Scientists are reportedly trying to uncover the secret of the Essex Walk - but Mark Simpson has been studying the Squaddie Spring and the Wide Boy Waltz for years
(Originally appeared in Attitude, March 1998)
Putting one foot in front of the other is a tricky business when you’re a bloke. There’s so much scope for things going wrong. Seriously, shockingly wrong. You might be a Dennis Wise on the pitch, but if you walk off it like Frank Spencer you might as well hang up your boots.
Even though the map of human evolution seems to have gone from quadri-pedal to bi-pedal to couch-potato, how a man perambulates his pegs remains the key to his masculinity. Walking on two legs is, after all, still mankind’s greatest achievement, next to which all his technological triumphs are dwarfed. Neil Armstrong recognised this when he uttered those immortal words: ‘One small step for me; one giant blokish stomp for mankind’.
Unfortunately, Armstrong went and spoilt it all after he stepped off the Lunar Module by prancing like a fairy in slow motion. The only reason anyone bothered to fish him out of the Atlantic after splashdown was because Nasa scientists in a damage limitation exercise explained at great length that it wasn’t Armstrong’s fault — that it was the moon’s reduced gravitational attraction that made him walk like that.
By far the most dangerous part about walking, even in normal gravity, is that it seems to be something, after you get the hang of it, you can do without having to think about it. But this is a fatal error. Any man who lets his concentration lapse while ambulating and begins to allow himself to, say, notice the fluffy clouds in the sky or the bluebird on his shoulder, is bound to come a cropper. For men, walking isn’t a way of getting somewhere — it’s a way of broadcasting your seriousness to the world on the way to wherever the hell you’re headed.
This is why new recruits have to spend so much time square-bashing. In being taught how to walk like men instead of boys recruits are taught how to move like they mean business — that’s to say, how to look like they have rather less joints than females and pansies.
But for a lot of civilians and all off-duty squaddies the key to successful walking is remaining fully concentrated on the task in hand, but affecting a casual, happy-go-lucky air while executing it — sort of the walking equivalent of riding a bike without gripping the handlebars.
The Squaddie Spring
That jaunty little bounce that TV squaddies do when going down the pub or on leave — elbows out, hands balled up near their chest or in their high jacket pockets, head moving from side to side while doing some excessive heel-toe calf-work. The Squaddie Spring signals that you’re full of beans and/or spunk, that you know how to have a good time and that you’re care-free in a determined, cocky kind of way (see also Persil Skinhead — ‘Awww, Mum!’ — walking down the street in freshly washed white shirt).
This cracking amble is particularly effective if you have a sports bag/kit bag slung over your shoulder with ‘Head’ or ‘Man U’ on the side. Popular with cheeky chappies everywhere: including comprehensive schoolboys and public schoolboys wanting to avoid getting beaten up by comprehensive schoolboys.
The Bodybuilder Bowl
For those who want a walk with a bit more gravitas, there’s the Bodybuilder Bowl, the key to the successful execution of which is imagining that your limbs are so muscle-bound that you can barely move them — arms and legs must stick out at an angle of no less than 45 degrees. (Note: Head is not allowed to turn without the whole upper body moving as well — otherwise people might think you have a neck).
Arms are most not move at the shoulder, but are permitted some movement at the elbow. Legs cannot simply move forwards and backwards but must move in semi-circular robotic jerks. This lets the world know that your glutes are so huge they cause friction burns and also hints that you still have something resembling testicles, despite your massive steroid abuse. The BB Bowl is popular with bouncers, wrestlers, male masseurs and lesbians.
The Wide Boy Waltz
For those looking for something with a bit more elan, a bit more romance, there is the Wide Boy Waltz very popular on North and East London housing estates, football pitches and in the City. This requires the same 45 degree angle of the limbs as in the BB Bowl, but the actions is quicker, smoother, suppler and it advertises attitude not muscle. However, it is absolutely essential that you keep your hips and arse completely immobile. The head however may move around, but only to clock birds and nice motors and generally proclaim a cock-o’-the-roost demeanour. One drawback to the Wide Boy Waltz, of course, is that it requires hours of practice walking with an XXL butt plug up your arse.
The Daddy Dribble
Another drawback to the Wide Boy Waltz is that it often turns into the Daddy Dribble within just a few years. The Daddy Dribble is best achieved by imagining your stride restricted by a pushchair or pram or shopping trolley full of Pampers. Also useful in achieving the right effect is changing your Nike shoes for Hush Puppies and imagining yourself trying to remember what sex with the lights on must be like.
Of course, there is a genus of mens’ walks which is designed to announce the fact that you are never going to have children or wear Hush Puppies. This is gay walking. Gay walking comes in two different but immediately recognisable styles.
The Mary Mince
To achieve the Mary Mince, you must walk as if you were negotiating a narrow tightrope in heels whist trying to describe a perfect circle around your hips with a lighted cigarette.
It is also very important that your shoulders should appear attached to your feet by some invisible string. Alas, the Mary Mince is less popular than it used to be with gays and tends to be practised nowadays only by ex-husbands of Sandie Shaw and the lead-singer of Suede.
The Compton Street Swagger
This very intense form of promenading has become the dominant form of gay walking today, retaining within it the ghost of the Mary Mince but now overlaid with elements of the Wide Boy Waltz and Body Builder Bowl (the Squaddie Spring is usually omitted — perhaps because gays wouldn’t be seen dead carrying Head sports bags).
The Compton Street Swagger is, needless to say, very, very alarming and is very, very difficult to describe since it is impossible to identify quite which joints remain rigid and which are allowed movement — in the Compton Street Swagger rigidity and passivity blend into one versatile action (£70 out calls; £50 in). The overall effect is Graham Norton crossed with Dennis Wise crossed with Rhona Cameron crossed with a black dj shoulder bag and lots of Celtic rings.
Because the Compton Street Swagger is really at least three walks at once, it is by far the most serious and business-like of all the serious and business-like walks practised by men today. Perhaps this is why most afternoons British Army Drill Instructors can be seen on Compton Street taking notes.
As a visibly shocked Armand reassures his extravagantly queeny partner in Birdcage after witnessing him trying to walk like John Wayne ‘No, that was… fantastic. I just never realised that John Wayne walked that way before.’