Life, photos but not the universe

The walking men

And the old men driving.

I’ve seen them over a longish number of years around the local countryside.   They make me wonder.

The first walking man I noticed was tall, thin and angular, in his fifties or thereabouts and strode purposefully down the hill into Thatcham wearing brownish, fawnish trousers and jacket, sometimes checked, which were a little too short for his arms and legs and flapped revealing short socks.  Long thinning grey hair wisped across his face in the wind. There was something bony and uncared for about his appearance and I used to wonder where he was going so briskly.  Did he really have a hunted expression or did I just imagine it? Since I never saw him walking back up the hill I guessed he might have been going to a pub in town.  I wondered, did he walk back?  Perhaps more slowly, perhaps wandering a little or maybe with the same ferocious intentness of his journey down.  Or did he save enough money from his drinking allowance to catch a bus back?

Then there was the limping man.  He also walked fast but with a pronounced lurch, perhaps caused by a short leg or a damaged hip.  I always saw him walking along Love Lane in Newbury but now and then, he’d have reached Donnington Road and would be heading down the slope towards the town.  He generally wore a white shirt and baggy trousers and his figure was squareish but a little lopsided and jutting at the right hip.  His hair, short and neat and  parted tidily down one side.  I guessed him to be of a similar age to the Thatcham man.  For a while, he was accompanied by a black labrador type cross with a greying muzzle but after a while the dog was no longer to be seen with him.

And, just along our road, there was the man who walked steadily up the hill towards Grimsbury Castle and a little later, steadily down again.  Short and thin, with unremarkable hair but with beady eyes in a face set into a flinty expression, although I saw him nearly every day, he would never return a smile or acknowledge any recognition.  He always wore brown cords and a grey and red checked shirt with braces or a battered leather jacket if it was cold.  (There was a rumour that he was the Flasher in the Woods but to be honest, I doubt it.  He was altogether too visible and recognisable to have been lurking in the undergrowth and anyway, the woods aren’t, as far as I’ve ever noticed, a place where young women hang around.  Nor is it a short cut to anywhere – in fact, if anything it’s a long cut to everywhere.)

Then there were the men in cars.  One, very old, perhaps in his eighties, drove his dilapidated, orange Ford Consul along the valley road every day, two or three times a day and occasionally parked in the entrance to the driveway of the completely invisible house behind the big hedge.  There he would sit, a little crumpled, in his car, apparently doing nothing.  Half an hour later, he’d be gone but could be seen driving very slowly up the hill to Bucklebury.  Once, I found him standing by his car because it wouldn’t start.  As I had no jump leads, I couldn’t help (not being prepared to attempt push starting him uphill, on a bend, on my own) but flagged down another car and left them to it.

And the saddest one was John the Cowman from next door but four.  He would drive his old Peugeot  into town and then park on a grass verge near Donnington Park and sit for some hours there before setting off again.  When the local landowners got rid of their cattle he worked a while for the Council, cutting grass verges and tidying roundabouts.  Eventually this work came to an end and I think, rather than admit that he was unemployed, he left home every morning and then had nothing to do for the rest of the day.  When he died, a few years ago, we learned from a neighbour that his wife used to beat him*.

Apart from John, I know nothing about these men except that they walked or drove to some uncertain destination and that they spent a good deal of time doing this, alone.

I am not, by nature, one to accost people who I don’t know and anyway, all these men were only to be seen in passing.  I’ve absolutely no idea if the sense of abandonment, endurance and perseverance that I associate with them all is in any way justified.    But in my mind, there’s a story in which they’re all, somehow personifications of  the ability of humanity to manage to keep heading towards some kind of destination even when the point of departure has been corrupted or broken beyond mending.  I wish very much that I was the kind of photographer who could approach strangers and ask them to show me their souls.  But I’m not.   And now they are nearly all gone gone – only the limping man is still around today.

What has partly brought these men to mind is that we’ve had yet another busy family weekend – Mrs Middle has reached the astonishing age of thirty – I don’t know how she managed this without apparently aging at all and without our noticing but it seems to suit her.  So we have been surrounded by laughter and affection and all our outings have been accompanied.  The place from which we leave is still a place of more happiness and contentment  than not so naturally, I found myself thinking about people who have a different kind of life (or perhaps a life which is a little further on than ours).  Not that I am a pessimist – more that I like things to be balanced.

