Sunday, 25 December 2016

Runner, unattached

It's Christmas, and I'm on my own, without a running club, single, my various offspring variously elsewhere, with a black dog lying in front of my stereo.

I walked a black dog the other day, called Cat. A real dog, not a metaphoric one. But she made me reflect further on the metaphoric one who's been at my heels for a year or more now. Cat's owner is living with cancer, and Cat the dog has been a caring dog, reminding her owner of the actual ongoing meaning of life.

So Cat made me feel foolish, but also reminded me of how great dogs are, and made me think of the meaning provided by my own black dog. Christmas day is a day you really don't want to be on your own, even if you don't actually like Christmas and are an atheist who, like the Pope, also dislikes the consumerism. But everything turns to Christmas, even your safe spaces. Even Radio 6 Music has been engulfed by Christmas for the past week. Even Iggy Pop. Iggy Pop, my harbour in the storm, someone I like to think of as basically the same as me with better trousers. So the black dog was my friend today, because he urged me to block out Christmas by going for a run.

So I headed out down to the Isle of Dogs. It's surprisingly easy to get lost there. It's a proper maze: very few combination will actually get you out. It wasn't quite dead: there were various people, mainly Chinese, out walking, and the Chinese supermarkets were open. And then I found the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and ran under the Thames. Emerging at Cutty Sark I turned right and followed the river past Surrey Docks, through Rotherhithe to Tower Bridge, where I crossed, and discovered that central London is in fact really crowded on Christmas day. Past the Tower, and back over London Bridge, through Southwark, past the Southbank Centre to Lambeth Palace and then over Lambeth Bridge, along Millbank and around Parliament and back along Victoria Embankment. Then around St Pauls and through the Barbican (which was obviously stupid given the number of stairs that involves, but I don't think my brain was working properly at that point), passing the place of Milton's burial.

Moorgate was interesting. Whereas the more central areas had been quite crowded this was deserted. Most of the area was sealed off with half-hearted fencing and copious quantities of security tape, most of which had half blown away in the day's winds. Signs everywhere read that this private property - because many of the main access routes between the Barbican and Bishopsgate actually cross areas belonging to the prestige buildings that have infested the area - was not a public right of way. I saw a couple of security guards, tired overweight men in uniform. The owners of these landmark buildings clearly feared a terrorist attack on this holiday. I internally laughed at the interest the security were showing in me ... until I remembered I was a tanned skinny guy with a backpack and a haunted look on his face.

Through Spitalfields, Columbia Road, Haggerston Park, London Fields and into Homerton with a little loop around Hackney Marshes. 43.3k. A little more than a marathon.

A day not wasted, a day staring into the unhealthier parts of my soul - and yes, some of the past year fell into place as I passed some of its landmarks and saw things that I had not seen before, all hidden in plain sight - and finding something healing there. And thanks, in part, to that black dog.

And the best thing is that the dog is now utterly exhausted, and won't be waking up for a while.