Adventures on less than two legs

Apologies for the radio silence from the Emu blog. Like most people, I’ve had a rubbish 2020, followed by a rubbish 2021 and I’m not sure that sharing any of that is going to be of any help to anyone.

However, what I have noticed over the last 18 months or so, is that everyone has been able to derive some sort of enjoyment from other people’s misfortunes. So here’s a blog about misfortune, disaster, stupidity, weird cows and stagnant water for you all to enjoy. Here goes:

Like many other people with time on their hands during lockdown, I decided that I was going to do something exciting once I was allowed to be properly outside again. What I had in mind was a really long run over quite a few days. I’d been talking about this for a while with Mrs E, who approved of the project on condition that a) I didn’t do anything stupid or injuring and b) it didn’t cost too much money. So b) put the idea of running between luxurious B&Bs across the country into the long grass, and I started planning a more spartan event, involving a small tent. I started training properly, and planning routes between campsites, which were beginning to open up in May. And, most excitingly, started ordering all manner of ultra lightweight equipment. As each piece of lightweight gear arrived, I unpacked it, held it gently in my hand, and marvelled at its delicate being. It didn’t strike me until much later that combining lots of lightweight gear in one place would make for something that was actually quite heavy, and that may well count as my first school boy error.

I planned a route over six days, which roughly covered the perimeter of Norfolk, on long distant paths. By the start of July I had all of the routes downloaded, all of the kit bought and paid for and all of the campsites booked. By the start of July I was ready to go – I tried out the tent, albeit in the living room with unwilling volunteers pretending to be tent pegs, because it was raining, and it seemed to work. I could even just about sit up in it. On the 2nd July it had just about stopped raining, and at first light I was ready to go, just managing the time so that I could bring Mrs E her morning cup of tea. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she looked me up and down; the first time she’d seen me in my new lightweight gear.

“Those trousers are ridiculous”, she said, instantly putting me at my ease before my big expedition.
“They look like the sort of thing that Lionel Blair would wear. And they woke me up.”

To be fair, they were a bit ridiculous. Alongside an elasticated waistband that was straight out of the Damart catalogue, they also boasted a roomy nylon fit with long side zips to allow for speedy changing without shoe removal. This was the first time they’d been worn, and she was right, they really did make quite a noise, a sort of shushing, swishing noise that I could only avoid if I walked like John Wayne. I wasn’t really sure about the Lionel Blair reference. Somewhere on the internet there is video evidence of our band playing on TV with Lionel Blair introducing us, and dancing along as we played. I suspect it was more memorable to us than to him, but I have no recollection of him wearing noisy lightweight running trousers. Anyway, armed with this peculiar insight into my wife’s waking thoughts, off I went.

I hopped noisily onto a train to Cromer about half an hour later, with my lightweight/heavyweight bag on my back. Got to Cromer, walked down to the sea, removed the Lionels and started to run, keeping the sea on my left. The plan was to get nearly to Caister-on-Sea, then turn inland to Martham, and then on to Clippesby, where a pitch with my name on it would give me a well earned night’s rest.

Day One was relatively uneventful. Even by keeping the sea on my left I managed to get slightly lost, and had to circumnavigate Bacton power station, which I can report is a good size bigger than it looks on the map. And as I was on the the Norfolk coastal path, unsurprisingly a lot of the running was on sand, so quite a bit of this soon turned to walking. No matter though, and 29 miles later I jogged into the campsite, bought an ice cream from the reception area, found my pitch and (you’ll have to forgive me here, cos I’m new to this camping parlance) ‘set camp’. The campsite even had its own bar, where they were showing Spain vs Switzerland on the TV and serving food. So, one veggie burger, a caramel slice, three pints of Guinness and one penalty shoot out later, I staggered back to my very small tent, and negotiated with my sleeping bag and inflatable mat. The three pints of Guinness were probably my second schoolboy error, as exiting your way out of sleeping bag and very small tent several times during the night is not to be recommended, particularly if your legs are complaining about a long run the day before.

Refreshingly though, I found that I could move fairly freely in the morning, and I’d (apparently) ‘broken camp’ well before my fellow campers had changed out of their jim-jams.

Day Two involved getting onto the Wherryman’s Way, which runs between Great Yarmouth and Norwich – I was going to follow this to Loddon, then pick up the Angles Way, which by the end of day three would land me somewhere around Thetford. I’d decided that today was going to be more walk than run, so had slipped into my Lionels, and made my way noisily out of the campsite, no doubt waking many of the other campers as I shuffled past.

“Did you hear that noise, Brian? Fair woke me up. Any idea what it was?”

“No idea. But it sounded strangely like….well, Lionel Blair, going for a walk”

Off I set along the route, when a voice in my headphones advised me to turn left onto the hiking path. I mentally made a note to write a charming letter to the navigation software company when I finished, as without their help I’d have completely missed the small gap in the hedge which led onto a narrow path.

A few minutes later, and I’d redrafted my note a couple of times, as the path gave way to a jungle of nettles, thistles and reeds which I had to negotiate like an Amazon explorer. Each time I got to a clearing I checked my tedious progress on my phone, and I was still on track – river to my left, field to the right, so there was nothing for it but to press on. In actual fact there was a very clear alternative, which was to turn round, go back to the road and to stop entrusting my well-being with a silly black line on my phone, but for some reason I wasn’t thinking of that as an option. And while I wasn’t thinking of that, a very loud bark was barked from across the field. The weeds and grass were up to my shoulders at this point, so I wasn’t able to see anything that was in there. I’m not by nature a fatalist, but I have read the legend of the Bungay Black Shuck, and I was headed in that general direction. I hoped that me shouting ‘Sod Off!’ very loudly would do the trick. It didn’t, and I was replied with a louder, more menacing, and worryingly closer bark. So I stood as still as I could, like a meerkat, popping my head above the nettles and swivelling around to survey my impending doom….


Meanwhile, about twenty yards away, a frustrated deer put his head above a similar set of nettles, looked in my general direction, barked again, and wandered off. Relieved, I just tried to remember whether deer got particularly aggressive during rutting season, and for that matter, when rutting season actually was. Tentatively I carried on, and finally was rewarded up a climb to a jungle free bank of a field. Checking on my trusty map, I saw that I was still on the hiking path, and off I jogged, with not a care in the world, other than the thought of lunch that no doubt awaited me at some Broadland inn en route.

Crossing the field, I came to a drainage ditch. It was about 3 metres across, and thankfully some kind soul had put a couple of logs across it, and I balanced like a tightrope walker with a bad case of DTs. As I lumped across to the other side, I looked behind me, and saw the log disappear into the stagnant ditch. ‘Ah well’, I thought, ‘no going back now’. It was amongst my more stupid thoughts of the morning.

Along the next field, still no noticeable path anywhere but on my phone, and I got to another drainage ditch. No kind souls placing logs in advance here, and a couple of metres across – too far to jump, even without a ridiculously lightweight/heavyweight pack on my back. What I really needed was some sort of pole, so I could reenact one of those village sports days where they vault across a river. I should confess at this point that I never, for one moment, considered that a ridiculous idea. I found a tree nearby that looked like it had been struck by lightning, and managed to pull off a branch that, to all intents and purposes, looked like something that the Slag brothers from the Wacky Races would carry:

I’m not entirely sure how I managed it, but with a bit of fancy footwork and the help of a muddy island and my caveman club, I managed to get across to the other side without getting my feet wet. Again, the familiar ‘no going back now’ thought rattled around in my head, almost as if it was a good thing.

I strode on purposefully across the next field, still on the path, with a drainage ditch to my left, and still holding my trusty club. I was about halfway across the field when I noticed a cow to my right. And another, and another, and another. In fact, quite a few cows were headed in my direction. I don’t like cows. Never have and never will. They’re gormless, dangerous and the wrong size for their brains. By rights they should be British political leaders, haha. Anyway, several of them were headed in my direction. I tried the tactic that had worked so well with the deer/Black Shuck situation.

“Sod Off!”, I shouted. And to my surprise, they did.

I felt quite pleased with myself, but this was quite a short-lived experience, because as I looked up, I saw many more cattle, all headed in my direction. Clearly the first lot had found my ‘Sod Off!’ so amusing that they’d been to get all of their mates. They were all headed in my direction, and by the time they were a few yards away, I was beginning to panic. I tried ‘Sod Off! and a number of variations on that theme. I tried waving my trusty caveman club around, and over my head. They inched forward, and started to pin me in. Finally I tried.a line that had only previously worked outside a chip shop in Edinburgh, around midnight, about forty years ago, to a drunken charmer who was offering to beat me up.


