sweaty and somewhat red-faced to wherever it was that you were going.
Another way in which this plan can (and often has) fail, is in the sudden realisation that there is an unexpected obstacle in the overtaking lane – another pedestrian perhaps, or a lamp post. Only quick wits and sharp reactions will save you here from public humiliation.
Which brings me to the final and most drastic course of action.
3. Hurl yourself under the passing number 5 bus. Admittedly, this could be considered a bit of an overreaction. But I have no doubt that as the heavy wheels of a double-decker glide towards your prostrate body you will no longer care about being late for that important thing, and you will be glad that you have successfully navigated your way out of what could have been a really awkward situation.