Here’s an object lesson in how end-gaining happens. Two and a half weeks ago I set out on a walk. I had no end in view, just to walk. I might get as far as Normanton but I probably won’t, I thought. And in any case it doesn’t matter. Wandering without an object is a very freeing thing to do; and as it happened I did make it to Normanton, but it didn’t matter. It was fun and interesting and I got to use the chain ferry. But it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t.
Then I thought, what if I walk further? Maybe park up somewhere and walk north, see where I get to? I did park up somewhere, I did walk north and where I got to was Kegworth. I was interested because I hadn’t been to Kegworth before, only through it on the nightmarish A-road on which construction lorries grind past all day long (they’re getting a bypass, which is good. In a sense.) Kegworth has at least two great cafes and some interesting shops, so I enjoyed a good mooch. And as I sweated my way back to the car at Zouch, a Plan began to emerge. Now at this stage the Plan was merely fun, something to structure my holiday around, like a peg to hang your hat on. The peg doesn’t matter, it’s just a means of placing your hat somewhere. But in order for the Plan to work, you have to make believe that it’s important. Much fun is based around this kind of make-believe: pretending that it matters who wins a card-game or whether certain rules are followed (Mornington Crescent is a perfect example of this.) And holidays (at least self-catering ones) are a way of living your normal life in a sort of relaxed parody where you do some of the same things but none of it matters. In a word, it’s play.
So at this point my walking was entirely in that spirit. Of course I was aware of being fitter and getting lots of exercise and being out in the country and Finding Out About Canals and all of that – but none of it mattered. If I hadn’t done any of those things it would still have been good. It was play. But then at some point another little voice began to arise. ‘What about walking the whole of the river Soar from the Trent to its source?’ This seemed a fun idea (though later studies of the map showed it to be impracticable), an idea which was conceived in the spirit of play – but all too soon the plan of walking the Soar from end to end became a – well, an end in itself. It became Something I Was Doing; something I would Tell People About. And they would Be Impressed.
The more this end-gaining took over, the less fun it became. I knew where I was going each day, whereas the fun had previously been in spontaneity. I had a goal to reach and I might feel a failure if I didn’t reach it. I began to feel tired instead of energetic, dispirited instead of joyful. And at some point I said, enough. No more. I was all set to give up walking altogether.
And then, just like a see-saw*, (and after a day’s rest) I found the desire to walk was not entirely extinguished. I abandoned altogether the plan of walking the Soar (now adapted into a plan to walk the canal down to Foxton Locks) and went closer to home (see yesterday’s post). And it was much better.
The moral of the story is, all ends must end. Oo, and while you’re here I found this video again, which I thought was lost: