What I think of as The Dead Poets Friday Runners

  • Friday, December 28, 2018
  • 0

“The eye should learn to listen before it looks.”
Robert Frank
Coming in from a run and drinking a mug of Rooibos tea under a hot shower I was idly wondering how to frame my retrospective of the running year. As the mud turned to brown rivulets running down my legs and swirling across the porcelain I realised that If I took a bald look at the last 12 months it would appear boring, beige or vanilla or any of those descriptions of bland one may care to use. If one is inclined to graphs then mine is fairly flat. It’s true, there are a few obvious high points, Australia being the standout with its tangled bush, its dunes, the endless coast and big sky and of course the magic valedictory dolphins but otherwise a cursory look back appears repetitive and dull.
I’m left then having to try and tell a story using broad strokes.
Psalm 42 talks about deep calling out to deep and this phrase is hooked in my heart as I wonder what to write. The psalm goes on to say all your waves and billows have gone over me and I suggest this is how the year has been for me, I have been enveloped by running and the gravitational pull of it’s moon tide. As I scratch the surface and dig deeper I become aware that this has actually been a great running year. My runs have come as wave after wave, consistent and regular and if the psalm also alludes to communion then that is also appropriate. I’ve run my regular routes through the woods and developed an ever deeper intimacy with what I described to a colleague as my cathedral than I could ever have imagined.
Actually this is the best running year I’ve ever had and I’ve now been running ten years.
I have fragments of memories and impressions, so in no particular order:
The rising mist delivering three teenage boys, hooded like death monks in Adidas and GAP, sharp nosed with hidden eyes, trailing menace like feral things of the night.
Running with Annie on a crisp morning, our breath whooshing from our mouths like freshly extinguished dragons.
The inappropriateness of neon running gear in the midst of nature.
The absolute necessity of running in red underwear.
How there is something awful about trees in winter.
Drinking Swedish Cider in the garden after a hot run.
Giving up Swedish Cider and indeed all alcohol and flipping my eating habits on their head.
Feeling happier.
The peal of church bells in Summer as I ran across the common.
The clarity and purity of birdsong.
How I love ending a run by bounding across the Common towards the pond.
The eerie healing moment in the snow, brokenness and light juxtaposed and threaded together by the formation of ducks above my head. It changed me as the kiss of the divine should.
The mindfulness of straining Kefir every evening.
Silver sweat slicking off my Maori skin in the heat.
The earth cracked apart by the sun.
Running with my laaitie, my son who at 14 already has a zest for life that surpasses most people and laid aside his bass to run with me. Thanks bud for introducing me to the wonderful Vulfpeck.
The incredible heat that took me home.
Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo lifting my heart as they always do.
Cold Chisel and Foy Vance. First Aid Kit.
Running conversations. Lots of them. Some serious, some profane but all infused with quality. I’ve never been so stimulated by talking and listening.
Which brings me to…
What I think of as The Dead Poets Friday Runners.
Kate who has given me a better level of self esteem by bestowing what appears to be sincere value upon me and faithfully tapping what I think of as the blessing tree each time she passes it.
Annie who takes no shit from me ever and seems to be able to look right into my soul with specific intensity. Eish. She has no idea how valuable this is to me.
So 2018 was running as I wish it, there was contrast and texture, colour and conversation. It was poetry and music and art. It was Divine and profane. There was evolution. I’ve never felt so in love with running, so consumed but so at peace with it. It was alive.
And it’s an important conversation I’ll finish on. Running down a rocky road with Annie and Kate I mentioned that the sunset was worth a photo but that I wouldn’t because I would rather just enjoy it for what it was in the moment. I said that it was unique and we would never see another sunset like it ever again in our lives and that made it special. Annie said that each of us saw it in a different way from our own perspective and Kate agreeing said it was what John Mayer wrote about in his song 3X5

“Today I finally overcame
tryin' to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm in the mood to
lose my way but let me say

You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You'll be with me next time I go outside
no more 3x5's
just no more 3x5's”

So if you are reading this I say enjoy every moment. They are fleeting and we don’t get them back. Make your lives extraordinary even when they appear mundane. Love. Listen and talk. Create.

Preparing for the long dark.

