running commentary

Oh, go on then, I surrendered to the hyperactive positive voice in my head.  Push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Do something which makes you a little uncomfortable.  It’s usually an experience and probably won’t kill you.

So it was that I changed into running gear, climbed into the car and drove across town to a running club meeting.

I’ve mentioned here before how I’ve flirted with the idea, in search of a replacement for playing football.  Also a social experiment, given that I don’t generally mix with people in real life all that much.  Certainly not socially.  I’d be lying if I claimed not to have an eye out for females too.  Of course I did.  That eye is rarely in.

Stepping tentatively out of my vehicle, I asked a neighbour who had parked alongside me if he too was here for the running club meeting.  He was.  He filled me in as we walked to a corner of the car park.  A female had parked on the other side of him.  She also had slightly tentative, uncertain eyes and I felt was following my openly know-nothing lead.  I spoke with the man, a weaselly accountant-looking man, and he weighed up my running ability using numbers, as they do.

I had a preconception about runners, that they’re pretty much all accountants obsessed by numbers, PBs, times and distances.  Initial chats did follow this general pattern.

– Do you run much?
– A bit.  Sometimes.  Not loads.  When the weather’s nice.
– How far?
– Not sure really.  (Give approximation of running, from x place to y place and back).
– Right, so that’s about 5.25 miles.
– Is it?  Ok.
– And how long does it take you to do that?
– Not sure really.  I just run.  About ten songs?
– …
– Not sure.  Uhm, forty or fifty minutes.
– Hmm..  Right.  You’ll be in the average to slow group then.
– Will I?  Ok.

Soon enough the female – not unattractive, lateish 20s, huge blue eyes the same shade as her T-shirt, big smile, antipodean twang? – was incorporated into our chat.  She had run here a couple of times before but a long time ago, and was now in training for a marathon.  The man broke away to speak to his friends who could no doubt match his steely pace, leaving me speaking to the not unattractive young woman.

Without me making a huge amount of effort she appeared to be laughing at a lot of things I was saying.  Sophisticated humour like being jet-propelled by a curry.  I wasn’t trying to chat her up, or even attempting to be funny.  Honest.  But I was enjoying the attention and speaking to a good natured, relatively human seeming person not via the internet.

While we spoke our initial group of three turned to five, six and the group gradually grew to around thirty something people of a wide demographic: a couple of hunky chiseled Olympians, as well as a few more wiry accountants.

Realising I had nowhere to leave them, I went to return my bundle of keys to the glovebox, retaining only the car key itself.  When I returned a short man was shouting miles at everyone and asking people to put their hands in the air.

Five miles!  Hands.

Seven miles!  Hands.

Ten miles!  Hands.

I found the eyes of my new friend.  She looked sheepish and lost and nice.  As newbies uncertain of the route and our respective mileage, we’d been introduced to a man who would chaperone us.  He worked in IT and was perfectly nice.

After ten minutes of slow jogging and general chat in which we shared occupations, (she was a lawyer), it became obvious that our pace wasn’t synchronised.  I wanted to stretch my legs rather more.  An effeminate older gentleman with a tellingly studded ear had joined our pack and begun talking to her.  The IT man and I broke ahead.

He was perfectly nice and commentated on the route throughout, giving me a potted detail of where we would turn left and turn right and carry straight on and go over a bridge and go under a bridge and near a stream….   He was perfectly nice.  It was a pleasant route and the conditions were great, my legs felt springy and strong.  Towards the end he felt the need to praise me, telling me how well I’d done and how much I’d improve if I kept it up.  It’s a team thing to encourage and spur on and flatter to an uncomfortably cloying extent.  It still annoyed me.  But he was just being perfectly nice.

We did well for my first time, apparently, kept a good pace throughout.  Not that I’m interested in the numbers, but 7.25 miles in 53 minutes, if you are.

When we finished we spoke to a confident middle-aged lady who encroached an inch too much into your personal space.  She did touch-rugby and was very Welsh.  Her and the IT man were happy to have those phatic three or four word apiece conversations which never go anywhere.  They talked about a man who had run up Mount Snowdon in a quick time.  It sounded to me like he was indeed very good at running, but they couldn’t have been more astonished if he’d swum to the moon.

