The Running Man on Plodding On

You see, when I fell back into these ‘Running Man’ posts at the start of Lockdown #3, in January, I really didn’t anticipate the possibility that I could still be at it in mid-April*.  It was quite simple initially, to write down the kind of moronic ‘chatter’ that goes on inside my head whilst the rest of my being is otherwise engaged, but I am quickly coming to the realisation that my sub-conscious is just as boring as the rest of me.  The random thoughts that once flashed in and out have settled into the rut that my conscious mind has vacated due to a toxic mixture of herbal tea, boredom and rising damp.  Somebody has pissed on my fireworks.  The problem is that what has begun to make these running posts so difficult is at the same time what first made them feasible: Lockdown – initially it gave me a raison d’être, but ever since then it has searched out new ways of gumming up the works.  What was once escape has become isolation.  I am no longer looking inward or outward: most of the time I am just not looking.

My view of myself within the world has always been as something of an ‘outsider’.  Not fundamentally different, just not quite the same.  You know, the little cupcake that sinks whilst all the others rise.  I am the semi-collapsed and chocolate-less amorphous malty blob in the packet of Maltesers: the dismembered legs in a bag of jelly babies.  Three Lockdowns and many enforced months of watching the world drift by, just out of touch on the other side of a window, has merely made me realise that it is nothing new to me.  This is how normally I view the world.  I am a dislocated shoulder: I look like the other shoulder, but I don’t quite work like it.  I can help you to tote that bale, but I won’t half grumble about it.  Alan Bennett said of the late Russell Harty that his skill lay in saying – however indiscrete – what everybody else was thinking.  I have found that it is not until after I have said what everybody else is thinking that I discover they are not.  Just me.

My head is a sponge for ‘bad’: shame, regret, doubt – once it finds its way in there, it will never be released.  It batters around like a stick in a candy floss** machine, getting bigger by the second, more and more swamped in goo, more and more difficult to swallow.  I have had many years to get used to myself.  I don’t have to like me, but I have little choice other than to live with me.  Most of what is good about me is what makes me popular with the grandkids – I’m just not very good at the adult stuff.  I do try to change the bad bits as best I can, but who can actually, fundamentally, change what they are?  In the real world, Pinocchio would still be an oafish puppet and Geppetto would still be eating frozen meals for one.  If I ever found myself conversing with a top-hatted grasshopper, I would seek help.  I don’t need a talking insect to tell me that I should be better.  I am fully conversant with the fact.

And it is at this point that my regular runs have begun to get troublesome.  Like, I imagine, everybody else over the last few months, I have spent quite a lot of time looking in on myself: quite a lot of time trying to figure out how I would get on with me if I was somebody else.  (I fear that if ever I was to attend a ‘Speed Dating’ session, I would find myself sitting at the table marked ‘Toilet Break’.)  Sadly, I don’t have any more answers now than I did a year ago – although knowledge of ignorance must count for something.  I just have much more time to ask the questions – and most of that time seems to be available whilst I’m running.  Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, I am certainly ill-equipped to decide, but I’m fairly certain that unless I manage a prat-fall into a ditch soon, or rupture my spleen in a comically inept effort to sidestep an intransigent dog-walker, it is not terribly entertaining.  I will try to buck myself up.  After all, good times are just around the corner.  In England, Boris has detailed his ‘road map’ to recovery, the ‘end’ is on the horizon and, honestly, I don’t think it can come soon enough…

*When the Government hopes we should begin to move towards some kind of normality.
**Cotton-Candy, I think, for those of you with the rather less fanciful US version of the English language at your fingertips.

Zoo #23 – Tomorrow

Momma’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow,
Zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow.
Momma’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow,
With the man that we call Uncle Ray.

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo on Sunday,
Zoo on Sunday, zoo on Sunday.
Daddy’s taking us to the zoo on Sunday
Because he and mum ‘Have nothing to say’…

I write these ‘Zoo’ poems in batches: sometimes they come to me, sometimes they do not.  Sometimes a little cynicism is bound to creep in…

Although At First Vicious…

…Viffers Do Not Contain Any Calories.