  • Monday, October 22, 2018
  • 0
Catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line
My bag is sinkin' low and I do believe it's time
To get back to Miss Annie, you know she's the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone

Take a load off, Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Annie
And (and, and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me) 
The Band, The Weight

Notes from the trail:
Preparing for the long dark. Rods of sunlight slanting through the treetops. The leaves green and gold, lit by divine spark, falling to the ground in slow cursive loops. The trees black against the sun, solid and vertical filled with the last of the birds whose song defiant in the face of a setting sun was beautiful and undying.
We stopped in this clearing which was unusual. Not the clearing, that was like a thousand others, pristine and beautiful, it was the stopping that was unusual. We never stop. We talk for sure, always moving stride by stride, our words and feet with rhythmic, matching cadence but this time we stopped. Who made the decision? I believe it was an instinct, just as the creatures know when to start preparing for the long dark by storing food and making burrows and nests. We took communion there, not with bread and wine but with words, the song of birds and peace. Annie all in priestly black, her brown eyes lit by internal fire and intense, Kate in her braids and banded white vest, her smile dimpling her cheeks. And I, the narrator, my glasses fogged up, in a shirt stretched and worn and shuffling my feet in the leaves.
The conversation in rough draft:
Annie: “ We’ve stopped!” Annie hates stopping.
Kate: “ I don’t mind, look at how beautiful it is”
We all look at the effect of a perfect afternoon on the woods, it is astoundingly lovely.
Annie: “ I’m just having a celebrating life moment”
And that is how we spoke with soft voices on a soft wind, facing each other in the womb of nature as Annie told us about a friend who is grieving her husbands death at 48 from Pancreatic cancer. She told us that it could be any one of us. She went on to say that she was taking this moment, in the woods, to be appreciative and remember that She needs to make the most of every day. Kate and I nodded our amens recognising the truth in what she said.
This was not a sad run, thanking them both I told them that my turbulent soul had felt great peace and that I felt somehow different. in fact it was probably one of the most peaceful runs I’ve had. My vow to myself is to hold on to this and remember these conversations and moments because they will sustain me through winter when these woods become cold and skeletal. I am glad that I believe the long dark is followed by resurrection life.

Thrown like a star in my vast sleep
I opened my eyes to take a peek
To find that I was by the sea
Gazing with tranquillity
'Twas then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Came singing songs of love
Then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man
Came singing songs of love
(Donovan, Hurdy Gurdy Man)

I just feel freakin’ fit!

I have unexpected time. Normally most of my waking hours are allocated, I am busy with the nuts and bolts of work and family life with all the necessary obligation that those things bring. It is unusual to be alone with nothing that needs doing, so unusual that I feel a little disoriented, TS Elliot wrote about "the Still point of the turning world" the urge to be still when everything around you is constantly moving so I find myself staring out the window, into the weak autumn sun still struggling with yesterday’s rain. There is a couple walking up the road, he is darkly bearded and carrying a half finished bottle of cola, he wipes his face several times with his hand and I wonder if he is wiping away tears. The women is dressed in jeans and has a light blue handbag over her shoulder, I watch them until they climb into their car and drive away and find that I am still alone with nothing to do.
The solution to the paradox of stillness in movement is to think which is what I end up doing.
I have been giving a lot of thought to my life over the last three months, realising that I had to make positive changes I began to investigate how that might be achieved.
I have been in a low grade depression for too long, it’s wearied my soul and chipped away at life and when it drags on and on you begin to wonder what it is exactly we are living for. Albert Camus said that there is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is  or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.
My answer to this is that I love my kids beyond measure and I have to be better for them. Furthermore I deserve to live a life of quality, the sand is slipping through the hourglass and I want to live and experience life again.
I mentioned the film Finding Traction recently and in it Nikki Kimball speaks in a heartfelt way about struggling with depression and the value of being active and outdoors. She was so passionate about it that I looked her up and discovered how she had also changed her diet and how she felt it had benefited her emotionally. Nikki eats low carb, high fat and she feels that it has helped change her moods for the better. The idea behind this is to train the body’s metabolism so that it no longer depends on glucose for fuel but burns fat instead. High blood sugar levels in the brain can lead to excessive highs and lows, depression, confusion and anxiety. The theory is that reducing carbs can stabilise these mood swings.
To this end I have removed carbs, grains and cereals from my eating and replaced them with leafy greens, raw, colourful veggies and so called good fats. I’ve ditched alcohol. Fortunately for me protein is important so I can continue to enjoy things like chicken and steak. I have also started making my own Kefir which is fermented milk containing live cultures. It’s absolutely delicious and has possibly become my favourite thing. I was also suffering from bad acid reflux, causing me to sleep badly so I’ve added bitters like strong coffee, ginger and dark chocolate to my diet to further aid digestion.
Thus I can report after eight weeks that:

  •      I am happier, my moods are more stable and I’m feeling more positive.

  •         My thought processes are clearer and my brain sharper.
  •         My energy levels are up.

  •         I’m sleeping like a bomb because, broadly I no longer have heartburn.

  •         My poo is better although I seem to wee more.

  •         It’s not about weight loss for me but I am leaner.

  •         I’m less hungry during the day.

