This strange and terrible urge to kill or maim strangers

  • Wednesday, August 09, 2017
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I wanted to run today but the rain has been sheeting down since the early hours. In the past I would have stuck to the plan and shrugged off the wet but now I can't be arsed.
Instead I have paced restlessly over the cheap laminate floorboards that I laid in the crumbling rented house in the dead end street where I have lived for 17 years. When we moved in the carpets stank of stale dog's urine and were so rotten that I was able to poke my fingers through them onto the floor beneath. 
I can't stand the silence so I'm listening to the Bhundu Boys, still Zimbabwe's best and most famous band. They took the UK by storm in the Eighties but typical of many who are uprooted from home and placed in an alien culture they fell apart through bad management, sickness, the tragedy of Biggie Tembo's suicide and disappeared. 
 
I am also waiting for an email from Annie that never arrives, she is meant to inform me when she has returned from holiday so that we can make plans for some August running.
While I pace, listen and wait I have been reading about Jogger rage. The media is full of the story of the Putney Bridge jogger who shoved a woman into the path of a Red London doubledecker bus.
There has been a lot of opinion both on written and social media and on talk radio about why this fool acted in the way that he allegedly did.
I'm completely baffled, if you watch the video he passes a man and then seems to alter his trajectory enough to seemingly shove the women into the road. He then runs on almost pathologically and without emotion or remorse.
It's weird.
There is a lot of speculation that he hates women/ they were stunt actors/ he was a hit man and even that she tried to trip him first! The prevailing theory though, is that he was exhibiting 'joggers rage' a previously unheard of affliction causing aggression brought on by running. Many members of the public are coming out and saying that they have been targeted by hostile runners and that this is a growing affliction of modern society. 
The Independent humorously asks whether people have been suffering in silence from this strange and terrible urge to kill or maim strangers once they pass the 5km mark on their morning jog.
I've searched myself as a long standing runner to see if I've ever felt this urge to become violent towards innocent members of society whilst running but I can't think of any. I don't think runners are always angels and concede that they can be conceited and rude but I think they are a boorish minority. I've seen runners who are undoubtedly absolute pricks and sadly they are almost always men but I haven't seen any violence apart from last year when I was shoved at the start of a race by a foul mouthed idiot who felt I was holding him up - but it's the only time in a decade of running where I've experienced anything like violence.
Mostly I think we just want to run and enjoy it but I hope that this will make some runners pause for a moment and think about how people perceive us and perhaps try a little harder to make eye contact, smile and greet people.
We are not, after all, gods.


The Putney Bridge jogger.

I drank one bottle of wine and cooked on the floor.

  • Saturday, August 05, 2017
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"Because that's rock and roll"
Deadpan response by Olly Smith of the band Hothouse
 to a small girl asking him why he was playing his keyboard behind his head during the band's finale.