Maybe it was the volume of the voice, the anxious tone, or the combination with the caveman club wave. Or maybe they understood every word, and decided, as did my Edinburgh opponent all those years ago, that if those were the best words that I could offer, then I really was a pathetic specimen that deserved to be left well alone. Whatever it was, they turned on their ridiculously tiny heels and stampeded off in the other direction.

I wandered on towards the edge of the field, still holding onto the club, just in case. Gently stepping on to some reeds, I lost my footing and fell directly into a drainage ditch. By the time the water hit my waist, I’d managed to use up almost all of the swear words I knew, and was cursing on repeat as I threw myself across the reeds to the other side. The bottom half of me was covered in a sludgey mess from the ditch that absolutely stank. As I scrambled up the side of the bank, still cursing, I thought again that at least today’s hike couldn’t get any worse than this point. On reflection, this was a hopelessly optimistic thought. By now, the route had mysteriously disappeared from my phone, as had any mobile signal. So even if I’d wanted to call my wife I’m not entirely sure what I could have asked her to do. My cheery optimism started to peter out.

Seeing an abandoned windmill a few fields away, I decided to head for it, on the logic that there still ought to be some sort of path to it that didn’t necessitate diving gear. I navigated a couple of further ditches semi-successfully, although by now I wasn’t overly worried about getting a bit wet.


I can’t remember the sequence of events that led to the next disaster. One minute I was finding my way towards the edge of a field, looking for a way across the widest ditch I’d seen so far. The next minute, I was in it – I’d fallen through the reeds, I was literally up to my neck in drainage, and my feet weren’t touching anything other than water. The lightweight/heavyweight rucksack was pulling me down, and I wasn’t able to turn around, so I kicked as hard as I could against the reedy bank and launched myself across to the other side. Fortunately I managed to keep my head above the sludge, grabbed onto the reeds on the other side, and hauled myself out. It doesn’t sound too bad written down like that, and it was over very quickly, but I was as scared as I think I’ve ever been in my life. A couple of other thoughts struck me. Firstly, that I’d exhibited astonishing levels of stupidity – if any of my children had been half as idiotic on an adventure as I had in the last couple of hours, then I’d have sounded off at them for being ridiculously irresponsible. And secondly, that if I were to have any say over when I got to meet my maker, then it definitely would not be in a Broadland drainage ditch, dragged out goodness knows when and in goodness knows what condition.

Away from the ditch, I did my best to assess the situation. Mentally, I was now, by a country mile, the most stupid object within a five mile radius. Including the cows. Physically I was tired, and I’d managed to knock my back and left knee so that neither was very keen on any further movement. Stylishly, I had rather lost the edge. My lionels had lost their jaunty swish, and, like all of my clothing was now clinging to me unhelpfully, under a carpet of slime and small-leafed greenery that until recently had been laying peacefully on top of the stagnant ditch. And pungently…well , I was in another place altogether. If every farm animal in the county had shat on me from a great height for 24 hours, I think I would have smelt slightly fresher.

‘Ah well’, I thought, ‘I’m not sure it can get any worse’.

And naturally, it did, but fortunately only for a bit. After climbing up the bank, I found myself in a very large field, fairly close to the windmill. I wandered around the perimeter, peering into the drainage ditches that surrounded it on all four sides. Thankfully there were no cows, but that was probably because, other than airlifting them into position, there was no obvious way to get them onto the field. I considered the situation as best I could. Despite the submerging incident, the waterproof rucksack had lived up to its billing, and everything inside, which included a tent, sleeping bag, two chewy bars and a bottle of water, was all usable. My phone had been in an unzipped pocket but had miraculously not disappeared into the drain – it was complaining of being wet, and was still functional, but without any signal. So things weren’t exactly desperate, but there was still no obvious way to get out of this miserable field.

Walking back around the field again, I noticed that a corner had been fenced off with barbed wire. Behind the wire was lots of reed bedding, which I assumed led to the connection of two drainage ditches. I didn’t have much option but to try it, to see if there was a way of getting across, but I was very nervous about going into an area that was fenced off, given how precarious the unfenced area had been. I said a quick prayer before passing my bag across the barbed wire. Thankfully the bag didn’t sink, and neither did I, as I tiptoed through the reeds. After about twenty yards, I came across a brand new galvanised five bar gate, and beyond that dry land which seemed to lead up to a path. It suddenly struck me that the gate and the barbed wire were there to stop idiots like me going into the field, rather than stopping idiots from getting out, and I fair skipped up the slope, as well as my left leg and lower back would allow.

I realised that I’d managed to get myself onto the Wherryman’s Way. I realised this partly because I knew that the path follows the river Yare, and beyond the path was a huge river. And in the river were the sort of pleasure boats that you only ever see in summer in Norfolk. There were quite a few of them, many piloted by cheery souls in captain’s hats, and they merrily waved at their fellow nature lover standing on the footpath. I waved back, trying to forget that I looked like Stig of the dump, and hoping that they were upwind of me.

I couldn’t run any more because my knee was still complaining. I checked my phone and was delighted to see that I had a signal. So I phoned Mrs E, who was slightly put out to have her Saturday morning dog walk interrupted. I don’t think I’ve ever actually cried down the phone before, but the threat of this must have come through to her, and she said she’d come out to Acle to meet me. Optimistically I asked her to bring a change of clothes and some wet wipes so I could carry on.

I made my way to Acle, found somewhere that sold coffee, and even better let you drink it outside, and waited. Mrs E turned up in a cloud of dust in the car park. She said she had the clothes ready if I wanted to change and carry on, but by then, I was completely fed up and my left leg had given up the ghost. I asked if she could take me home so I could get a shower, lie down, and forget about the last few hours.

On the way home, I asked if she wanted the window open.
“That’s alright”, she said, “you don’t smell too bad. Those bloody trousers were a mistake though”.


Wanna Be Your (Action) Man

A few years ago, I convinced Mrs E that the way to enjoy her mid-forties was to hop on a bike constructed by her husband in his spare time, and pedal round as much of the Scottish western isles as we could manage in a week. Never one to scorn a challenge, she duly agreed, and we set off for a number of days of knackering hills, scary descents, mechanical challenges (make that really scary descents), more than our share of rain, and a certain amount of fun. 

Towards the end of our holiday/challenge, Mrs E started to complain of unbearable shooting pains in both her wrists and her ankles, both of which were quite important to completing the trip in one piece. There is another blog to be written some time on what happened next, but the quick version is that shortly after we got back she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a really crappy auto-immune disorder that doesn’t really have much to do with what most people think about either rheumatism or arthritis. What it does seem to do is stop people doing anything particularly active. Fortunately, there are some pretty good drugs that allow patients to muddle through and some brilliant people in the NHS who seem to be able to pull the right levers to manage pain relief against side effects. And there’s Mrs E herself, who completely refuses to be defined by her illness, which I guess is both a blessing and a curse if you’re trying to treat or live with her. 

So as a result of all that, we didn’t do any more cycling holidays. 

But one evening in February this year, we started talking about getting away. Mrs E declared that she would need some proper sun, but not the sort of sun that you enjoy by the side of a pool. 

We started looking at walking holidays, on the premis that they wouldn’t be too challenging because (and I quote) ‘I manage to walk the dogs for a couple of hours a day’. 

We signed up for 4 days walking in the south of France, travelling to Nice, taking a train north for a couple of hours, then making our way down from La Brigue to Menton. We got a load of information about walking terrain, essential equipment and navigating, all of which we completely ignored, and waited impatiently for the end of June. 

If you’ve been in Europe this June, you may well have noticed that the temperature has been a little bit on the warm side. We landed in 35 degrees and the temperature kept rising, so that our first day of walking took place in around 37 degrees, most of which was in direct sunlight. We walked for about 5.5 hours, generally feeling that we were not only inside an oven, but one where the grill had been left on as well. Worse, temperature-wise, on the next two days (6.5 hours each) and a nightmare on the last day, where, after 7.5 hours, Mrs E said she was truly cooked and starting to hallucinate, and I had to remind her that we still had an hour left to go. 

All of which we put to one side when we look back on the trip, which was more fun than we had any right to expect. We saw parts of the French Alps that were jawdroppingly beautiful; huge green mountain passes, beautiful streams and gorges, and, as we got to the end, fabulous sea views. We lived inside these picture postcards almost on our own – in the four days we were walking we saw one runner and three walkers travelling in the opposite direction. Parts of the walk had so much sunny butterfly action that it was like being on the set of a Disney film. And, without getting unduly soppy about it, we had a good time just being with each other. There is no-one I would rather have long discussion with than Mrs E. And no-one I’d rather play silly games with (eg day 2 – name a herb or spice in popular culture – a clear winner in Ike & Tina Turmeric).

