Diversity in Action

This morning I ran from Stockwell to Hyde Park and back (via Battersea Park) – an 11.3 mile route that saw me take in leafy open spaces, vast expanses of water (in both river and lake form) and the crowded shopping streets around Sloane Square and Knightsbridge. The sun was shining and the air was crisp; perfect conditions for a long morning run.

As I ran I made an effort to observe my surroundings, noting a dead fox by the roadside with a trickle of blood escaping from its mouth (poor little fellow), a cluster of canoes making their way determinedly along the river at Battersea, a dog that was exactly half white and half black and a group of ponies being ridden around Hyde Park.

I was particularly struck by the diversity of the other runners I encountered along my way – they were all shapes and sizes, from the larger lady running with her husband and children to the lanky boy with the bobbing head, the older gentleman with the grey hoodie and the numerous more professional looking runners in their state of the art gear.

Today more than ever before I felt part of a wider running community, and had a sense of kinship with my fellow runners that I hadn’t hitherto experienced except in races. The most wonderful thing was that it didn’t matter what size, shape, colour or creed they were, or how fast or slow they were running; people smiled at one another as they passed and gave each other right of way.

Put simply, there was a lot of goodwill on the running circuit in London today. Whether because it’s Christmas time I don’t know, but it was a pleasure to behold and be a part of, and it reinforced – for me at least – the joy that running can bring, and how wonderfully inclusive it can be.

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Sunday, 9am

It’s 9am on Sunday morning and my feet are already pounding the pavement. It wasn’t easy getting out here, but now I am I’m revelling in the coolness of the air, the absence of cars and other people. I run on through the concrete jungle, noting all the signs of last night’s excesses; a used condom outside a pub, a pool of vomit by a telephone box. The perpetrators of these crimes are long gone, most likely now lying in a bed that isn’t their own beneath a blanket of self-loathing. One group of young adults are still partying on a rooftop, cans of lager clasped in their hands, teetering on the brink.

I run onto the common, relishing the green space even though it’s flanked on all sides by road. There was a festival here last night and there’s still a trace of sweat and booze and hot dogs in the air. Men in orange jackets clear the remnants as occasional dog walkers and clusters of military fitness groups pass by. Everyone is resolute and unswerving in their purpose, like worker bees. I take a lungful of damp air and look up at the grey sky overhead. My feet splash through puddles, catapulting splodges of mud onto my calves.

I run on.

Don’t be S.A.D

Much as we may hate to admit it the signs are becoming increasingly harder to ignore; daylight hours are waning, the sun is slowly starting to retreat out of our reach and there’s a desperate aura surrounding the pavement drinkers that says that they know their outdoor drinking days are numbered. In the words of my beloved Game of Thrones (the most amazing TV series since 24, for those of you who may not be familiar with it and have clearly been living beneath a rock for the past year): Winter is coming.

It’s not as if we can bemoan the lack of decent summer weather this year, though as a nation of moaners I’m sure many people will. After last year’s wash out the past few weeks have been almost entirely pleasant – we’ve even had a mini heat wave for goodness’ sake! (Bless). You can’t say fairer than that, eh? And so as the nights draw in we must accept the fact that no matter how well the weather gods treat us, the summer season will never feel long enough.

There will never be enough days spent languishing bare-legged and brown-skinned in the park, or sipping cocktails on a rooftop at the many pop-up bars that spring up like rabbits as soon as there’s a hint of summer blooms scenting the air. We will never eat enough ice cream (FACT), nor spend enough time building sandcastles on British beaches like we did when we were five years old. We will never have our fill of wandering by the river on a hazy summer’s eve as the sun starts its unhurried journey towards the horizon, pulling a veil of pink across the sky.

It’s true that winter creeps up like a thief, wrapping its cloak of darkness around our shoulders almost before we know what is going on. But lest we complain about the changing of the seasons we should remember the positives that each season brings. Winter may be cold and dark but it also offers cosy nights in pubs drinking mulled wine, and even cosier nights in sipping on hot chocolate. It also boasts the accolade of being the festive season, which brings families together and puts delicious food on the table. So you see, it shouldn’t be feared but rather embraced.

The changing of the seasons is Mother Nature’s way of showing us just how wonderful this world we live in really is. Granted, the seasons in this country tend to be particularly harsh, but if it was always summer and never winter would we really appreciate the summer as much as we do? What would we have to grumble about then?

Summer loving

For the first time this year it feels like summer has finally arrived, and it may even hang around a bit to brighten the collective mood of the nation. Temperatures are high and spirits even higher. We may not get much good weather here in Britain but when we do, by heck do we know how to eek every last drop of satisfaction out of it.

Yesterday I went to Brighton for a mini break with three girlfriends. It had been planned for some time so the good weather was a fortunate, though most welcome, addition. We arrived just in time to secure a good spot on the beach and whiled away a very pleasant few hours in the sunshine before retiring to our capacious hotel suite for a rest and some pre-drinks. Later on we braved the inordinately large number of hen and stag dos congregating on the sea front and made our way to a club called Audio, which played decent music but which was packed to the rafters with what I can only describe as utter pikeys. Nonetheless we had a great night and laughed our heads off, so we absolutely fulfilled our fun quota.