There's not a lot of running in this post and it occurs at the end.
The tribe and I have camping in Stoneham Aspal, a small village in Suffolk. We have been at HEFF, the Glastonbury of Home Education. As a family we are in our fourth year of Home Education but this was our first festival. Camping does not come naturally to me, at least not any more. When I was younger it was normal and I never gave it any thought but as I've got older my enthusiasm for camp beds, groundsheets and guy ropes has vanished along with my suppleness and my hair. Nonetheless I borrowed a blue tent from loud Samantha and set off in our white Chev with joy and anticipation. I was not disappointed either.
I've never doubted our decision to Home Educate which is good because it takes a certain amount of courage. HEFF was a joy because it reinforced many things for me, not the least of which is that it is a lifestyle, pretty much every thing we do and think about revolves around our kids and their development. It was wonderful to be completely immersed in community and it was wonderful to see how kids can flourish by taking a different path. The other validation that I got from the week was a sense of being at home, nobody thought I was strange going around barefoot and I was able to wear the type of clothing that I prefer and that helps me express who I am. I've needed this restoration of my self identity.
The week was busy yet relaxing, there was a myriad of workshops and activities for the kids and some interesting talks in the conference tent. 
I saw freedom, I saw mutual respect and I saw a lack of hierarchy.
I saw inclusion take place organically.
I saw Bollywood dancing and traditional African dance. There was Ukulele workshops, tutu making, mask making and my kids built paper Spectroscopes. I saw a man with a Taliban beard and I had some fantastic conversations with some fantastic people.
I learnt a lot.
I drank one bottle of wine and cooked on the floor.
Every night I heard some quality live bands, my favourites being Casey Birks, Funke and the Two Tone Baby, Oliver and Company and the cream of the bunch, Hothouse. Patrick Channon you rock.
I heard a kids orchestral ensemble play Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall.
My kids bought a Red Ukulele and my son played his Bass in two bands.
On Saturday night there was torrential rain, thunder and lightning.
It was the apocalypse in time lapse.
The best thing I saw are children who have been given the freedom and encouragement to explore their interests no matter how diverse or strange and also to just be children, no matter how diverse or strange. Through that magic happens and we get self confidant, well balanced kids who all mix well together regardless of age or disability. We get kids who achieve, some of whom are overcoming huge challenges. These guys I found interesting from a professional point of view, especially those with social communication difficulties and ASD. 
As Dr Suess said, sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
I think allowing these kids to just be who they are and allow them to find their in their own way in their own time works, they don't do the paradigms or time structures of so called neurotypical people but march to their own unheard beat. It's up to us to tune into their frequencies and when we do the gifts we receive are great.
I also went to HEFF intending to do a fair amount of running, I knew from talking to our Home Ed friends that mostly the kids tend to go off and do their own thing and consequently I would have lots of free time. In the end I ran only once, two days before we left. I was so relaxed by the festival, so absorbed by the vibe that I just decided not to run - and it was impulsive after an early chicken and red wine supper when I pulled on my Vibrams and went into the fields adjacent to the site. My run took place under one of the loveliest skies imaginable, the timbre and quality of light was too beautiful. I ran along a muddy farm track and next to adolescent Wheat and then onto a weirdly deserted Golf course, As a run it was odd, I felt both the total peace of my environment and struggling with a bellyful of Red Wine.
I saw no one apart from a young man with a beard on his sunken cheeks, he was sitting cross legged beneath a dead tree and gazing at the horizon. When I stopped and asked if he was OK he looked up with dark eyes and without speaking he flashed me a thumbs up, I ran on wondering if he had a wound in his side until he was just a dark speck against the Wheat.
Running alongside but not through a Wheat field Mrs May.

 Our home for a week


Mud, sun, clouds.




Speakers corner and marquees.

The Priests telephone is ringing with an old fashioned jangling ringtone

  • Sunday, July 16, 2017
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Ever since I heard the howlin' wind
I didn't need to go where a bible went
But then you know your gifts seemed heaven sent
(Justin Vernon, Heavenly Father)


There is something sacred and holy about coming home after a hot summer run and sitting in the garden with the cracks and knots of the warped wooden fence at the West side of my garden slicing and shining the late afternoon sun like the mellow strobe lights of heaven. I sit with blood from bramble cuts and sweat running down my legs and cold Thai beer dribbling down my unshaven chin, the label with it's two Elephants puckered and peeling with the condensation beading on the green bottle curled in my left hand. Above me the Zimbabwean flag stirs slowly on the breeze and an unsuspecting pigeon sits on the umbrella above my head, it's shadow misshapen and mutated through the canvas and sharp tipped feet scrabbling for purchase like the sound of rain.

