Winner – ‘Left Leg, Right Leg’ by Laurence Gardiner
Walking can solve any problem. You might not believe me, but it is that simple. Left leg, right leg, let your body follow. Free your mind to wander and wonder.
In our massive modern world, where invisible information trails fly across the globe in a fraction of a second, I like to be reminded how long a mile actually is. How long it takes you to walk even just ten. It’s one of those moments, like looking up at the distant pinpricks of stars, when you are reminded of your remarkably insignificant place amongst the immense scale of the universe. Alpha Centauri, our nearest star, is over 25 trillion miles away. All your earthly problems seem to become manageable when compared to such an incomprehensibly vast distance.
I don’t even pick a destination. I step out the door and then left leg, right leg. It’s not walking away from your problems; it’s walking through them. Each step and the rhythmic tread like the knocking of a hammer and chisel, chipping away at a block of marble. Slowly but surely uncovering the form of a sculpture beneath, and the solution to any problem.
My favourite time to walk is at night. It was on one of these walks that I saw her. She looked as if she’d been on the road for some time. I wondered what problems she was walking through. The distant look in her eyes and how tightly she clutched the stray cat to her chest suggested they were mighty problems indeed. I wonder how far she will have to walk for her answers.
Runner-up – ‘Liberal London’ by James Blower
My parents had always instilled in me the values around which they had built their devout Christian lives. But the teachings of acceptance and forgiveness were quickly forgotten when I showed an inkling of difference. As a confused adolescent, it had been hard enough admitting to myself that I wasn’t comfortable in my body but voicing it to my parents was another story. A sinner they branded me. Inconsistent with God’s holy purpose.
Their rejection was painful. But being kicked out truly broke me. With nowhere to go I took to the streets, alone and directionless.
After days spent wandering along the river that flowed west out of our village, I decided to set my sights on London for there I had been told that liberal attitudes were easy to come by. They said every type of person could be found there. With the little money I had, I made it there in a few days, sleeping mostly on overnight buses.
I ventured into Camden like a mouse, curious yet prudent. Nobody paid me any attention although I looked a mess. Taking refuge under a bridge along the canal, I cried myself to sleep. My first night in London.
I woke to find a young man, slumped on some messily stacked cardboard boxes only a few metres away from where I had laid my head. I watched him for a few minutes, listening to the strange sounds of a city waking up. He rolled over and sat up, turning his gaze in my direction with a grunt. We held eye contact for a few seconds, allowing me to determine whether he was friend or foe. He broke the silence by asking my name.
I realised in the split second that it took to answer his simple question that I could say anything. In London I could be whoever I wanted.
Runner-up – ‘Whiskers’ by Andy Gardiner
“My kitten gives me whiskers. It allows me to steer through tight spots. Dark streets, people giving me grief, and, of course, philosophical problems … like not having any money. It’s incredibly useful when I am looking for handouts. Yeah, that’s begging. Mum and Dad would not be too proud of that. I’m not that proud of it either, but it’s so hard to get work now. Nobody wants a wanderer. Nobody seems to want anybody. You hear them say “Ooh, I don’t like to give them money; they’ll only spend it on drink and drugs”. Well, of course I do. I love drink, and I love drugs. You would too if you were sleeping rough. And they do let you see into the life of things.
When I left the tedium that was Richmond-upon-Thames, wearing the cloak of George Orwell, I was the undercover journalist. I was the determined lover of the common people. I had finished sixth form and I was going to travel the world. I wanted to understand it and mend injustices. I was 18, but with my hairless chin, I looked 15. That was a year ago, and I still have no side whiskers, and I have had all my stuff nicked twice. Some charity gave me a sleeping bag and every city I go into I look out for a puppy or kitten to borrow. I always leave them when I move on. I know they will find their way home eventually. They protect me and allow me to get enough to survive. I don’t want friendships. I don’t want to be attached. I am as free as the breeze”.