When we returned today the weather was so fantastic that the only logical thing to do was sit in the sunshine on Clapham Common with ice lollies and some summer tunes on the speakers. As I sat and looked around at my friends and reflected on the great weekend I was having I felt a deep sense of contentment, in part because I love the summer but in the main because I realised how fortunate I am to have so many wonderful people to share it with. After a bit of sunbathing I met some other friends in the pub beer garden for a quick drink before heading home and had the same feelings of good fortune and happiness.

It’s all too easy to take the people and places in your life for granted, which is why it’s important sometimes to just stop and look around at what you have – and to realise that despite the odd down day here and there, all is just the way you like it – lovely.

Glory days

Whoever has stolen the weather from some far flung tropical clime and brought it here to the UK deserves a medal. No, more than that, a knighthood. There’s simply nothing better than returning from holiday to find the weather at home equally as good as the place you left behind (apart from going on another holiday immediately afterwards, that is, but that would just be greedy). It softens the blow somewhat, that’s for sure. As does freelance Monday which, I’m afraid to say, I slightly shortened today with the insertion of a lazy middle of the day picnic in Brockwell Park with some friends and their baby. But sometimes you have to go with the flow and make the most of good fortune when it smiles upon you(r country). And as any Londoner who’s spent any length of time in this fine city will know, spells of good weather like this don’t come around too often.

The only down side of this fabulous weather (if one could really classify it as a down side) is that it makes running even harder, not just because it’s physically hotter but also because it’s harder to motivate oneself to exercise when the sun is shining and one would really, let’s face it, much rather be lying on the grass than stomping all over it. That said, I’m pleased to report my first 5k in almost a fortnight was completed in a rather respectable 27 minutes (had I not had my running club friend as a pacemaker I’m certain I’d have been considerably slower). And whilst at the time I felt I might be about to meet my maker, as soon as it was over and the familiar warm glow of satisfaction washed over me I felt much better. Which is just as well, because it’s less than nine weeks until my half marathon, and if I really want to avoid an early brush with Heaven I’d better get training…

You had me at first click – Part Three

By the time they reached their teens Johnny (or John, as he now liked to be called) and Jenny (who now answered to Jen) had changed. They were still close, in part because they still lived on the same street, but John was now a slave to rugger, whereas Jen had shed her tomboy persona like a snake sheds its skin, and was now partial to more traditionally feminine pursuits like ballet and book club.

But one Saturday in the autumn of 1984, everything changed. John was walking home from rugby practice through the local park. The late afternoon sun easily penetrated the thin canopy of skeletal trees above his head, settling on the piles of crisp orange leaves at his feet. He kicked them up as he walked, swinging his gym bag as he went.

When he looked back on that day – as he was prone to doing in subsequent years, no matter how hard he tried to avoid it – he often wondered if he had been humming a tune. It sometimes tortured him not being able to remember, though he knew it was of no significance at all.

The first scream stopped him in his tracks. He looked about him, briefly wondering if he had imagined it. Then he heard the second, and this time there was no doubt in his mind. Someone was being attacked, and they were close by. John threw his gym bag to the ground and spun around in a desperate attempt to locate the sound. To the left of the path was a dense thicket, and when the scream – by now more of a whimper – rang out again he ploughed straight into it, mowing the thick foliage down with his powerful legs.

It didn’t take him long to reach the girl. She was lying in a clearing, her face pressed into the mud. She was naked from the waist down, her white cotton knickers lying several feet away and flecked with blood. Her shoulders were shaking – through cold or fear he couldn’t tell – and she was sobbing with such intensity she sounded more like an animal than a human.

Instinctively John removed his coat and covered the girl’s modesty. She bristled at his touch but didn’t turn towards him. Her hair was wet and stuck to her head in muddy strands. Buried amongst the strands was a piece of material. John gently tugged it out. It was a red ribbon. His blood ran suddenly quite cold.

The girl turned her head then, and looked at him. Her face was so thick with mud she was almost unrecognisable – almost, but not quite. “John?” she whispered as her tear-soaked eyes found his.

“Jen.”

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Writing this reminded me of a guest house I stayed in when I was in Vashisht in northern India. It was a squalid place which with the benefit of hindsight I should never have stayed in, but I was taken with this view from the rooftop and my little attic room and so I did. The owner was a creep who preyed on vulnerable lone female travellers. i managed to evade his clutches despite his best attempts to get me on my own but the day after I left a girl confided that he’d tried to get her drunk and go into her room. I confronted him and we had a slanging match on the street, with him accusing me of being racist (which I’m absolutely not). With hindsight that was also inadvisable, but sometimes emotion gets the better of you. That day I saw the darker side of travelling alone.