A skein of ducks went vortex surfing above me

  • Sunday, March 04, 2018
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Quack! You're broken. You could even say quacked :-)

In Zulu culture there is a dance style called Isicathamiya which comes from the word “ukucothoma” meaning to walk on your tip toes.
Zulu mineworkers hold all night dance competitions known as Ingoma-busuku or Dance of the Night. This is light footed and near silent and accompanied by gentle harmonic singing so as not to disturb others.
This sings to my heart as a minimalist runner, not only does barefoot or minimalist running technique focus on landing on the balls of the feet but it also emphasises a light foot strike. Done well it is almost silent making me a isicathamiya runner.
Listen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
I’ve been listening to a lot of this music recently, I am endlessly homesick.
My school was closed this week. The so called Beast from the East came, a weather phenomenon caused by warm air rising above the North Pole and dragging freezing air from Siberia across the UK. We had enough snow to make our site unsafe for our vulnerable children and it was cold enough to have frozen the gates shut.
Before the weekend I intend to run, taking advantage of the rare conditions. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I do not enjoy the cold but I love a snow run and they come infrequently to my corner of the South East. The first day off school I took my kids sledding. It is a tradition locally when it snows enough to go to the golf course, parents stand on the brow of a long undulating downhill like sentries armed with mobile phones while their offspring hurl themselves recklessly down the slope in kamikaze fashion, screaming like brightly coloured banshees with arms and legs flailing. There is often a dog or two racing around in large circles, slobbering and barking madly. This is an upmarket area so I was mingled in with the ski set in their expensive winter gear. Nobody would wear anything as vulgar as a football hat so I politely left my Liverpool F.C. beanie at home but wore my scuffed army boots and coat with it’s Jeremy Corbyn badge. This is the one where he looks a little like Jesus and a little like Ché Guevara but mostly like himself. He is gazing at the horizon with hope and resolve. Dreaming.
I eventually hit the trail the next day, running up the fairways through some deepish drifts that made for heavy going - it was more gumboot dancing than isicathamiya! At the top I exited the golf course over the broken fence, crossed the slushy brown road and cut across the cricket ground. I ran past my frozen school gates and into the woods. One of the things I love about being in the middle of trees in the snow is the silence, apart from the acoustic crunch my feet make when it is fresh, the feeling of solitude and of being the first to pass that way cannot be surpassed, most of the paths I took were undisturbed, others had just a single line of Fox prints, spoor sign pointing the way home. As I lined up the photo below I happened to lift my eyes as a skein of ducks went vortex surfing above me, it was a moment of raw beauty that made me quite emotional. I'm not sure why these moments sometimes break us but there are times when we have to come apart to be made whole. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is a song I have great love for, it's all about this restoration through brokenness, It's not a cry that you hear at night, It's not somebody who's seen the light, It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah go the lyrics. A cold and broken hallelujah and the light enters in through the cracks. Perhaps It was the suddenness, the beauty of flight or brevity of the moment but mostly it was the certainty that this was purely for my eyes that reminded me of the Damascus Road. I broke and I felt the light. For a moment I was powerless to move. Grime artist Stormzy talks about mad blessings, this was an example, the timing was perfect and the mad blessing totally unexpected, it was God’s promise etched in silent feathers against a sepia sky.
A skein of ducks...Baba wethu, 
Baba wethu singenile Endaweni eyingcwele 
Wena sewusimemile 
Woza phela usondele
Mawusize, inceku yakho 
Ekufundiseni kwayo
Mawehlise uMoya wakho phezu komphefumulo wayo 
(Ladysmith Black Mambazo)

 Fairways to heaven

Throwing the bones of conversation to foretell of Summer and dreams

  • Tuesday, February 20, 2018
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Fox on the run
You scream and everybody comes a running 
Take a run and hide yourself away 
(Foxy on the run)
Foxy, fox on the run and hideaway.
(British band Sweet singing about groupies.)