So it was wonderful. But, as I said, really really hot, and that did have a bit of an impact on our tanning plans. I spend quite a bit of the summer wishing I had a healthy tan about me. I normally manage a reasonable glow about the face, but my chosen leisure activities rather get in the way of anything that you might want to see on a beach. To illustrate this, I’ve taken the wise decision of using a stock photo rather than any actual pictures of myself, which would need to carry a public health warning. So this is what I’m going to go with as a base:


Firstly, let us consider the cyclist tan. You’ll see this quite a bit around this time of year, and it’s defined by the very clear lines of the bib shorts and short-sleeved shirt. In very keen and accessorised cyclists, you’ll also see tanlines around the cycling goggles, which make for a bit of a startled panda look:

A less forgiving tan is worn by the keen summer runner. Summer is a time for short shorts and vests in the running world. It is not an excuse for anyone to take their shirt off and run – there are certain male runners (mainly triathletes) who ignore this rule and look ridiculous, especially if they choose to keep their chest straps on. Although they would claim that they’ve avoided the even more ridiculous summer running tan:

Unfortunately, some of us have both of these tans working, as it were, in tandem. Even more unfortunately, those of us who have spent some time hiking of late have discovered a third tan type, which you get when you wear walking boots, socks, long shorts and no shirt, but still carry your double strapped rucksack.

So, I’m the proud owner of three competing and ridiculous tans, none of which work particularly well as a badge of honour. Unfortunately, also I’ve decided to try to learn to swim over the next couple of months. If anyone has a wetsuit I can borrow, I’d be very interested.



Town in a Box

Greetings from Majorca, where Mrs E and I have spent a relaxing time not worrying about marathon running.

The initial plan was to come over and run the marathon, which took place a couple of days ago in blazing hot sunshine, and with a ‘what could possibly go wrong’ approach, we booked travel and hotel about six months ago, just as I started yet another athletic comeback. 

Naturally enough, I got injured with about 8 weeks to go, and so concluded that it would be a bit daft to try and run the race at all, and after seeing the poor souls who hadn’t got injured plodding the roads around Palma on Sunday, I was secretly happy to have pulled out.

Waking up on Monday morning without any of those normal post-marathon, not-able-to-walk-down the-stairs-and-feeling-horribly-sick feelings, I decided to go for a run, looked out of the hotel window, and saw, about two miles away, the biggest boat I’d ever seen. Actually, calling it a boat feels a bit reductive. It  was more like a small town had suddenly plonked itself on the side of the island. Naturally I ran towards it, to see if my eyes had been playing up again. It was a windy morning, and the breeze was coming off the sea, and as I got about a quarter of a mile away, the wind just stopped, which was a bit odd, until I realised that the MS Symphony of the Seas (for it was she) was acting as a bloody enormous windbreak.

Anyhow, the MS Symphony Of The Seas is, according to my sources (that’ll be the internet then) the largest and most ambitious cruise ship ever built. I’ve already mentioned that it casts quite a shadow, but here’s some other stuff of note:

  • it’s 362m long
  • it has 18 decks
  • it can carry 9,000 people
  • it has a crew of 2,200
  • It has 40 restaurants and bars
  • it has 23 pools
  • it has two west-end sized theatres
  • it has a full size basketball court
  • it has two 43 foot climbing walls
  • it has a ‘central park’ with 20,000 tropical plants
  • it has an ice skating rink

and it cost $1.35 billion to build. 

Let’s just dwell on a couple of those for a moment. A 43 ft climbing wall? Sorry, my mistake, two 43 ft climbing walls? Is one more challenging than the other, or do they worry about double bookings?  I’ve not done that much climbing in my life, but when I have, the one constant that you could be fairly sure of was the rock face. That, an appreciation of gravity and a rough rule that you need to keep three limbs on the rock as much possible, is pretty much all you need to know in order to go climbing. Then along comes the MS Symphony of the Seas, and chucks in another variable, ie a rock face that moves every time you hit a big wave. 

Then there’s the ice rink.  I’ll fess up at this point and say that I never understood ice skating as a recreation. I find it quite hard to balance on ice at the best of times, without being strapped into ankle breaking pixie boots with knives attached to the soles, and being asked to stand upright. It’s not as if getting good at it will achieve much either, you either go down the route of sequinned jumpsuits or into the world of mental Canadian sport, where every player seems to be hell bent on beating up members of the opposition at any given opportunity. Anyway, my previous point still stands. All of that would be bad enough if the ice stayed in one place, but crashing around on the ocean wave? Well, that seems like you’re asking for trouble. 

Later that afternoon, and me and Mrs E are walking down to the town, and headed for the cathedral – probably the most jaw-droppingly beautiful bit of architecture you’ll see on these islands, made yet more so by being surrounded on three sides by some pretty brutal hotel towers. On the other side of the road were parked up a fleet of coaches, all marked as pick up points for the MS Symphony of the Seas passengers, so we were able witness first hand a good cross section of those 9,000 people who’d come aboard to sample the wonders of Majorca for a few precious hours. And we did, because we’re nosy like that.

I guess the first thing that I’d comment on would be that the ratio of restaurants and bars to climbing walls seemed a bit generous. Perhaps because the passengers were contrasted against a population who seemed to be cycling, jogging or recovering (remember this was the day after the marathon) along the beachside, they just seemed so, well, unfit. Not just in a corpulent ‘elasticated-waists-have-never-gone-out-of-fashion’ sense, but in genuinely seeming to have a problem with the concept of moving their own bodies without motorised assistance.  There’s a danger of getting a bit fat-cist here, and I don’t really mean to, because the main observation I’d make was much more important – everyone looked so incredibly miserable. Without exception, everyone, puffing away towards those air conditioned bus steps, was grimacing like their cat had just been put down. Which seems perverse, given that they’d been whisked from their floating palace to see the most amazing building on the Balearic Islands, before sauntering down past lush gardens and fountains and up to bright blue water and glittering beaches. What’s more, this, was supposed to be their jolly holidays. 

It costs about £7,500 for a 12 night cruise for 2 from Barcelona to Miami on the MS Symphony of the Seas. This is the equivalent of 3 months salary for the average UK family (which would include anything that said family would put away for their own holidays). Just thought I’d wrap a bit of context there, before I sign off with an inevitable ‘money can’t buy you happiness’ line. It can, however, buy you a go on a 43ft climbing wall. And if you ever find yourself aboard the MS Symphony of the Seas, I reckon that’s free most days.

The Acid House Gynaecologist

Despite trying to write about other topics, I’ve just checked the stats for the Emu, and realised that my readership* is interested in:

  1. Dogs
  2. Running
  3. The joys of family life
  4. Nothing much else

With this in mind, here is a blog about 1 & 2, partly in a desperate bid for attention, and partly because, well, this just happened.

Several years ago, we finally agreed to start having our lives pulled apart by becoming dog owners. About the only stipulation I had in the debate was that I needed to have a dog I could run with, and I spent many happy hours poring over websites telling me which were the best dogs for me, the family, and as running companions. There was a pretty significant flaw in my selection process – I naturally chose the dog breed that was best suited to my running ability at the time, with no consideration that I might conceivably get slower over the next few years. Which is exactly what happened.

Mrs E is nothing if not possessive about the dogs, and allowed me to run with them only after I’d fulfilled all H&S criteria, and critically when the dog in question was at least fourteen months old. Otherwise, apparently, I could cause irreparable damage to fragile knees and paws (the dog’s, not mine). So it was that a couple of years ago, I was able to start running with Luna, first on a lead, then a harness (her not me), and then, when Solomon was deemed fit to do so, I ran with him as well, eventually ending up with a harness around my waist and both dogs pulling me along, often in the same direction.

I can’t describe how much fun this is. Part of the fun element is the very real chance that it could go horribly wrong at any moment, what with traffic, pedestrians and squirrels to contend with, but there is a point on every run, where everything just comes together, and we’re all running together at roughly the same place, where it’s just brilliant. If I had a tail, then three of us would be wagging at the same time.

