I haven’t been out to run today. I haven’t really stopped to do anything that I want to do – and that includes writing this blog. I am sorry.
I will try very hard to write something tomorrow because I don’t like to see untidy gaps. Not, unfortunately, that I am seeing untidy anything at the moment because I am in receipt of a new pair of specs and, truth be told, something is definitely not where it should be. I can, with a little difficulty, arrange them in such a way that vision is available, but unfortunately when I look in a mirror I then find that my glasses sit at a forty-five degree angle across my face. Now, I know that my ears are not symmetrical and my nose is a little eccentric in its positioning but, none-the-less, this is really not working for me and I’m beginning to get a bit of neck ache. It is a situation I will have to address just as soon as I can be bothered.
Nor is this a valid reason for a) not writing a blog and b) not running, because I tend to do both in contact lenses and I have my old glasses anyway. Somehow the day has just disappeared into a miasmic haze of grandchildren, double-glazing salesmen and plumbers and I can’t seem to pick up the threads. Three consecutive nights of lying awake reading whatever came to hand (last night ‘Adrian Mole – the cappuccino years’*) listening to cats prowling (yes, you can hear that) foxes yowling and homeward bound couples bickering have taken their toll. My whole being is teetering on the brink of a sleep that will, somehow, never come. I have tried no nightcaps, I have tried one nightcap, I have tried two nightcaps; this evening will probably involve a whole bottle full. I feel like many years ago when I sat through the film ‘Ghandi’ wondering ‘why have I chosen to do this with my life? I could have stayed outside, in the sunshine, counting my toes.’
Anyway, tonight I will go to bed with a pad and paper and tomorrow I will run. One way or another you should get something that, although a day late, will fit the criteria. In the meantime, please accept my apology. As always in my life, the circumstances are beyond my control…
*Probably tells you more than you ever need to know about me that these books still make me cry with laughter at times.
Summer has arrived in the UK and running has suddenly become a very hot business: it may last for days. I currently tend to skulk out early in the morning – that is earlier than usual early, not crack of dawn early: man is slave to the universe, I have no intention of getting my butt out of bed until the cosmos says it is ready for me – or early in the evening in order to miss the hottest part of the day. Both options are fraught for me. If I set out too early in the morning, I plunge headlong into hundreds of teenagers making their way to school. I do not hear laughter as I pass, but that is only because I turn the music up. There is nothing quite so irksome for an ageing man as incredulity: I can almost sense the little buggers nudging one another and mouthing, ‘Did you see that?’
If, however, I leave it until half an hour later when they are all safely locked away in their sock-smelling classrooms, I encounter the parents who, having taken the kids to school – or more likely having waited for them to get out of the house before taking breakfast in peace – then take the opportunity to walk the dog before settling down to the day’s ‘working from home’. The streets suddenly fill with dog walkers of all types:
The fully suited who have to attend a Zoom meeting which the boss might just possibly be attending. He is a sly old bugger and will almost certainly ask them to do something that will reveal whether or not the men are wearing trousers. He does not do the same thing to the female staff as the restraining order remains in place.
The semi-formally dressed, who wear shirt and tie, or smart business blouse over jogging pants and furry mules. They also have a Zoom meeting to attend, but they are confident that they can keep their legs under the desk and the wine glass out of sight.
The informally dressed, who also have a Zoom meeting to attend, but who have stuck blue-tack over the laptop’s camera and an old crisp packet over the microphone. They will blame the rubbish internet connection for their intermittent involvement and will almost certainly be downstairs with a doughnut and ‘Loose Women’ whilst Derek from Finance is giving them the lowdown on last week’s figures.
The even more informally dressed (pyjamas under a raincoat) who do not have a Zoom meeting to attend and plan to spend the morning ‘catching up on their emails’ eg watching surfing cats on Youtube.
So many dogs! I have no idea where all these dogs have come from, nor who dreams up all of the new breeds that are currently being paraded around. I spoke to someone who had a Toy Poodle mated with a Shih Tzu and wound up with a Toyihtzu, which, to the best of my knowledge, is a cheap Korean hatchback. I wonder what will become of all of these mutts when these people are able to start going on holiday again? Two weeks in a kennels whilst the owner changes his phone number and bank account details? As soon as the UK sorts out its Traffic Light Holiday Destination system (Red – you cannot travel to these countries: Amber – you cannot travel to these countries, but if you choose to ignore government ‘guidance’ and travel anyway, you must quarantine in Stalag conditions for two weeks on your return, for little more than twice the cost of your original holiday: Green – you can travel to these countries, but they won’t let you in) there will be many canine bargains to be had through the Classified Ads in The Exchange & Mart.