  •         My running has improved and I ache less post run.
  •         I just feel freakin’ fit!
I’ve always been careful not be become too evangelical about things, I don’t want to be a raving lunatic with strident voice, sandwich board and wild eyes shouting that YOU MUST REPENT BECAUSE I HAVE THE ANSWER, because I don’t. I can only share my experiences and let you decide because we are all different and what works for me may not work for you. This eating change of lifestyle seems to be of huge benefit to me but I’m only 8 weeks in and I have to sustain it. Curiously and encouragingly I am finding the pastries and deserts that I loved no longer have any attraction for me and I’m enjoying preparing different food.
Perhaps the most interesting change has been the apparent benefit to my running, I look forward to my run, anticipate it as the day goes on and have a hunger for it. I have greater energy for sure and I find that I’m running at a faster pace without feeling like I’m pushing hard. This will be another thing that I track over time to see if it is maintained.
For interest I include links to three people I came across in my research that I feel are sane, intelligent and balanced, they are all runners:

http://Thenoakesfoundation.org – Tim Noakes I’ve never met but he has popped up in the background of my life since my twenties. Born in Zimbabwe, a doctor, sports scientist, deep thinker and runner. I trust him. He wrote a seminal book called the Lore of Running which is worth a read. He is not afraid to say he got it wrong.
If you want the science and the numbers he is your man.
I’ve bought his Real Food Revolution.

http://www.timothyallenolson.com/   “Everything you buy is like a vote for what they stock for you “ A maverick.

http://www.findingtractionfilm.com – Nikki Kimball. “The problem is, how do you get someone in the middle of a bout of depression to run? My friends come and literally drag me out of bed. I am screaming and swearing until about the third mile, then I start talking and smiling.”
Lunch - Spinach, Lettuce, Bacon, Olives, Greek Feta, Avocado. Sunshine. Yum.

The Tim Noakes book.

That night we owned the world and I’ve never forgotten it.

  • Saturday, September 29, 2018
  • 0
Yeah, the last plane out of Perth has almost gone
(Khe Sanh, with love and thanks to Cold Chisel.)
The last time I left Perth Gayle drove me to the airport in her old car, we had the windows down, the slipstream rushing past blowing her copper hair in mad tangles across her face freckled with the glow of eternal youth, in the cassette player JETS, the iconic Western Australian rock band played, the music distorted by the cheap speakers and snatched away by the howling wind. She had driven me down this same highway months earlier to see them perform in a downtown hotel and we had bonded over life, enormous jugs of beer and pyrotechnic rock. That night we owned the world and I’ve never forgotten it.
I’ve learnt that we must cherish the special people we are given for however long we have them, the last memory I have is her standing by the open car door, lanky and a little angular, her eyes, soft, blue and deep and mirrored by the ageless sky. I left her there and by mutual agreement never looked back, not long after cancer killed her and I never saw her again.
I’ve just returned to Australia 30 years later without my mullet and my youth, a little fucked over by life and accompanied by two of my kids. I had many reasons for coming back. I came to think, to have conversations, ask questions and hopefully reset myself. I came for answers and I came to lie on the grass and look up at the Southern Cross. I came because I fell in love with Australia all those years ago and it’s never faded. On this trip I had space and time to go for long runs along the coast with the wind in my face and salty lips. I took time to stop on my runs and clamber over the rocks with the waves foaming at my feet to watch the cormorants fish and search the far horizon. I ran through the bush and dunes, the silver sand sliding beneath my feet like the passing of time and where numerous signs warned that I was running through snake habitat. Nothing venomous came out forming itself into the grim reapers scythe curling across my path and I was grateful.
And then there were the Dolphins.
Faith is strange. It works, at least in the small things or what we may be tempted to call small but may possibly be terribly profound. The big issues often remain, the things that are hard to accept or understand like the black depressions and the unending struggle to make ends meet. I went to the sea everyday for 17 days while I was in Perth. Every time I went with the hope and the expectation of seeing Dolphins and on the penultimate day in the setting sun of the late afternoon they came, their backs curving like Katanas and gleaming with the foamy surf.
It felt like a promise fulfilled.
Running through the bush and dunes.

