Simpler Times

Out on a little run this morning I was pondering on how simple life can be. Yes, of course all of us have worries, issues, problems to a greater or lesser degree. But as with the practice of mindfulness, running a few miles along quiet lanes on a fine morning can reduce the world momentarily to the one you are living in – the buildings, the fields, sky, sun, clouds. Nothing else matters. The past is gone and can’t be changed. The future is uncertain and can be dealt with as and when it comes. You are experiencing and enjoying the now, which is usually, at least, OK.

But the meditative effect of putting one foot in front of the other can also have other, surprising effects. In the past I have suddenly had worrying problems unknot themselves, unbidden, on a long run. I have, now and again, ‘lost’ a mile or so of a run – no recollection of having run the roads which have got me to my present position.

And this morning I thought of a little thing that happened over 50 years ago. It was of no consequence, one of the millions of memories which are generally stored in the dark recesses of one’s brain to stay there, but occasionally to pop to the forefront for no reason. I was still at school and it was the early 1970s. I was in west Cork with a school friend of mine, looking up relatives who were plentiful at that time – aunts, uncles, cousins. We visited a woman whose identity escapes me, but we were aware her daughter (or granddaughter) was celebrating her birthday – maybe her third or fourth. Accordingly we bought a cheap doll, duly arrived at the house, and presented the parcel to the little girl. I don’t think I’ve ever seen wonder on anyone’s face such as that of the little girl as she unwrapped the present and saw the doll. Enraptured, she removed it from the box and clutched it to her chest.

(Not the actual doll)

Then she carefully put the doll back into its box and wrapped it up before walking away, returning to it and reliving the joy of opening the present once more.

That little girl will be in her 50s now. If she has children and maybe grandchildren I don’t think they’d be so easily pleased.

When Your Race is Run

In 2009 Jayson Lee, a fellow runner and all-round sportsman, collapsed and died. The following year his family organised a 10k race in his memory. More than 200 runners took part – I finished in 49.24. That year, 2010, was my best running year.

Last Sunday was the 13th running of the Jayson Lee Memorial 10k which again attracted an entry in excess of 200. I finished in 49.18.

And just a couple of minutes behind me was my daughter Emma with her 5-month old son Dawson.

At the end of the race I exchanged mutual congratulations with a few runners I’d brushed shoulders with out on the course, took a bottle of water and walked back around the track to encourage those who were approaching the finish. I know full well how a clap, a shout, a few encouraging words can give you a lift as you dig deep through the physical pain, having given everything. I’m in a good place with my running right now but there have been many times when I’ve struggled way back towards the end of the field.

There were many familiar faces there, young and old. Those I have run with socially, a pleasing number I recognised having coached them in the past. Most managed a smile and a word or two, others merely grimaced all the more – believe me I understand that! But for a few minutes I reflected on how lucky I’ve been to be able to stay healthy and continue to take part in the sport. And how many good people I’ve met along the way.

Tuula says, “Hi Roy!”

I have mentioned before my slight obsession with a 20-year-old au pair from Finland, Tuula Hoeoek, battered to death here in Jersey in the final hours of 1966. Yes, I still pass by the field entrance where she was found dead, 2-3 times a week. I say, “Hi”, remind her of the date, give her a weather update. I move on, never expecting or receiving a reply

This morning I paused there as usual, happy to catch my breath after a bit of a climb. The field is overgrown right now, but something had appeared that wasn’t there 48 hours earlier. Standing all alone.
Make of that what you will. Maybe she just got fed up of me not hearing and decided to catch my attention another way 🙂

Edit 10th August, eight days later. The sunflower has gone, no trace remains. Another life snuffed out too early.