It's been a tough week where my stress and distress has risen sharply. I knew I simply had to get out and run and try to roll back the creeping black tide that is my mental health. It's always the trees and the soil where I go, the textures and the smell of summer ferment calm me and possibly remind me of a better place and time where life was simpler and there was no demand or responsibility and I didn't have to think, I was happy in my solitude and summer seemed perpetual. Somehow the contentment of solitude has been replaced with a sense of isolation and anxiety and I dread the inevitable approach of a winter that I can do nothing about. I have such a deep love of the woods, the ridges and undulations under my feet, the roots, stones, flowers and grasses. I run the same beaten pathways over and over, past the ponds with their ducks, moorhens and herons, along the river and on the homeward stretch past the Catholic Church where the Priests telephone is ringing with an old fashioned jangling ringtone from another bygone era. As I go past I wonder if it is announcing a birth or a death, both causing the incumbent to reach for his yellowing Bible and thumb his way through the thin pages to the appropriate passage or if it was something as mundane as a double glazing salesman calling. I will never know and I hurry past, wheezing toward my beer, the edifice of my life just about standing.
Running in South Croydon in April, I spent 15 minutes out staring a deer in the rain.
June, always within a mile of the Sheep...

Like a hormonal salmon swimming up river to spawn

  • Sunday, January 29, 2017
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January 2017 has been superb. In the latter stages of last year I became sad, the blues, morbs*, thief whisperers and psyche trolls overwhelmed me, sucking running out of me and leaving me hollow shelled and whey faced with the burden of keeping up with my mileage. Under those circumstances we invariably fail and I did. I began to hate running because of the obligations that I placed upon myself.
I don't exactly know what broke the yoke but something distinct happened when I ran on new Years Eve, I felt an almost physical tear in the things causing my resistance to running, the rain, the cold, the dark, the preference for a cup of coffee instead. The can't be arsed. There was a moment of clarity where I knew that the various demons hampering me had been consigned to whichever hell had sent them. Their power shattered I've easily rolled out for a run and in doing so I've fallen back in love with running. I've been set free from my dystopian mindsets to run through the jagged edges of winter landscapes, the fields and hedgerows razored with frost and fringed with cobwebs like bridal lace that have been beautiful in their starkness. I've abandoned my other burdens, heaving laundry from washing machine to tumble drier, bending my back over sinkfuls of dirty dishes and dragging out odious bags of garbage. These things still exist but I have been more focused on sunrise, sunset and frost, in my mind I leap over roots and rocks like a hormonal salmon swimming up river to spawn, deep down I know I am a bald and bespectacled 50 something bloke trundling through the mud in strange shoes. I am at peace with either image.
 Running with my laaitie**



Sullen sheep huddle in the field.




The frozen pond, sunrise.


Sunrise.

Sunset







* Morbid feelings.

**  Laaite ‎(plural Laaites)
  1. (South Africa, slang) A youth; a young person, especially male.

Probing the dusty corners and the occult areas of academia

  • Friday, December 30, 2016
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Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
I have a son, 13 who is Autistic. He is a subversive autistic, quietly shining to the quiet Moon, a mostly placid surface and off the grid to the casual observer but if you disturb his sense of order or arouse his anxieties you find out who he is. Life is almost always interesting, often unpredictable and you're not always sure what you're going to get. It presents challenges and often those challenges have a profound impact on family life. Like a lot of Autistic people there are no real answers, just an endless slippery wrestling for more knowledge because every person with Autism seems to be uniquely quirky.
Apart from the diagnostic descriptors that mark them as Autistic they are all different.
As they say “If you know one person who has autism, you know one person who has autism.”
It doesn't stop you though, as a parent, from scouring the Internet and books or probing the dusty corners and the occult areas of academia for solutions.
It was on one such search recently that I stumbled across a fascinating man, his Autistic son and an oddball form of Ultra Running. The man is Hal Walter the seven time world champion at the sport of pack Burro racing, a sport unique to the American state of Colorado. This form of Ultra Running is undertaken whilst tethered to a fully laden Donkey. Hal has written several books about the parallels of working with a strong willed and independent animal and having an Autistic child. He deals with his autistic son with warmth, consistency, love and undying perseverance. He is a man filled with empathy and compassion and he has a huge streak of honesty too. I'd love to meet him.
Our kids are fantastic. There is the stereotyped myth of emotionless robots lacking empathy or imagination and it's true those things are often present. There also exists the other side, a sometimes wacky view of life, moments of spontaneous love and a genuine sense of humour. I was speaking to a colleague recently about a pupil. She said that he had copied another pupils literacy work word for word and when she gently suggested that it may be a form of stealing he replied that it wasn't stealing and he was just being a Magpie! Great humour and an alternative view that made perfect sense to him. They are all interesting these kids, they are my passion and I love working with them.
After reading about Hal and buying his book Endurance in which he details his son's cross country running I began to dig a little deeper. I have become interested in the impact of nature on the autistic mind. I am reading Coleridge's poem, frost at Midnight where he worries that his child will grow up as he did,
"For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim..."

