(Post by George Cheyne of Glasgow, December 2021)
You’d think learning to walk would be a fairly straight-forward, once-in-a-lifetime thing. Yet somehow I ended up teaching myself how to do it three times before I reached the ripe old age of twenty-one.
The first time fell into the conventional category where you take those first tentative baby steps into the waiting arms of a nearby adult. As I have no recollection of this event, I have to rely on anecdotal evidence from family historians about my debut standing on my own two feet.
The story goes that I left my mum’s side, toddled off towards my grandad sitting across the room with my arms flailing like a windmill in a hurricane, picked up a fair bit of momentum and, just as I got within touching distance of him, nosedived into the carpet.
One small step for man…one giant laugh for mankind.
Anyway, I seemed to master the art of staying upright as the years went on and even managed to figure out how to do different walking speeds.
There was slow – a default position for going to school, supermarket shopping with my mum or doing household chores – and then there was fast for coming back from school, going to the shop on Saturdays for sweets and comics and heading out the house to go to football training.
This stood me in good stead until 1978 when, aged 19, I tried to reinvent my walking style.
And it was all John Travolta’s fault. Have you seen Travolta, playing the part of Tony Manero, in the opening scene of the movie Saturday Night Fever? He oozes cool as he swaggers through the streets of downtown Brooklyn in New York with a spring in his step, a puffed-out chest and a glint in his eye.
He bobs and weaves his way through the throng with a proper strut – and the thumping Bee Gees’ anthem ‘Stayin’ Alive’ with him every step of the way.
Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.
I was engrossed by that scene and decided there and then I had to learn to walk like that. Easier said than done, of course. While Travolta was able to pull off his cooler-than-ice vibe with consummate ease, I was more like Bambi on ice as I tried to imitate him.
I dressed for the part with black trousers, a red Simon shirt with the regulation three buttons undone to allow the big collar to rest on the shoulders of my faux, oh so very faux, black leather bomber jacket and my shiny black shoes.
Yep, I know it should have been Cuban-heeled boots, but I felt self-conscious enough without shelling out for a pair of those bad boys. Anyway, I was already six feet tall so I hardly needed the extra lift.
And that, I keep telling myself, is where I went wrong. I reckon the heels gave Travolta the ability to glide and stride while my flat shoes only ever seemed to make me flounce and bounce.
I never really got a handle on how to carry it off and my short-lived Tony Manero era came to a shuddering halt a few months later after a brutal football injury.
One reckless sliding tackle plus six aluminium studs planted on my standing leg added up to a busted knee cap, a dislodged cartilage and torn ligaments.
I was put in a stookie, handed a pair of those old wooden crutches which lacerated your armpits and began the slow, laborious process of learning how to walk all over again.
First up, I went into hospital for an operation to have my knee cap put back together, my ligaments tied up and two-thirds of my cartilage taken out. This was the late 1970s so there was no keyhole surgery…more of a full-blown open-door procedure with a scalpel, stitches and a six-inch wound.
My rehab meant a never-ending cycle of hospital appointments, physiotherapy and swimming sessions until I could walk properly again.
It was the best part of a year before I was able to sprint full pelt on a football pitch, which is all the more remarkable considering I couldn’t do that before the injury! Aside from a creaking knee joint in the winter months, there is no real lasting damage.
Now that I’m in my sixties, the only thing I have to worry about is mastering how to walk without stooping ever lower.
Anyone know where I can get my hands on a pair of size 10-and-a-half Cuban-heeled boots?