Saturday, 31 October 2015

And there we were ...

And there we were all in one place
A generation lost in space
With no time left to start again.

We’re in the dead heart of the temporal interstice that lies between ordinary life and tomorrow morning’s marathon. It begins with this morning’s massage, courtesy of Jessica in Brooklyn, who leaves me unable to speak. Lots of history buried in those messed up muscles, and she’s really good. Her hands are strong as chrysolite. She recommends epsom salts pre- and post-race. I didn’t know about that. I meet with Sean, then Simon and finally Brad and we eat and eat. Except Simon: he drinks and drinks, while we look on in envy, punctuated occasionally by his pointed apologies. We watch New Zealand beat Australia in the final of the Ruby World Cup in an unpromising Brooklyn sports bar, called 200fifth. We have a whole bank of televisions in front of us, and can hear the American commentary, delivered by a pair of men who’ve carefully read the rulebook and haven’t grasped the nature of the game. But it’s all good. The burgers are excellent, the sweet potato fries doused in cinnamon.

On the way back to the hotel I buy 4 kg of epsom salts for me, and 4 kg for Sean. That’s a lot of salt. Most of the chemists have sold out; in this one the young cashier suppresses giggles.

It's Halloween, and the walk back is slowed by hordes of children and teenagers in ghoulish costumes (18% of Americans believe they've seen a ghost, this morning's paper tells me) collecting candy from people and shops. Actually some of them are adults. Unaccompanied adults dressed as superheroes and bumble bees, the living dead and the dead living.

Sean’s asleep, so I sit and write in the hotel bar. This isn’t real time. It’s all about waiting in that space, expending no energy or adrenaline, waiting for it to start. Everything is muffled, but for the quiet soundtrack in my head, playing music I can’t quite remember. I've been here before.

See you tomorrow.

We’re doing this for charity. Please don’t forget to give:

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Why you should sponsor me for the New York Marathon 1/11/15

Baby daughters do nonplussed with more severity than any adult.

Here Celia looks nonplussed in the finish area of the Hackney Half Marathon in May. Every day I remember to think how blessed I am that I have a healthy baby. This is easy to do when you have friends whose children need operations, even relatively minor ones, and you’re reminded of what an extraordinary strain it is upon them, how it shakes the foundations upon which ordinary complaints – about workload or running injuries or the heartless, self-serving pomposities who run our country – rest.

So the charity Sean, Brad (aka Brash) and I are running for, the Childhood Cancer Association, provides support for families who have children with cancer. Most of the charity I give is to cancer organisations – because it’s affected me, because I think there’s a cure around the corner, because its incidence can be reduced through informed choices, and because I am in awe of people who provide hospice care. And it’s been on my mind this week because of my friend Lisa Jardine, who finally succumbed to it aged only 71 and still at the peak of her powers. And of course I tend to give to British charities, for sound tax reasons and because that’s what I know. So Brad’s suggestion of a South Australia charity made perfect sense. Let’s think more globally, starting with SA.

Much as I would like to, I don’t believe in the power of prayer, so that’s what we need to do. Sermon over. Please give.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Things you can’t take away from me

In the torturously long middle bit of Shakespeare’s most bleak tragedy, King Lear, the eponymous hero wanders across a blasted heath having lost his kingdom, his daughters, his knights, his clothes and ultimately his mind, becoming the naked reduction of humanity. What is unaccommodated man? No more than a frame with a straying mind, blasted by the elements.

King Lear’s problem was that he wasn’t a runner.

[I love the printed name, don't you? It's like when I showed up at the Centre for Advanced Studies at the Central European University, and they had already put my name on the door, even though I was there for a few days ... UEA took about two years.]

I have lapsed, I know. I promised to revive the blog, and I failed. I promised to run, and discovered excuses, injuries, excessive alcohol, two stalkers, an extra 2% body fat. Still there are things you can’t take away from me: the taxman might steal my purse, the ex-wife might take away my good name, the years take away my youth, hair, the alleged resemblance to JohnnyDepp, my children my vitality, and the mortgage company stands poised to snatch the house should I stumble.

But, as you all know, at the start line, Santander, the taxman, your ex-, and the years, they all stand behind you. So it was on 18 April when took a commuter riverboat to St Margaret’s island, in the Danube in Budapest, and collected my number from race headquarters. It was bright and sunny and people of all nations lay on the grass and talked and laughed nervously. The start and finish gantries had been erected for a junior race that afternoon. The air was all salt and sweat and the heat off the river. Men and women from all over Europe checked through their race bags to see if they had their pins. And I thought to myself: I was born to do this, why don’t I do it anymore?

Next morning I jogged over the road bridge to that same place, lined up and ran. Slow, it’s true, but through the cool sunshine of a Budapest morning, up and down the river, around the parliament, over bridges, and back. What could be more beautiful? It’s true that I’ve grown weak in the head, and that when I saw the finish line I persuaded myself that befejez, if that’s what it was, wasn’t Hungarian for ‘finish’, and that I needed to hold back my final dash ... and then I was over the line. Weak headed. But that hardly matters. Then a massage at the nearby spa, then goulash and black beer, then the airport. I was born to do this, why don’t I do it anymore?

And now I’m back on the heath, and the New York Marathon is a remote country, over the sea. It’s whole weeks away.

I'm running the New York City marathon (1/11/15) to raise money for South Australia's Childhood Cancer Association. Please donate!