Coleridge wishes his child to be able to grow up experiencing nature instead. He wants him to be more balanced and imaginative. I think Coleridge got it right. When I run through the trees I feel a real connection with nature. I feel more grounded and at peace with myself. My senses are engaged and my stresses diminish. Life is simple and beautiful.

"Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw..."

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that animals have a positive impact too. Hal's wife Mary has an interesting thought on why: "We base our decisions on logic. Theirs are based on sensory perception" 
I like this, it makes sense, I think animals have great instincts, they are non judgemental and consistent. They make few demands. They love without question. The evidence suggests that animals can help diminish social stress in kids with autism, they can help develop social skills. I think they are mostly just simple and uncomplicated to an autistic kid and perhaps they inhabit similar worlds.
I'm not going to take up running with a Burro but I am going to look for a dog. I had some great dogs growing up, they did my soul good and I miss having one. I think it's time.
Jess.

Drowsy with the taste of red wine on it's lips

  • Sunday, November 13, 2016
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Somewhere in the depths of solitude, beyond wilderness and freedom, lay the trap of madness.
Edward Abbey.

Two birds are wheeling outside my window, black silhouettes against the grey Autumn sky. I've been sitting on this sagging sofa too long, staring at the skyline, undecided and unconvinced. Is it really only eight weeks since I was cloud gazing, lying back on my summer grass, green and slightly lumpy under my back and looking up. Then the sky was deep and blue and only slightly scarred by a few scruffy clouds. When the breeze blew I could smell Fox wee but this was not about that so I ignored it. This was about stopping and not doing, an emptying of activity creating space to think. The longer I lay still and looked the more I noticed. Dandelion seeds and arrowing birds, also tiny silver aircraft, precise and quick and reflecting the sun, flies and butterflies, dust motes, midges and even my sons face briefly causing a human eclipse of the sun. I'm so good at lazy meditation that I could have lain there forever looking at the hole in the Ozone layer and the dandruff of the sky but I didn't. I rolled onto my side and rose to my feet. I had to act. I had to seek the trap of madness so I slapped my Vibrams to my feet, kissed the forehead of the child who eclipses the sun and went out running. It was easy.
To be frank I may as well have remained in that somnolent state. I think the spirit of running which used to live in me is still stretched out on my grass drowsy with the taste of red wine on it's lips or more likely is roaming the trails leaving a whiff of smelly running shoe and seeking me.
It's become hard.
In the transition between the seasons something has become broken and running has become reasonably rare because it's difficult to move without an engine. We need fire and for fire we need a spark. Frances has a song called Don't Worry About Me and for the first minute she sings Acapella before striking one gorgeous note on the Piano. To me this is where the song really begins, it is the spark that the rest of the song is built on, the piano becomes the engine carrying her stunning voice. I'm seeking that spark, that single piano note that will reunite me with my running spirit and ignite a flame to carry me through the long and cold winter months ahead. I am confident it will happen and I will transition from inconsistent to habitual again, I've come too far and run for far too long, it's deeply ingrained in me and it won't let me go.

The child who eclipses the sun.



The sort of high produced by creativity, beer and extreme hunger

  • Monday, August 01, 2016
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“I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling.”  
Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums.

