Monday, 24 August 2009


I've been writing about i) angels and ii) asperger syndrome this month, so I have been thinking at length about memes, or cognate concepts bearing different names. I was a little surprised, then, to find that I'd been 'tagged' with a 'meme', which apparently means that I have an answer some questions and then invite some other people to answer the same questions. The tagger was my dear friend Mrs Trefusis, here, who has an inflated notion of me, for which I am very grateful. She makes the very valid point that as I'm no longer in a position to call myself a runner, then I need something else to blog about. So here goes.

What's the favourite thing you've ever written?
Milton's Angels: The Early Modern Imagination, forthcoming from Oxford University Press next February. If the question specifically designates a blog, then I have to confess that I am quite proud of some entries, while I regard others as fillers. I put much more effort into the entries on marathons. Only followers of this blog will have read the really good ones. They are:
  • The Muezzin's Call - the Istanbul marathon.
  • Five Bridges, Five Boroughs, and a Lake of Fire -- the 2005 NYC marathon.
  • New York, 5 November 2006 -- the 2006 NYC marathon, with a guest appearance by Lance Armstrong.
  • Basta problemi, on re-running the Milan marathon, was also quite good -- especially with the benefit of hindsight (the end of my 17-year marriage would begin when I got off the plane)
These were good because of the occasions. I was also quite pleased with an entry about the place that running sometimes holds in the bigger movements of your life, Recovery Runs, though that's a much more understated piece of writing.

What blog post do you wish you'd written?
Probably something by Brad Hickey -- such as this one -- because I would have liked to have had the meal (though the man isn't short of good meals, good wine and good company). I would also like to have won the Tour de France.

Choose a favourite quotation
Too many to choose from. Perhaps:

"Leaning, half rais'd, with looks of cordial love /
Hung over her enamoured"


"Hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way."


"Put me back on my bike."


"Sunt lachrymae rerum". (Because I love the economy of the Latin: "these are the tears of things" doesn't quite do it. See also: "Coelo tegitur non urnam habet.")


"Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea."


"Between the thought ..."


"Who if I cried would hear me among the angelic orders ..."

How could one possibly choose?

Three favourite words
That's tough again. Are the three words linked? Are they context sensitive? In which case "Agent Provocateur Shorts" have to be right up there with the most sublime words. If we're just talking nice, fancy words, my 14-year old self would have had a proper answer: umbrageous, incarnadine, desuetude. Perhaps numinous too. These days, I like all of my words, and feel that I need to hang onto as many as I can, as the years strip the elasticity of my brain cells and the words slip beyond reach.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model, influence or inspiration
Mnemosyne and Erato. And sometimes Clio.

What's your writing ambition?
Oh, to be Shakespeare, Joyce, the usual stuff.

Now I have to recommend three bloggers, which is tricky, because Mrs T. and all her friends -- MTFF, Belgian Waffle and so on -- have already been involved in this meme. And it seems unfair to drag in others, who have better things to write about: Brad Hickey, Fat Cyclist, Chris Priestly. So I respond: no. Basta.


Thursday, 6 August 2009

The physiotherapist

Nurse Ratchett looked unimpressed as she dug her thumb deep into my hamstring and waited for a response.

That's how I had planned to start this, together with appropriate disclaimers about any resemblance between truth and blog being purely coincidental, but it worked out quite differently. My NHS physiotherapist was a diminutive Indian woman with a pleasant disposition. Having evidently signed up to the job in anticipation of helping people who can barely make it through the door, she adjusted to dealing with an endurance athlete suffering from a self-inflicted condition with equanimity.

Her diagnosis: I need to stretch. Who'd have thunk? We debate the merits of short versus long stretches. She is on the other side to me. She does stick her thumbs into the wound and can't find any soreness. Which is peculiar, as my masseuse, Zoe, who is almost qualified as a physio and should be hired by the British cycling team -- really -- had me writhing around on the table in the most exquisite raptures of agony not so long ago. You probably have to pay for that kind of stuff.

And then my physio tells me that I'll be running, slowly, and for 20 minutes, in a couple of weeks. And ushers me out of the door.

So I went home, and stretched. And then I put in my contact lenses and donned the lycra, got on my bike, and took to the B roads around the fens. And I put the hammer down. I cycled until my heart was louder than the air. And I held it right there, on the slight inclines and declines, through the cross winds, until my vision blurred at the edges. I held it just until the end of the kilometre, waiting for the beep of my GPS watch. And then I eased off, and then I went there again, and again. And then I cycled home and lay on the kitchen floor, and my head was as empty and echoing as a conch.