Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Award… A Word… A Wordsmith

Here’s David, the London Walks “pen” with a few choice words on words…

“Strap lines, tag lines, call ‘em what you will, London Walks has earned a good few of them over the years. Sort of like cap badges or pennants. Streets Ahead, for example. Or Leading the Way. Or 'First and Best of the Walking Tour Firms'. Or 'London’s Best Tourism Experience'. And England’s for that matter! (See certificate, above). All of them classics in their own right.

But as long as we’re at it, let’s nail the classic of classics to the flag pole:

Solvitur Ambulando.

It’s of course an old Latin tag that translates into something like ‘you can sort it out by walking’. The author Kim Taplin got to grips with the phrase 30 years ago in her book, The English Path, when she said, ‘Working out, finding out, unknotting and freeing are all possible connotations of the word solvitur’.

Can she have had London Walks in mind? Because the glass slipper fits and fits perfectly, needless to say.

Gotta love ‘Working out’ in particular – because of its other connotation, the one she probably didn’t have in mind: namely a bit of exercise, fresh air, etc. Though the main import of her gloss is absolutely to the point as well: by walking it you can ‘work this complicated place out’, figure it out. London ain’t Manhattan with avenues running north and south and streets east and west and you can get off the boat from Russia and 48 hours later you’re a New York cab driver. Blighty’s capital – our patch – is a very different cup of tea, indeed. It’s ancient and higgledy-piggledy and it doesn’t yield up its secrets easily. It takes some doing – some walking – to get the hang of the place.

‘Complicated’ is very much the mot juste. The Latin root of the word is plicare, which means to fold, or folded in. And com gives us ‘with’. So, ‘com’ = with and ‘plicare’ = folds. Put ‘em together and you’ve got complicated, with folds.

Similarly, to explicate is to ‘fold out’, unfold. And implicated is folded in. Well, London is folded in upon itself. Knotted. Walking this city with a London Walks guide unknots it. Frees it.

A case in point… near the beginning of my Along the Thames Pub Walk I say something like, ‘this city is a puzzle and the pieces are hidden. The easy part is putting them together after you’ve spotted them. Now on this next 45 yard stretch of the walk there’s a puzzle comprised of six pieces. Let’s see if you can spot any of them. Bet all six of them elude you.’

It’s a bet I invariably win. But it’s a win-win. Everybody wins. Because then of course out comes the London Walks magic wand, the pieces of the puzzle get pointed out and just like that everybody in the group has one of those Eureka moments. That tiny bit of London 'unknots'. As soon as you can see them you can see how they fit together.

All very satisfying.

All very solvitur.

And that’s just one 90 second stretch of one walk. Times that times a couple of hours and times that times some 400 London Walks… well, it’s rainbows of solviturs!”

David guides the Along the Thames Pub Walk every Friday at 7.00p.m. from Mansion House station.

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