The horizon is leaning forward.

  • Sunday, December 27, 2020
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 Hey Knobs this is dedicated to you 

 my Shamwari 

and my Oak

the pebbles between my toes. 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
(William Butler Yeats)

I haven't been able to write so I'm just going to let words fall on the screen, a waterfall of bouncing thoughts or game of pick up sticks, a higgledy piggledy and untidy jumble that will hopefully have some merit or sense or at the very least be mildly entertaining. I don't expect it to be great.

Life is strange and frustrating. there is always something falling, dropping or snagging. I dropped an empty wine glass yesterday, today I got my shirt caught on a door handle. Tomorrow I may block the drain with a sock. It is a roulette wheel of the random that we are never in control of, capricious and mischievous and occasionally laced with malicious intent.  

It does have joyful moments, homecomings and smiles caught across the room, running and pausing by the pond to talk to the ducks and other interesting people, feeling the warp of warm, weathered planks under my arse and sending the girl with rainbows in her eyes photographs of my mud streaked legs through space, time and the internet. She just laughs and unplugs me.

I wish I was Clint Eastwood. I want a face that looks like it's been scrubbed by the ages and chiselled from rock. I want flinty are you feeling lucky punk eyes and a voice like a smouldering cigar. Mostly I want to stare down those twin imposters triumph and tragedy with equal measure because It's been a hellish year and it deserves a hellish response. It deserves no compromise and an honest look. It's contained more snags than smiles, more confusion and loss of hope than the balance that we are promised. It has been quite specific in it's maliciousness.

Life over the last 18 months has been a rollercoaster in hell. Terrifying and disorientating, any upward movement has only shifted the tones from dark to grey and allowed through the odd swirl of light and clarity whilst the wind, that doubting Thomas, cut ribbons across my face. I wonder when I went and how I got there. I became absent, slipping away into the deep recesses of my internal landscape where I was trapped and lost. Sleep became survival. The carefree days of running disappeared, that spiritual instinct of life wrapped in the cloak of physical exertion and natures healing embrace and was replaced by hard breathing, a sore body and unhappy grind.

I have examined myself naked in the Chernobyl half light of December, tracing my physical scars and burns and as yet unable to examine the invisible internal stains that I carry as heavy as rocks. Where did the voices in my head come from telling me to put ropes around my throat and drink on the roof? What happened to me and what has happened? I have no answer and very little detailed memory just the dark residues of mental health breakdown and all the pain, disorientation and loss that it brings with it.

Loss.

I'm not writing about Covid, that deserves it's own essay although it is the lens through which the last year must inevitably be framed. I lost myself regardless, it is not Covids fault and I suspect it would have happened anyway. I've mostly forgotten who I am and what the constituent parts of my personality are. Maya Angelou spoke of the horizon leaning forward offering space to place new steps of change and I am very much a believer in keeping the horizon before me, yet It is very hard to look forward when you lose sight of who you are, what you believe and what you dream.

I am healing but I may never be the same again.

Running remains. Running is the frame of my life, the exoskeleton that keeps me upright and breathes life into me. It is the tree in the distance, standing alone on the dusky horizon. The branches a filigree catching and holding the ochre light of the setting sun before letting it slip away, the sky becoming the colour of bruised plums, dark and purple and with a faint milky sheen of reflected light from the hidden heaven far beyond the grasp of human imagination. 

Running opens the cracks in that heaven allowing the enlightenment that comes from stolen moments that are least expected or sought, the mind not striving for meaning and shut off from the distractions of normality. It is the unshackling of inhibition, the embrace of space, it is returning to my garden and my fourth child, the ruthless one sitting hunched over in the sun, with furrowed brow, whittling a long stick into a crude spear with the intention of spearing one of his brothers. It requires that I do not intervene.