I am used to waking with some weirdly disassociated phrase or sentence banging about at the forefront of my cerebellum, desperate to get out before wakefulness blocks any means of escape.  (I have written about this before in a short piece from June 2019, There Is No Means of Testing This Hypothesis, but the Fact Remains That the Dog Has Three Ears which you can read here and from which I nicked the photo at the top of this post)  These little phrases, fleetingly available to me only in the very moments of waking, trapped, like Steve McQueen was not, on the barbed-wire fences that separate conscious from unconscious, disappear from view as the morning’s more immediate uncertainties kick in: ‘What day is it?’, ‘What time is it?’, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What on earth has died in my mouth overnight?’  This morning the little nosegay documented atop this post clattered through into my conscious mind, refusing, like a spoonful of yesterday’s cold mashed potato congealed in the bottom of a bowl, to be dissipated by the cold-water swirl of dawn, and hammered around until I wrote it down.  It did not need to be so conscientious; I could not shake it off now even if I wanted to.  It is stark and it is precise: I remember it word for word.  It has somehow imprinted itself onto some neuron or other (Do I mean neuron?  Is it synapse?  I can never remember.) that has strayed off into some darkened recess within my cranium, where it should not be; taking up the private parking space, no doubt, of the whatever-it-is that should be remembering the PIN number for my credit card.  It has become impossible to forget.  It is still pinging around the cortices of my brain like the little ‘table tennis ball’ in the video games of my youth.

I remember the phrase, I hear it still, but I do not recall the context and, because of that I have no idea of what I was banging on about at the point that daylight punctured my nocturnal bubble.  I presume that the words are meant to be reassuring: ‘Don’t worry, Viffers are safe to eat,’ but I can’t be sure.  Is it, perhaps, a warning: ‘They have no calories and are, therefore, of no dietary value’?  Well that really rather depends on where you stand on celery, doesn’t it?  Does food without calories serve any purpose other than to make you crave food with lots of them?  Perhaps I am mistaking lack of calories for something else – like lard – and lack of calories may not mean that foodstuffs are deficient in dietary value – just taste.

Initially I thought that I understood what I meant by ‘vicious’ – fiery, as in chilli, or Gordon Ramsay when yelling at the powerless – but now I’m not so sure.  What if I meant feisty – as in something alive – if it continued to be vicious, it would have to be alive wouldn’t it – which carries quite a different meaning.  Who eats living beasts?  Well, pretty much every carnivore except humans if you think about it.  Was the sentence spoken by an animal?  If so, who gave it rational thought and, more to the point, have I been sleep-anthropomorphising again?  Slightly difficult to imagine a weasel, for instance, issuing such a warning to its offspring (although I can, for some reason, imagine a cat doing so).  Besides, if it was about to be eaten, it would have every reason to be a little spiky wouldn’t it?  Anyway, if it was a living thing, it would contain calories surely.  Am I wrong in thinking that anything that consumes calories must, itself, contain them: that a miniscule part of everything you consume becomes a constituent part of you?  That when all is done and I am being loaded onto the little steel trolley that will wheel me along to my fiery goodbye, they will find me to be sixty percent chocolate, thirty-nine percent alcohol and one percent cauliflower?

Perhaps it is a good thing.  Perhaps whatever-it-is is being encouraged to eat whatever-it-is by whatever-it-is because it has no calories.  Perhaps obesity is a growing problem in the weasel world.

But if I was right in the first place, it would be a warning wouldn’t it: a little voice saying, ‘Don’t eat that chilli: it’s volcanically hot.  By the time you’ve quenched the fire in your mouth you will already be dreading the consequences elsewhere.’  Or what, after half a dozen pints, most men would consider a dare.  As my dad would say, ‘I think they put something in it up the brewery.’  The consumption of beer makes men uniquely susceptible to autosuggestion: ‘You would never be stupid enough to do that.’  ‘Oh yes I would!’  Let’s face it; no Indian Restaurant has ever sold a Phaal to anybody sober.  It is on the menu merely to allow the waiters to get their revenge on Stag Parties – and quite bloody right too.

