Via the always excellent Arts & Letters Daily I was taken with an article in The Smart Set by Wayne Curtis on the fascinating subject of, well, er, walking, actually! The act of walking has played a large part in my somewhat boring life. In the infantry I did a lot of it and thereby grew to loathe it. In my lot it was called 'tab-ing', that is, 'Tactical Advance to Battle', or, 'put that enormous load of kit on your back, you 'orrible little man, and carry it several miles over those hills and you'll be on jankers for the rest of your misbegotten life if you drop out!'
Then, of course, there was the endless repetition of that other form of military walking - marching! How many hours of my precious life did I waste marching up, down, to and fro, backwards and forwards across those Aldershot parade grounds? To be fair, unlike the 'wooden tops' (Her Maj's Brigade of Guards) we did not go in for a lot of marching and drill on the very sensible grounds that we were crap - think 'Dad's Army' with attitude! Any and every attempt to "Fix bayonets!" invariably ended up with a clatter as a third of them landed on the ground. Practicing for our very rare attempt to troop our colour, a thing the 'wooden tops' do annually, regularly produced the equivalent of a six-lane pile-up on 'spaghetti junction' sending our (ex-Guards!) Regimental Sergeant-Major into paroxysms of fury - and us into helpless giggles!
In his article, Mr. Curtis directs our attention to the several different ways of military marching other nations have developed. The obvious beginner is the hideously ugly and utterly ludicrous goose-step:
For the past century or so, the goose step has been used chiefly in totalitarian regimes — that is, states where it’s exceedingly inadvisable to laugh at the military. (George Orwell wrote in 1940, “Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren't laugh at me.’”) Today, the goose step is about as commonly seen as the Hitler’s toothbrush mustache, although it does live on vestigially among some ceremonial guards (Greece’s parliament, Moscow’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) and in a faraway, possibly mythical, land called North Korea.
It certainly does live on and takes some unusual forms:
Whether this picture was taken in China, North K0rea or at the Folies Bergère , I am not sure. However, Mr. Curtis informs us that the French army developed its own method of marching:
Meanwhile, across the border in France, the French military has also long been interested in teaching its infantry how to march, although with an eye less to the ceremonial and more to the practical. At the end of the 19th century, the French Army emerged as the leading proponent of the slouchy, somewhat slovenly “bent-knee” method of long-marching. The gait was modeled after infants learning to walk, with knees angled and the body pitching slightly forward. The idea was that, by leaning in the direction of travel, gravity would pull you along and make it easier to cover vast distances with less energy.
This method of marching is known as 'the French scuttle', er, for obvious reasons!
Later, in my more, um, aesthetic days as, admittedly, a less than distinguished actor I gradually learned that good actors try and work out if the role they are playing can be partly expressed through the supposed gait of the character concerned. Even a moment's thought would warn any semi-intelligent actor to treat this very, very carefully because the difference between, say, Anthony Sher's brilliant, crutch-hopping Richard III and The Art of Coarse Acting is miniscule. One of my earlier efforts to walk 'in character' drew a remark from the director that it was not a panto and that I was not playing Long John Silver - bitch!
Yes, yes, there is a point to all this, just be patient! Mr. Curtis points to the future (it's a habit with young men, I find) and tells us that some university swots are working on a method of digitally filming individuals walking in order to identify them by their gait. Everyone, as - ahem! - any decent actor will tell you, has an entirely individual way of walking. Thus, like fingerprints and retina scans, the technique has possibilities in the world of security. "Not a lotta people know that" and now, I suppose, you wish you didn't either!