Riding Shanks' pony can end up a mare

LIFE LESSON: "Being a better person takes diligence and a list."
LIFE LESSON: "Being a better person takes diligence and a list."

In my lifelong quest to be a Better Person I started walking to work this week.

I'm a bit of a disgrace. I've been planning on cycling to work almost every day since January and only managed once - and that was when a cycling colleague pedalled by to pick me up and I had no way to wriggle out of it.

It's not the cycling that bothers me, although I had two hairy moments that day. One when I ended up in a real life (and riskier) game of Frogger across Bealey Ave, the other when a driver tried to U-turn into me.

Plus my colleague was a much faster cyclist and in keeping up the pace I ended up sitting at my desk sweating uncomfortably for the best part of my first working hour, regretting everything in my life and not feeling a single bit like a Better Person.

It took another three months to put the cycling fiasco behind me and hop on Shanks' pony. Even that seemed to take so much planning. For one, I'd have to get up earlier, and each night that I planned an early rise I'd have a terrible sleep and, almost without my knowledge, my arm would snake out of the bed and reset the alarm.

Fellow Mainlander columnist Mike Crean wrote something beautiful about walking to work a couple of years ago. He enjoyed it, he said: "Because walking frees the imagination. Driving and cycling require concentration. Walking waves the green flag for trains of thought to depart Brain Station, without any timetable."

I wanted to have free thoughts. So, finally, this week I was ready to ride. I had my big special running shoes and white sweat socks ready. I had a backpack with my work shoes all packed and ready to go.

The walking was fantastic. I could block out the rumbling of cars with radio playing in my ears; stop occasionally to take photos and look at social media - perish the thought of being unconnected for 30 minutes.

I was about 10 paces from the office when I realised I'd forgotten the bag with the normal shoes which meant I spent the day wearing a dress and enormous running shoes and white sweat socks. It was actually quite upsetting. I didn't even want to walk to the kitchen for a cup of tea. We had a planning meeting during which it was all I could do to hold my tongue and not say: "This week I'm working on A and B and THESE SHOES ARE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE."

Day two of walking to work seemed easier. The bag of normal shoes was placed in the doorway so there was no forgetting. It was a balmy morning, the stroll was gentle and I started to understand what Crean meant. I had time, my thoughts could flow.

The day passed without concern or the need to explain footwear choices. I popped the running shoes on and started walking home again.

The problem was that the temperature had dropped considerably since I'd walked in and I hadn't even considered a jacket. The bitter wind hit me straight in the chest and whipped across the little scratches that showed everyone I'd been squeezing my cat too hard again.

By day three I was running late to an interview so it was back to the car.

Being a Better Person takes diligence and a list. It also takes practise. But I'll be mounting Shanks' pony again next week with more confidence. Also with more shoes and more jackets.

The Press