Friday, November 21, 2014

Doing the marathon


Some 14,600 people set off in Dublin City Marathon.
Just 12,267 cross the finish line hours and hours later.

For the first time, I am one of them. I walk though many run.

In the weeks that follow, emails pour in offering me photographs of myself in the race.

No thanks.

Nobody looks good in a marathon, except the elite running at the front as if everyone is chasing them, as they are.

People head off in great spirits.
Some end that way, others contemplate their own mortality on the journey and become introverted.

I pass a Lego man who started out so well. His outfit has become dysfunctional and is upended on a park bench for repair as I pass by.

The roads are strewn with the bodies of runners who listened to their memory rather than their present-day fitness. Voluntary ambulance people rush about to attend to self-administered malfunctions of the corpus.

The route is geared towards runners, I come to realise as I saunter along.
Each time I approach a water station or a local musician hired to create atmosphere they are packing up to go home.

Your time is up, their body language says.
Mine says keep going.

I do.

A solitary woman stands at the most difficult point of the marathon and claps like a crowd of one.
I almost propose to her dear heart in gratitude.

At the finish, I run a little to show I still have it.

A man on a public address shouts at me to stop running for I passed over the finish line a distance behind.

A barrier of women in official clothing place medals on ribbons on our heads like the champions we are.

My time was too slow but I know what to do next year.

Grand.
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Monday, July 21, 2014

What if your head was truly on fire ?

 
Race walking with your head on fire is a strange sensation.

This, even after I walk in bright sunshine through a water shower made possible by a local fire tender.

More than 3,000 people, myself included, pass through this quiet rural road on our way around a ten kilometre course.

Most run, I walk determinedly, as do a few others gathered in competitive cluster as focussed on besting one another as any Olympian contest, though they move slower, with more venom.

Later, I discover some jog on stretches where nobody is watching them.

Turning a quiet corner, I meet a parked fire tender belonging to the local Civil Defence Unit. Water hoses spray hanging moisture into the atmosphere from either side of the road.

They offer a choice: walk dry or take a soaking.

I stop beneath the silver spray and thank the god of walkers for sending these fine angels to us on this day in the 20 degree heat of near noon.

Not a very high temperature, but add body heat from competitive walking and the numbers climb.

Soaked through, I walk on with a new squelch in my step.

I do not take on water at the next water station. I am hydrated enough.

A short while later, in direct sunlight, my head heats up from the inside past ignition point to where I wonder what the protocol might be for a fiery head bearing down on the finish line.

I walk on, determined to finish or fall in the attempt.

My head cools down somewhat as I hit a shady area and I pick up my pace, once more.

I pass the finish line and wonder if steam is coming from my ears from the soaking.

Or if smoke is truly escaping from inside my skull.
 
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Monday, July 14, 2014

A lot to be said for a good shout



Not enough people shout out loud any more.

There was a man once who did not like silence and so he used to shout every so often just to make the blood flow a little faster in the veins of all who heard him suddenly give voice.

He called it "having a bit of gas", gas being fun, not exhaust fumes from a metal pipe, or, the inside of a domestic cooker, however temporarily visited.

He specialised in attending public meetings, on any subject at all, just so long as there would be a moment of quiet in which he could interject some noise.


And some jaded listeners.

Ann
ual general meetings were always a good occasion, especially when the election of a committee for the following year came about.

Silence always fell then, it still does, when everyone's eyes settle on anything except the top table where a welcome awaits those with nothing else to do but serve on the committee.

It was then he came into his own for he would suddenly shout aloud to the exasperation of the committee formers and the consternation of those new to the experience.

He would shout nothing discernible at all, at times; other times, he would invent a title of a book or film.


If the chairman was wearing a nice green shirt and was called Wally de Winter for example he would call out:

"The Case of the Green Shirt, by Wally de Winter," he'd shout. "Has anyone seen that yet?"

He used to encourage all about him to join him in "Letting a shout, for a bit of gas,"

At which point someone officious would move to eject him.

He would demand that his freedom of expression be respected and glorious mayhem would ensue.

No.

Nobody shouts enough, any more.



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Monday, July 7, 2014

Never going home


Three flights on one journey will create misunderstandings.

I travel from Umea, in Northern Sweden, to Dublin.

My first flight is delayed landing at Stockholm. There is a long internal walk from arrival. My 100 minutes between flights begin to wither.

Eating french fries at a café I discover I have two minutes to check in, a kilometre away, through crowds.