On balance, I am most inclined to adhere to my warning theory.  I like a nice moral ending to my dreams.  But then, I know, as usual, that you were there way before me, we are still left with one unknown.  That this has not occurred to me until now as even being an unknown, may tell you a little of how my brain works – or fails to do at times.  Anyway, what I have to consider now is what, exactly, is a Viffer?  It is not a mispronunciation of something else, of that I am certain.  The word was very definite.  I was clear on it when I wrote it down, I am clear about it now.  Something tells me that I knew what a Viffer was when I wrote it down, but it is equally adamant that I will never know it again.  Unless, perhaps, the Buddhists are right and after a dotage spent chomping celery, I am one day reincarnated as a weasel.

The Writer’s Circle #6 – The Point

Phil Fontaine took to his feet and removed the crumpled sheaf of papers from the inside pocket of his jacket.  They were written by hand in black ink with two levels of rewriting on them, first in red and then in green.  They would be almost indecipherable to anyone other than the writer and, possibly, the translators of the Rosetta Stone.  For most members of the Circle, this was the first time they had ever heard Phil read.  

“So,” he began, “this is the first chapter of my latest book.  It doesn’t have a plot yet…” he smiled grimly at Billy Hunt, “but I’m sure it will come along when it is ready.”  He tapped the papers on his thigh in bitter imitation of Billy, but they were much too crumpled to be satisfactorily patted into shape.  Phil found a certain comfort in that.  He lowered himself back into his chair and began to read.  “‘It was one of those dawns where the pale, sickly sunshine actually cooled the atmosphere.  Tiny pin-pricks of rain hung, twisting like a veil, falling from who-knows-where, casting glistening tiny frozen rainbows on the air, the only relief from the slate grey backdrop of the sky.  Early morning commuters shuffled by, hunched in winter overcoats and hand-knitted mufflers, cursing the jobs that drew them so early from their now cooling beds.  On the corner, under the recently extinguished street light by the bins, Harry Hoe pulled the collar of his thinning, threadbare jacket over his ears and drew deeply on a strangely sock-scented Vape.  It wasn’t ideal, but it was all he had since the damp had got into his Zippo.

Across the road, third floor curtains remained tightly drawn, as they had been since 6pm the previous evening.  It had been a long night for Harry and he was beginning to flag.  His hipflask was empty, as was the brown paper sandwich bag; the battery on his Vape was dangerously low and the contents level within his bladder was close to critical.  He had managed to get away with a crafty wee into the dog bin at three a.m., but there were far too many people around now to try that again.  There were limits to what even he would do for cash in hand and being arrested for indecent exposure was one of them.  Besides, he was so cold he could barely feel his fingers and he knew he would not be able to trust them to open his zip until they had warmed a little.  He figured he had about thirty minutes before he would have to find an early morning café which might let him use their staff lavatory in return for the purchase of a mug of thrice-brewed tea and a dog-eared sausage bap.  Thirty minutes and no more.  Whatever the client had stipulated, that was his limit.

The client’s stipulations had, in fact, occupied his mind through much of the night.  Two hundred quid in an envelope was never to be sniffed at, but the instruction was odd.  A black and white photograph of a building – the building he had been watching all night – with a window circled in red.  On the back a scribbled note instructing him to watch the window from 5pm and to report back with the time the curtains closed, and the time they re-opened.  Why?  They had closed at 6pm.  It was a woman who closed them, he could see that, and he presumed that whoever it was had only recently entered the flat because the light had just come on and she was still wearing a coat.  Unless she had been there all the time and had just put her coat on to leave.  But why put the light on if that was the case?  Security?  On the third floor, he doubted that.  To throw him off the scent?  Could she even know that he was there?  He’d only been there an hour by then.  This was a London street.  He would have to have been there for weeks before anybody noticed.  And dead probably.  He seriously doubted if anyone in this neighbourhood would pick up the telephone to call the police even then.  Short of blocking access to the Waitrose Delivery Van, there was little he could do to impinge upon the consciousness of these people.

Anyway, whatever the answers, the client did not want to know them, just the precise times that the curtains opened and closed.  Really odd.  It was quite specific.  Not the times that anybody entered or left the flat, just the curtain opening and closing times.  Watching out for people entering or leaving the flat would have been more tricky – a little work on the pin-entry system – but definitely achievable and certainly warmer.