Ballad of Easy Runner

(Apologies to Glenn Frey)

I’m running down the road feeling overshadowed
Got sixty runners on my mind
Most of them are faster
And those I’ll never master
But there are still a few behind

Can’t take it easy, can’t take it easy
Can’t let the sound of my own footsteps drive me crazy

I’m running round the corner I’m a long way down the order
But what a fine sight to see
A water stop my Lord which I can afford
And that’s because it’s absolutely free

Can’t take it easy, can’t take it easy
Can’t let the sound of my own footsteps drive me crazy

Come on baby legs don’t fail me
I wanna know if I can do it when I’m eighty
I may lose I may win
But I will never be here again
And that’s the day I might slow down and
Take it easy

Chasing a Girl

The sun’s going down and I have her in sight
She glances back and realises her plight
Will she resist and put up a fight

She knows that no one will come to her aid
Is she worried or unafraid
Her reputation disarrayed

Ten metres now we both breathe hard
All other matters disregard
She should have brought a bodyguard

Looks back again and with a smile
Knows now that I’m nothing worthwhile
And speeds up for the final mile

For road racing throws up these duels
Just one can win the others fools
But it’s our race too it’s in the rules

Joseph Hudson – a Paean

Back in the days when football was new
The players were honest and blackguards were few
The captains decided the rules which were best
Third parties weren’t needed they’d just cause unrest

But as time went on the game took a turn
Now winning was foremost a living to earn
The disputes were many and fretful and long
Now umpires were needed to tell right from wrong

So two umpires were chosen the game it began
The fouls multiplied upsetting the plan
The umpires tried hard as they waved their flags
No notice was taken by the player scallywags

The bosses sat down and said what will we do
The umpires aren’t working we haven’t a clue
Our game is in danger the players run amok
Without law and order the game is a crock

Then up spake a quiet man, they listened to him
He said there’s a man down in old Birmingham
He’ll possibly come up with a great invention
That will answer our call and relieve all the tension

Joe Hudson he sat there in Brummagem Town
The troubles of football he read with a frown
And then it came to him like an epistle
I know he said, I’ll invent the whistle

Football was eventually saved at the death
By a whistle blown by the referee’s breath
The play is now stopped and is brought to a halt
And when told the players accept who’s at fault

All hail to Hudson for his invention
Is worth more than a mere passing mention
Without a whistle to compete
Football would be obsolete

The Real Owner

The scene is Hamptonne Country Life Museum, Jersey

Visitor at front desk: “We thought you should know, one of your chickens is inside one of the houses, down there.”
Visitor Services Assistant (VSA): “A big white cockerel?”
Visitor: “Yes! It’s upstairs, in a cupboard.”
VSA: “Upstairs in Syvret House? OK, that’s normal. I’ll get the gardien to shoo it out. Thanks.” *Phones gardien* “When you have a minute could you shoo the white cockerel out of Syvret House please?”
Gardien: *Sighs* “OK, on my way.”

Cockerel: “Okay, okay I’m going. But I’ll go at my own pace if you please. And if I seem indignant then I have a right to. Yes, I know that I’m a cockerel and, by the customs and protocols of the world, us birds rank below humans and are governed by them. We are subject to the whims and fancies of our human masters. I don’t wish to lodge a formal complaint though, or to appear difficult. It might not end well. Anyway, I am fortunate enough here at Hamptonne. I know only too well that the majority of the world’s chickens never see the light of day. They lead a (fortunately short) life of misery until their throats are cut. Here I can wander more or less where I wish, food and water for nothing and my chicks for free.

“But, you see, I wasn’t always a bird. I was Jack Syvret and that was my family home right there. I was born in 1899, the oldest of seven children, and I was brought up there. It was a working farm then. My father was the farmer and he kept cows and sheep, grew a little grain. Mother kept house and us children did what we could. I went to the new St Lawrence School down the road, next to the church. We knew everyone in the village. Then when the war came, off I went to serve with the Jersey Pals. I didn’t last long. I was shot dead on the second day of the Battle of the Somme. I’ve come back a few times, but never before as a cockerel. See, if I’d have lived, I’d have inherited the property.”

Gardien: “OK, all done.”
VSA: “Good. That cockerel thinks he owns the place.”