If, however, I choose to run in the early evening I find myself in the tiresome, lycra-clad company of the rest of the running world. The whole world is running. I do not mind; it is a free country, I just wish that they didn’t all look so much better than me whilst they were doing it. They are better equipped, they are ruddy-faced and fresh complexioned, they do not sweat like a horse in a duvet and they do not spend most of their time coughing up flies. I have grown immune to the humiliation of being overtaken by the old lady with the West Highland Terrier, but I still find myself automatically changing route every time I see an approaching runner, with the net effect that I spend an awful lot of time running round in circles, occasionally never leaving my own driveway. By the time I get home, showered and changed, the whole point of the run, e.g. to earn the right to eat cream cakes and drink whisky, becomes lost in the urgent need to moan, very loudly, about the fact that every Tom, Dick and Harriet is out there running these days. (I have been running for over a year now and I am a seasoned athlete: I can often put my own trainers on without being out of breath.) Eventually, aware that nobody is listening to me, I retire to bed in order to spend the whole night bemoaning the fact that it is far too hot to sleep. How long can this go on?*
Sleeping has suddenly become a very hot business…
*This is the UK: my prediction – summer will last until next Tuesday when it will collapse into biblical rainfall and a cold blast from The Urals…
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 started to run during the first Lockdown because I was getting fat, I was getting creaky and, because of the restrictions, I needed an excuse to get out of the house. I continue to run, but unfortunately, I also continue to be fat and creaky. I get out of the house, but I am surrounded by a cocoon of music and perspiration which ensures that I interact with no-one, save those kindly souls who enquire about my wellbeing. I cannot speed up somehow and I cannot run further. Not even a cycle-borne outrider carrying chocolate could spur me on. I am at ‘Max’. It’s not much of a max, but I dare not creep into the red band now.
I am of an age when there is precious little to do other than to worry about the age I am: when I see news stories about amazing, ‘with it’ centurions and think ‘Wow! That’s incredible,’ before realising that it is only just around the corner for me, and my marbles are already slipping from my enfeebled grasp and rolling under the sofa, just out of reach; when every malady from which I suffer (or believe I suffer) is associated with old age; when my back tightens in direct inverse ratio to my bladder and my feet ache permanently, on the simple basis that they have to prop up the rest of me. I find myself constantly excusing my inadequacies by saying, ‘Well, I am sixty-two you know.’ I can still do everything I did twenty years ago – only not as well. My mind remains open to new experiences – it’s just that I forget what they are before I get the chance to try them.
I am fortunate – although I would never admit it: it does not pay to give Fate a target – that my brain still works relatively quickly and my humour is, broadly speaking, still in nappies. Occasionally I think that I might be developing a mature, sophisticated sense of humour, but then I realise that such a thing does not exist: nobody laughs at ‘clever’. Sophistication is just an excuse for jokes that fail to make people laugh, despite mentioning Kant. I can ‘turn a phrase’ from time to time, but I still laugh at the skirt inadvertently tucked into the knickers.
Perhaps if growing older serves any purpose whatsoever it is in allowing you to give yourself a break every now and then. My expectations have not been lowered, but I realise that I can no longer reach them without a ladder. My chances of attaining fame, fortune and an illicit liaison with Sandra Bullock are exactly as far away as they have always been, but my ability to cross the divide is now hampered by knees, bladder and a recently developed ‘What the fuck’ attitude which means that I am reappraising the desirability of everything from money to chocolate, love to whisky, and sex on the beach to nine holes on the putting green. There remains a tiny piece of me that believes I may still be ‘discovered’, but a much larger piece that questions ‘For what?’
What age does bring is the realisation that, outside of a very small number of family members, nobody actually believes that you are in any way ‘special’, nor that the world in general will be in any particular way poorer for your absence from it (although, in my case, there may be a distiller or two in Scotland willing to disagree). In short, age tells you that what is gone is gone and what is left doesn’t really add up to much, so make the most of it while you can and if that means you have to run about a bit every now and then, well, you might as well just get on with it.