Chips loosed in my pocket, I eat fistfuls. I gallop.
Through security. No time to re-trouser my belt.
I run with the wide leather belt swinging in one hand.
People step aside. I eat fries on the hoof.

The nearest gate is 21. Final check in time is past.

I am hailed on the public address. "Would Brendan Nolan please contact gate 33"

I want to shout I am trying to do that; but I am finishing my fast food.

Gate 33. All boarded.

An older stewardess calls my name at me?

Yes, it is I. Fame.

I sit, strap, breathe, fly. Nobody cheers, alas.

In Copenhagen, I transfer to my third plane for a two-hour flight. Onboard, I doze. I walk to the toilet. 

I wash my wrists in the tiny restroom. I splash my eyes and face with water.
I press a button on the towel dispenser.
 
Fists bang on the door.

Stewardess; "Are you alright? You pressed the alarm."

I invite her in to explain.

I hold her wrist to steady this slim Scandinavian who flies through the air every day, unaided by me.

She smiles into my eyes and says I was just seeking her company in that room.

I feel dizzy: perhaps I ate the chips too quickly.

We walk the aisle teasing one another, my face still damp.

Strapped men look at me with murder in their eyes.

I may never go home.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Not falling down but walking


The sympathetic word can wound more deeply that any caustic taunt from an onlooker.

People in high visibility jackets clap politely as I walk the roads of Phoenix Park on my own.

They are stewards for an eight kilometre race organised as the first of four warm-ups for the Dublin city marathon, now only some 17 weeks away, down the road.

They say: well done, almost there, when I am still ages away from the end.

The running pack is gone ahead; the stragglers lost in the distance behind me.

Such words are meant kindly, for they believe me to be a runner who has run out of steam and needing encouragement.

Instead, I am a walker nearly losing consciousness from the thrill of passing out overweight joggers who it seems will reach their mortal end before they meet a finish line on this earth.

A man on a bicycle coming down a steep hill says gruffly to me that I should get to grips with matters athletic: I don't know his exact words for he is freewheeling down the hill while I am power walking up it.

I will finish in the low 3,000s out of 5,000 starters, mostly runners; but that does not seem to matter to the well-sayers.

The man on the public address at the end seems to be particularly concerned at my pace: that of a capable walker finishing strongly where he believes, wrongly, that I am a runner who has lost faith.

He addresses me by my name, having found it on the entrant's list.

The god of rain joins in to drench me with driving vertical rain.

I do not care; for I am home now.

I even run a little for the finishers' cameraman.

God forgive me.
 
Personal best, I'd say.
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Monday, June 23, 2014

Fame of a sort

Everyone likes to think they are right most of the time.

Dictators have an easy life. They know they are right all of the time; for those who survive around them attest to that fact earnestly and often.

Celebrities are dictators of a sort. They can dictate nonsense to those reliant upon them for their income and living.


Celebrity though is a fickle master, for who knows who will choose to recognise you in public, for long.

My own life as a celebrity is pretty much in its infancy.

However.

The question must be asked: how many unconnected people maketh celebrity?

I was in Stockholm  airport recently on the way to meet some other storytellers so we could tell one another stories, swap gossip, boast a little, tell lies about ourselves that would harm no one and generally relax in the company of fine beings such as ourselves.

An attractive woman approached me with hand extended in a fraternal gesture.

She hailed me by name, both given and inherited.

I assured her I was delighted to see her and enquired after her state of relaxation.

She assured me all was ship shape in her life and that she was looking forward to our mutual congregation with others.

This re-assured me almost as it upset me, for I now realised I had never met this woman before in my time on Earth.

The crux came when I had to introduce her to someone I did know.

I apologised for temporarily forgetting her name and asked if she might remind me of it.

It was then she revealed to me that she knew me solely through my presence on Facebook.

This to me is celebrity.
 

One so far, but sure it's a start as the mother hen said of the single egg.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Walking with mosquitoes




It's not so easy to behave like a nomadic reindeer herder when all the mosquitoes in Northern Sweden have decided you are today's life source for them.

I  landed yesterday at Skelleftea airport en route to a storytelling conference in the Vasterbotten region of northern Sweden.

Today, I am deep in a forest studying the way of the Sami people with local guides.

So too are millions of flying tormentors, sent by the ancient gods to drive men insane.

Sami nomads followed their reindeer herds across
Northern Europe
as a way of life. Many of the modern Sami are wonderful storytellers; many still mind reindeer.