The views from canals are extremely balanced

Rainbows also

And speaking of balance, amazingly, I have lost weight.  This must be to do with the ‘healthy’ diet, the healthy tablets and even more to do with the recent outbreak of rebellion in my digestive system but it’s the first time in ten or fifteen years that any of these things has actually produced a measurable result.  So I find that if I lean forwards to catch a view under some trees I am less inclined to lose my balance and fall flat on my face.  And I can pick my way up banks and down small slopes without suddenly getting a good deal too much assistance from gravity.  Very satisfactory.  So I went exploring and found a pond.  At no time did I overbalance, however, while trying to catch a snapshot of a dragonfly I did suddenly find myself sinking into a bog.  Not so much weight loss then.

two failed dragonfly shots

And one success, wet feet notwithstanding

The downside  of the weight loss is that all my warm woollie trousers are too big.  They were already always loose round the waist because of the apparent belief  of trouser makers that women have straightsided bodies so mine were all stitched up at the back.  Investigation has revealed that you can only take in a waistband so far before the garment begins to look as though it had been worn in bed by an elephant.  All those lovely warm winter trousers, lovingly collected from charity shops all over the country, will have to go back from whence they came.  The funny thing is that now I’m looking for a size smaller it seems that all the nicest ones are in the size I used to wear.  It’s enough to drive you to drink, food and excess of all kinds but I’ll settle for coffee.

I’m off.  Got to scour the charity shops.  If only I’d known in the Spring (when people are throwing out their Winter clothes) that I was going to need smaller trousers in the Autumn it would have been a much easier task.

*No, not a joke nor even slightly funny.  It really happens and if women are met with indifference and callousness in that situation men have to endure mockery and disbelief. 


October 28, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. The mysteries behind the men walking..
    I like that you have given them thoughtful purpose..
    My dour nature might have me wondering things less than savory.
    Congratulations on the weight loss, if that was what you were striving for..
    every time I lose weight I found it was just misplaced. ( moving from tummy to bum as it were)
    Love the rainbow…smile

    Comment by ☼Illuminary☼ | October 28, 2011 | Reply

  2. PS I want to go shopping at redbubble, any chance those lovely standing stones from the previous post might make it there? <<<<>>>>>>>> *lol*

    Comment by ☼Illuminary☼ | October 28, 2011 | Reply

  3. We have a local walking man called Old Bill, who lives in a hostel down the road. He starts at about eight every morning and spends the whole day wandering briskly around West Reading, sometimes muttering to himself. Seems quite happy though.

    Come to think of it, I go down the paper shop at the same time most mornings, and often pass the same people. So they probably think I’m a walking man too.

    Comment by Tim | October 28, 2011 | Reply

  4. The image of John the Cowman is going to stay with me for days.

    Get a longer lens – there’s an Henri Cartier-Bresson book in there waiting to get out.

    Comment by Rog | October 28, 2011 | Reply

  5. Oh, I think they might Illuminary – the standing stones I mean. And yes, I did think less kindly things at first but when I realised I was seeing them – the walking men – regularly, that got boring.
    (I know exactly what you mean about weight transference – I’m not sure where my missing bits will turn up!)

    We have had old fellows like that in Newbury too Tim but they’re not quite the same, being urban and known. They usually make the local paper when they die and it seems everyone knows them.

    John was ever so ‘umble, Rog and would never, under any circumstances come into the house no matter how often he was invited. So all our conversations were conducted at the back door. I can hardly bear to imagine what his life must have been like – he was so obviously unequipped to deal with violence of any kind.
    (I’d feel a bit odd lurking in the hedgerows with a huge lens – probably look it too. Though I have had cyclists offer to go back and get into my landscape again with smiles.)

    Comment by letouttoplay | October 28, 2011 | Reply

  6. A friend of my sister recently told her that her son’s year-old marriage had foundered. All was well until after the wedding, when she started to attack him physically. He tried all he could to talk to her and make it stop, but in the end there was nothing to do but leave. His self-confidence is in shreds, of course.

    I lost weight. Dropped two sizes. Gone one of them up again. Hardly any clothes to wear. Bugger.

    Comment by Z | October 29, 2011 | Reply

  7. I have two friends whose sons had to leave their children behind to their abusive wives Z and while one of those boys has managed to make a new life for himself, the other died in deeply worrying circumstances. Interesting that I, for one, have only learnt about these marriages through mothers of the abused men and from neighbours.

    (yes – Bugger, indeed. My sympathy : )

    Comment by letouttoplay | October 30, 2011 | Reply

  8. I’m saddened for John the Cowman–and like Rog, that image will stay with me for a while. Fact is, they all will. I see the walking. And the driving and sitting.

    I need to step over to greet them…..something……

    And yes–I know the startling realization of the child turned 30.
    How does that happen?

    I dunno…..you tell me……

    Comment by Mel | October 30, 2011 | Reply

  9. That’s quite a haunting post !

    Comment by rosie | October 31, 2011 | Reply

  10. They made an impression on me Mel. It may have taken a year or several for the impression to become more than fleeting, the trouble is whenever I saw them it was on narrow, twisty roads with no safe places to stop the car – except John and the flinty little man who made me nervous (not because of his reputation but because of his lack of response). And the other trouble is, of course, that I’m just not good at talking to people without a socially prepared forum in which to do it, even if that’s only a queue : )

    Yes, they haunted me rosie.

    Comment by letouttoplay | October 31, 2011 | Reply

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