THERE was a squad of my dad’s mates who had a passion for mountains. This sometimes included climbing them. Their occasional reluctance to include the ascent of a hill on a weekend specifically devoted to that task was memorialised in song.

In subsequent debriefs at our house. They would sing in chorus: “We’re the bar-room mountaineers.”

Their memory comes to me often and not just in idle reminiscence. There is now a regiment of walkers that does not restrict manoeuvres to country hills or mountains. I know this. I am that soldier.

This is largely an army of veterans. They are camouflaged by their ordinariness but they can be identified by Rab or North Face uniforms and exposed completely by the discovery of a bus pass in the inside pocket of their gilet.

The Glasgow division (North Side regulars) has its natural habitat around the canal at Maryhill. They do venture into the West End – the most extravagant carry those walking poles – and they have been known in pre-Covid times to remove a loyalty card from the bus pass holder and have a coffee on Byres Road, the base camp one of the ancient walkerati.

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We are a tribe that speaks to the notion of the lucky generation: fully pensioned, partially fit and liberally endowed with the blessing of free time. My grandparents worked until death.

One grandpa’s idea of free time was to arrive home on a Friday to hand over his wage packet, retrieve his pocket money, pick up a towel and head to Shettleston baths for his weekly soak. The other grandfather did the same but complemented this in a spectacular show of bravado by finishing his evening at Ashfield dugs.

They would be mildly amused by the antics of their grandson. Walking was something the poor did. And all of it on the way to and from work.

Yet now we pensioners march continuously. Covid has not deterred us. Indeed, spring has sprung and so have the old wayfarers. We have, though, awoken to a new world.

Early Covid jaunts were restricted to circuits of my local park. The slight loosening of restrictions means the city centre is within my field of exercise.

I advance from different angles. I am joined by others trekking the same routes. There is a continuous, consistent band of marchers heading towards the city centre as if bidding to put it under some sort of benevolent siege, as if willing it to be once again revitalised.

It is a destination that invites sober reflection whatever the weather. The urban landscape has changed, perhaps irredeemably. The walkers can resemble the Viggo Mortensen character from The Road, though with better hair care and the reluctance to push a shop trolley anywhere outside of Waitrose.

But there is a quiet but awful devastation in the city centre. Stripped of people, bereft of energy, the empty streets whisper a warning. Nothing is going to be the same.

My jaunts are predicated on the wisdom that the best way to walk though Glasgow is looking up. This reveals the beautiful architecture of the city in the most unlikely of spots. Famously, the corner of Union Street and Gordon Street is a place to tilt back the head and sigh in wonder. In the time of the plague, this can be done without being trampled to death by a wave of commuters. It is impossible, though, to avoid the conclusion that other dangers are pressing.

The city centre has now been left to the dispossessed, the conscripted zero hour worker and the curious pensioner. It cannot be sustained by these cohorts.

My route the other day was from the western approaches, down Sauchiehall Street and then on to Buchanan Street before looping back home though Anderston.

It is impossible to imagine these areas being revived without an industrial-sized defibrillator. This resuscitation has to include bold thinking and the sort of money we normally reserve for unused nuclear weapons.

The problem is stark in Glasgow but it exists in every city centre. There has to be a strategy to make cities attractive to commercial investors and to potential residents. There are straightforward ways to address this crisis. The first is that the economic regeneration in retail has to be financed by taxes on online companies. The disparity in prices means that the traditional retailer faces extinction with the battle flags of Debenhams, Jenners and others already in the hands of the online forces who are laying waste to the High Street.

There is, of course, an acceptance that the old days cannot return. There is no hope, for example, of seeing a line of retailers march back on to Sauchiehall Street. But this space offers opportunity.

Can affordable housing, aimed at the young, be provided where once there was a department store? Could life be breathed into the city centre by encouraging families to set up there and create all the ancillary benefits and facilities that this would require?

Covid has had its unremitting awfulness. But it has shown us that there is, indeed, a magic money tree and it can be shaken to provide the fruit for economic renewal and sustenance.

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The city centres are in terminal decline if bold action is not taken now. They should be the hub of the community, the centre of commerce and the host to visitors from near and far. They are in danger of becoming husks, testifying only to decline and fall.

This generation of politicians must heed the warnings or the pensioner army might be the only invading force, now and in the future, for our traditional heartland.

Our columns are platforms for writers to express their opinions.They not necessarily represent the views of The Herald