Wexford People

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Putting the best foot forward

Young Persephone chooses her own reading material these days, an avid fan of a genre called, if I have it right, teenage fantasy. When I was growing up, the phrase might have suggested a girlish crush on John Lennon or Sean Connery. Now, apparently, the idol most favoured is a fictional character called Percy Jackson who is related to ancient Greek gods. Anyway, my daughter is now long past the nights when I would send her to sleep by reading the works of AA Milne.

The English writer best known as the author responsible for Winnie the Pooh, Milne also turned out some amusing verse. As a father, I took the liberty of setting a couple to music, or at least presenting them in the form of rudimentary songs. 'They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace' and 'Halfway Down' (the stairs is the stair where I sit) made particularly neat lullabies.

In recent days, I have been going over another of AA's pieces in my head - the one called 'Lines and Squares'. It is about making sure to step on the centre of the paving slabs while out and about on city streets and avoid stepping on the joins. The child in the poem is a confident young lad who keeps his feet in the right place and thus avoids the ferocious bears poised to pounce on those who stray.

'It's ever so portant how you walk,' says this little lad as he marches smartly past the watching grizzlies.

The side-walks of Our Town are paved these with mass-produced so called cobbles, much too small for all but the most accomplished of tip-toeing ballerinas to avoid the lines. However, there are useful variations inspired by the poem which parents and grandparents may play with the children, like sticking to the white on zebra crossings. 'Lines and Squares' is a practical educational tool, for it teaches the youngies it is not necessarily a good idea to go around willy-nilly with their heads in the clouds. Vigilance and care and occasionally caution are required to negotiate the urban jungle, no point looking at the clouds when danger lurks at ground level - maybe not bears but quite likely cars or supermarket trolleys or unthinking adults.

Fadó, fadó, a friend of mine codded his college supervisors into allowing him to compile a thesis on the subject of what level people are looking when out and about in towns or cities. He explained how the visitors were easily recognisable as the ones with their chins up, rejoicing in the wider view and looking for street signs. The locals were the ones who are minding their feet, the ones who spotted when somebody dropped a tenner.

My friend reckoned for a while that his researches might lead on to a career as a fabulously well paid consultant to the advertising and marketing industry. He would leave the message to others. Let them devise their slogans. His speciality would be advising the marketeers on placement. The locals bent on dodging dog dirt and spotting the discarded tenners would never notice signs hung from first floor windows, he argued. Similarly, there would be little point in courting wide-eyed tourists with ads chiselled into the pavements.

The line of thought was very plausible but, having delved into the matter, my buddy took a safe position in the civil service where he works to this day standing guard over the nation's heating regulations. I thought of him recently as I went for a brisk stroll around Our Town and decided to approach the exercise as a visitor might. So instead of tut-tutting over old sweet wrappers and at the abstract patterns created by discarded chewing gum, I put my best foot forward with cheery determination to enjoy the view.

The sight of the old church spires reaching for the heavens was a tonic. The vista of the river rushing to the sea was splendid. It was uplifting to see birds flapping across skies clear after recent rain. And then I put that best foot plonk down on one of those metal covers, made infernally slippy by recent rain. The utility company which put the cover there had the good sense not to put its name on this hazard.

I now sit at home nursing a sprained knee and pondering that it really is ever so portant how you walk.

Wexford People