It was at about 4am, in that brief window between the latest of home-comers and the earliest of risers, that an uneasy suspicion had begun to settle upon him.  Just suppose that it was not about the people in the flat at all?  Suppose it was about him.  Suppose it was all about watching him.  He had to stand where he was standing in order to keep the window in view.  Whoever had sent the money would know exactly where he was for an extended period of time and they would know immediately if he had not done what he had been paid to do.  It was that realisation alone that had kept him there these last two hours.  It could all be a test.

But it could also be a set-up.  Incriminating someone when you know exactly where they are and what they are doing; when you know that they have no idea why they are there, nor who sent them – piece of cake.

Harry decided that the time to move on had come.  The curtains might never open – that could be the plan.  He’d earned the money by now.  Whoever had put the two hundred into the envelope would have to come and fetch it if they felt differently.  They would have to admit they had been watching him; to explain exactly what was going on.  He crumpled his paper bag and dropped it into the bin before taking one final glance up at the window, when he noticed the curtains had opened, just a crack, revealing that the light was still on behind them.  He resolved that he would go and ring the bell adjacent to the flat door.  He would ask whoever answered it to explain exactly what was going on here.  And he would have done too, if the sudden, friendly wave from the window had not coincided so precisely with the flashing pain across the back of his skull…’

So, that’s the set up,” said Phil, looking at his little sheaf of notes fleetingly.  “Utter tripe of course.”  He slowly and very deliberately tore them in two.  “The trick is knowing that it’s rubbish, don’t you think?”

The Running Man on Not Running

I didn’t run at all last week: the snow carpeted the whole village and for a full seven days diminishing only in very small patches.  Some hardy souls did still run, I saw them from my window.  Mostly young, they sped past gazelle-like, apparently oblivious to the white stuff beneath their feet: unperturbed and unaffected, whilst I dare not walk the few steps to my car for fear of ending up on my arse.  I could happily make a living out of suing the maker’s of non-slip soles, if it were not for the want of serious injury rather than a grazed backside and a bruised ego.  So I walk around the block now and again in boots that sport soles like tractor treads and are of a size that requires me to wear three pairs of woollen socks inside, stepping deliberately along like Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon.  Other than that, I do not venture further than the garden bin.

As I could not run, I took my exercise where I could.  I pedalled away on the exercise bike in the garage and I played about with the weights in the spare bedroom.  The garage is full of clutter – it hasn’t seen a car in years – and somehow manages to be colder than it is outside.  I perch myself between the tumble-dryer, pots of paint, the deep freeze and the vegetable, rack and I pedal whilst watching music videos or old sit-coms.  Anything to avoid thinking about what I’m doing.  It’s a difficult thing for which to motivate yourself and an exhausting way of getting absolutely nowhere.  It doesn’t matter how fast I pedal, I remain where I am.  I finish exactly where I started, only bathed in sweat and wishing that I’d worn gloves.  As a means of getting exercise, it fills a gap, but it’s pretty much like painting your whole house beige: you’re never sure of where it begins and where it ends, but in the end, you realise that it doesn’t really matter – it’s still beige.  This sad, uni-paced spin leaves me ‘jelly-legged’ for a couple of minutes, but not challenged in the way that I am by a run.  There is no jeopardy.  It doesn’t matter if I stop only half way there, I won’t have to phone for somebody to come and pick me up; there is little risk of falling off and bruising something vital; there is no crossbar.

Twice a week I also thump about with the weights.  I have a forty minute ‘circuit’ that uses barbells and bands.  I do my circuits upstairs in a spare bedroom because there is insufficient room for my prone self amongst the junk in the garage.  The bedroom is considerably warmer than the garage which, initially at least, feels like a good thing.  Some thirty minutes later, it no longer feels like a good thing.  It feels like I am lunging in a sauna.  I cannot open a window without the possibility of drawing attention to myself – I have only just started to leave the curtains open a crack – so I boil.  After my forty minutes I really feel ‘worked out’.  I can see and feel the results, and it is a good way of expending energy when I cannot run.  Except it is not the same kind of energy.  I have just discovered this.