I am home now and I feel a sweet sorrow that Summer is gone. Just this afternoon I’ve come in from a great run in beautiful Autumn sunshine and re enacted my Summer habit, sitting in the sun with my kids and drinking the last cider in the fridge. It felt like a valediction of what I feel has been my best summer of running ever. Australia was the high but there was also some great runs either solo or with Annie, Kate or both of them together.
I loved running in the heatwave, solo, gasping and brown, sweat silver against my skin and my heart pumping violently inside my chest, the earth so dry and cracked that I could put my feet into it up to my ankle. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so fit, alive and able to soar above myself.
I had a fabulous early morning go with Annie at the beginning of August, the mist was rising vertically from the damp vegetation, Annie was fresh off the plane from Vietnam and we had a long chat about developing countries and globalisation and the impact of unrestrained capitalism on poor people used to living simple lives. Kate and I ran a few days after I returned and we had a really deep and honest talk about work life balance, raising kids, education, guilt and marriage. Both of these women are bringing out the conversation in me and when you run and talk with people you comfortable with and trust the miles fly past with almost no effort, time as a concept almost disappears, that line gets blurred and you cross over into effortless freedom.
Recently I watched the documentary Finding Traction featuring ultra runner Nikki Kimball which featured a quote by Bernd Heinrich who wrote the great book Why We Run. He said, “ Running appeals to a lot of people now especially because we are more and more constrained. We can’t really be ourselves, we have to follow these rules and those rules. We have less and less freedom and freedom is what we need and running is an outlet for true freedom and letting loose “
Anyone who reads any of my posts will know this freedom is one of the true planks of my running.

 Snake country
Clambering over the rocks with the waves foaming at my feet

I am leaning my head against the splintery fence

  • Monday, June 11, 2018
  • 0

I limped into my half term break with holes in my shoes and stones in my soul, emotionally and physically exhausted and suffering from people overload. I was slightly surprised to find I got there at all. I needed to recharge so I locked my front door and retreated to my garden with books, buckets of chicken wings and bottles of beer. I hunched in the sun like a beardless garden gnome, shirtless and a little deranged, staring at the straw footed scarecrow with it’s stoners smile and wondered where the bees have gone, and the butterflies too. I thought the world may end soon and I half hoped I was right. The bees and butterflies may be scarce but the flies have survived, big, hairy arsed bastard things that dull buzzed around me in Vulturous circles and drank the sweat from my face. I listened to Miriam Makeba singing Pata Pata endlessly on repeat. In the recording it is 1967, her voice is clear, pure and powerful and she has already been in exile for seven years.
Post run on a warm afternoon and I am leaning my head against the splintery fence, in my left hand is a fruity Swedish Cider thick with sweetness and crushed ice. Closing my eyes I tilt my face toward the sun and feel the momentary tickle of a small spider or hairy arsed fly on my stubbly head. I ignore it and it goes away.
I had the pleasure of meeting a man called Mattie in the week prior to the break. Guy and I took our sixth form pupils to the local tennis centre, partly because the PE focus this term has been striking games and hitting a ball over a net and partly because we like to get our young people out into the community and expose them to different people, it’s a way of gently piercing the bubble that is school and introducing the reality of the wider world.
Mattie is Mauritian, a former international tennis player, coach and psychologist. He is also Autistic. People like this reignite me, acting as a mirror and reflecting back exactly why I used to love my job and reminding me that deeply hidden I probably still do. He was interesting, fiercely intelligent and the corners of his eyes were touched with humour. He was clearly passionate about working with young people with disabilities. Mattie had a great story of being 17 and volunteering at the so called Special Olympics – the forerunner of the Paralympics. It was his job to place the shot put within reach of a large Swedish lady competing in a wheelchair but placed them just out of arms reach. The lady leaned over, overbalanced and fell on top of Mattie. “She couldn’t move and I couldn’t move and my face was trapped between these giant Swedish boobs”
I’m glad he made it out so that I could meet him.
I’ve been running with my friends and colleagues Annie and Kate a fair amount recently, making scribbly lined routes through the woods on a Friday after work. These have become my favourite runs, they are smart, dynamic women who both run like stink.
I just stink like someone who runs…
Running during half term gave us the freedom to run in the morning when we were not drained by work. We didn’t have to collect children from band practice or go home to cook. We chose to run the other side of the road where the trails are stonier and the inclines longer. Late Spring mornings in England can be beautiful, the sun shines stratified by the mist like floating gold and the shadows lie long and angular in dark geometric patterns but on this occasion the sun is no more than a thought, refusing to untangle itself from the cloud. The morning to looks and feels Jurassic, the trees seem closer to the trail edge than normal and loom like ogres and the vegetation is heavy with moisture. The birds have hidden themselves with the sun but their song is beautiful and clear. Like all communal runs we talked as we ran, sometimes deeply and with eloquence, stringing words and ideas together threaded with birdsong and sometimes with short profane bursts, less divine and much more human and earthbound. We had a great run and when we eventually left the trees behind and ran down to the traffic lights they both bestowed kisses upon my cheeks. They have no idea how blessed They made me.

A skein of ducks went vortex surfing above me

  • Sunday, March 04, 2018
  • 0
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
  • 0
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
  • 0
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
  • 0
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
  • 0

“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.