In a TV show last night a man was seen speed walking into and out of offices. He speed-walked into civic halls, up to crowds and into parties. Up staircases he bounded; and even in the rear seat of his Daimler he managed to look like an upended battery bunny, legs still frantically peddling in thin air.
You don’t see popes or archbishops walking like this – not just because most of them are decrepit and laden with robes – but because it would be unseemly. Somehow one can’t imagine Christ ever speed-walked among the flock or to Karne Hittim for his Mount sermons. For a religious man to speed-walk would be to suggest a craven attachment to time, to schedule, to our earthly sense of purpose. Slow walking – when the walker is sober and robed, or at least adorned with faith icons and not a gout-sufferer – supports a projected sense of gravitas and of attentiveness to those around and about.
Speed-walking is functionality and a power thing: “Here I am, now I’m off – aren’t you the lucky one!” The speed-walker last night was the subject of Will Hutton’s The Last Days of Tony Blair (C4).
The only other comparable speed-walker I can think of was Margaret Thatcher who in her heyday was the lacquered Road Runner (“beep beep”) of Westminster, seemingly pursued by an imaginary Wile E Coyote (time? mortality? Ted Heath?) as she launched out of cars, performed a Wall of Death of handshakes before the maddened turkey scuttle back to car. So intent was she on speed that she gradually developed a permanent stoop from leaning forward in sheer impatience at the failure of her legs to keep up with the rest of her.
Tony Blair is still erect, I am happy to see, for all his speed walking.