Whilst unable to run for this last week I have cycled three times and completed my circuit twice, so no problem in setting straight back into my running routine today.  Well, just the one.  It nearly killed me.  I felt as though I had never run before.  Whatever muscles the weights and cycle exercised, they were clearly not the ones I needed for running.  Those little fellas had obviously put their feet up for the week.  Whilst the new muscle-sets were stretching their legs, my running muscles were having a fag and a couple of pints.  They felt like they had put a few stones on when I rattled them out of bed this morning.  By the time I plodded back up the street thirty minutes after setting off, they were all deeply ruing the error of their ways.  They are complaining about it loudly now.  They need to watch themselves: if they make too much noise, I may well be taking them out in the snow next time – I will be covered in many layers of whatever it takes to break my fall – and we’ll see how much they like that…

The Previous episode of the Running Man, ‘The Running Man on Running’ is here.
The whole running malarkey started here with ‘Couch to 5k’.

Zoo #22 – Vampire Bat

Consider animals that flock,
Or congregate within a bloc;
The fish that shoal, the wolves that pack
And spare a thought for those who lack
The need to be a species clone
But need to spend some time alone,
Who feel that it is quite absurd
To be no more than part of Herd.

Consider too the beasts that find
They’re not like others of their kind.
Imagine please the problems that
Befall the vegan vampire bat
Who nightly flies around the wood
Whilst others go in search of blood
Who finds his twilight life a test
Not being quite like all the rest.

Consider please this lone outcast
Who lives his life in bloodless fast
(Blood oranges would be his choice,
But there’s no rhyme for that of course)
And, like me, hope that he will find
A space for him within his kind –
I think that all he wants is that
‘Cos after all, he’s just a bat.

Being different is never easy, but sometimes it’s more difficult than others…

Having become confused over which animals I have, and have not, written a rhyme about, I decided the time had come to write a list, at which point I discovered that my last rhyme (Zoo #21 – Aardvark) is about the same animal as my first (Zoo #1 – An Explanation).  The rhymes are completely different – so at least I think I am not going completely ga-ga – but now I have ‘the list’ it should not happen again.  Well, it might, if I’m honest, but at least I’ll know… 

Left Ear in Lockdown

Photo by Franco Antonio Giovanella on Unsplash

For the second time in less than a year my left ear has gone into Lockdown.  I have no idea why, but it is very unsettling.  My hearing is generally exceptional and my right ear is still operating at its normal threshold, so I can hear ok overall, but I have no idea where noises are coming from.  This is a very weird experience.  Everything I hear appears to be coming from the same direction, that of my good ear.  Bang a tray to my left and I spin to the right.  Now I know what goes on with my Sat-Nav when I set off for Edinburgh and wind up in Llandrindod Wells.  Stick a peanut in my ear and I would probably spin around in circles for eternity.  I don’t know why a deaf ear should be so disconcerting.

In common with most people at the moment, my life has surrendered much of its usual routine.  I am an inflatable flamingo being tossed around at the whim of the North Sea: like a middle-aged man, disconsolately following his wife around the aisles of Wilkinson’s, wondering what comes next.  And what comes next is beginning to bother us all, isn’t it?  What will be the new normal?  It looks increasingly unlikely that we are ever going to return to the way we were.  If we rid ourselves of Covid, we are still at risk from any number of mutations that might arise in any one of the hundreds of nations that are unable to rid themselves of it.  The world feels like a jigsaw at the moment: one thousand pieces, pulled apart, rattling about randomly in the box, waiting to be reassembled.  We all know that when we finally get around to it, when we can’t even find a repeat of Midsomer Murders with which to more profitably spend our time, there will be pieces missing.  (I can’t help thinking that makers of 1,000 piece jigsaws should have to print a disclaimer on the box: 1,000 pieces, but probably no more than 999 by the time you have spent a fortnight putting it together – check inside the cat.)  The world has changed ineradicably.