Mosquitoes do not seem to bother them as much as they do us Europeans from further south.

But no more than our own midges, mosquitoes do not like smoke, so a smoking fire is left smouldering all day
.


The Sami inhabit an Arctic area, covering parts of far northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Kola Peninsula of Russia, and the border area between south and middle Sweden and Norway Their portable dwellings were covered with the skins of their charges.
Modern Sami are recreating the old way of life, notably at Koppsele, an area newly won back for restoration.

We walk through the woods with a guide who points at protruding stones and says here was a home.

Sometimes you take these things on faith.

All I see are random rocks breaking the surface of the path; but no doubt they were someone's  pride and joy at one time.

Meanwhile, our blood is being sucked from us.

We cross a wooden bridge over a mountain stream.

We drink together, my friends and I with cupped hands.

Returning through the woods later we re-cross the same stream.

The woods look different now.

Something has happened.

Mystical day.



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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Walking a mile in my shoes


Walking in drowned shoes is not something to be contemplated lightly. 
 
 
For, it is a sad sight to behold from above. Your once prized footwear sitting there with water dripping from every side.

Silently.

However, out of tragedy comes comfort.

New, expensive, trainers seemed to ask for a night outdoors, alone, on a fine summer's night.

I agreed, and left them at the door, away from smelling dogs and marauding night cats; they would be safe, I said as I repaired to bed and blew out the candle in my mind.

Next morning, the landscape glistened with early dew and the residue of overnight rain.

Alas, the trainers acted as miniature Noah's Arks sans animals or sense; they were soaked to their core and would not even float me through a day walking on the high tracks of Wicklow's mountains.

That's why a trawl began through old boxes and un-opened wardrobes where the raiments of personalities past hung awaiting the Resurrection.

A pair of battered boots lay silently in a remote corner, deposited and forgotten until a time of need called them forth once more.

Slipped on to impatient feet, they were like the caress of a lover of long ago, remembered in dreams and fond imaginings.

Once, they were new and impressed more than one other person with their design and finish.

They accompanied me on many adventures and never once let me down, whether the impulse was to dawdle or depart --- with all alacrity.

Now, they were brought into daylight once more to replace their replacers, if only while the usurpers dried out from the activities of the night before.

We three headed out onto the track.

 It was as if I was being guided by old friends.

All I had to do was relax, and walk.




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Monday, May 26, 2014

The Walking Voter


"Will you vote for me?" asks the candidate.

There are more candidates than could be elected in a millennium of polls; but they are all hopeful.
I semi-recognise this candidate, so I ask the name?

Which is a mistake; for I am then showered with many different pieces of colourful paper in many shapes, according to the printer's current megalomania. All extol the merits of the candidate, mostly in bad grammar.

His featured picture was taken a long time before this day, which is why I recognised him. I could recall the person in the picture, not the puffing would-be legislator moving along beside me, at a trot.

"Are you going far: to the shops, maybe," he asks in hope.

He slows when I explain I am out for a quick ten kilometre walk as part of my training for the Dublin City Marathon.

I entered for it back in the short days of late winter and here in the longer days of summer I am desperately trying to increase my speeds per kilometre.

Distance is coming along nicely as my body hardens up.
Problem is: my mind wanders when I am out walking and I find myself slowing up to smell the daisies.

Which is how the candidate reminds me. I am slower than usual today.

I speed up.

We establish that at a particular time in the past our life paths had crossed. Now, here we were again, both of us running for something, together, yet apart.

Though my running is so slow that I am walking, his is for election, and he will soon come to a dreadful halt when not enough voters agree with him that he is the ONE.

I say I will vote for him, of course.

He falls away from me, in relief.
 
 
 
 
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Monday, May 19, 2014

A cycling ringmaster at the canine circus


No matter how fast you walk someone else will always catch you and pass you by.

I'm out training for the Dublin City Marathon. I bring the dog for company. The dog is not doing the marathon, she is 12 years old, too young in man years, too old in dog years.

A voice speaks in my ear and is then past me, like a bee on a journey somewhere and sounding a loud buzz to clear the way.

The woman's voice is jolly and encourages me to keep going.

It is a cyclist with a crash helmet on.
 
The bicycle she rides has a back carrier upon which rests a high vis rain jacket, though the warm sun is shining in the sky.

We are both travelling along the side of a long rectangular green open space.

Each of us is in the company of our respective dogs. Hers is younger than mine.

