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.
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?
Down by the river all was quiet, save for the occasional beating of runners’ feet against the stony ground some feet away, or the call of dog walkers whose pets had strayed out of sight. One such pet – a cocker spaniel with a pronounced limp – was here now. His wet nose pressed into the leaves he inhaled deeply in an attempt to track a scent that was too faint for his old nose to detect. With a snort the old dog gave up and limped off.
But it would not be long before another, younger canine would be successful in its quest to track the scent. It would sniff at the damp soil beneath its feet, dislodge it with a paw, slowly at first but with increasing fervour once the scent became stronger. The surface soil brushed aside, it would inspect the object protruding from the earth with something close to reverence, if dogs were capable of such an emotion. And once the finger was licked clean the dog would bark, it’s owner would come, and her screams would shatter the early evening peace into a million irretrievable pieces.
But for now, at least, down by the river all was quiet.
This weekend I managed to escape the rat race and head down to Rochester to spend the weekend with friends from my Borneo volunteering experience in 2011. The purpose for the visit, besides a general meet up, was to visit one member of the group who has recently bought a house boat (and accompanying berth) on the Medway Marina.
Having always loved being beside the water this was an ideal excursion for me and, though the summer heat wave was taking a slightly disappointing impromptu break, we had a great day lunching on the boat and walking along Baty’s Marsh. At one stage during the walk there were scenes of high drama when we heard a monumental crash and ran back to the main road, to find a hysterical woman who had crashed her Audi into a barrier. Fortunately our Raleigh expedition medic was with us and was able to help calm the woman down until the police arrived.
In the evening we had a barbecue at the marina before walking the half hour to Rochester Castle for a Proms concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (buying tickets for this was possibly the most grown up I’ve ever felt). None of us knew what to expect and we were taken aback by the organisation (almost everyone had thought to bring camping chairs) and the sea of Union Jack flags. We found a spot on the perimeter to lay our picnic rug down and duly proceeded to enjoy the evening’s festivities – in particular the awesome fireworks display at the end of the night (which my brain found somewhat confusing given that fireworks are normally restricted to November).
A night cap at the marina boat yard when we had walked back rounded off what had been a perfect day, and we rested our heads aboard the splendid Sovereign B&B boat. All in all it was a thoroughly British weekend – stubborn weather included – and I loved every second.