I run with the dogs at least twice a week, and always when Mrs E is working late. This means I need to pedal home from work at breakneck speed to get changed and out the door by 5:30, which is about the latest their schedule will allow. Any later, and unfortunately at least one of them will start doing laps of the furniture. Now, in this neck of the woods and in winter, 5:30 also means complete darkness. Rather than waiting for the nights to draw out and take my two charges for a relaxing walk around one of a number of excellent well lit and dog friendly parks nearby, I decided it would be much more sensible to buy a head torch and run with them on some of the more enjoyable off-road routes that combine a few muddy hills, some woods, a bit of river footpath, and marginal cellphone signal. I’d light up the path ahead, and the dogs would run along to the light, and we’d all wag our tails. I nipped onto Amazon and bought a bargain headtorch for £7.99. It arrived, I tried it on, I felt like a bit of a knob (particularly after Mrs E called me ‘The Acid House Gynaecologist’ after coming back from my first run, with headtorch shining and too much fluorescent lycra), but no matter, this was to enable fun night-time running with my four-legged chums, with the trail lit up like a spotlight for the three of us:

running n the darkWhat could possibly go wrong?

Well, as you could imagine, quite a bit. But first, a little diversion. In March, 1972, my Dad took me to my first proper football match. We were visiting family on the South coast and Southampton were playing Liverpool, who, under Bill Shankly, were already the stuff of legend. For a wide eyed nine year old boy obsessed with football, it was a pretty good way to break my duck. As far as the game was concerned, I remember very little except for perhaps a 30 second video in my head that I’ve been able to replay precisely ever since. Attacking from my right, one of the Liverpool midfielders stroked the ball onto the far touchline to Steve Heighway, who took off like a train down the right wing. Just before he got to the goal line, he crossed the ball very hard and very low, about a foot off the ground, towards the penalty spot. At this point. the ball met the head of John Toshack, who had started his dive from some distance outside the penalty box, and had travelled, parallel with the ground for a number of yards, like some sort of guided missile, and didn’t actually land until after the ball had whizzed past the helpless Southampton keeper. I’d never witnessed anything so athletic and so powerful in my life, and, looking back, I’m still not sure I have since. I spent quite a bit of the following few months trying to perfect my own technique of flying like a torpedo to meet an imaginary cross, but without any real success – I just seemed to land a bit early – sometimes before my feet had actually left the ground. I think I concluded that there were people in the world who were John Toshack, and there were people who weren’t, and I was definitely in the second group.

Diversion over, on a darkened run, I was being pulled along at a fairly brisk pace, down a muddy hill towards the river, when my right foot met a rabbit hole. What followed was an almost exact replica of the dive that John Toshack made at The Dell in March 1972. I took off, partly fuelled by the momentum of being pulled along by the dogs, and partly by the hill. I travelled parallel to the ground for a number of yards. I landed, painfully, in the mud, and continued my journey for some time, until the dogs realised that pulling a dead weight wasn’t nearly so much fun as one that was trying to keep up with them. I reckon the initial dive was at least the length of Toshack’s, but the subsequent slide would have taken me well past the goalkeeper and crashing into the net.

The dogs were fairly bemused. They actually made a point of coming back and licking my wounds, which was both sweet and disgusting. Having ascertained that I was still breathing, they both sat down and waited for me to get up. They weren’t actually tapping their toes on the ground, but they weren’t far off. So I got up, gingerly broke into a jog, and resolved on the way home to keep this whole mishap a secret between the three of us.

‘How was the run’? said Mrs E as I followed two excited dogs into the house.

‘Fine’, I said, stepping into the kitchen, and realising in the light that I’d managed to bring most of the muddy hill home with me, and that I’d need to fess up.

‘Well, I did fall over quite badly’

‘Oh no! Are the dogs alright?’, she asked, rather predictably.

I tried the next couple of runs around the park, but it wasn’t the same, So, a couple of weeks later,  I decided to run very slowly and very carefully around the off road route. The dogs seemed much keener on this, and we trotted along happily (and safely) together. Past the muddy hill (watching my step), on the river path (making sure they kept to the left), through the grass track (keeping an eye out for the rabbits), into the first little wood (keeping feet away from tree roots), across the path (watching for cyclists), into the second wood (where I forgot the bit about tree roots).

Never forget about tree roots when you’re running through a forest, particularly at night.

What happens is that you hit the root with your leading foot, curse with pain, then catapult forward and down, often onto another tree root. It can be really painful.

‘Can be really’ as in ‘was horribly’; I landed with the force of a WWF wrestler, and managed to hit leg, elbow, shoulder and head all in one ugly movement. Worse; my head torch went flying off my head. Worse than worse, it managed to switch itself off in the process.

So I’m lying face down on the ground (again), with the dogs coming back to have a look (again) but this time we’re all completely disoriented, and in the pitch black. After a bit, the dogs get a bit bored of the ‘pained hound with quizzical look sitting mournfully by their master’ look, and decide to wander off. Unfortunately they’re still attached to my waist, and deciding to go off on separate directions. Luna probably said something like ‘I’ll go down to the river, you see if there’s anything in the woods, and we’ll meet back when he’s found that ridiculous searchlight’, but obviously I can’t be sure.

Anyway, I find a way to release them, and am left to fend for myself. Fending for myself takes the form of crawling around aimlessly, sweeping my palm ahead of me in the vain hope that I’ll find the torch before I find the river. I continue this exercise for about 5 minutes, and it’s no small relief that there’s no one there to witness it.

I give up at this point, and go for plan b, which involves finding my phone, which is handily strapped to my arm, under three layers of clothing. Retrieving my phone therefore means getting undressed in the middle of the forest, and that’s what I do, until I’m down to my tights and bare chest. A sentence I never thought I’d write, and a look I never thought I’d get away with. Fortunately again, I’m the only one able to see this new fashionable low. I thank the genius who decided to integrate a flashlight on my phone, and almost immediately find my head torch, which had landed exactly where I hadn’t been crawling. i put the torch back on my head, switched it on, and to my great relief, lit up my little part of the trail with a reluctant yellow beam.

Incidentally, the reason for all of his nonsense was in buying a £7.99 headtorch in the first place. If you’re ever tempted to buy one, look for something with a strap that is vaguely tight, a battery pack that pulls the torch back rather than forwards, and a switch that you have to get your finger in to work. Mine possessed precisely none of these features, although the replacement one, which, so far has stayed both on and on at all times, does.

Anyway, I called the dogs, and, remarkably, they attended the scene almost immediately. We ran home, very slowly, and with and improved leg lift and, remarkably, without further incident. We got home and in the back door, where, like a 5 year old coming home from the park, I told my wife that I’d fallen over again, and was in some degree of pain.

‘Are the dogs alright?’, she asked, unremarkably.



*You know who you are x


They don’t like it up ’em, Mr Mainwaring

2017 was always going to be designated as a ‘milestone birthday year’, albeit not in the way that other birthdays had happened. Quite a long time ago, I remember going out for drinks on my 21st, drinking and smoking my way into a terrific hangover, and thinking that life was unable to get much better than this (I was completely wrong). When I was thirty, I sent out invitations to celebrate, or commiserate, passing into middle age, and we had a huge party, reforming the bands we’d been in a few years before, in the realisation that we were all headed for some sort of rock & roll decline (which we were). Another party for my fortieth, but this time with a more expensive suit, and a further band reunion, but, worryingly, sitting down to play. And then, a few years ago, 50, which, unnervingly, is least clear of all, lost in a haze of extreme running, ice baths and ill advised tequila competitions with kids who were young enough to be my children. Which, of course, they were.

Being 55 was different, but notable in its own special way. Firstly, there were a series of letters reminding me that years ago, I’d suggested that May 2017 would be an excellent time to retire, and I would save every last penny I had to make that happen. I kept my promise on the savings front, but unfortunately others in my life didn’t*, and I found myself woefully short of the sunset retiree lifestyle that Michael Aspel and Gloria Hunniford seem to witter on about, given half a chance.

Then came more letters, the first one the day after my birthday, inviting me to take out insurance for my declining years (with free Parker pen, but only if I reply now!), then offering holidays, to be taken with other over-55’s, probably so we could have long chats about Brexit and the youth of today. A horrible prospect indeed, a bit like an 18-30 holiday but with less energy, less tolerance, and less wet T-shirt competitions (I’d hope).

And then, the letter I’d been looking forward to least. Because, at 55, you get put on a special health screening list. The first letter is fairly innocuous, welcoming you to the world of the NHS, and giving you assurance that early screening of bowel cancer is a fabulous way of getting old gracefully. Or, I suppose, at all. The letter is beautifully put together, with soft words around screening and images and prevention, and makes very little reference to the main point of the exercise, which is to put a smallish camera up your backside, with a longer lead than you might imagine possible.

So what you do is fill in the form, because you figure that you do really really really want to know if you have the other c-word in your life. And you put the appointment in your diary and try not to think for a few weeks, and, largely, you don’t. And then, a couple of weeks before you need to start remembering about the appointment that you’re trying not to remember, a parcel arrives.

