diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 12, 2012

I'm not good with stairs.

I'm not bad at walking up and down them, not normally. I've had years of practice, having gained the ability to put one foot after the other when I was little. I'm not frightened by steps, spiral or otherwise. I'd rather take the stairs than wait for a cop-out lift. I can walk up several flights without collapsing in a knackered heap on a midway landing. Really, I'm not a decrepit mess when it comes to switching floors or changing level. But I'm not good with stairs when it comes to walking up and down them abnormally.

I'm not good with taking stairs two at a time. It ought to be simple, it's only raising my leg twice as far as usual. If I can step up six inches I can surely manage a foot, it's not top level gymnastics. Other people cope with ease, striding up staircases two or even three steps at a time. No need to grab hold of anything, straight up the middle like a rocket, getting to the top quicker as a result. And there's me over by the handrail, clutching cautiously, because it's the only way I trust myself to take stairs in pairs. I look down and I can see the step I'm aiming for, but somehow its precise location appears temporarily uncertain. My foot wobbles, perhaps only mentally, and I fear I'm going to miss and tumble. I don't, I land two steps up, but then I have to climb again and the whole unstable cycle repeats.

If I concentrate hard when climbing steps two at a time, then I can do it. But I'm never confident, never secure, never sure-footed. And I'm sure I used to be better at it, even until a couple of years ago. I could stride up unsupported, double height no problem, never considered it might one day cause difficulties. But now, if I don't think carefully every step of the way, I'm an ascending mess. It's a bit unnerving, this degenerative condition, particularly the way it's slowly crept up on me. I think it's a balance thing, rather than an eyesight thing, like some internal stabiliser's tripped out. And that's why you'll now most likely find me climbing one step at a time, nipping quickly upwards, because that feels inherently safer.

As for going downstairs, I've always done that one at a time. One's always felt like the right number, never two, because that would be outstretching myself. My subconscious has had years of training, it expects the next level to be a certain distance down, and I don't trust myself to reach further. One step good, two steps wholly inadvisable, at least where I'm concerned.

And I always walk. Steps are for walking down, that's what I've always believed, and never ever ever running. I absolutely can't bring myself to run downstairs, not even in cases of mild emergency, for fear of risking life and limb on the way. Running would help me reach the bottom quicker, but my brain always assumes I'd do quicker the bad way, slipping and sliding and tumbling in an embarrassed or injured heap on the floor. A deep-seated survival instinct kicks in and absolutely completely forbids my feet from doing anything other than walk, in ones.

I live in awe of the stair experts. Blokes who stride confidently past me, climbing two or even three at a time. Talented athletes who can launch up a staircase in seconds but never need to grasp the handrail. Ladies in unstable stilettos who overtake my flat-footed descent, leaving me trailing in their wake. And the real stars, the men who run nonchalantly downstairs like it were the easiest thing in the world, which to them it is. My step negotiation skills are inherently inferior to the god-like Downstair Runners, those fleet of foot souls blessed with perfect balance and natural talent. If there's a train pulling into the platform below they'll be the ones who'll catch it, and I'll be the one arriving as the doors shut, safe but boring, slow but sure.

I'm not bad with stairs, don't get me wrong. I can walk up one at a time with no difficulty. I can still run up steps when necessary. I can hold my own in a rush hour crowd without appearing inept. And I've never, touch wood, had a nasty step-related accident. But I can't tackle stairs confidently, neither in twos nor at speed, not without some subconscious wobble kicking in. It's probably long-term clumsiness, but might be middle age kicking in, or could be one compounded by the other. Whatever, my apologies to any vertical athletes who might be stuck behind me on the way up or on the way down - I am not good with stairs.

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