Saturday was springs preamble, sunny and mild, a prescient calm bringing hope and the promise of better days. We sat in the sun, my family and I and when the shadows lengthened as they do we didn’t retreat to our sofa but experienced one of those transcendental moments that are unspoken and unplanned and because of those things carry great power. These moments pass into the collective memory like burning torches, their smoke curling the stories into the air and carrying them through time. It is uncanny how a close and familial group of people can make decisions without conscious thought but we found ourselves lighting our chiminea and hunching tightly around the flames in a tribal semicircle, throwing the bones of conversation to foretell of summer and dreams. Shaman like we read the shapes of the flames reflected on our faces while Hendrix, Dylan and the Stones sang down the ages through the Bluetooth speaker. My kids roasted Marshmallows and I sat slightly outside the circle to watch and listen. Back in caveman times I would have been clutching my crude spear in my left hand alert and scanning the dark to repel and protect from the things that rustle and howl just beyond the light.
I have made a slow return to running this week with a knee crisscrossed with Kinetic tape. Placebo or not it seems to work and the joint feels supported. On Tuesday night I was out with my Fox again. She was unusually bold, intersecting with me at various points on my lap and even loping alongside me for the length of the field on one occasion. While researching Fox behaviour I found a great story from Finland where the Aurora Borealis is known as Revontulet which translates as Fox fires. The belief is that the lights were a product of a Fox painting the sky with it’s tail. I didn’t realise it at the time but this run was a farewell, I was about to enter my fifth mile when I came around a corner to find the glittering spectacles of squat and stern faced officialdom blocking my path. I was informed that I am not allowed to run around the school and that I had to desist immediately. I could have sworn I heard the Fox snort derisively in the shadows.
I went out again on Friday, one of those clear afternoons begging to enjoyed in the woods. Despite my resolution at the beginning of the year to do some heavy metal running I have concluded that I should slow down and mellow out, hopefully being less injured that way. My recent runs have all been hallmarked by feelings of deep calm and this is worth far more to me than statistics informing me that my run was the nth fastest of all time. Adding to the loveliness of the afternoon, I heard the happy sound that I strive each year to hear, that of a Woodpecker, always my benchmark of an approaching spring. These birds may not soar in elegant parabolic arcs like other birds but I deeply love the blue collar sound of their workmanlike industry against the trees.
All this talk about hope is important, tonight the temperatures are predicted to drop sharply and there is the prospect of snow in the next few days. Winter is still here resisting springs nudge.

I believe my Paris Baboons were divergent thinkers

  • Saturday, February 10, 2018
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Had the monkey seen it's arse, it would not have danced.
As a boy I lived near the base of this Kopje in Mutare, Zimbabwe. I would fill an old army water bottle and climb it. Baboons would sit on the rocks and bark as I climbed.