Some of the change may be good: nobody is going to fly around the world anymore for a business meeting that can just as easily be done on zoom.  Conversely, nobody is going to fly around the world anymore to meet new people or to understand a different viewpoint.  The world has become smaller, yet at the same time more unfathomable.  I can’t help but wonder how people will meet in the future.  ‘I knew he was the one for me the moment he unmuted.’  ‘Even at two metres distance, with his mask cockled-up over one eye, I knew we were going to get on.’  And as for the ‘other stuff’, how?  Two metres apart, masked and gloved.  ‘OK then, but I’ll just have to anti-bac you first.’  ‘Every head in the room turned as she entered, wafting the heady scent of Domestos behind her…’

Maybe I worry too much.  Maybe you don’t worry enough.  Each day the news offers cause for optimism, which it then cruelly snatches away.  ‘We are making amazing progress with the vaccination process – by the time we finish, it will be useless.’  ‘New Zealand has successfully eradicated the virus – and consequently nobody can ever go there again.’  Even the good news has become depressing.  It’s a perverse kind of comfort I feel knowing that both of my parents died before I had to worry about them catching Covid.

When I was a child I loved Look and Learn magazines.  Not new ones, you understand.  The only new reading material I ever got was the Beano.  These were passed down to me, from where I am not certain.  They came to me periodically, in batches, pristine as though they had never been read.  I loved them.  I learned about Ants and Bees and Romans and Kibbutzim and how a slot machine works and how a grasshopper ‘chirrups’ and I turned into the precocious little brat that I remain to this day.  If Look and Learn was about today, it would know the answers.  No disagreements between various world leaders, medical directors and WHO officials then: ‘Well, what does it say in Look and Learn?   Simple, definitive answers – often with appropriate diagrams – so clearly the way forward.  Not only that, but whilst we were waiting for the appropriate measures to take effect, we could follow the instructions on page 5 to construct our own formicarium from 3 pieces of wood and an old pop bottle.  Look and Learn was the nearest thing we had to the internet.  Not quite so quick, but much less likely to lead to your bank being cleared out by a Russian cartel based in Nigeria and definitely less likely to be full of porn – unless you mistakenly stumbled upon the vicar’s copy.

Our house was not full of books and yet I was an insatiable reader.  I read food labels, fag packets, my grandma’s Weekly News and Titbits, my dad’s Zane Grey novels, my mum’s Agatha Christie and yet I remember very few ‘children’s’ books about the house apart from Winnie the Pooh and an anthology of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which I still have today.  I had a library card, but the library was in town and I amassed so many late return fines that I feared having a criminal record by the time I was six.  Most of my book reading was done at school.  I was good at it.  Ahead of the curve in a way that I have never been with anything else desirable.

Anyway, Look and Learn would know what to do about my ear.  Google is a waste of time.  It tells me to put olive oil in it, but all I get is a greasy ear.  It remains steadfastly blocked.  I guess sooner or later I will have to have a zoom meeting with my GP who will also suggest putting olive oil in it.  I’m not entirely certain that it isn’t actually blocked with the bloody stuff.  Last time it happened, I could actually go to the surgery.  He peered into it and said he could see nothing wrong.  I said ‘What?  I can’t hear you.  Can you talk into my other ear?’ and he gave me some drops.  I don’t know what they were, but it cleared up after a couple of weeks, which is what he said it would do naturally.  So I’ll give it a week or two for now and see what happens – and just hope that if I encounter a runaway bus, it comes at me from the right side.

The Writer’s Circle #5 – The Core

It was in the nature of the Writer’s Circle that outside the core of permanent members, others came and went: some believing they were too good, some believing they were not good enough, some believing that Writer’s Circle was really just a euphemism for something much closer to their own interests.  The latter were apt to be men and liable to attend only once.  Most sloped away at the mid-evening interval to find a phone booth with cards offering the French Lessons that were more in tune with the horizons they wished to broaden.  All new attendees fell under the suspicious glare of Deidre, unaware at this point, of the irony that, whilst she wrote of love and implied sex, she was herself, almost the very definition of an anti-aphrodisiac (whatever that might be): think of having to look at a plate of ready shucked oysters; think of the eventual fall-out from a passion-inflaming Vindaloo; think of Bernard Manning in his vest and pants*.

