Gary Day

June 1, 2007

A guide to walking designed for the staff of Leicester University leaves nothing to chance

My heart gave a little lift when I saw the title of a brochure from Leicester University. So, it had finally recognised this town wasn't big enough for both of us and had departed, leaving De Montfort the victor.

I couldn't wait to show my colleagues. It would be just the thing after an awayday spent discussing what there hadn't been time to discuss in the 14 or so meetings we had already had that month. Not for us a local hotel or country pub. Oh no, we had to go to the other side of the solar system, to Europa. "I'm not very good on rides," said a colleague as we prepared for blastoff at Leicester Space Museum, "I'm usually sick." A remark that made me wish I had sat behind instead of in front of him. The carriage began to shake as the engines roared. A sudden jolt, then stillness. We were in space. Our landing on Jupiter's best-known moon was a bumpy affair, but we arrived safely at the Atlantis conference room to discuss risk assessment for theatre trips. Should we include a section that covers students being offended by Shakespeare's obscenities, Beckett's absurdities and so on?

The discussion proved so riveting I forgot to show them the brochure, entitled University Walks . And I'm glad I didn't. For, as you have guessed, it didn't refer to Leicester University leaving town, but to a map of its grounds. Another disappointment. Somehow, I never get used to them. How could I, a literary critic, possibly have misread those two words? I would have to go back to basics. Which, funnily enough, is exactly what the sports and recreation team did in producing this little masterpiece. They have clearly taken to heart the old saying, "Don't run before you can walk." Just because you have been putting one foot in front of the other since you were about one and a half doesn't mean you are doing it properly. Which is why staff at Leicester have been issued with this helpful leaflet. It details exactly how they should perambulate. So, if you see someone with their head held high, their eyes focused five to seven metres in front of them, their chin parallel to the ground, their arms swinging and their pelvis tucked under their torso, then you will know which university they are from. Who knows? It may catch on and one day we could all be doing the Leicester Walk. "Any time you are Leicester Way,/ Any evening, any day,/ You'll find us all,/ Doin' the Leicester Walk. Oi!"

We tend to take walking for granted. But if that's our attitude towards a partner, we may wake up one morning to find them gone. So it is important we learn to appreciate our legs in case they do the same. You say that's impossible. I say we live in a strange and deeply disturbing universe. At least in higher education. The authors of University Walks are certainly taking no chances. A good starting point, they say, is to think about why we walk. They produce 18 reasons, but not one of them is because you want to get from A to B. From now on, I will be concentrating so hard on toning my bum that I'll probably forget where I am going. Which, in some cases, is a blessing. Not that departmental meetings don't have points of interest. They do. Lots of them, in fact, all iterated at great length.

Having satisfactorily met the assessment criteria of "Why walk?", staff progress to the more advanced module, "Walking goals". There are four: health maintenance, functional fitness, cardiovascular fitness and weight management. To achieve these various goals, staff must adopt a variety of techniques from the stroll to the power walk. There are also generic rules: warm up; wear the right clothes; take a bottle of water; motivate a mugger, carry a mobile. Maybe I got that last one wrong.

Why doesn't De Montfort take this much care of us? It's never issued any guidelines on how to cross that busy road, which we must do if we want coffee.

All the effort Leicester staff put into walking means they are too tired to work. They can't even catch up on rainy days because then there's a special indoor route to follow. Staff have a choice of staircase to climb, left or right, depending on their political inclination. Up they go and down they come - perhaps by hurling themselves over the banister in despair at a system that thinks walkies demand the sort of attention that should be reserved for deciphering the Derveni papyrus or formulating a unified field theory. If they leap in sufficient number, then Leicester will be no more and De Montfort triumphs. Either that or it opens the first university on Europa.

Gary Day is principal lecturer in English at De Montfort University.

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