I have been curiously buoyed by the story recently of the 52 Baboons who escaped from the Paris zoo. After a long and hard week where I myself have been as grumpy as a Baboon with fleas I needed this tale of animalistic freedom and revolution. I have enjoyed the mental image of the brightly bottomed primates flipping the proverbial bird towards human society and causing chaos.
A luta continua, vitória é certa.
I believe my Paris Baboons were divergent thinkers as opposed to convergent thinkers.
Let me explain. Convergent thinking is where a straightforward approach to a problem is utilised, where the answer is simple and obvious. This type of problem negates any need for a creative approach. Divergent thinking is the opposite, where a problem is abstract or can have multiple outcomes or answers and we need to apply creative thinking to find a solution. It's often seen as out the box thinking. It's a bit like trail running and road running, I know which one I prefer but they both have their uses.
The Bobbejane were communicating their desire for freedom creatively and divergently, their message was loud and unambiguous and captured the worlds attention perfectly.
I have also been listening on Youtube to divergent thinker Jack Ma, the Chinese founder of wholesaling giant Alibaba talk about education and how we need to apply divergent thinking to how we teach in the future.. Jack believes that we need to stop knowledge based teaching and move to teaching what he terms 'soft' skills. These include values, belief, teamwork, music, art and sport. Jack's rationale is that artificial intelligence and robots are rising up and threatening the jobs we are preparing our children for, these soft skills are things that machines won't be able to replicate, allowing our kids to have a space where they can still be productive rather than redundant. It is teaching them how to problem solve and make well researched choices. It is teaching independent thinking.
I agree.
Coincidentally I was on a PE course last week run by Create Development called REAL PE. This approach to PE combines creativity with cognitive, physical and social elements - and amazingly our trainer Nat had just returned from spending 3 weeks in China teaching these principles at the school that Ma has built!
Right now as I type I am eating the remains of a Doner Kebab, spooning strips of greasy lamb drenched in Chili sauce into my mouth with my fingers. A half full glass of red wine is on the floor at my feet Such is the simple beauty of life.
Last month I turned 53, a little more jowly but hopefully with my sense of humour intact. That is obviously important to me because I think I've mentioned it before!
I had a good run with Annie on my birthday too. We have formed a little collegiate running club where a few of us run on a Friday after work but this time it was just the two of us. It turned poignant as Annie spoke of her sadness at losing a friend to cancer and how it has affected her. At these moments running is a great vehicle for restoration and conversation. It is easier to be open and honest when you are running side by side surrounded by stillness and nature. We were both feeling a sense of wellbeing and peace amongst the trees and the gathering dusk and parted encouraged and strengthened by each other.
I also have one of those strange knee injuries that I blame on playing school football on a hard tennis court. It is stiff and a little sore and so I'm giving running a break because I fear inflaming it and turning it into a full blown injury. I am annoyed, my running has been going well and I have been feeling fitter and sharper.
Finally, I am feeling blessed and privileged. Last Saturday night I went into London with my daughter. She is at a performing arts school and invited me to go to Islington with her to watch an up and coming band formed in part by some of her peers. It's highly affirming when your teenager thinks you are cool enough to hang out with in a noisy pub with her mates. These guys go by the somewhat cheesy name, The Psycho Muffins but what they lose in their name they more than make up with their music. The band are hugely talented musicians full of force, fury and virtuosity, a tight and passionate power trio who left me slightly dazed but really inspired too.
Young people man, I love them.
James of the Psycho Muffins in full flight.
(Photo Psycho Muffins)


Laugh at everything, because it’s always funny.

  • Friday, February 09, 2018
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DOCTOR: Run like hell, because you always need to. Laugh at everything, because it’s always funny.
CLARA: No. Stop it. You’re saying goodbye. Don’t say goodbye!

DOCTOR: Never be cruel and never be cowardly. And if you ever are, always make amends.

CLARA: Stop it! Stop this. Stop it!

DOCTOR: Never eat pears. They’re too squishy and they always make your chin wet. That one’s quite important. Write it down.

Dr Who.
I said that I would stop waffling about running and increase the intensity, My goal is to turn up the volume and get into some heavy metal, chainsaw running, full of noise and friction like a thirsty rugby team heading for the pub. I’m going for thrust, focus and becoming hard again.
It won’t be a single minded pursuit of pace and miles, hopefully those will be the natural by products of running that will be a little wild and frayed at the edges, a bit berserk and thunderous. I am going to run like hell because I always need to.
It needs to be fun. I have never taken myself seriously, I can’t run with a face like dour steel, unflinching in adversity and boastfully swinging my cock around full of piss and wind about how running is my bitch. Running has always been fun, it’s always been about play and experience for me. It should be carried out with a smile at the least and preferably a laugh. It is joy.
Our PE teacher Guy has developed a curriculum based on the Paralympic values which he called the FLAME award. Flame being fun learning and movement education. I am applying it to my running.
Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool FC manager talks about Geil, a German word borrowed from 80’s music culture. It used to mean horny but has mutated into slang for awesome. Jurgen is talking about football when he says he can’t think of a better word to describe something he finds exorbitantly beautiful. I think running should be geil, exorbitantly beautiful.
In that spirit I encouraged the child whose face eclipsed the sun out into the sleet and rain. Once again he showed that he intuitively applies these principles of fun and joy and that he is hardcore where I am not. In freezing conditions he went out in shorts and a short sleeved tee, only wearing a windbreaker when I insisted. He pushed me, running beautifully especially the first mile and was still on my shoulder at the end. Each time we run he is improved, getting closer to an authentic training partner. Next he needs to increase his stamina and mental toughness. I am not rushing him, allowing these to develop on his own terms.
In the meantime we ran a bit helter skelter and a bit scribbled, shouting out random shouty things, half blinded by sleet and making a pair of dog walkers laugh when we skidded past in the icy mud. Only the humourless horses were indifferent to our flailing, long faced and pressed up against the cold fence under their blankets.

