One of the things most affected by having children is walking somewhere. I’ve always loved going for a stroll and pride myself on never using the car for a journey of less than a couple of miles.
This infuriates Mrs Canavan, for even when we’re in a rush but need an item from the shop, I’ll insist on going by foot to get it rather than hopping in my vehicle.
This leads to a heated argument about my time-keeping and selfishness and then a long day of icy relations between us.
“But think of the upside,” I’ll say, “because I do so much walking I’ll probably live till I’m 100 and that means you get to enjoy my company for so much longer.”
She doesn’t seem thrilled by this.
I think, if I’m being honest, what I most like about heading out on two feet is that it allows me to be on my own for a while.
I fear I may be slightly weird in this way in that basically I’m happiest when no one else is in sight. While others seem to enjoy being with large groups and having fun, I’m much more content sitting on a bench in the middle of nowhere feeling slightly miserable.
I’m the kind of guy passers-by look at and think, ‘ah, poor fella, he must be really down on his luck’.
But the thing is, since I had children – or more accurately since the eldest has reached an age (two-and-a-half) where she wants to come with me when I go out – walking has become a slight chore rather than a pleasure.
Take a trip to the local shops. On my own, it is a pleasant 10-minute stroll to my local town centre. Now it takes an hour and 10 minutes because we have to pause every five yards to say good morning to the trees, the lamp-posts, the ducks in the park, the cars, the grass, the grids, the postbox, the yellow motorbike always parked outside number 25 (Mary: ‘Hello yellow motorbike. How are you today?’) and about a million other things.
In the garden of one house we pass are three small decorative pottery cows and two sheep. We have to stop there for several minutes while Mary talks to them about their day.
When we were passing the other morning, the householder – a kindly middle-aged lady in a disturbingly floral cardigan – saw us loitering and came out. At first I feared she was about to tell us off for peering into her garden (some folk are a little snooty where we live, especially the bloke five doors down who once complained because I’d not taken my bin in by 5pm on the day it had been emptied … “it spoils the appearance of the street,” he said. “Not as much as your miserable face does,” I replied). But she was very nice and flashed us a welcoming smile, so I explained that we had stopped to talk to her pottery collection.
At this point she could have been forgiven for asking if we were clinically insane. Instead she said, “would your daughter like to stroke one of the cows?”
And so it was that at 11am on Saturday I found myself holding the hand of my two-year-old while she patted a tiny pot cow and asked if it was having a nice day. The fact the cow didn’t respond didn’t seem to perturb my Mary, who continued the one-sided conversation. “Have you eaten much grass today? How much milk comes out of your udders? Are you friends with the sheep?”
The householder looked delighted and kept saying things like “isn’t she adorable”, while I could only reflect on how my life had stooped to such a depressing level.
I did manage to temporarily cure the problem of Mary wanting to come out with me back in January, when I took her to the Lakes. On a day so cold Captain Scott would have decided to stay in by the fire, I got a boat across Ullswater and strode back around the lake.
Very early on in the walk Mary began whimpering like a dog told it can’t have its belly rubbed till Tuesday.
“What’s wrong,” I asked.
“It’s cold,” she replied.
“Nonsense,” I said, checking my travel thermometer. “It’s minus seven, it’s perfectly fine.” I then had a pep-talk with her about the fact she was now two years old and needed to start acting more like a grown-up.
By the time we’d completed the seven-mile walk, Mary had turned an off-blue colour and could no longer move her fingers.
Initially I felt bad, but then realised the benefits as for months afterwards, whenever I said I was going for a walk, Mary would begin sobbing and pleaded, ‘don’t take me with you daddy’.
Alas she appears to have now forgotten her near-death experience and once again insists on accompanying me on a wander.
However, it does lead to some unexpected moments of pleasure, like the moment the other day when we were strolling along the pavement and approached a bus-stop (she’s obsessed with buses).
“Look Mary, there’s a bus-stop,” I said. “Would you like to go on a bus?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Can we go on a bus now?”
“No,” I said, “they only come at certain times.”
“Is it certain times yet?” she asked.
Maybe she’s worth having as a walking companion after all.