I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard half of the England football squad, Joe Wickes, doctor Raj, Piers Morgan and Katie Price telling me that I must ‘listen to my body’ whilst I exercise. Well, I’ve tried it and, quite honestly, all it does is moan: ‘You’re going too fast,’ ‘You’re going too slow,’ ‘I’m feeling dizzy,’ ‘Ooh look, an ice cream van…’ It is also easily distracted. Worse yet is my brain. Brains, I have discovered, are not easy company for those taking exercise. Unlike the rest of the body, they become easily bored. Give your legs a simple job to do, e.g. running, and they will do it until they drop, but the minute the brain gets involved, everything goes to pot: ‘Are you ok leg? I sense that you are feeling a little bit hot/tired/wobbly. Would you like me to tell him to slow down? Would you like me to register that knee twinge? Should I make him aware that total collapse is just around the corner? If I have a word, I can almost certainly make the other knee come out in sympathy…’ The problem is, I can find no way of listening to my body other than through my brain and, fundamentally, listening to my brain is like listening to a speech from a Trades Union Congress Conference in the 1970’s – lots and lots of worthy words, but very little in the way of light relief, lots of beer and sandwiches but not enough smashed avocado on toast: big shoulders, even bigger chips.
And anyway, if I’m going to waste time in listening to what my body has to say, perhaps it ought to take a little time to listen to me. I tell it we need to be careful with what we eat and it says ‘Give me chocolate!’ I tell it we need to watch what we drink and it opens the whisky. I tell my body that we’re feeling good, and it seriously begs to differ. I tell it that I am about to die and it laughs in my face, tells me to get a grip, but I know that my brain is just filtering out the messages it is being sent by my limbs, lungs and assorted lights. Basically, all that my body wants to do is to tell me that I am wrong – and I have a life-full of people willing to do that for me. I play music whilst I run simply to stop it haranguing me. Frankly, if my body wants to talk to me it can either shout or wait until I get home and then it can speak to my wife. I don’t want to hear it…
My life is to a large extent ruled by music. I listen to music all the time. As I write this piece I am listening to music (currently Phaedra by Tangerine Dream, as you ask, with Rush’s Clockwork Angels to follow). Music is in the background of everything I do. Music accompanies me every time I run. My tastes are eclectic – there is little I do not like* – but my choices are limited for my running playlists as the tracks have to accommodate my need to plod**. Never-the-less I change the songs on the playlist every couple of weeks – I always forget that I have done it and I am subsequently taken by surprise each time I run – although I have noticed there are a handful of songs that never seem to drop off the phone. I don’t know why; it is not a conscious thing and, undoubtedly, of no interest whatsoever to anyone else – which is why I intend to tell you about it…
Many years ago on a family holiday to Fuerteventura we encountered a guitarist/singer who inhabited a ‘pitch’ every evening in the local village square. This man (I want to call him Kevin Wilson, but I have no idea why) was simply superb: he played Pink Floyd, he played a version of Still Got the Blues for You which could well have been better than Gary Moore’s own version and he played Cocaine with the kind of protracted solo that Mr Clapton can only have dreamt of. My daughters loved him and, consequently, we had to go to see him every night, except one evening, when he was not there. We had a subdued dinner with much in the way of bottom lip quivering and had began to walk back ‘home’ when we heard a familiar voice in the distance, which we tracked down to a nearby restaurant, where Kevin was playing what I can only describe as ‘wedding songs’ to togged-up holidaymakers. Before we could stop her my daughter charged in, her T-shirt bedecked with the requisite amount of dinner for a six-year old, shouting ‘Kevin, Kevin, I want Cocaine!’ to the consternation of all present, except for Kevin, who just chuckled, said ‘I think you might be a little young for that’ and played it anyway. What a man! Cocaine by Eric Clapton never leaves my running playlist.
Even more years ago than that holiday, my wife and I went to see Roxy Music who were in their full early pomp at, I think, the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. It was an all-standing affair and we were late. I am not tall (five foot eight’ish most of the time unless somebody bothers to measure me, when it is five foot seven) but my wife is substantially below five feet even on tip-toes. Roxy Music were great, but my wife saw nothing other than, she thinks, a glimpse of Bryan Ferry’s foot during Do the Strand – and very happy she was with the whole experience. Roxy Music and, latterly, Mr Ferry have been one of my very guiltiest pleasures since their first appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test way, way back in the day. Avonmore is the title track of a 2014 Ferry album which proves that despite the occasional detours into As Time Goes By and a peculiar interregnum during which he attempted to be the lead singer in some kind of a Bob Dylan cover’s band, Ferry is still very good at being Ferry when he chooses to be. It never leaves the list.