And running is a winter morning hunched in the early chill, watching the child whose face eclipses the sun walk away from me. At the last moment before he disappears he turns with his coat billowing like bat wings and throws a wave over his shoulder, the streetlamp flashes against his glasses and I can see his easy grin and then he is gone. I go then, fresh from this small death and concentrated on the accumulation of more lonely miles. Maybe I am Clint Eastwood after all.
It is the soaring birds that have always tugged my heart upwards, as long as I can remember, as a boy straining my eyes to the heavens transfixed by the eagles, hawks and buzzards languid upon the thermals, holding their flight with my eyes until black spots began to dance and I stumbled away physically blind and dizzy but spiritually inspired, uplifted and with a new and cherished freedom in my spirit. I shot a bird on the wing once, it was an impulse, raising my gun to the sudden shadow over my head and pulling the trigger. I'll never forget it, the smack of the impact and the split second frozen in time, a moment of mutual regret between the bird and I, silent and still before the translation of effortless beauty into broken grace. When we hurt ourselves so thoughtlessly we often never heal. 
Running allows me to see signs everywhere, evidence that God, The Universe or Higher Power is speaking to us.
It is, as Rich Roll said, being willing to have faith and invest in those little signals that are so faint and yet potentially life altering and meaningful.
It is lying shirtless in the sun, slowly pushing barbells above my head and stopping to do deep breathing and meditation. It is listening with intention to the nearby crow with its funeral suit and pickpocket eye mocking me from a tall tree with brash and derisive tones and hearing the new and unidentified song of an unseen bird, it's warble transmitted across the clear air of a new day.
I run to find my calm place in an anxious soul bewildered by anxious times. Normally I run long distances as a panacea, it is how I fly, the moment I drop away from myself and enter into a space that is still and harmonious with silence and where I am not inflamed and troubled. I do not want to be earthbound, unable to think, read or be, moving restlessly from room to room or falling into the sort of heavy oppressive sleep that leaves you just as tired when you wake up. Running allows me to love people as they pass by, ferociously engaged in their lives as if aware of the sands passing through the timer and prophetically as it turns out. It is living deliberately because we never know what this fickle life is going to deliver.
As the final days of 2020 play out I am standing on another edge. There have been so many. I'm on the edge of another new year and I'm on the cliff edge of another renewal. I refuse to surrender hope.
I have seen hell, it's a place that our traitorous minds lead us to and it is not a place for the faint hearted. It is not a fun destination and it is not where we should accept as a destination. Hell is the death caused by a mental health breakdown.
Ezekiel tells the story of the valley of dry bones. God tells him to speak to the bones and tell them that he is going to put breath into them, put muscles onto them and cover them with skin. He tells them that he will put life into them. Ezekiel does as he is told and there is a great rattling sound across the valley as the bones begin to come together, form muscles and sinew and stand upright. They still have no breath but God says, "Speak a prophetic message to the winds, Ezekiel and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’'
Ezekiel does this and breath comes into the bodies.
God speaks to Ezekiel again, “Son, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones, all hope is gone.’ Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again.
I have spoken to myself. I am still speaking. I will climb from the grave of my exile. I have hope and I can see the rainbow. The horizon is leaning forward. I am not blind to the significance of the dry bones being located in a valley, always look up is one of my mantras and that implies climbing too. Our dreams require action to become reality. I am speaking to my dry bones, they are rattling and I will be running.
I believe that just as our minds can betray us and take us to hell they can also help us chart our way out again. It requires hope and it needs a dream.

This wonderful man with his Wongface and rubber wrist is a genius

  • Sunday, February 23, 2020
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it's time to rise up lazarus.
it's time to rise up from the floor.
i see the butterflies burning in your eyes
as you dance 
just beyond my fingers
always.
i rise
like the candle flame between us
running through the forest
you create in the circle of 
your arms
to save you
(skraalvoet)