The best thing about our run a fortnight ago was sitting around an iron table afterwards at the Battle of Britain Museum in Shoreham. Above our heads was a thick canopy of leafy vine and above that blue Kent skies pocked by summer clouds. We talked and refuelled with steaming mugs of Tea and Coffee and the location was fitting for the conversation that stood out, a strangely relaxed and even funny talk about loss, bereavement and memorial, a cathartic conversation rooted in the power of community that gave me a glimpse of what it is to be human, the circle of life, the importance of memory and the resilience it breeds.
Before we allowed ourselves the luxury of tea we gave ourselves the luxury of a meandering run along the banks of The River Darent, the name rooted in the Celtic 'Derva' meaning Oak or river where the Oak trees grow. The Darent is a cold, clear, fast flowing 20 mile tributary of the Thames. For runners it's a scenic backdrop perfect for a shambling run passing Hops, Lavender fields and the historic 9 arch viaduct near the village of Eynsford. We also passed Lullingstone Castle and a small herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle with their red rimmed eyes and clouds of attendant flies.
A badger called Angus. I'm always happy to stay this side of the fence.

I find there is great power in journey and people journeying together. Something creative occurs when we step out of our routines and go exploring together. The subconscious is stirred and ideas float up past the murk to find expression in the warmth and brightness of day. One of the most seminal books I ever read was Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac, a beat masterpiece where the central themes of being non conformist, spontaneous and living a simple life are wrapped around wilderness adventure. It's a book about searching for meaning in a crowded and busy life by using the contrast between Bohemia and nature as it's vehicle.
The following Friday I find myself in the Loft, upstairs to the Bedroom Bar in Shoreditch. I'm here with my daughter for an evening of spoken word put on by a massively talented collective of poets calling themselves Rhymes With Orange. It's the sort of dark and atmospheric joint that 15 years ago would have been clouded in a cigarette fuelled fog whilst poets rant hormonally from the stage but I settle for  cold beer instead and leave several hours later on the sort of high produced by creativity, beer and extreme hunger, I am ecstatic, my daughters friend has won the open mic with an impassioned poem about immigration called weeds. She is a weed and so am I and we are proud.

     (Upstairs at the Bedroom Bar. Not my photo)

I've realised since that I'm not the only runner to draw parallels with Kerouac and running. Jenn Shelton, Ultrarunner, lover of Beat writers and one of my heroines draws inspiration from Dharma Bums. She attributes her running philosophy directly from the books text,
"Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don't look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by" And in her own words,"I love just being a barbarian, running through the woods."
This Sunday I returned to Shoreham with Jerry and Michael and this time we were joined by George. We are wild men, trail bohemians and beat runners. During the Internet chatter organising the run the question of a route was put forward and I delegated it to Jerry, the ultimate route guru. You can always trust the bugger to come up with something interesting and unique, he decided that we should go in the other direction and came up with a 10 miler out towards the village of Otford. Like poetry our run became eclectic, a mash up of trails and railway crossings and even a quarry. At the village of Seal we ran through the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul, parts of which date back to the 13th century and where the grave yard has a superb view over the North Downs. We talked to a man in the church yard, saw horses and crossed a motorway bridge. We climbed stiles and passed through kissing gates. I even found time to take a hard fall. From there we looped back to Shoreham once again and the Battle of Britain tea garden. Quote of the day goes to George, delivered in his dry, Northern Irish accent as Jerry minced over some sharp stones in his Monkey feet, "That's why the Monkeys swing through the trees Jerry"
Succinct, poetic and insightful.

























Dog in the River Darent, Shoreham Village























                      
Unshaven Zimbo, a proud weed.




Viaduct at Eynsford.















Peace surrounded by peace.






















The ford at Eynsford. Jerry taking the dry option.






 


 St Peter and St Paul, Seal.



















 View of the North Downs



Wild men, trail bohemians and beat runners.