I still love getting parcels, especially unexpected ones. A few years ago, I got a book posted to me about great naval battles of the Second World War. Inside, it said ‘To Kevin’. Nothing else, and no clue who’d sent it, other than a Manchester postmark. It remains one of the most brilliant moments of my life. Last week I got a parcel from my parents, just as unexpected, which had two packets of smoked mackerel in it. Not as weird as it sounds, but just as delightful. So when this parcel arrived, I pounced on it like Michael Fallon at a Young Conservatives rally.

I tore the parcel open, and (you might be ahead of me here) was disappointed to see nothing about great naval battles and no sign of smoked mackerel. Instead, there was a tube, a plastic container full of clear fluid, and a set of instructions on how to use your enema.

I’ve never had an enema before, but my wife, a woman with the patience and black sense of humour shared by many in the nursing profession, told me that there was nothing to worry about. In fact (and I should have smelt a rat here), she offered to help administer the enema, to make sure that it was ‘working properly’.

When the diary date finally arrived, I knocked off work a bit early, got home and reread the enema instructions for about the 50th time, and Mrs E kindly suggested that she could help with what she charmingly called the ‘introduction’. For a while, I wasn’t absolutely sure what she meant, and then suddenly I very much was. There was a definite imbalance on the enthusiasm of the two of us taking part. I don’t think she actually shouted out ‘Geronimo’, as she ‘introduced’, but she might as well have done.

If you’ve had one of these enemas, you’ll be fairly aware of what happens next. Not very much for the first 10 minutes and then, fairly suddenly, something that feels like a small volcano in your lower intestine. Fortunately in our house there are only a couple of dozen buttock-clenching strides between the sofa and the toilet, where I realised the true sensation of what I understand is called an evacuation. When, as Lionel Ritchie once said, there was ‘nothing left to give’, it was time to go to the hospital. In a plan that was either macho, naive or stupid, I’d planned to cycle there, but agreed with Mrs E that it might be, after all, worth taking her up on her offer of a lift.

Mrs E dropped me off at the hospital, arranged to pick me up at some vague point in the future, and I distinctly heard her cackling away to herself as she drove off. Found my way to the gastro ward without asking for directions (always a win), and opened the door to the waiting room. My appointment was for 18:15, and I suppose I expected a small room with 3-4 people awaiting their evening appointment with a sigmoidoscope. Much to my surprise, the door opened to a really large waiting room, with maybe 50 chairs, and almost each one occupied. I sat down at one of the chairs, and looked around. I noticed that everyone else was looking around surreptitiously as well; I wasn’t really sure why until it suddenly struck me – I’d not been in this situation since I was about 15.

Just to be clear, no-one shoved a camera up my backside when I was 15, but that was probably the last time that I’d walked into a room of people of exactly the same age. And then, like now, everyone was looking round, while trying not to catch anyone else’s eye, to see, well, how the last 40 years had gone for everyone else. Slightly different thoughts to the ones when I was 15, perhaps a bit more ‘looks like he had a good Christmas’, and a bit less ‘crikey, where did he get those shoes/trousers/haircut?’, and some new thoughts too, like ‘I wonder why he brought his wife along, particularly if she’s going to look so bloody miserable’, and ‘ there’s an odd place for a tattoo’. And we were probably all having these thoughts as the receptionist kindly matched called out names to match faces. I seemed to get called about 10 minutes after checking in, which did make me wonder how I’d jumped the queue. Maybe this was just somewhere that a selection of 55 year old men go on Wednesday evenings for their own entertainment. Perhaps some of them had enjoyed the process so much in the past that they’d turn up hoping for a cancellation.

Then you’re shown into a small room and asked to undress, put one gown on backwards, another one on forwards, and keep your shoes and socks on, and put your clothes in the shopping basket provided. You emerge from the little room, carrying your basket, and sit down next to the other men who have just been through the same process. Now, I’m not sure if there’s a supermarket scene in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’, but if there is, we were reenacting it, sitting there with gowns and modesty barely intact, still wearing unlaced boots and socks, and each clutching on to a shopping basket. It’s not a look I’ll be planning to replicate, but it’s definitely one to remember for a while.

Another call, and this time into a room with a proper door, and serious equipment and people inside. There were four of them, and I was introduced to each one in turn. One was going to make me feel comfortable from the front, the next was to keep an eye on things from the back, the lead role was to be taken by a kindly soul who would be wielding the camera, leaving Steve in the corner who was going to be doing the ‘impressive stuff with the computer’. Well, they all looked very relaxed about the whole situation, especially Steve, who had an especially comfortable looking office chair. I asked if they normally heard or told jokes during this sort of procedure. They didn’t, but would be very happy to hear any material from me. I said I’d not really prepared anything specifically for this event, so I told them a bit about the enema and how it reminded me of a John Cooper Clarke line:

‘Like a recently disinfected shithouse
You’re clean round the bend’

Steve pitched in with his favourite joke, which wasn’t necessarily a gag as you or I might know it, but ended with some sort of a punchline from Dad’s Army’s Corporal Jones ; ‘They don’t like it up ‘em’.

With all parties sufficiently relaxed, a nervy silence crept into the room, only to be broken by the lead role:

‘What you’re going to feel next is my finger’

Which I did.

If you’re lucky enough to have the over-55 invite still to turn up in your post, rest assured, because the rest of the exercise is relatively pain free. In common with teenage sex, watching Norwich City at home and the final couple of Clash albums, the excitement of anticipation isn’t really matched by the following reality. There’s a bit of discomfort; a really disconcerting video stream in front of you showing your healthy pink insides and a phenomenal feeling that you’re going to poo yourself in front of four people. There were a few encouraging ‘please relax’ shoves from behind, and a few calming words from the front, telling me that all would be well, and admiring my resting pulse. ‘Are you a runner?’ said the voice in front, and, naturally enough, the next few minutes passed by in a very convivial fashion, with me talking about my favourite subject to a captive audience.

And in no time at all ‘All clear’ was announced, with everyone in the room aware of the double meaning. I started to move off the table, and was met with firm holds on three sides.

‘We’ll just give that a bit of a wipe’

And I think I would have last heard those words, in that context, about 50 years ago.

Sometimes I guess we all feel a bit nostalgic for the days when we didn’t have to bother about self-dignity. I guess that might be something else to look forward to as we get old.



* In no particular order, the others in my life who stopped me from retiring were : Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, and Fred Goodwin, along with the hilariously well-rewarded 2007-8 Risk Committee of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

My Left Foot (Part Two)

One of my New Year Resolutions, alongside the trusty favourites of losing a stone; writing a song that people would be interesting in listening to; and generally being harder on Jr Emu#3 (a NYR shared by four other members of the family), was to write 12 blogs that people would actually read during 2016.

So far, so not so good, as the score currently stands at: Year Expectations – 4, Emu – 1.

As ever, I’m keen to blame others for my inadequacies, and in this instance, I’m placing part of the responsibility on the ever fragrant Mrs E, who imposed something of a super-injunction on my last draft. I’d spent a reasonable chunk of February preparing what turned out to be a combination of an open letter to Jeremy Hunt, and a love letter to Mrs E, who, as a nurse, is one of his most long standing and long suffering employees. As it turned out, putting the blog in front of her before pressing the ‘publish’ button was definitely the right thing to do, as it received a response along the lines of:

‘There’s no way on this earth that I’m letting you publish that. I’ll lose my job, you twat’

There are few things I really fear in life, but being married to an unemployed nurse who bears me a major grudge would definitely be one of them. Mrs E is already making noises about a third dog to continue her child replacement therapy, and had this episode gone wrong, I could just see her going down the ‘attack-dog’ route.

Anyhow, that was the blog you didn’t get, which was about as negative a read about the NHS as you could experience, and this, by contrast, is the blog that you do get, which, happily, is about the best experience ever, yesterday, also at the hands of the NHS.

For a bit of context, my left foot has been something of a burden to me in my efforts to be a vaguely adequate marathon runner. The big toe, in particular, was hurting like seven shades of hell when I went to my GP at the end of last year – he had a painful poke about and diagnosed an ingrowing toenail. An ingrowing toenail is one of those conditions that you think is way down on the minor list of ailments, but it’s not until you have one that you realise what all the fuss is about. It’s like having a really sensitive part of your foot constantly tattooed by a degenerate biker, so when the doctor said that I needed to have the toenail removed, and that it was a simple procedure, I could have jumped for joy. Obviously I didn’t as I had a fair idea of what landing would feel like, but you get my drift.