I wondered how far behind blue eyes was, if she was staying for a drink in the clubhouse.

I went to shower, pointlessly, as it turned out.  Still clammy and dripping sweat, I pulled on my T-shirt and shorts.  Next to me appeared the presumably gay older man who had joined her earlier on.  So she was back.

“HellooO,” he nasally intoned, Kenneth Williams Carry On style,” as I struggled to cram sweaty items into my bag.

“Ah, you alright there?”

“I’ve got a new shower gel.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Hmm.  Have you tried the chocolate one of these?

“No, can’t say I have.”

“Ooh it’s lovely.  It leaves your willy all tingly.”

“Does it?  Nice.  See you then.”

I stepped back out into the car park, still annoyed to be so hot, not sure if I was bothered enough to stay for a drink and talk about numbers and receive faintly patronising praise about how well I’d done for my first time.

Her car was driving towards me, heading for the exit.  She waved cheerily but didn’t stop.  I decided against going back for a drink.

open doors

Seeing the cinema screen was on the third floor I decided to use the lift rather than climb the sequence of escalators.

Two shafts.  The one on the right indicated it was on the ground floor already.  I pressed the up button.  The doors on the one on the left parted first so I walked into that one and pressed Button 3.  The doors closed and I stood there for a second.  Then they opened again.  I pressed the inward arrows to close the doors, Button 3 still lit up, and the doors closed again.

Then they opened again.  I was aware of glances from cinemagoers queuing for tickets and grew a little red.

I pressed the inward arrows again, and once more the doors closed.  Work now, lift!  Come on.

Then they opened again.  I boiled, heat seeping into my face, and considered kicking out at the stupid metal door.  Fuck sake.

This time then.  Clooose.  And go.  Come on.  Up.  This time.  I pressed the 3 several angry, urgent times, and the doors closed button several angry, urgent times.  I jumped as the doors closed, as if to jolt the carriage into remembering its function.  Caaalm.

The doors opened again.

Now I was ready to hit, stamp or kick something.  I ignored the faces of all the people as I stomped towards the escalator, not seeing the funny side of anything.

Was it some kind of complicated metaphor for my whole sorry little fucking life? Just keep pressing the inward arrows.  You’ll move eventually.  Something’s bound to happen in a moment.  Just ignore the people staring and laughing at your dorky misfortune.

Isn’t one definition of insanity trying the same thing over and over again, and failing at said ‘thing’ every time?

Shush now brain; be quiet, sit down, watch the film.

how to lose friends

I don’t normally blog like this and can’t imagine any time soon when I’ll blog like this again.  If you’ve ever read a post here before you’ll know that I’m usually WAY more self-absorbed and droney.  Don’t worry though.  There’ll be a bit of that working its way in somewhere, I’m sure.

After reading a wrinkled edition of the Sunday Independent which was sitting on a table around my gym swimming pool, a whirl of things began stirring in my brain and I had to come back and write.

Yesterday lunchtime, I first read about the full magnitude of the Norwegian massacre online.  In a tweet I saw a death toll number around 80 higher than I had thenceforth known.  I browsed to the BBC website and froze, involuntarily emitted a Fuck Me, and felt sick.  The accounts and the images were horrifying.

All day I was haunted by my own imagined version of what it must have been like.  Thinking other, lighter things felt wrong; seeing one of the many Stag or Hen groups laughing raucously in the Cardiff high streets felt distasteful.  What had happened was awful in the most unadulterated sense. One of the most frightening things of all was that this was not a mindless attack.  It was a highly planned and comprehensively considered event backed by a range of attitudes and beliefs.  Anders Behring Breivik had long held white supremacist views and ideas, incomprehensible as they may be to most.

Spare a thought too – whatever that thought might be, for Breivik’s lawyer, and the family of his lawyer.  What torment must they be experiencing?  It seems preposterous to think he’s going through with the case, just as it was shocking to think he didn’t turn the gun on himself after doing what he did.