June in Jersey

(With a nod towards Peter Sarstedt)

Where did you go lovely sunshine
Just when we got used to you
The temperature’s dropped and it’s raining
And we’ll all end up with the flu (yes we will)

The visitors all dressed in T-shirts
And bright tops with uncovered arms
They’re all crowded into our cafes
And don’t wish to see Jersey’s charms (no they don’t)

And yesterday down at the cricket
It was like April again
Sad spectators huddled in corners
And peering outside at the rain (yes they were)

But at least Jersey’s farmers are happy
And the reservoirs do need the rain
So we shiver a while without grumbling
And the sun will return once again (yes it will)

For tomorrow the weather is changing
And our misery will be forgot
We’ll huddle in corners and grumble
Cos the weather’s too bloomin’ hot (yes it is)

An Ugly Word

I’m reading what is turning out to be an intriguing and quietly powerful book right now – The Phone Box at the Edge of the World. And, unusually, I’m bookmarking certain passages. Here’s one:

Takeshi was convinced that it was the survivors, the people left behind, who gave death a face. That without them, death would be nothing more than an ugly word. Ugly but, deep down, harmless.

What a myriad of thoughts, reactions, little side roads of consideration that quote has set off. And how true – we all tend to contemplate our own deaths with apprehension, but with nothing like the alarm we feel when thinking of when our own nearest and dearest will depart and exist only in the past tense. Do we have the capacity to look upon death dispassionately and therefore take the power out of the word? Probably not.

And for some reason I recall Anthony Trollope’s 1882 novel The Fixed Period. This concerns a country whose rulers decide that it would be good for the ongoing health and vitality of the nation that its inhabitants should be gently euthanised with honour at a certain fixed age. Like pruning a bush or deadheading flowers. The logic is embraced and the law unanimously approved. Inevitably doubts creep in as the first of the citizens approach the age decided on. Should there not perhaps be exceptions if, say, the person in question is in perfect health and his continued existence and acquired experience is in fact of benefit to the country? Inevitably the whole thing falls apart. I wonder if Trollope meant it to come across as humorously as it actually did?

But that novel, and one or two others since, imply that death – planned or unplanned – might be accepted as merely an extension of life and thus become merely a harmless word, though perhaps an ugly one.

Any thoughts?

Cannacord Half-Marathon 2022

A new course, out and back from Les Quennevais heading away to the north-west of the island and returning by the coastal route. Yes it looked a promising course but the rather nasty final two miles were to come home to roost.

An 8am start, a good innovation which gives clear roads for the first hour at least. After that time the whole of Jersey becomes awash with Sunday drivers going nowhere in particular. About 400 entries including a notable mainland contingent with a lively bunch from Watford Joggers. Conditions splendid as we set off with a lap of the cycle track to spread the field out before we venture out onto the roads.

As for me, I feel in good shape, hoping to get inside 1:55, so averaging kms of 5.30 mins. We take the lanes which snake around the airport’s west runway and dive down the steep escarpment towards St Ouen’s Bay – here I protect my ageing knees and the younger ones fly by me. Down onto Chemin du Moulin which winds northwards through the rather wild landscape of St Ouen.

I’m way inside my target time, running smoothly, exchanging banter with my fellow runners in the mid pack. It’s a feature of the longer races these days that the gals are as plentiful as the guys which adds to the race day experience. It’s odd to recall the times when women were only grudgingly accepted into road racing with some of the guys being affronted if they were “beaten by a girl”. Those “girls” are plenty tough and not afraid to beat anyone.

At five miles, looking good (it wasn’t to last)

So onto darkest L’Etacq, as far from civilised St Helier as is possible, and we turn for home, heading south via the Five Mile Road. There are fewer groups now, most running solo. It is easy to fall into the mindset of accepting everyone else’s pace as fatigue sets in. A few, me included, make little breaks, overtaking other runners, trying to keep the tempo up. As we approach the south end of the Five Mile Road, at La Pulente, my pace is holding up, assisted now by regular intake of fruit pastilles. But I’m flagging and the hard work is only just starting. There’s an off-road section around the Petit Port headland which slows us considerably – it’s rocky and dangerous. Out on to the roads again and then the long, mean climb at Corbière – a lot of walking going on though I manage to run it, though at much the same pace as the walkers 🙂 Finally, on to the Railway Walk which leads to the finish, just over a mile away. But now I’m bushed, I’ve lost all track of time, only aware that my 1:55 has probably gone. As I drag towards the finish, two legendary oldies – Bernie Arthur and Sue Le Ruez – glide by me. Sparked into whatever life I have left, as we hit the cycle track, finish line in sight, I manage to edge by them both again to finish in 1:57.45.

A great morning, well-organised race, excellent company. A tough old race but running is termed an endurance sport for a reason.