This Walking Life – An Uncertain Journey
Thursday December 1st
November 30th began with a trip to Roathwell Surgery for a blood test, following a GP appointment. In recent months friends and family have noticed me slurring my speech and walking with a pronounced limp. There is also a tremor in my left hand, and my handwriting has become an indecipherable mess.
It was my father who noticed the tremor when I visited him last. I was in Pontypool visiting family, including my Auntie Chris, who I’ve not seen since before the pandemic.
She gave me photographs of my grandfather, to whom I bear a striking resemblance. One of them shows him in the Montgomery Club in Brussels, late in 1945.
From the surgery I walked to Sparrow, a new café which has opened around the corner from us, where the Polish café bar used to be, and a great spot for writing and watching the world go by.
My last long walk was from an industrial estate bus stop to Tredegar House in torrential rain, back in Autumn, going there as research for my current work in progress, a novel titled The Trefoil Affair, which I’ve been writing these last few months.
In late October I spent four days at Gladstone’s Library, where I read and wrote and walked around the grounds of both the library and St Deiniol’s sprawling, spooky graveyard, but during those walks, and on a trip to Chester it became clear that something wasn’t right, and while reading in the Gladstone room I noticed that my left hand was shaking.
Having any kind of physical impairment can be a stark reminder of one’s age. I sometimes wonder if it was that month of walking so many miles that did this, if maybe I pushed my body to its very limits and am now paying the price.
It might be something else entirely. I only began reducing my dosage of Sertraline a few months ago, and its side effects can resemble Parkinson’s. It can take up to 18mths for those side effects to wear off.
It hasn’t stopped me walking, of course.
The winter chill is setting in. Even more reason to wrap up warm, put on my hiking boots, and get out there to make the most of a season that I’ve always loved, since childhood.
Some of my happiest memories are of trudging around a snow-covered Park City, Utah, during Sundance 2009, kicking the snow off my boots as I arrived at another screening or party.
I still own the bright yellow “Park City” hoodie I bought in the Roots store on Main Street, taken there by my friend, the late Lewis Tice, a long-lasting memento of the week in which he was my guide and fairy godfather all rolled up in one.
I miss him terribly, but have very fond memories of that week.
On the night before Obama’s inauguration we partied into the early hours, and I walked from Main Street back to our condo, down icy roads and in sub-zero temperatures, declining the offer of a ride from a passing motorist, my Welsh bloody mindedness determined to do it on foot.
Monday December 12th
A few days after writing the last entry I bought a walking stick from Cardiff Market, realising that I’m no longer stable on my two feet when walking over distances of more than a mile.
The effect this has had on my mental health is hard to measure. There have been almost daily crying jags when some basic task defeats me.
Even typing these words is an effort, having to type and re-type words that appear on the left-hand side of the Qwerty Keyboard when my tremor causes me to hit the wrong key.
Fortunately, I am my father’s son, stubborn and bloody-minded.
When he was still working as a car mechanic, he would come home with some fresh injury from a workplace full of heavy and dangerous things, but would brush it off, much like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
That determination to persevere has served me well over the years. It helped me quit smoking cold turkey in 2012, and to quit drinking in 2022. As I write this I am 125 days sober, and in good spirits.
I’m in Caffe Nero on Queen St, with my laptop bag, Hay-on-Wye book bag, an abundance of winterwear and my walking stick nearby, en route to Central Library, where I’ll be reading a book on art and music which I’m reviewing for Nation Cymru.
Tuesday December 13th
Walked almost 13,000 steps with a trip to Aldi and Home Bargains, followed by coffee and some writing at Sparrow and lunch and some more writing at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary’s chapel library.
I wanted to carry on reading The Art of Music and there were things I needed to buy in town, and so on leaving the chapel I walked to Central library, spending a few hours in its study area, sitting near precisely the same people who were there yesterday, we happy three who clearly like routine.
The library provides a number of things, including a desk big enough for both a large hardback book and my laptop, warmth, and distraction from the ongoing matter of my dragging leg and tremors.
Each walk was bracing. I had an icy wind in my face for much of it, and my gloves did a terrible job of keeping out the cold. It’s often -1˚C in the daytime, so I’ve taken to wearing as many as four layers when I’m out and about, t-shirt, jumper, hoodie and coat, not to mention a woolie hat and gloves, and those sturdy hiking boots I bought for Llanhiledd to Pontnewynydd.
The CT scan is in two days, but more excitingly tomorrow I have a Zoom interview with the Royal Literary Fund.
Meanwhile the country’s economy is in freefall, and we are still being governed by fascistic plutocrats with little understanding of the harm they have done over the last twelve years.
I’ve lived through two long Tory governments and witnessed the hard edge of poverty first hand during both.
It is no coincidence or accident that while they are in power homelessness become endemic; it’s a fundamental part of their ideology that only a select few, the wealthiest and most avaricious have anything to offer a society they claim does not exist.
I’m writing these words with considerable difficulty on a frosty December 15th, having just had my CT scan at the Heath hospital, my visit coinciding with a nationwide strike by our underpaid and underappreciated nurses, those for whom the nation clapped only two years ago.
I’ll get the results by the end of the year, so here’s hoping for better times in 2023.
David Llewellyn’s latest novel, A Simple Scale, is available here.
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