Having not much to do other than mull the horror and drip-feed myself coverage, I went to the cinema to watch a goofy comedy, Horrible Bosses, and try to forget.  The film was average.

On returning I saw news of Amy Winehouse’s death.  Over the course of a few hours people on the internet did a weird thing.  There appeared to be an escalation of people being outraged.  The accusation, as I understand it, is that there were people (though I didn’t see any of them) suggesting or perhaps explicitly saying that you weren’t allowed or shouldn’t be upset by Amy’s death because the events in Norway were much more upsetting.  This sparked a massive furore of people being utterly furious that they shouldn’t be dictated to in such a manner.  I wondered if they started to secretly enjoy their moral high ground a tiny bit too much.

Firstly: ok, yes, sure.  The grading of grief is crass, callous and massively unnecessary.  People can be simultaneously sad about a number of things, just as they can be happy about a number of things.

But more than this: wake the fuck up, dozy internet people.  If you have a few hundred Facebook friends, or if you follow up to a thousand or more people on Twitter, it’s not improbable that one or two will be outspoken and talk shite.  Don’t get all wet and vomit self-righteous vitriol everywhere about it.  Chill out.  Shrug.  Unfollow or Unfriend, if you want.   This social internet we have gives unfettered access to the views of lots of people.  Most of the time we like this.  When big emotive things happen, you’re probably not going to like all of those views.

I wonder if the reaction was so strong and notable because most folk are used to others agreeing with their own views.  So much in today’s social web is driven by didactic commentary pieces about how best to look or behave or act in certain situations.  It irritates me immensely, how presumptuous and preachy much of it is.  Fuck off.  I’ll do what I want, thanks.

I wish I could be more tolerant of people, both generally in real life and in my pockets of social communities.  I could develop larger communities of people, more friends on Facebook and followers through various different Twitter sites, if I could tolerate people spouting what I consider to be utter fucking drivel.  And there is loads of that.  I just can’t do it.  Therefore I’m a quiet little tool with about two unique visitors a month.  No biggie.  I’m not bothered.  Don’t even check it much.  It’s fine.

Which brings me, in a contrived meandering fashion, back to Anders Behring Breivik.

Whaddya know, he was a loner!  As pretty much all mass murderers always are.  Us loners getting smeared once again.  The article I read sitting around the pool highlighted several times in the main profile how he was a loner without many friends.  I wish I’d counted the number because it would have been lots.  Well, at least six.  It added nothing but appeared to want to drill this point home, quite absurdly.  In future mass killings can we just take it for granted that this is the case, unless it’s very obviously not?  If the murderer is a fun-loving family man with loads of mates, that’s probably noteworthy.  Otherwise: yep, loner, mum loved him, end of.  It’s funny how your pals always tend to desert you when you commit mass atrocities.

Village standoff

The village pub ended up being a traumatic experience last Friday night.  I was chatting away to my favourite local, a sharp-eyed early sixtysomething with an enviably adventurous spirit.  He and his second wife of twenty years or so – herself equally sharp-eyed, sophisticated and elegant, despite apparently dressing exclusively from charity shops, according to my mother – were planning an extensive around the world tour.  Their house has been on the market for two years now.  They’re looking to sell and find somewhere smaller nearby they can shut up for however long their travels take them away for.

I really like them both and wouldn’t mind if they wanted to adopt me, although I suppose I’m too old for that now.

He was telling me about his passion for gardening towards the later evening hours when my mother, having a separate conversation with a pair of women to my right, abruptly rose from her chair.  She waved away the protestations of her friend: “No, no..  just leave it.  I don’t want to talk about it..”  I didn’t know what had happened.

Mum, Dad and I had all finished our drinks and were on the cusp of leaving anyway, but this was very abrupt.  Dad stood too.  Mum looked upset, so did her friend, whose apologetic jabbering didn’t make much sense and wasn’t having the desired effect.

Tears formed in my mother’s eyes as she bundled her way out between tables and chairs and people.  I stirred the sleeping dog at my feed and untied her lead from a table leg.  With confused, rushed goodbyes, we exited the small room, Dad looking chastened and Mum scuttling ahead, wound in a knot.

