And who can speak of Arianna Huffington, as I was a few posts back, without thinking of Bernard Levin. They used to date, back in the day, and Arianna has been known to describe the relationship as a “liberal education.” Good enough!
These days Levin feels like a sixties character – (though he didn’t die till 2004) and not the groovy sort. He was a David Frost alumnus, and a sort of public intellectual (remember them?) but one who had the knack of sounding fairly right wing even while expressing fairly left wing views.
He created various books and TV programs that involved walking. One was Hannibal's Footsteps (1985) in which Levin walked the rout Hannibal supposedly took when he invaded Italy in 218 BC.
Another was A Walk Up Fifth Avenue (self-explanatory) from 1989.
Levin also wrote a book titled Enthusiasms (1983), and one of his enthusiasms was walking. He writes about doing a “serpentine” walk along the Thames, crossing the river each time he comes to a bridge. (The question of how many Thames crossings there are, and how many of them are in “London” is incredibly vexed – just Google it.) Levin crossed the river 16 times – this was before the Millennium Bridge was built. His walk covered 14 miles and required him to make 30,000 steps.
He writes, “We who walk for pleasure alone must never allow ourselves to think teleologically; our pleasure is in the walking, and in that alone, and we have no need to seek outside the walking for any justification for it.”
Well I agree of course, I am no teleologist, and I don’t think walking needs any justification, but I do like to look at things while walking (Levin says that he never looks at anything at all) and I think that walking is also an act of exploration and observation, being part of the environment not a thing apart from it.
In A Walk Up Fifth Avenue he also writes of being at the Tiffany Ball (whatever that may be) and afterwards he decided to walk from 59th Street where the event took place at the Plaza Hotel to his own hotel on 76th. His fellow guests were horrified. (This must have been an old story from pre-1989, surely. Things wre getting much better by then). Still, Levin writes, “Their belief in my insanity was based on an unshakeable belief that what I was proposing to do was unacceptably dangerous. And I was inexcusably irresponsive, even if not suicidal.” It’s not clear in the book whether he did the walk or not, but either way he lived to tell the tale, which is as much as most walkers hope for.
Teleology aside, Levin was famous for writing heroically long and convoluted sentences. Harold Evans, who was briefly Levin's editor at The Times, said that his sentences were like walking along the corridors of a Venetian palace: "You know there is something good at the end, but occasionally your feet ache getting there."