Every Friday morning at precisely 0700 hours for as long as anyone could remember, Alphonse had stepped out of his black panelled front door, looked up at the weather, adjusted his red cravat and taken a memory walk.
Nobody ever saw exactly where he went, although many knew he took it. From windows, taxis, bicycles and balconies, townsfolk waved or smiled at him as he paced along on his unusual route. His shoes were always brown and shiny. His stride was pacy. Dogs often trotted straight past him, unaware of anything unusual. He never carried anything, but was happy to greet others with a smile and a nod. It was several months before I recognised his pattern of passing my own door, precisely at 0721, every single week.
‘Tell me about your walk,’ I asked him on one occasion.
‘How do you remember?’ he asked me. ‘If you want to remember a long thing: a tune, a list, a story, a journey. How do you remember it? Or a sequence of numbers, you know. How do you remember?’
I thought about this. I had heard about memorising a list of things as if it were a long walk; a long, familiar walk.
‘Do you walk, to remember things?’
‘I walk to memorise things. I have a special walk. You should come with me and see. You need to be at my house at 7 am. Precisely. Next door to the Arboretum. You can do this Friday?’
I could. Of course I could. It sounded intriguing. I wasn’t even sure how long it would take, but I brought my hat and a scarf. Alphonse was ready for me.
‘What am I going to memorise?’
‘Today, nothing. Today, you learn the route. It is not hard, once you have the pattern in your head. You have to discover it yourself. Are you ready for a long walk?’
And so we started off, at precisely 0700, Alphonse leading the way through the trees, pointing out to me the large beech tree, the carp pond and the ducks near the water’s edge. He didn’t lose his stride as he took me out into the town, past my house and the Eagle pub, detouring round via the fish and chip shop and the allotments with their greenhouses. Then he took a left past the old hotel, pointed out the initials in the wall at the junior school and up King Street with the larch and monkey puzzle trees. When he reached the noticeboard at the brow of the hill he paused for me to catch him up.
‘Have you got it yet?’ he asked.
We went on, past an oak, right towards a victorian post box, around the quarry. He took me up to the radio tower and then back down where we could see the busy station and the town hall. Passing the undertakers it hit me. After the van shop I was certain.
‘Where next?’ he smiled.
‘The windmill?’ I asked tentatively.
‘Indeed; well done!’ he said.