Walking is best initiative

November 1st, 2005

Now that it’s half- term and London has shed its load of SUV’s crammed with children of assorted sizes, a group of us down in Spitalfields has decided to start our own Walking is Best initiative.

We WIBS had a meeting of mothers and non-mothers at my shop, Verdes, and agreed that walking to school is faster and fitter than any alternative. A trial run, well, trial walk, has proved that the quickest rush hour routes from Liverpool St to the Barbican or St Pauls, are the eighteenth century rat-runs and alleys, laid out to shift servants and other low life, from A to B, as fast as possible and keep them out of the way of the nobs on horseback and in fancy carriages and sedan chairs.

A lot of us object to walking in the city because we follow the routes we would use in our cars or on the buses. Nobody wants to trudge through noisy polluted highways, risking life and limb at every zebra crossing, (incidentally, it’s obvious why zebra crossings are so called, but can anyone explain pelicans to me please?). Choosing a clever route for your legs takes a bit of thought, especially if your legs are accompanied by at least one pair half their size. Kids like walking – it’s grown-ups who are everlastingly stuffing their offspring into cars.

Get kids walking early, and they’ll go on walking as they get older. I have promised my godchildren that if they let me collect them from school, we can call in at the shop on the way home and have ginger beer and late autumn raspberries. Bribery is everything. I think it’s important though, that kids should be part of their own neighbourhood, and one of the many bad things about car culture is the door to door delivery that insulates us from what’s actually going on outside.

I like seeing the same people on the streets, and having a gossip, and popping in and out of our little shops. I want the kids to grow up understanding that this is normal life.  I don’t want them to grow up in a sealed box called a car, yelling into their mobile phones.

At Verdes, we like being on the street and being part of the street. Selling food is very direct; it’s not like bedspreads or candles or clothes. We are selling people their supper, and food, in our society, has become a casualty of fast living, just like walking and chatting.

Harvey and Taff in the shop make a point of talking to people, and taking time over them. We think of ourselves as a place where people can come out of the crazy world, and into a sane world. Everything happens more slowly with us, and especially in Spitalfields, with its whiz-kid city life, it’s important to offer a few alternatives.

It’s true our espressos are the fastest ever – but that gives you more time to drink them.

So our mothers and non-mothers who are going to try and help get Spitalfields to school without the car, may not be changing the world overnight, but we are making a start. Harvey is giving out free coffee to anyone walking their kids to school next week, as his part of our neighbourhood initiative. Sometimes you just have to try something in your own patch, and see if it makes a difference. How about starting your own WIBS? WIBS website anyone?

As this is half term, there is only one thing to do with any kids left in London, and that is to walk them along the river to Tate Modern, into the Turbine Gallery, and have a look at Rachel Whiteread’s new installation made from cardboard boxes.

Kids, like cats, understand cardboard boxes, and this will inspire would-be sculptors and installation artists to make their own art work, with a little help from their neighbourhood shop.

It’s a fantastic piece of work but one that is particularly suitable for young people, because it has an urban energy, and a sense of reclaiming the stuff that we so easily throw away. It’s a think-piece, and a feel-it piece, and you can argue about it over a latte in the caff, before planning your walk home.