Bowie has been the musical love of my life and, if I was forced to make a choice, Heroes may well be my favourite song of all time. The song has an incredible habit of bursting out of my headphones at the moments when I think I might just have to give in – but you really can’t stop when that song is playing, can you? I have a particular aversion to the butchered and truncated ‘single’ version of the song and so it is the full album version that has become a fixture on my running playlist. Definitely the most uplifting song on there.
Most surprising song is probably Check Out Time 11am by Sparks which was recorded in 2017 (long after even people of my age thought they no longer existed) for a 7” vinyl single-only release and tucked away at the end of their three-album ‘Best Of’ set. A great song, perfect for running; it always makes me smile – although if I’m passing by, it might look like a grimace.
The rest of my unshakeable running ‘bangers’ are I Feel Free by Cream, which is just a wonderful song that buries into your head fifty five years (yup, 55 years!) after its release; Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult which is my ‘funeral song’ – so I thought it would be handy to have it playing if the paramedics have to come and find me; Freedom Calling by Colin Hay – a perfect running beat for me and the only ‘cool’ song to my knowledge to feature bagpipes; Personal Jesus by Depeche Mode, which again has the right beat for me and is, despite the fact that it really should not be, a great song; Shout by Tears For Fears, again a brilliant tempo for my limping running gait with a drum line that you only ever seem to pick up on headphones and finally the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time, aptly called Rock and Roll*** by Led Zeppelin which just means that wherever I am on my run, I have to summon up just that little bit of extra energy required for air guitar.
I would be lying if I said this was anything close to a list of my favourite songs – although that list would be very long and would contain some of these – but clearly they share something that makes them indispensable to me when I run. At any one time, my running playlist contains about 40 songs, which I update fortnightly and, as far as I can see, these are the only songs that have never left it. I have no idea why. Perhaps it is a comfort thing.
N.B. I have made no attempt to provide links to any of these songs as it would certainly end in tears. You will all be far more proficient than I at finding them should you choose to. If I might suggest anything, try I Feel Free by Cream, in order to experience what the world could sound like in 1966.
*I always say that I struggle with Reggae, but I love Bob Marley; I do not understand Rap, but I can always listen to Eminem; Grime has come along 50 years too late for me, but Stormzy is phenomenal. Perhaps the only genre I truly can’t listen to is Country & Western – except, of course, for Johnny Cash…
**As a fan of many ‘Prog’ rock ensembles, I could not envision running to any of them without the risk of dislocating something.
***Although forever known as Been A Long Time by my eldest daughter.
A year has now passed since I first downloaded the Couch to 5k app, chose to be accompanied by the dulcet tones of Jo Whiley and launched myself on the village roads, a lumbering, perspiring, gasping mess. I have no doubt that not even the effervescent Ms Whiley, soothingly urging me on through my headphones, had any idea quite what she was taking on at that (or any other) stage. If I’m honest, I am quite proud of myself for persevering through the program, and not a little surprised that I managed to find the determination to do so. I’m sure that the circumstances of Lockdown must have helped in that respect: the streets were largely empty even though, I seem to recall, the sun shone a lot. I seldom ‘bumped into’ anyone that I knew and Lockdown restrictions meant that, when I did, they could legitimately move as far away as possible from me without embarrassment. This was a period when we were all too scared to share a pavement with anyone – especially if their breathing came in the kind of wheeze normally associated with the elephant’s graveyard – and crossing the road to avoid your neighbour became the norm. This was the time when the whole country’s social calendar revolved about banging saucepan lids at 8pm every Thursday. Like Global Conflict, we just referred to it as The Lockdown at the time, not realising that it would too soon become The First Lockdown when the second one started.
In the past twelve months I can definitely claim to have become more ‘er’: I am definitely not quick, but I am quicker; I am not fit, but I am fitter; I am by no means thin, but I am thinner. Ask me why I still do it and I most certainly will say, ‘Er…’. I can’t actually remember what prompted me to do it at the time, but I was one of many. The streets were full of people following the run/walk/run regime. We began to recognise one another, to wave, but most of the Lockdown Runners appear to have stopped now. Far more people are running these days, but I don’t seem to recognise any of them. Nobody appears to be quite as past it as I: they are all younger, fitter and altogether better dressed for the occasion. Some of them even chat as they run. I have to devote my entire attention to breathing without inhaling wildlife. There is nothing less conducive to a steady pace than trying to cough up a wasp.
What I most recall about the early runs is the sense of dread that hung about me as I prepared to set off; particularly on the final run of each week when I stupidly allowed myself to look at what the following week’s stepped-up regime was to demand of me. The joyous sensation of hearing the half way bell ring, meaning that I could turn around, was spoiled only by the knowledge that I now had to try and get back home without attracting the attention of a Coroner’s vehicle. I have kept myself going by setting targets. My early thirty minute runs were nowhere near 5km in length (they still are not) but I set myself a 5k course and I started to run it, trying to speed up week on week until I realised that I had peaked at a speed which would have shamed an end-of-round electric milk float, so instead I started to go further. These days I do not set goals – reaching them is such a disappointment when you realise that all you can then do is to set a new one – so I rely solely on the grim determination I have to keep going. The determination comes from the knowledge that someday, sooner or later, my body, the doctor or friendly paramedic will tell me that I have to stop and I will be able to say that the decision to stop was not my own. I will never be a good runner, but I am dogged and, for good or bad, it is now twelve months since I first found I had something to be dogged about. My anniversary run was the same as all of the others: breathless, hot and plodding, but I did it and, in a year’s time I will… er… do it all again.
I thought that I might stop the running diary: it has a very patchy readership – although that, in itself, is not unusual. Day by day, post by post, the (lack of) quality within my blog remains more or less constant, yet the readership goes up and down in a manner that I just cannot fathom. There have been occasions when I have published a post only because I have nothing else. It has often been a toss-up as to whether to go for ‘no post’ or something I feel to be substandard. I always go for ‘substandard’ – it’s been many years since I have felt comfortable in falling back on ‘My homework is in the dog’ – so I use what I have got, and therein lies my problem. The posts that I do not believe to be good enough often get lots of reads and lots of likes and I am always left wondering why? Perhaps I should write badly all the time. (Oh come on now. That’s below the belt!) Nobody who writes is ever fully content with what they have written, but I have from time to time published a post that I have been largely happy with and often, those are the posts that go down the toilet quickest. I clearly do not write for me.
Not being my own audience is my biggest problem.
I have realised that the more I ‘polish’ a post, the less it is liked. I use my own voice most of the time now and that seems to work the best. (I wonder what I sound like to you? I can hear me. I sound like a camp history teacher. Is that how you hear me? Hearing myself on audio or video playback makes me cringe and laugh at the same time – unfortunately, normally in the wrong order. It’s hard to know what you sound like to other people, isn’t it? It’s like colour. We both know that grass is green, but do we both see the same colour? Is my green red and your green blue? My brother is colour-blind and I really struggle to understand it. If he really can’t tell the difference between blue and green, why doesn’t he keep falling off cliffs?) I wrote a series of ten-minute monologues a little while ago about a fictional village which were perfect for podcast so, to see how they sounded, I recorded a couple. Oh dear. Imagine Alan Bennett’s more monotone sister. I cannot believe the sound that comes out of my mouth. It’s the aural equivalent of watching wallpaper being stripped. It’s like chillies in honey – whatever you are looking for, it is all there, just definitely not like you want it.
I know, also, that with blogging there is a knack to getting the title right. Asking questions is apparently a sure way to get readers. My whole life is a question. I do not need readers, I need answers. Perhaps if I just add a question mark to the end of each title my readership might go up (it can’t go down). There must be a way of fashioning Categories and Tags to pull people in. I should learn it, but… I enjoy the writing. I would like to have more readers – my wife finds it hard to understand why I devote so much time to writing this drivel for the weekly consumption of ten regular readers and four hundred algorithms. It’s just what I do. It is what keeps me sane. Wibble.
This morning I received bad news upon bad news and then I went for a run. I realised that running is now also what I do to keep myself sane. This running diary should, by my own ‘rules’ stop with the end of ‘Lockdown’, and I fear that it might, like Only Fools and Horses, perhaps run on just a little too long if I’m not careful. For now, as I continue to run even as Lockdown measures begin to ease (no turning back – you heard Boris say so) the running diary will continue, but it will have less to do with running than what is rattling around inside my head as I run, and when that little voice ceases prattling on, then the diary won’t be all that stops…
Today’s thought of the day: Colin’s First Rule of Decorating – the brush you need is always the brush you don’t have.
The Return of the Running Track of the Day: Jimmy Hendrix – Red House.