Running is the simple light of grace.

  • Tuesday, January 02, 2018
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“I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It’s the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I am carrying out an act of mercy toward myself.” ~ Peter Høeg, ‘Smilla’s Sense of Snow’
I am sitting on my sagging sofa, outside the sky is a grumpy grey but inside the sweet smell of pine is filling the room from the Christmas tree, it’s green branches heavy with Red and Gold baubles and a grubby Spongebob, gap toothed with a maniacal squint. The tree is surrounded  by a halo of pine needles on the cheap laminate floor. I am in the midst of what appears to be the dead or dying remnant of an army of socks, crusty and curling, discarded by various family members as they come in the door from various outings and activities. To my left is a relic of the ghost of a runner past, a mismatched pair of More Mile running socks, a reminder that once I ran in conventional shoes. Who has resurrected these and had the courage or lack of foreboding to wear them is a mystery. 
This is my joy and delight, called to live in a large and chaotic family, my daily challenge to resolve the tension between being a neat and orderly human and the barrage of noisy and colourful humanity who daily leave their debris on the high tide mark of my life. They are my riches, these beautiful kids, they have both broken me and been my salvation but learning to bend my internal mechanisms to accommodate them sometimes wearies me.
I have come to crave solitude.
I have wasted the morning. Rare time to myself and I have spent it idly flicking through news channels or half dozing on the sofa. This was an opportunity for stillness and peace but I am instead incredibly restless and a bit morose. Now I am writing this. I’m a bit cross with myself.
I have always enjoyed being alone, it is when I am happiest and at peace. Recently I have an increased awareness of my need for solitude and my desire for it. I have begun to seek it out, I’ve kicked social media into the long grass and stepped back from the dramas of collegues lives. It is a retreat where I am in the world but not of it. It is a withdrawal from the tribe, a fallow desert experience allowing for renewal. It is the pursuit of simplicity. It feels healthy.
This is why I could only be a runner.
It is a natural environment for me. I can spend monastic hours alone, in nature, not speaking, just listening and breathing. My clothing is simple and unremarkable and my equipment minimal. There is nobody to question me, to raise eyebrows or laugh at my ritualistic quirks - always go left around objects, touch a particular tree with my left hand, run routes clockwise. Obsessively shaving my head. If I don’t run then I break, it is that simple. Running allows me to open the cell door to the tightly wound, austere and unforgiving slave driver inside of me, the legalistic unbending thing whose rules and demands will never be met. It lets in the light. Running is the simple light of grace.
I’m finishing this with my lips and fingers greasy from eating Sainsbury’s Firecracker chicken wings and barbecue drumsticks. I went out for a run this afternoon and I didn’t go alone. I had my middle son who is close to running faster and stronger than me, a great winter run in the mud.
I hope this is the end of faux philosophical blogposts for a while, I want to get back into some serious training, it’s time to step it up for 2018 but remain in the simple light of grace.

Solitude sharpens awareness of small pleasures otherwise lost. Kevin Patterson
The simple light of grace. “If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking” kim Walker.