Saturday and I was up early, forcing down food but loving my coffee, strong, bitter and hot enough to interest lucifer. That done I made my way to the railway station to meet the rest of the Fourdaysrunning mob.
I am early, always early, waiting for the rest of my life and other interesting things. Some see this as a flaw but I love to observe and reflect. I also hate being late.
Saturdays rumble from London Victoria Station to Weatherspoons pub in Bromley, a run of around 15 miles was no different, I stood in the draughty doorway of the station concourse watching people going about their lives and trying to gain some clarity for my own.
As for my life I can only write what is before me, the sharp knocks of my heart bouncing down my fingers and leaking out in a jumbled disordered mess.
Thursday was a bad day, my fickle bastard emotions betrayed me and I went down under their black weight, crushed again and functioning mechanically and without hope. I am having more good days but they are like a house of cards that collapse without warning.
I needed to run and I needed to run long. 
I keep rising only to stumble back down, Sisyphus with his stone, rising and falling in endless futility.
I rise because I am stubborn and something puts life into me even when I am dead.
Running is rising and so is genuine friendship.
If you find a companion with butterflies and candlelight in their eyes who will walk through hell with you grab hold of them and don't let them go, they are angels and steadfast spirits that can calm storms and cast mountains into the sea. They are often broken themselves because only the broken can understand, empathy is the electric current along which healing flows.
I say this over and over, it is running that keeps me on the right side of sanity and people, both broken and unbroken with their stories. You can't force this connection and the right people come along when you most need them.
I have digressed though. 
Back to Saturday's rumble, We caught a standard London train on a windy morning into a grey London, posed for the obligatory photo and ran off towards home.
The first two miles were uneventful, the streets empty of activity but full of architecture and marked only by the usual groaning made by runners of a certain age as they set out. Around two miles, on the edges of Brixton, I entertained people with a stunt fall, sliding along on my hands and knees into the sidewalk and managing to bleed.
Kissing London.
No one apart from me was amused so I rose, shrugged off their concern and we ran on like the middle aged delinquents or insane escapees that we are.
We all have a story to tell.
Brixton was a hubbub of life and colour as it always is, we dodged and swerved and probably left a few curses behind us on the pavement.
In Brockwell Park a butterfly crossed my path in an orange swirl, it gave me hope.
Inspired I had a conversation about depression and counselling, separation and suicide. Mental health and not allowing yourself to leak emotionally at work. We touched on the alpha male syndrome.
In Dulwich Park, we stopped for a coffee and discussed male and female orgasms. Fifty five and still learning new stuff man.
Through to Crystal Palace via Forest Hill it was education that became the topic, anxiety in the younger generation and the addiction of technology, how art is communication and the importance of the outdoors and sport as a counterpoint to tech and depression.
I discussed my failed vasectomy which led to my son being born. It's a great story.
We talked about Autism, learning social skills and social isolation. I said as I often do that the Autistics are my favourite people.
Around Beckenham it grew quiet for a while, we started to contemplate the finish and the pub. As parenthesis there was the usual groaning at the end of a long run by runners of a certain age when they begin to creak and we fell through the doors of the pub with joy and thirst. I drank Cider and ate chips.
Fab.
Thanks to Steve J for his impeccable navigation, we never went wrong once.
And then there was Saturday night.
I went to The Electric Ballroom in Camden with the child whose face eclipses the sun to see the incredible Cory Wong play his Stratocaster. This wonderful man with his Wongface and rubber wrist is a genius, for two hours he and his band bounced around and gave us a glimpse of the joy of life in all it's positivity. Cory told us to embrace our creativity and have no fear. The connection between himself and his band flowed from the stage to the audience, as Cassie said on the Saturday rumble, art is communication. Through their art Cory and his band shared their story with us through the music and their stagecraft and I rose with them. You can't help but feel joyful when people are so energised and so in love with their passion.






This is the one I find the most arresting

  • Sunday, February 16, 2020
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I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face
He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns, to keep it tame 

(Bright Blue)

(Photo: Sam Nzima)
Not all running is done for fun. In this iconic photo taken on June 16 1976 Mbuyisa Makhubo is running with the dying Hector Peterson, 12. They had been part of a demonstration by school children in Soweto, Johannesburg, protesting against apartheid during which he was gunned down by the police. Running next to them is Hectors sister Antoinette. I believe there were six photo's taken that day but this is the one I find the most arresting - mainly because of Antoinette's hand position, fingers splayed, palm outward. Somehow it conveys the anguish and the fear, she appears to be trying to ward them off, holding back the inevitability. I was eleven and nine years later my father moved us to South Africa where I was conscripted into the South African Defence Force. It was the worst time of my life but it was also where I forged my moral compass and the values and beliefs of equality and social justice that I hold today. Despite that, after nearly thirty years I am still full of bitterness, anger and isolation. I have a suppurating wound in my soul that I cannot heal. I will never forget and I will always remember June 16.