‘Can it be done quickly?’ I asked. ‘It’s just that I’m going into a sixteen week training plan, so I need to fit it in with that’

My GP has what I believe is called a ‘lazy eye’, and it’s often quite difficult to tell if he’s staring at you intently or looking up at the ceiling in a a state of disbelief. I like to think that in this instance he was doing both. Anyway, we agreed that I should save the NHS the bother and get booked in for a quick BUPA procedure in February.

Come the great day, and I pitched up for the appointment, had a fairly large needle shoved into my toe, then watched on in awe as the toe was cut open, part of the nailbed removed, and the whole thing cauterised with what looked suspiciously like the last soldering iron I bought in Maplins. (And which, incidentally, brought back some shuddering memories of my vasectomy. The smell of burning flesh will, I think, always remind me of that sunny afternoon in a surgery ten years ago, with my wife and the doctor merrily gossiping on the other side of a green cloth screen. I had naively expected her to hold my hand at the customer end of the transaction, but she mentioned something about ‘professional interest’ and that was the last I saw of her.)

Anyway, I rested up for a few days, got back to running, got the toe nicely infected by doing a twenty miler in the mud in March, got some antibiotics and took ‘constructive feedback’ from various healthcare professionals (see above), and by the start of April, all was reasonably well. Not the prettiest toe you’d ever seen, but vaguely functional.

Then, about a fortnight ago, it started hurting again. Then really hurting. Then ohmygodthatissof’ingpainful hurting. So I went back to the GP, who did the whole intense stare trick again, and sent me off with some antibiotics.

‘This will clear the infection up by the marathon’ he said, filling me with optimism.

I tried a run on Tuesday this week and pretty much had to hop the first couple of miles. It was really, really painful, and probably not that sustainable an approach for the marathon, so the next day it was back to the GP. He looked at me quizzically (I think).

‘I could drill it’, he said, ‘but I’m not sure that’s what it needs’.

Well, if he wasn’t sure, I wasn’t going to encourage him to experiment. So he decided to ‘phone a friend’. He called the podiatry department at a local hospital, told them what he was worried about, and said that this was ‘important, as the patient has to run a marathon on Sunday’. He genuinely said that, not because he necessarily thought it was properly important, but because he knew that it was to me. This was after 5, and whoever he spoke to said they’d have to see if anyone could help, and they’d call him back. They did:

‘Can you do 10 tomorrow morning?’

Yes, I very much could. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but anything was going to be better that the current situation, and so I pitched up at the hospital on time the next day.

And was seen, on time. By two lovely people, who, if they weren’t in the podiatry business, could probably have eked out a living in light entertainment.

Within 2 minutes of me taking my socks off and giving them a brief rundown, they’d agreed on the problem – the nail bed hadn’t been killed off and the nail had grown back, in spikes, back into my toe.

They’d also agreed on a fix.

‘We’ve got two options; either we do the procedure now without an anaesthetic’

<pauses for patient to take this in>

‘Or we do the procedure now with an anaesthetic.’

I don’t think it was the first time that the joke had been told in that room, but I guess that’s ok as long as it’s new to your audience. Which it was. Anyway, we settled on the second option, which involved the familiar big needle being shoved in.

‘This is going to hurt quite a bit. We encourage you to swear’

Yep, it did and I did. And then various bits of jagged nail were poked about, cut off, dragged out, and waved in front of me like fishing trophies. The whole thing was over in a few minutes and pronounced a big success.

‘That should be fine by Sunday, we’ll watch out for you’

Hurrah, I thought, quickly adjusting my race plan.

‘But you’ll need to have the nail bed cut out again.’

Uh-oh, I thought, expecting a three month wait.

‘We’ll do the paperwork now so you don’t need to come back for a consultation, and we’ll send you an appointment for May’

Time to take that uh-oh back then.

I know that all of this doesn’t say anything about the resources and the queues and the beds and the cuts and the overcrowding, and all the other awful things that are happening to the NHS at this time. And I know, that, in the scheme of things, removing an recalcitrant toenail from an otherwise fit bloke primarily so he can indulge himself in a running race doesn’t really stack up against the need for ECG monitors, or decent treatment for Alzheimer patients, or reasonable salaries, or meaningful community care, or any other of the big issues.

But, on the other hand, some really lovely and caring and professional people went out of their way to help me this week. They understood the person they were helping, they stopped the horrible bit from hurting, they could see exactly the problem and the solution, and even told a few jokes to ease the pain. When we shout (and we should) about losing what is dear to us in the dearest of our institutions, we shouldn’t forget that the little things define it as much as the big things. So let’s shout about those as well, ok?


PS: Had a bit of a setback on Thursday night as I managed to run over my own left foot while taking the bins out. In my profession, we’d call this user error.

A pair of embarrassing running shorts (part 2)

Well, gentle reader, sadly it’s tights weather yet again. For running, you understand. I’ve long since moved away from the old school style of running that insists on wearing shorts at all costs, and, if it gets really cold, just tells you to run a bit faster. I run a bit up in Newcastle, where I believe tights are considered a bit, well southern, and I’m sure some of the people that I bump into running round Town Moor  at -2C in a hailstorm think that wearing a shirt is a bit of an unnecessary luxury as well. But I’m afraid these days, not freezing my nuts off of an evening has become something of a priority.

The other deviation that I’ve made away from old school running has been a sad reliance on needing company on my runs. By company, I mean needing to be plugged in to music or a podcast or a radio, and I justify this based on the fact that I’ve been running pretty much every day now for about twenty years, and so I’ve kind of got bored with the wonders of nature and the beauty of foot mechanics and being alone with my thoughts. Friends of mine who are proper runners are very sniffy about this, and warble on about junk miles not really being worth anything, and that I’ll only ever run slowly if I don’t fully focus on the run itself, but, sometimes I’m past caring, and I just need to hear the latest from Dan Carlin, or No Such Thing As A Fish, or This American Life, and the whole experience turns into a bit more fun. And these days, I have the added joy of an iPhone that I can strap to my arm, which also allows me to, as they say, stay connected.

So, off I go last week, out of the office in Newcastle, and away for a brisk run across Town Moor, with 3x two miles hard to tick off on the training plan, and all is well with the world. And the ‘well with the world’ status lasted well into the changing room, where I realise that I’d left that clever little armstrap for my phone several hundred miles away. As I saw it, I had three options – leave the phone in the changing room and have a good run but with no entertainment; carry the phone in my hand and Not Look Like A Proper Runner; or tuck the phone into my tights. Naturally, and helped by the fact that these were compression tights, which I suspect may have featured in an early draft of 50 Shades of Grey, I squeezed the phone into the waistband and set off.

An easy mile one, and I’m moving at a nice pace, with my eyes on the first 2 mile effort on the moor. History Extra podcast is my choice of entertainment, this one featuring things you didn’t know about Hitler’s cocaine habit (really). Get to the moor, and all is well, except for the fact that I have to knock out a 2 mile effort in the dark. But knock it out I do, get my statutory 2 minutes rest, then go for effort #2. This time, things do not go quite so well. For some reason, my phone starts slipping. At first, it’s just a bit irritating, but after mile one of the two miles it starts working its way, well, downwards. Possibly lubricated by sweat, which is pretty unpleasant, and heading downward at a steady rate, which is even more unpleasant. About a half a mile to go, and I find myself effectively sitting on my phone while running. In order to halt further progress, I naturally alter my running style to what I like to call ‘1950’s PE teacher’ – head back, back straight, high knees, and all the time trying to complete the effort.

Statutory two minute rest while I try to decide what to do. Sadly, it never entered my head to carry the bloody thing, instead, I went for the extra tightness option of tucking my phone into my pants, with added security from the compression tights. You may well be ahead of me here. I got another mile and a half around the final effort before disaster struck. The phone didn’t travel so far south this time, but unfortunately it did adopt a more, ahem, central position. So I’m running along in the dark, trying to keep a 6:30 pace up, with a running style owing a bit too much to John Wayne after a long day in the saddle, just having heard that he had a bad case of rickets, but needing to get to the Last Chance Saloon before closing time. Anyway, just about managed the last half mile and I’m about 50 yards from the end when History Extra (now focussing specifically on the amphetamines in use by the Fuhrer during the siege of Stalingrad), is disrupted by an incoming call. Given that it might be important, or my wife (teehee), I elect to press the little button and gasp ‘hang on’ while I get to the stopping point. It’s my wife.