I was a lonely flyspeck on the earth

  • Thursday, December 14, 2017
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Did I ever tell you about the young Zoad,
Who came to two signs at the fork in the road.
One said to Place One, and the other, Place Two.
So the Zoad had to make up his mind what to do.
Well…the Zoad scratched his head, and his chin and his pants, 
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance...”
(Dr Suess)
I am the archetypal middle aged guy.
I have started to take myself too seriously, something that should not be possible for someone with a shiny head smoothed by the slipstream of life, five toed shoes and Austin Powers glasses. Here I am, weathered like rocks hollowed out by wind and dust over the millennia, with my hard granite dome, a man Matopas. I should be wiser, but I’m only more foolish.
It snowed here on Sunday so I went out in my Vibrams to enjoy the experience. I don’t want to call it a zen run because that is the type of serious middle aged post hippy shit I’m trying to avoid but that is exactly what it was. It was a zen run in the wind and the snow and bursting with the solitude I crave. I was a lonely flyspeck on the earth, shuffling along in my blue Norwegian jacket, the manufacturers label worn off by the friction of a thousand miles, creased like the face of an angry god but still keeping me dry and warm despite this.
It was not a training run at all - which I’ve had precious few of recently. I’m no longer a mileage whore having mellowed and allowed my running to subside into something altogether shorter and more sedate. This was a lekker, maar stadig run with lots of pauses for photography or standing in the stillness and the quiet, alone and waiting for the whisper of the still small voice.
When I left home the snow was fat, the flakes like the falling feathers of winter geese or dead angel kisses against my lips and cheeks before swirling past and dropping to the ground. By the time I got home the air was dry, cold and empty but my heart was full.
Zoad is a word that Dr Suess used deliberately in his poem about the choices we face in our lives and the direction we take. Read it. The root of the word is Greek that indicated a ladder. Running is my ladder, the vehicle of my ascent to a better level of wellbeing and equilibrium. My zoad.
Running is an act of prayer to the great Nkosi who dreamt me when there was only nothingness and formed me fearfully and wonderfully in my mothers womb. My feet crunching over the icy crust with liturgic stamp was the sound of the choir, steady and harmonic, touching heaven and earth, a ladder of hot breath, blood, sinew and blood connecting human and Divine as one. My congregation was the indifferent sheep, blissful in their frozen field, and my sermon was solace.
I’ve failed as I so often do. I don’t want to be serious. I’m not a serious man but this is what happens when I run. I can’t go out and run to simply record my pace, distance and calories burnt. Running is an act of love for me. I can’t help myself.

It’s lonely out there in the dark with only an inquisitive and possibly insane Fox for company

  • Saturday, December 09, 2017
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 “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” – Lucille Ball
How do we live in a way that makes the most of life girl of stunning luminosity? How do we make the most of the short moments we have? How do we celebrate? Aristotle suggested that we should try to live and act thoughtfully. We should, he proposed, live in a way that enables us to explore and reflect on the ordinary happenings of life, as well as the extraordinary. We should also try to act out ordinary things in an extraordinary way. It’s probable that Aristotle was right. It’s also possible that he was a joyless bore.
I’m in no position to judge.
Each day has the potential to be extraordinary. Each day brings it’s own inherent gift.
When you reached out through distance and time it was a gift. A quick virtual brush of your fingertips and a hint of warm breath on my face like the sweet smell of African rain mixing with the hot red dust that I miss with the intensity that only a hole in the soul can produce.
I’m battling with life and I’m telling you this as the woeful romantic in me imagines you both waiting for the dawn and simultaneously carrying it within you, the guardian of trembling souls and hearts that know only how to trust. The responsibility is huge.
My expectations of you are high.
I’ve been studying on these things as I run because that is the medium I use to populate the blank canvas of my mind.  Last night I was doing lap after lap of a local school in the dark while my laaitie did football training. Every week there is a beautiful Fox with a thick coat of winter fur that sits on the marshy corner of the field at the furthest end of the school where it is darkest. Every time I come around for another lap she is there, crouched low and alert, her ears pricked and her muzzle tracking me like a gun and as I pass she gets up and follows me for a few metres. Odd I know and I don’t know why she does it. It’s both wonderful and slightly unnerving, I feel blessed and slightly menaced at the same time.
Tomorrow we will learn that we have lost a child, he’s been at our school for years but now his physical presence has been snuffed out by his highly complex physical and medical needs. It sucks and we will be collectively bruised by his passing, a little punch drunk and a little quieter for a few days. He was a fighter this kid, tenaciously scrapping for each new day, extending his life expectancy and refusing to give in.
Thank God I can run even if it is supposedly mind numbing laps. It’s lonely out there in the dark with only an inquisitive and possibly insane Fox for company, the floodlights around the football pitch are wreathed in an orange foggy haze and the grass on the field is starting to sparkle with the early evening frost. It’s colder than a witches tit but this is my celebration, reflecting, thinking and being emotional in the mundane. I love running, there is something deeply elemental about it, the fusing of brutal physicality with snot, tears and sweat, the hopes we have, the humanness of thought and the presence of love.
 “losing love  
Is like a window in your heart  
Everybody sees you're blown apart. Everybody sees the wind blow  “
Paul Simon.