In truth Ms Desmond (Nee Desmond) had never been one for real-life romance.  Having lived her formative years exclusively through the pages of Bunty and Jackie and later, as her hormones began to wreak havoc with her laced-in soul, Pride and Prejudice, she had consolidated in her head and loins the image of Man as Darcy, which she knew in reality no man could ever match.  And so it was.  No man ever did.  Few even tried.

Even in her teenage prime, Deidre had been formidable.  She vowed that she would never succumb to a man until he proved worthy of her attentions.  She quickly learned that there was no such man.  She never succumbed.  Whatever the gifts she had to bestow, they were never bestowed to another – although her passions were, on occasions, fully sated in the company of Fitzwilliam – often with such gusto that eventually her mother had to sell the cat and buy earmuffs.  The maelstrom of desire that swirled within her became, a churning sea of rage fuelled both by the men who failed so abjectly to measure up to her aspirations and by the women who were willing to settle for these less-than-ideal souls.  That they all appeared to be so much more content than herself, it seemed, never occurred to her.

Some newcomers, obviously, did return to the fold and the circle expanded.  Deidre was far more welcoming to female newbies whilst the men were occasionally too thick-skinned to be put off.  The dark cold days of winter saw the numbers at their sparsest, along with the longer summer days, which saw potential members surrender to the siren call of beach and beer-garden.  Accordingly spring and autumn were peak times, when the room often contained more bums than seats and more unfinished manuscripts than a journalist’s bottom drawer.  Some never read to the Circle, some, almost certainly, never wrote, but despite the edginess that pervaded the room from time to time, there was friendship and laughter too.  In many respects it was like a return to school – only without head lice and threadworm.

It was in its very nature that the Circle attracted single people.  The only regular member to have a spouse was Frankie.  Wednesdays (Circle Day) was his evening, whilst his wife played badminton with the Wilsons from next-door and Mr Pettigrew from 42 on Fridays.  Dick Hart, it was rumoured, was married once, before he had a motorway flyover built on the bridge of the dearly departed’s nose.  Elizabeth had been happily married for thirty years until she was widowed by a bus (driven by a young man attempting to raise a house deposit by working three consecutive shifts without break) and Louise had recently divorced a passive/aggressive nutter, who had burned all of her clothes and fed the hamster to next-door’s cat.  At least, that is what she said.  All of them were looking for friendship and they all found it in this little room above the Steam Hammer public house which overlooked the luxury flats that now occupied the red brick fortress, formerly the home of Chaste and Sons Foundry.

Of course, not a single one of them would ever admit that companionship was the reason for their attendance.  They were all aspiring writers – even those who never brought a word to the group.  None of them would be happy with the suggestion that they came here for some kind of comradeship.  After all, few of them actually liked anybody else in their little literary company.  The Circle was a sounding-board, somewhere to come and try out what they had written and, if they hadn’t actually written anything that week, well the others would miss them if they didn’t come along.

In fact, Deidre aside, who in truth cared more about what the Circle had to say about her books than she would ever admit, the only two members who ever wrote systematically, Frankie and Phil, seldom read to the group.  What Frankie wrote made him money, but was simply not the sort of thing you read out loud to Deidre and Penny; what Phil wrote was only just coalescing into the form he wanted.  It was his first novel (although not his last) and despite the image he sought to create, he was deadly serious about its creation.  He would read when he was ready.  He knew that a bad reception would stop him in his tracks.  Of the most recent members, Richard Hart would, ultimately, become the most successful ‘author’ in the room without ever actually writing a single word himself.  Both The Sun and The Star had offered to ‘ghost’ his lurid and bloody memoir in return for ‘exclusive’ access to its contents.  Hart would eventually sign for the highest bidder, but not until he had checked with his lawyer.  He had spent many years in prison and he had to be sure that none of his confessions would buy him more time inside.  Especially since he had the nagging feeling that he recognised the newest member in the room – and he didn’t want to be interviewed by her again…

*Try Google Image if you dare.