“I can’t hear you very well” she says “I don’t think the reception’s very good at your end”

If only she knew…

More fun in tights to follow on this Sunday’s long run. But first, a word about fashion. When setting off for a winter run, it’s more than likely you’ll wear tights (black), gloves (black) hat (black), and, if you’re not careful, your favourite long sleeved top (black). Black clothing is of course, very practical and, I understand from too many copies of Grazia, very slimming. But unfortunately you end up looking, at best, like the Milk Tray man. Or, potentially, Andy McNab, and neither of these things count as A Good Look. Unusually, I looked in the mirror before I left the house, and saw a complete idiot looking back, and so went for my second favourite  shirt, a charming, and quite frankly, gleaming, long sleeved white number.

Off I trotted,  thinking that I looked slightly less twit-like, and maybe bordering on the mildly athletic. On reflection, this might have been a bit optimistic, given that I’d carbo-loaded the previous night with two pints of Wherry, one of Amstel, and a double whisky.

A couple of miles into the run, and I found myself a) running off road and b) running very slowly. Got to a stile across a very muddy field, and thought I’d better pick the pace up a bit.  Did I mention it was very muddy? It was very, very muddy indeed, and as I tried to speed up, I was rather held back by my right foot getting completely stuck.

Or not. In fact, it was my right shoe that was stuck, and my right foot was released into thin air, leaving the shoe sinking into the mud. As I had a reasonable amount of momentum built up, I didn’t have a lot of time to think, but I tried to effect a Jonathan Edwards-type hop with my left foot, which, given the circumstances, was reasonably successful. Unfortunately one successful hop was not quite enough for any sort of recovery, and the momentum of the hop quickly turned into a trip, and the trip turned into a full-on face plant. I got up very slowly, and for some reason I don’t really understand, because my right foot was completely coated in mud, I hopped, on my left foot, back to my shoe. And, again, for reasons I can’t really explain, picked up my shoe, walked back to the stile, took off my right sock and, standing one legged tried to knock the mud off by banging it, Basil Fawlty style, against the gate.

Now, muddy foot encased in muddy sock inside a muddy shoe, I tried to prepare myself for the next part of the run. I had no idea what I looked like, but if my previously white shirt was anything to go by, my face would have looked like Brutus in the Green Mile, just after the moon pie episode:

And that’s when the dog walker came into view.

“That was really funny” he said, “I really enjoyed seeing that”.

I spent the next 15 miles trying to think of what I should have said back to him. I’m not sure whether I managed anything better than what I actually replied:




How not to run a marathon.

Well, Budapest was lovely, thanks for asking. Just about managed to get under the radar of the stag and hen nights, and was able to see some historical stuff that was really, really interesting, albeit tinged with some pretty unpleasant context. So, if you fancy a romantic weekend away, get yourselves along to the secret nuclear bunker underneath Buda castle, and spend a couple of hours at the House of Terror, the former White Arrow and Soviet secret police headquarters. That should quell your ardour for a bit. And definitely get to the thermal baths, first thing in the morning when the steam is coming off the water, and the mist is down low so that you can only see about six foot in front of you. This means that when a mysterious and obese local in Speedos appears in front of you, it feels like you’re on the set of the Ipcress Files. Very strange.

But, unless you’re particularly twisted, probably best not to try to combine the whole romantic weekend bit with running a marathon. Unless, of course, you’re confident about romping round the course comfortably, slinging your medal on and then skipping down to the thermals with the missus for a bit of a splash about. Unfortunately, I went into the weekend with just this level of confidence and my bravado was undone slightly faster than it took Mrs E to win a short game of ‘I told you so’ tennis.

I’ve run quite a few marathons, and I can bore at international level on what you should and shouldn’t do to stay in one piece. So it’s with a certain amount of embarrassment that I present to you here a guide to some of the most gormless things that a marathon runner can do, with a few lowlights from one of the most gormless runners in the Budapest 2014 starting lineup.

1. RTFM, or read the manual, as we help desk people used to say….
Even though you might have seen something a couple of weeks before that said the marathon was starting at 0930, it might be a good idea to check the night before. Then you’d know that the time had switched to 1100. Then you wouldn’t have had to wake up at 0530 for a 0600 breakfast on your own, never mind irritating your partner by going to bed stupidly early. An early ‘I told you so’ from Mrs E, and the score is love 15.

2. Watch your step.
When you get to the start, and you’re wandering around in the dark, speculating why there’s nobody about (see above), watch where you’re walking. Because you might bang your foot very hard and very painfully, on the fork of a fork lift truck. And it might hurt so much that you swear really loudly, at which point you might be aware that there are actually quite a few people around, it’s just that they’ve been relaxing inside the volunteer tents. Love 30.

3. Relax before the start of the race.
Don’t feel the need to jog back two miles to your hotel, just to tell your wife that the race start is 1100, not 0930. That’s a 6 mile warmup, never a great idea. Also, she’s not stupid, she’s read the programme by now, and will greet your arrival at the breakfast table with a solemn shake of the head. Love 40.

4. Don’t make your head hurt.
Every single training session you’ve done is based on minutes per mile, right? So just because this race has kilometre markers, and just because you’re in a pen that says 4:30/km, doesn’t mean you should change the settings on your watch five minutes before you start. Cos if you do, you’ll spend the whole race trying to calculate your splits into something you understand. Also, there’s a fair chance you’ll start off at the wrong speed. First game to Mrs E.

5. About that ‘fair chance’.
You feel great at the start of a marathon. You’ve trained, you’ve tapered, you’re pumped up. All is good. So you set off at a comfortable pace. Which is, of course, too fast to maintain, but even though you know this, there’s a little voice telling you that you can gets some minutes in the bag now, so as to give you a buffer later. Ideally, you need to tell that little voice to do one. Second game, love 15.

6. Not having a plan B exhibits stupidity.
I’ve had cramp in my last five marathons. I’ve not done anything particularly different training for five years and guess what? I’ve had cramp in my last five marathons. Honestly, how bloody stupid is that? Anyway, if you know you’re going to have a problem, and you know, at 20 miles, that a combination of stopping, stretching, walking and jogging until you get cramp again is just going to make you miserable and not able to walk properly for the next three days, why not have a plan B? Like walking off the course and getting a bus. Or training properly in the first place. Love 30.

7. Maintain your inner monologue.
If, at 26.1 miles, you’re overtaken by the pacing group who you really ought to be miles ahead of, and you just can’t lift your legs to jog over the line with them because every time you do, the cramp feels like Edward Scissorhands is giving you a deep tissue massage…keep your thoughts to yourself. What ever you do, don’t shout out in a really loud voice ‘Oh, For F***’s Sake’. Apart from anything else, quite a few Hungarians can speak English. Love 40.

8. Be prepared.
You know your legs are going to be sore, don’t you? Now you might not have planned that when you took your shoe off following the race that you’d have a lump like an egg on it, courtesy of the forklift, and that you’d not actually be able to walk…but you really should have packed some sort of pain relief. What you probably don’t want to be doing on a Saturday night in Budapest is taking a series of trams and metros on the off chance of finding an all night chemist. And then having a difficult conversation with your partner about possibly having to stay in bed the following day if you were unable to walk. This bit has a happy ending, as it happens, as we managed to get hold of some anti inflammatories that, according to Mrs E, would definitely be banned in the UK, but which she encouraged me to take anyway, which had me springing around like a mountain goat the following day. Almost.

Two games to love on the ‘told you so’ front. No doubt these are all lessons for the future, and I firmly expect to have forgotten them all by the time the next marathon comes around.

Oh, and if you’re reading this dear, you were right. Next time, of course, it will be different x

Bullets for my baby

As with last week’s posting, this is a blog I’ve written for work, but as it’s not going to be published until December, and as it’s about something that’s going to happen this weekend, I thought I’d bung it up here now, with a few tactical edits…

I’d like to start, if I may, with three pieces of paper fixed to the wall next to my desk.

The first is a picture of Steve Prefontaine, probably the greatest American distance runner that never was, and the first ever rock star athlete. He had proper All-American good looks, he was incredibly gifted as a runner, he pretty much inspired Bill Bowerman to invent Nike, and just before his life could get to be in the least bit ordinary, he turned his sports car over after a party, and created an even bigger legend. Any footage you see of him running not only show a mop of shaggy blond hair bouncing up and down as he effortlessly leads from the front, but also a full moustache. It’s very rare that you see anyone these days who looks good with a moustache, as you’ll witness if you spend any time in any office building in the last week of November, but Steve Prefontaine was always something of an exception. Anyway, his picture is on my wall to remind me that the best runners don’t bother to look behind them.