“She just won’t let it go!” she said, struggling to confine her upset, just about keeping it together then calming as we walked down the unlit, steeply sloping crescent.

I noticed again how the dog walks perfectly to heel when walking home from the pub; yet rarely at any other time.

She explained then how her neighbour and friend, a pleasant but none too switched on lady of a similar age, had stopped her in the road to ask about takings from the village fete, how it was all calculated, and why Mum had taken the cash away.  Mum said that it wasn’t like she’d been accusing her of anything, then suggested that it was.  It wasn’t the time to question her.  Her integrity had been questioned and she felt vulnerable, particularly without the emotional articulacy to discuss it openly and rationally.

She recovered her composure on the five minute walk back to our house but the evening’s relaxed boozy blanket had been well and truly crumpled with nerves and awkwardness.    When we got in Dad set about making himself some food.  Mum was still mildly afluster and troubled, but less emotional.  The dog looked at her, concerned, and wagged what looked like an empathetic tail.  I briefly lingered to see if Dad would offer a nightcap, as he usually does.  Too engaged in making his cheese and not evidently fazed by Mum’s upset, he didn’t.  So I went to bed.

The next morning Mum clearly felt there was outstanding need for an explanation.  As I munched distractedly on toast, half engaged with a small device, she set about describing her accounting processes for the village fete.

“Mum, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

What happened next was odd.

She crumbled again, in the blink of an eye, this time properly crying and sulking off to the other room.  “Oh I can’t speak to anybody, can I!  Everything I say is wrong!  No, just leave me alone!”

I called her back to the kitchen and said she didn’t need to explain anything because I trusted her implicitly; she was my Mum.  She returned immediately and accepted a hug.

Jesus, I thought, resting my chin on her head; she was a way flakier individual than me.  Add her to the crazy moodswings of my father, practically a lifetime on antidepressants, the punishing figurative King Kong dominance of my brother and it’s little wonder I’m how I am.  However that is: not hideously abnormal, but probably not quite normal either.  Perhaps my brother’s strategy of locking himself in his bedroom and subtly disassociating himself with the family was the most effective way of achieving loose normality.

But hey, what is ‘normality’ anyway?

Approaching lunchtime I was sat down with a coffee and the newspapers when the doorbell rang.  I knew it would be the jabbering woman, come to apologise after receiving a telling off from her more sensitive partner, a short, cheerful, yet potentially firy, bald man.  He had realised Mum was fragile after the initial interrogation.  They entered bearing flowers and apologies.

This time, it seemed that for some reason Mum was happy to talk about it and everything was fine.

it’s fine, really

Starbucks, on a sofa, reading and calming down having been scared by HSBC freezing my bank account because I didn’t receive a letter.  I was aware I behaved all surly the first time round: big in attitude, would have thought myself a prick if I’d been on the other side of the counter.  There’s something maddeningly robotic about uniformed, institutionalised bank workers which riles me on top of whatever it is I’m being riled about, like they don’t dare to be human and deviate from a script.

Anyway.  Having returned a second time with my passport as photo ID to prove I was who I said I was, my bank was unfrozen and I was altogether more genial.

A few days earlier, scrutiny of a bookmark revealed it wasn’t just a receipt, but a five pound voucher for photo development.  So I had a few photos developed.  Flicking through them with a coffee I had been warmed by the results.  You see so much more just by virtue of it being physical, because you’re not just looking at yet another screen.  Screens make eyes cynical, demanding and impatient.  There’s a freedom outside screens which allows them to meander around at a more leisurely pace.

A wearied mother passed by my sofa, holding the hand of her cute blonde child, circa 2 – 3 years.  They started to  climb the steep staircase which began over my shoulder.  Following up the rear was grandma, a proud and well-presented sixtysomething lady.  “Is there a lift?” she asked her daughter.  Receiving a negative response, she turned around and began to pull the empty pram up the steep stairs backwards.

I broke from my book and offered to help.  I could hold the front end, giving an effortless glide without thwacking on every step up, or I could just carry it.  “No, no,” she smiled.