The Running Man on Running

I am trapped at home.  I cannot – dare not – venture out into the white-over world that surrounds me.  I have to don the wellies just to put stuff in the bin which is six feet from the back door.  Even then I require at least one spare hand with which to grip the wall.  (I originally wrote ‘grip the world’ there – a Freudian slip I would like to think, but more likely a subconscious recognition of reality.  I am currently having one of those mornings when I mis-type everything.  I use only two fingers and the keys are fairly big; how can my aim be so flippin’ awful?  I will tend to all of the bits underlined in red later – but not the British idioms to which the autocorrect is particularly averse.)  I like the look of snow.  It looks great, but why is it so bloody cold?  Why is it so slippery?  I realise that there are plenty of people who would be very unhappy to discover that it had ceased to be so – skiers, ice hockey players, kids on sledges, the makers of ‘You’ve Been Framed’ – but those of us with low-level, frost-generated stability issues would be more than happy to find that it had acquired a little more traction.  I wonder if Velcro soles would work?

Anyway, the fact is that I currently cannot run and so, like some Guru that The Beatles revered, unaware that he was only riding them to fame, I have decided to impart onto you, dear reader, all that I have so far learned about running.  The first thing that I have learned about running is that, after six months, I still don’t like it very much.  I never wake in the morning looking forward to a run: I never set off with anything other on my mind than finishing it.  However, whilst acknowledging that running offers me no enjoyment of whatsoever, I have grown to understand that it is essential to my wellbeing: mental as well as physical.  It is my thrice weekly ‘reset’.  Don the trainers and hit ‘Control-Alt-Delete’.  Nothing occupies my mind whilst running other than the immediate issues associated with doing so: not falling over; not running into anything/anyone; not passing out outside the chip shop.  It is a necessary evil – like a belt: you really don’t need it until your trousers fall down. 

So, the second thing I have learned about running is that I miss it when I don’t do it.  When I find an excuse not to run – and I have many: I can be very creative – I regret it almost at once.  I have two choices:

  1. Ignore myself.  Perfectly feasible.  Everybody else does it perfectly well.
  2. Clean the drains.

I feel slightly ashamed of myself when I have made an excuse not to run.  Especially since my usual antidote to shame is chocolate and whisky.  I schedule a run for the following day which, short of thinking of another excuse, I take.  Missing a run always makes the subsequent excursion more difficult: I am out of breath sooner, in fear of death earlier.  I regret having missed my run the day before.  I vow never to make an excuse again.  I marvel at my own weak-will.  I guess it could be my superpower.  (These are the thoughts that actually occupy my mind.)

The third – and I promise, last – thing I have learned about running is that it has a totally unpredictable effect on me.  Some days I breeze around my little course.  I feel so good that I pop in an extra kilometre.  I smile at people for goodness sake!  Other days, I set off in the same state of mind, in the same state of physical disintegration, and find myself running through treacle.  Every step is an effort and I have to resolutely battle against the urge to just give in and walk – which, sadly, could be quicker.  Nobody appears able to offer an explanation for this.  Is it a cosmic phenomenon, or the slice of cake I ate at midnight?  It must have something to do with my metabolism I guess (literally, as I have no idea what a metabolism is) but, if that is the case, my metabolism is frighteningly unreliable.  Perhaps the external white-out offers me the perfect excuse to find out why: a profitable way to spend the hours which, in less skiddy times, would be used tramping the streets.

Or I could just drink hot chocolate and move the bin closer to the door…

The next entry in my running diary, ‘The Running Man on Not Running’ is here
The previous entry in my running diary, ‘The Running Man and the Hip’ is here.
The first time I donned the trainers is chronicled here in ‘Couch to 5k’. You’re welcome.

Zoo #21 – Aardvark

Of everything in the animal park
The broadest of smiles is on the aardvark:
Although theoretical,
If done alphabetical
It’s always the first on the Ark.

Do you ever find yourself wondering exactly how animals got their names?  Why a Tarantula isn’t called an ‘Arrghh!’?  Why a Lion isn’t called a ‘Shit!’?  Why a giraffe is not called a ‘Blimey!’?  Why a Platypus is not called a ‘Whatthef…’?  Who decided that a dog is a dog and a cat is a cat and not the other way round?  I’m guessing that Noah and his family may be to blame: ‘Look, we need to write something on all the gates or else we’re going to get well mixed up.  Just write something, anything, so that we can tell them apart.  The last thing we need is a duck mating with an otter or somesuch… Really?  Oh I don’t know.  Just write Platypus…’