Next to that is a copy of a cartoon from the Eagle, showing Alf Tupper, the ‘Tough of the Track’. The Eagle was a comic that celebrated all things British, in that post-war period when Britain was pretty much on top of its game, and you couldn’t get much more fantastical than the fictional story of Alf Tupper. Born on the wrong side of the tracks, Alf’s natural athletic ability ran into bad luck on a weekly basis, often because he was running against cheating ‘toffs’ or evil German milers. Deprived of any decent training conditions, Alf had to work sixty hours a week as a welder to make ends meet, and lived entirely on a diet of fish suppers. One of these days, I’m going to start a running club called the ‘Alf Tupper Harriers’. For full membership, you’ll have be a fully qualified welder, be capable of running under four minutes for an imperial mile, and prove to the admissions secretary evidence of a chips only diet for a given four week period. Unfortunately, I’ll be ineligible to join on all but one of the entrance criteria, so will have to settle for bronze membership.

And the third piece of paper is an email to my wife from a couple of months ago. The domestic arrangements in the Emu household are such that we end up emailing and texting each other quite a bit, in lieu of ever being in the same place at the same time. It’s an interesting challenge this, as I spend so much of my life writing emails at work, that it’s easy to mix up your styles. For example, Mrs R has never really forgiven me for sending her a link with a message of ‘FYI’. And I’m pretty sure I once sent an email to my boss with three x’s after my name, although it’s never actually been mentioned.

Anyway, this is an email that I sent in May, just off the back of yet another marathon that really could have gone a bit better. If I’d sent it to someone at work, it would have had four distinct, direct and punchy bullets, and, possibly due to the confusions above, it had four distinct, direct and punchy bullets:

“Dear Natasha*
– I’d like to take you to Budapest in October
– this is the hotel we’re going to stay at (link to expensive hotel)
– and on the Sunday afternoon we can go to Margetsziget and watch the well heeled Hungarians walk their Vizsla puppies**
– the only catch is that I’d like to run the Budapest marathon on the Sunday morning
What do you think?
K x”

Well, to my surprise, I got a reply within about half an hour:

“Yes. Do it!”

To be honest, I was expecting a little more negotiation. Mrs E/Natasha is tolerant of most of the whining and moaning that’s associated with marathon running, but tends to draw the line where it impinges on any child-free weekends. But, always one to follow a direct instruction from my little Soviet double agent, I booked the flights and hotel that evening.

When I got home a few days later, I mentioned how chuffed I was that she’d agreed to the weekend. She seemed a little surprised that I was surprised, and after a bit of skirting around the issue, asked what bloody marathon I was blathering on about. Switching seamlessly from doting and grateful husband into full defensive mode, I tried the obvious line:

“Didn’t you read the email?”

“Yes, but not after the bit about the dogs. I lost interest after that.”

So, the email is next to my desk, for two reasons. Firstly to remind me to get a bit of a wiggle on with some training, otherwise I’ll have another embarrassing, cramp ridden marathon, albeit one with a nice walk watching some little Hungarian puppies afterwards.

And secondly to remind me how to communicate with people. If I can’t hold my wife’s attention after three points on reasonably interesting subject matter, it’s fairly unlikely I’m going to do more with some of the slightly, err, drier, topics that I might have to cover at work, for example.

So my top tips are:
– never have more than three points
– make it interesting to the reader
– make it direct and to the point
– feel free to ignore this one

I’m off now. Got a plane to catch with Natasha. TTFN.

* Not her real name, but I’m trying some options out. Gives her a bit of cold-war glamour, no?
** This is not a euphemism. But appreciate it might need a bit of explanation some time.

Running on, and on

I got asked a few weeks ago to write a piece for my work’s inhouse magazine. Not entirely sure why, but I suspect whoever it was who had this bright idea hadn’t read the blog. Anyway, there was a bit of editing before it finally landed, and, partly because of this and partly because reader demand on this blog is currently  outstripping time to write anything especially new (ahem), here’s an edit all for you, gentle reader.

And in the spirit of an workplace magazine, designed to bring out the best in operational efficiencies, controls of a growing business, strategic thinking and investment in people, what better opportunity to write about…running

This, in itself, is a shameless rehearsal for a future career, where I hope to clear up one Christmas with a slim volume entitled ‘Everything I Know About Life, I Learned From Running Stupid Distances At A Decreasing Pace’. Or something slightly snappier. People will buy it in huge quantities, and I’ll be able to use the profits to fund a full time physiotherapist, who will bring me back to race fitness, while I pen my follow-up volume ‘Every Single Thing In My Body Is Completely Knackered Because I Don’t Appear To Be Able To Stop Going Out Running’.

Incidentally, I already have an idea for the front cover, to boost sales. The late, great, Alan Coren was once told by his publisher that the only subjects that ever sold books were Pets, Golf and Nazis, so he called his next volume ‘Golfing For Cats’, with a picture of a swastika on the front cover. Expect something similar in the shops around November.

Anyway, here are some lessons in life from a bloke who runs.

1. You can learn quite a bit from hitting your head on a tree

Well, kind of. I was running with a friend through some woods one day, and I managed to totally brain myself on a tree branch. Using my forehead as a pivot, my whole body swung forward and I landed upon a heap on my back. At which point, my friend turned round, pointed, laughed, and then fell over a tree root. So, watch where you’re going, never look back, and don’t laugh at other people’s misfortunes.

2. It’s hard to look good in lycra

More specifically, it’s hard to look good when you’re at the end of a long hot run, your face is the colour of beetroot, and there’s flies buzzing around your head like you’re PigPen in the Peanuts cartoon. Although, of course, you don’t necessarily realise this – I’ve been rattling along on a run in the past, thinking I’m the living embodiment of Steve Cram in the third lap of the 1980 dream mile, then I go past a shop window, look in the reflection and there’s some arthritic old twit shuffling back from the pub after four pints of Broadside, having forgotten his zimmer frame. Learning to not really care what you look like, a particularly valuable skill when those bloody car drivers point and shout at you, is an essential part of running. And other parts of your life. Two other things, while I’m here. If you’re reading this and you’re one of those gormless car drivers, please, please, please try to think of a better heckle than ‘Run, Forrest, Run’. And if you’re a runner and you’ve decided not to worry about what you look like, just go particularly easy on the bargain shorts that you think you’re going to shrink into. There is a limit to not caring what you look like, and it will be crossed with the wrong size of lycra.

3. Be prepared, be very prepared

Every runner you meet will have stories of little scrapes that they’ve got into by not being well prepared. Personally, I’ve found myself completely lost, in a foreign country with no language skills, a sketchy knowledge of where I last left my family several hours before, and no means of contacting them. I’ve fallen into an ice cold river in the middle of nowhere at 6am on a winter morning, thinking I’d broken my leg, with everyone else in the world safely tucked up in bed. Other runners I know have great stories about being chased by bulls, and getting into fights with pedestrians or car drivers mid-run, being bitten by dogs, or even shot at.  And you hear these stories and ask whether the runner took a mobile phone or told anyone where they were going, and of course, the answer was no. So, be prepared, plan for the worst and hope for the best.

4. Every A has a B

Or, think about the consequences. A friend of mine was training for his first marathon and struggling to justify the long runs to his wife, who didn’t really ‘get’ the whole running thing. So he booked a romantic weekend in a hotel, unfortunately not thinking about the need to fit in his scheduled long  run. So he woke up really early on the Sunday, and snuck down to the hotel gym, to get a two hour treadmill session in before his wife woke up. He was alone in the gym for the first hour and gasping for a drink, so was delighted to see another gym-goer come in, and asked if he could get a cup of water. This was duly passed to him and my friend made the cardinal error of stopping to drink it. The treadmill was set some way forward from the wall of the gym but he still managed to hit it with some force, ending up with an injury that kept him out of the marathon and a fairly testy discussion with his wife over breakfast.

5. Understand your limits

Most runners will tell you that they keep running because it makes them feel good, but you do need to understand the bits that you can’t do as well.  My eldest son ran his first marathon in 2013, and had to go to work the next morning. He had a job at a outdoor sports shop, and was posted on the door that day to greet people as they came in, and tap on the shoulders of the shoplifters as they left.  One lady of about 70 left the shop with a jacket over her arm, set off all the alarms, and he asked her politely if she’d like to go back into the shop and pay.
“No, not really”, she said, and walked off across the car park.
So my boy gave chase. Unfortunately, post marathon, ‘chase’ might have been stretching the point. He tried to walk after her with pigeon steps, each one punctuated by the word ‘ow’.
Seizing the moment, the woman looked behind her, saw this bizarre young man looking like he had nails in his shoes, occasional seizures and a bizarre speech impediment, and slowly walked away to freedom.

So, there you are. Might need a bit of padding out but you get the general picture. I’m still searching for the right title for ‘lessons in life from running’. But it might be along the lines of ‘Keep your head up, and don’t forget to breathe’.