“Are you sure?” I asked.  There were quite a few steps.  It wasn’t a small effort on her part; it was on mine.

“No, no, it’s fine.”

It didn’t look fine at all.  Perhaps others would have forced themselves on her in that situation – a friendly Irishman who’d had a Guinness or two: “ach, don’t be silly now.”  But I’m always one for free will and letting others decide quickly, not trying to persuade or going round in circles – which makes me cringe.  I never have those tedious money grapples: Oh, no, let me. / oh, no I couldn’t possibly / oh, but…

If you say yes when I ask if you’re sure the first time round, then the discussion is over.

So in this instance after hearing that she was sure, my face perhaps shrivelled into a ‘fine, suit yourself, you strange woman’ expression and I sat down again.  But I was perplexed.  Why wouldn’t you accept help in that situation?  For what possible reason?  Me?  I might look faintly predatory and am certainly not a smiley friendly cuddly bear sort as many Celts are.  But neither do I think I look an imminent threat; merely forgettable, bland.

Or maybe it wasn’t that at all.  Just a basic distrust of humans even greater than my own?

Or perhaps it was just one of those moments when you spontaneously make a strange call and know as soon as you’ve made it that it was daft, but you can’t reverse it.  Especially if the other person quickly accepts that it really is fine.

The rear pram wheels slammed into the few steps around my head height, then carried on their ascent for a good few seconds afterwards.  She must have been exhausted by the time she got to the top.

Keeping Mum

It’s a source of very real, ongoing sadness to me that I find my mother quite so dull, and that we are unable to have adult conversations.  Adult conversations in the sense that they ebb and flow, there is momentum, related questions follow off the back of the last thing said, interest is paid.  For all my moans about my brother, we can at least converse.

My mother traditionally complains that I am quiet and don’t say much.  This was her one line when I once upon a time seriously tried to address it.  The truth is that when I do speak about anything: work, friends, where I’ve been or what I’ve done – there is never a follow-up question, never a search for more depth.  Never a “so what exactly are you doing?”  “What are you working on?”  “What are your colleagues like?”  “Might it lead to you doing more things like this?”

Such questions, it appears, never seem to occur to her.  There will be a half-second pause after a nominal amount of volunteered information.  A pause in which she may be trying to think of questions (but I don’t think she is), and there then follows an altogether different topic, such as a new lawnmower.  This is a steadfast rule and never an exception.  Although she might vary it occasionally by doing that thing where people frame whatever it is you’ve just said in relation to themself, even if the connection is extremely loose.

I think I’m used to the stunted, stilted conversations, and sometimes they are better than others.  Yet it never fails to disappoint and hang heavy.

Talk with my father is only mildly better, thanks to a handful of shared interest, his vague engagement with normal man things: football, business, current affairs, politics, cars.  But this still doesn’t give us massive conversational fuel, just five-minutes-in-a-pub-with-a-bloke-you-don’t-really-know-that-well sort of fuel.  Literally five minutes and then the pauses and the brain-dredging for questions begins.

Someone on Twitter said my Tweets about my parents made them uncomfortable, which in turn made me uncomfortable.  Why did it make them uncomfortable?  I don’t like myself for finding my mother and her tales of new lawnmowers insanely boring.  But that’s all she has to say.  I can see why it might make me look like a disrespectful prick, after all they’ve done for me etc. but the tweets are an instant reactionary expression of frustration – perhaps one which can’t easily be identified with by people who have better, more functional relationships with their parents, people who can talk to their parents like fellow adults.

And maybe if I’m brutally honest, excluding the middle class material things you inevitably end up taking for granted because everyone in your bubble has them, I struggle to see what they’ve done for me.  Much of our relationship feels like empty stunted words and obligation.

Having said all that, this was deeply uncomfortable to write – a blog post as virtual shrink, if ever I wrote one (and there’s plenty of those here) – and I would want to throw myself off a tall building if they found it.  However, as I only recently pointed my mother towards her Facebook news feed after finding she’d been staring plaintively at her profile page for two years wondering why she never saw anything, I’ll rest easy on that count for the moment.