The mind of fantasists and the authors of cheap paperback novels

  • Saturday, February 15, 2020
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You laugh together. You dance together. You gape at the hotdog eaters on Coney Island

There are spaces like brief flashes of light between the times I spend metaphorically rocking back and forth and gazing at a horizon that exists only in the mind of fantasists and the authors of cheap paperback novels that nobody ever reads. In these spaces I have been asking myself questions.
What defines my life?
Where am I?
Where do I want to be?
I'm struggling to answer these but I know my only hope lies in running and my friends. I know that I need both.
Kurt Vonnegut asked his adult son what he thought the meaning of life was, and his son replied: “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”
I'm not easy so my friendships stand with wild eyes on the edge of the abyss and take commitment and effort, my friends require grace and unconditional love to keep them alive.
Anyone who knows me understands that unless I run I become diminished and jagged so I make sure that I shoulder past the shadows, their sharp edges blunted by the rays of the rising sun, running minimilist and unburdened by the commitments of materialism, time or other peoples expectations. This is not selfish because it is in the recharging of ourselves that we can give of all the beauty that we contain to others, it is discharging the responsibility of grace towards ourselves so that we can do the same for the people that our lives contain.
Grace is everything.
Much of my thinking at the moment centres around running and friendship which are set against the backdrop of this unending depression that has gripped me with the sticky residue of a spiders web. It seems that the more I struggle and thrash the more it entangles me. I needed a challenge this year to focus on, draw me out and give definition to my life and somehow one found me.
Annie is my friend and she has watched me struggle like a lot of my friends knowing that they can't fix me. She runs with a motley group called Fourdaysrunning who I briefly ran with a few years ago. They were formed by a man called Ivor Reveley. Ivor, who has an Autistic son was chairman of trustees at Children on the Autistic Spectrum Parents Association (CASPA) and hit upon the idea of running for Four days over the bank holiday weekend in May to raise funds for the charity. Over the last decade the group has done various runs over the UK from the Isle of Wight, Hadrians Wall and The Thames Path. Ivor sadly died in 2018 but his spirit very much lives on through running.
This year the run is from Hunstanton to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and I am going.
I can't wait.
So I'm running every Monday night with the group and doing a longer Saturday run, either out on the trails or catching a train and running back, for instance we will catch a train to London Victoria and run to Bromley for a pub lunch.
The beautiful Zolani Mahola, who has done much to cross the divides that separate people put friendship like this; we are all connected and have so much in common, our stories are all unique and we have to be curious about our own and each other’s stories, to find the reason we were put on this planet and to be our full expression.
Sarah who is my friend teaches me to look for rainbows.
Ivor would have loved this, he was a man who was always challenging people to be better and find their full expression through relationship. He died to soon but left this legacy which he still lives through. He understood, I think, the importance of connection and shared experience. He loved story.
So, what defines my life? It's friendship and running. And my children.
Where am I? Still lost for the time being but now I have guides and a destination.
Where do I want to be? At peace, whole and someone who bestows love.
Working life out is not easy and takes work. I love the Southern Cross but I know that you have to cross the Equator to see it, there is a journey and a cost involved but I believe it is worth it.
Finally, I've borrowed this from The Guardian Newspaper: David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, said about the ending of the final episode:
“Well, what Tony should have been thinking, I guess, and what we all should be thinking – although we can’t live that way – is that life is really short. And there are good times in it and there are bad times in it. And that we don’t know why we’re here, but we do know that 20 miles up it’s freezing cold, it’s a freezing cold universe, but here we have this thing called love, which is our only defense, really, against all that cold, and that it’s a very brief interval and that, when it’s over, I think you’re probably always blindsided by it.”
Twenty miles up, it’s a freezing cold universe, we only have the human connections we make here, nothing is permanent, and love is our only defense. I suggest we all vote accordingly, and try to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.