I was very pin-toed as a child and my mother was told that it was very unlikely that I would ever walk properly, let alone run. (They were wrong, of course. I realise that you know I wouldn’t have mentioned it otherwise.) I do have a slightly unusual gait to my walk – picture a slightly camp giraffe on ice – but, although not quickly, I do run and I have played sport all of my life, even if most of my ‘upright’ time is spent in a stance that can best described as ‘a teeter’. (I caught sight of myself in a mirror once whilst playing squash and it reminded me of ‘modern ballet’ – the kind of dance that is accompanied by music that exists only in the notes that never quite made it into formal notation; where you witness a move and wonder whether it could possibly have been intentional. The image was so shocking that I paused for a second and wound up with a bruise the size of a fried egg on my forehead.) At any speed above ‘dawdle’ I always give the impression of a man on a tightrope.
Since I began to run, a year ago, I have never done so without wearing supports on both knees. It is likely that my pin-toes are to blame for the weakness in my knees, although I always blame a lifetime of playing sport, because it sounds so much more glamorous. In fact I have a distinct memory of inadvertently attempting to fly as a child, across a space where a stone staircase should have been and crash-landing on my knees, leading to what the doctor described as ‘water on the knees’, which he treated with crepe bandages wound so tightly that my feet turned blue and my eyes bulged in my head like balloons in a microwave. Whatever the cause, my knees operate on a basis of more or less permanent ache which, against all expectations, is lessened by running. Early on in ‘my running journey’ I was troubled by hip pain, but I learned some stretching exercises and now the only time I get pain in my hips is after a couple of days without running. It is my body’s way of telling me to get my arse into gear.
The start is always the hardest. If I get up in the night – ‘if’? who do I think I am kidding? – my stagger along the landing is a joy to behold as neither hips nor knees are prepared to bend without a substantial period of notice. The imperative to reach the bathroom combined with the intransigence of my joints means that the midnight walk is more of a controlled fall forward. In fact, that is the only way that I can set off on a run. I slowly tip forward until I reach a point where the gyroscope in my head (obviously sub-standard since fitting) tells me that either I start to move my feet or ditch on my snitch. The state of the paths around here means that either result is equally plausible. In my head I am a cool runner, but in the eyes of the world I am an old man fighting a futile battle against gravity; I am a pin-toed Rowan Atkinson attempting to catch a crowded train as it pulls out of the station. In reality, of course, the train has long-since left and I’ve no chance of ever getting back on board. Just as well really, it would almost certainly be heading for the wrong station…
N.B. At the end of a recent Running Man, I included a little footnote about my coloured pen ‘editing’ process which drew a little comment. I think I should clarify that this is not some kind of ‘professional’ methodical process, but a desolate routine that almost invariably follows the same pattern:
1. Write piece in pen on paper.
2. Transpose onto computer and print.
3. Read through and despair.
4. Take red pen and add jokes.
5. Read through and despair.
6. Take green pen and attempt to make some sense of it.
7. Read through and despair.
8. Take black pen and correct grammar, syntax and opinion.
9. Read through and despair.
10. Feed into shredder and revert to original.
So now you know…