I parked up in the large car park known as ‘the rec,’ wiped my bleary eyes and stepped out of the vehicle.
The rec was the closest to the office I could park, not being a permanent member of staff, and required a five minute walk uphill walk through green parkland and up to the office.

It had been a more intensive, more mobile and more interesting week than usual.  But now I was tired and missed sleep, of which I normally have plenty.

I’d arrived home at 1.30 that morning, not enough hours earlier, after a day of business and evening of pleasure in London with excellent people seen all too infrequently.  I didn’t regret any of it, despite cutting it fine to reach my train.  The overground Great Western was due to leave in five minutes, I noticed, one tube stop away from Paddington.  I sweated slightly and tried to run through contingency options if I didn’t make it.

My pissed brain didn’t deliver any.  Cross that bridge when you come to it..

When the tube doors parted at Paddington with four, perhaps three and a half minutes left to departure, I necessarily sprinted through Paddington Station and was one of the last to hop aboard on the shrill whistle of a platform guard.

The train was crammed and noisy with similarly sozzled and suited businesspeople, most of whom weren’t travelling quite so far and seemed to alight within the commuter belt.  I wasn’t minded to battle further into the train and find my designated seat, so plopped down in first class opposite a mildly disapproving gentleman who looked like he suspected I didn’t belong there.  Fuck him.  I could easily belong there.  Drunk and fearless, I took my laptop from my bag, fiddled with a dongle, got online and did nothing.

Unsticking my forehead from the window, I wiped a sliver of dribble from my chin and noted the sweeping hollowness in my head.  Disconcertingly, I didn’t recall deciding to sleep.  We were stationary, the disapproving gentleman had disappeared; nobody had replaced him.  In fact, the train wasn’t very well populated at all.

Wow.  I’d had a proper sleep.

Had I been mugged?  The sleeping laptop screen stared back at me.  I could have been mugged.  I checked everything.  I hadn’t been mugged.  Good.  Now, where was I?  Yes, that was quite important.  New panic swarmed with consciousness as I arched my neck to look for a signpost marking our location.  There.  Ahh, the penultimate stop before my destination; ten minutes away.  Result!

Ouch.  My head spun.

Not enough hours later I was up and out and driving another hour west.  Then strolling up through the park.  “What the fuck is it then?” – a woman in front of me accused into her mobile.  “Ah, I’m fuckin sick of this, you’re gonna have to sort yourself out you prick.  You’re just gonna have to pay it then, aren’t you?”  A short, frizzily blonde bobbed woman dressed for an office; the language and fast-pace jarred.  She took no prisoners with him.  “We can’t have the bailiffs coming round every day demanding payment, can we?  You need to get organised, buy a diary, write stuff down.  Know what I mean?  You’re hopeless.  I’ve had fuckin enough of this, really.”

I sluggishly overtook her, half-pitying who was on the other end of the phone, though they did sound like a dope.  She was quite feisty though, raw; rear view wasn’t bad.  He probably got rewards for putting up with her in his ear all the time.

Trying to focus on an ageing computer screen and clasping second or third caffeinated hot drink of the morning, I glanced down the long corridor to my left.  A new member of staff was starting that day, I dimly remembered.  A Friday?  Fair enough.  She’d be sitting opposite me, at the desk just vacated by a colleague I was getting along well with.

Squeaking open, the door at the end of the corridor presented the diminutive, gloriously foulmouthed woman.  I chuckled to myself.  We met formally: professional smile and handshake; no hint that I looked familiar.   She sat down and settled in; we had had a few chatty where-are-you-from / where-do-you-live exchanges.  She was open, chatty and forthcoming.

The day passed in a fuggy blur, a dreamlike quality about it which came from not enough sleep and a lazily oozing, sprawling hangover which wasn’t vicious but still let its presence be known.

About half three that afternoon, requisite comfort generated and nobody else in the room, following a silence of a few minutes I quietly asked: “bit strong with your bloke on the phone this morning?”

She went crimson but smiled, then told me all about his being lax with repayments on a van.