Goes back a good while this one.


I have a bit of a problem with this at the best of times, because uneven or slippery ground can make me lose my balance, and then when I try to recover my knees won’t always do their job. As a result I tend to wander about like a sailor on shore leave. I’m not alone in this, as any short walk down a crowded pavement will demonstrate. Old people with shoppers, people with dogs, they all show crab-like locomotion patterns. Newly enraptured couples are probably the worst, since they are so wrapped up in each other the rest of the world doesn’t exist. And don’t get me started on women shopping for shoes.

Additionally at this time of year your gyros may be a bit compromised (see https://nobodysreadingme.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/how-to-get-drunk/ for a complete glossary of terms), so you can be forgiven for not going exactly straight. But here’s the thing. Sober, absolutely normal people cannot walk a straight line when blindfolded. This has been known since the 18th century when some German schlossmeister experimented on one of his lackeys, allowing him to roam around a field till he fell over a tree stump. I only found this out recently, though I knew it at an intuitive level. I have to walk along a pretty dark road most nights, and I find myself veering to the right. And guess what? I’m not alone. If you blindfold somebody, and ask them to walk in a straight line, they will walk in a spiral or circle. Sometimes the circles can be of a very tiny radius, only 30m or so. Walk a mere 200m like that, and you’re back where you started. This is why people lost in forests with a complete absence of meaningful visual stimuli genuinely go round in circles.

One of the most disconcerting things here is that nobody knows exactly why. It’s not anything to do with uneven gait or stride length, not limb dominance. Weirdly everybody veers the same way, to the right. You may want to bear that in mind next time you’re on a mountain path at the dead of night with nothing between you and a 2000’ drop. There’s a couple of rather sketchy theories about walking being controlled by a combination of proprioceptors (these tell your brain where your limbs are in space) and the vestibular balance organs, and that this system needs constant updating with visual cues because it’s not entirely accurate. That’s just a posh way of saying ‘If you can’t see where you’re going, you won’t get there.’

The good news is that if you get a bit alcoholically compromised, and stagger a bit, you can always say it’s because it’s dark, and nothing to do with the 19 Vermouth Boxcars you had.