While I walk along and mind my own business and my dog does the same, this cyclist seems to believe she is a ringmaster in a circus.

She wears earphones and may hear different voices in her head to the rest of us.

She calls out commands and encouragement to her canine friend who by and large completely ignores her in favour of stray sniffing at who-knows-what in the long grass.

It is my habit to include this rectangle in my training walk to fill out a distance. Besides it's nice and soft on the paws of the dog.

My new acquaintance passes me by once more. This time she remains silent. Her dog is not doing what she commands it to do. I believe she is sorry she hailed me.

I quicken my pace as does my dog, unbidden.

We leave this mad circus behind.


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Monday, May 12, 2014

I'll give you ten bob for it

A man who could not ride a bike at all offered my father ten shillings as a deposit on a bicycle Da had rebuilt from scratch.

This was long before the swaggering cyclists in The Giro d'Italia came flying down the east coast of Ireland and halted in Dublin on the way to Italy.

In high summer, and in his retiring years Da pulled the old bike from underneath a heap of other items that nobody would ever use.

He brought the red framed bike out to the sun and began work.

This was a signal for everyone and anyone passing by to stop and offer advice and opinion, both useful and useless, on the work in progress.

As often as not, stories would be told about great bicycles these people had known in the past; for a bike then was more than a conveyance, it was a part of a person's life, through all weathers and in all social and legal situations, the bike was always there.

That the work progressed very slowly as a result of opinions expressed was of no concern to anyone.

This was detailed work and should not be rushed.

The man from down the road was impressed by the attention the bike was getting and asked if the bike would be for sale?

Invited to state his price, he boldly offered ten bob down and ten bob a week after that.

He neglected to say for how many weeks, for the matter would be ongoing, as far as he was concerned.

"No thanks. Ten bob down and the rest when I catch you with you on the bike, and me running after you,"laughed Da. 

The man was affronted and left.

I dunno whatever happened to that bike.

It may be rolling somewhere still.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ghost train


It is easy when walking along an old railway line in driving rain to imagine you see the lights of an oncoming train.

Except, the last train ran here on the Westport to Achill railway in 1937, so the lights cannot be of a train of this world.

Perhaps it’s a train from the past, still tracing the Atlantic coast, ignoring the walkers and cyclists on the 42km Great Western Greenway, the longest off-road walking and cycling trail in Ireland, they say.


For myself, I have completed a six kilometre section and have turned back to my starting point when the Atlantic Gods send clouds of rain after me to remind me of my human vulnerability.

Where once there were cyclists and a solitary walker; there is only the walker, me, with head down against the saturating sea that is now in the wind.

Primroses lined the path on the way out. Now, green ferns lurk beside the track. They seem to be waiting to grow over the drowned walker.

The line was a single track narrow gauge. The sleepers are gone and the trail is flattened for modern leisure use.

A bike passes by with a small trailer behind it.

Inside is a child in a plastic bubble wondering where it will all end; for if I cannot see in, then the child cannot see out.

Still the grandfather pushing along in the lowest gear thinks this a life-forming experience for his charge.

It is. The kid will henceforth run away when confronted by a bubblegum bubble on wheels.

Then they too are gone.

The approaching lights are cars on an adjacent road, I see now.

Not for the first time do I wish for a ghost to come and rescue me.

I will settle for a ghost train.



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Monday, April 28, 2014

Mush away


You don't always need snow to mush a dog.

I am walking on an April day in Phoenix Park training for the city marathon six months hence when I hear an agitated male shouting at a dog.

The sound is behind me and approaching fast.

A dog pulls a man along on Rollerblades.


Perhaps, this muscle-bound Doberman at some stage had been amenable to guidance by his erstwhile master; but those Elysian days have slipped away like the snows of winter past or summers of distant memory.

For now he would create his own
Elysium, it seems, freed from the fool who is even now pursuing him.

The fool is attached to the racing dog by a leash designed to keep the dog in check.

However, he does not wish to be kept in check. The man does not have the strength to restrain the wilful animal.

Besides, the human is
aboard a pair of Rollerblades which looked fine in the shop; but which he is unable to manoeuvre to halt the dog.

The effect is that of a sleigh with a single dog pulling it and an out of control human behind it.

The man tries a nautical tack of steering across the road from the dog's wake; but it is no use, try as he might the dog pulls him along towards a bend in the road and a steep incline below.
When they pass beyond my ken the man has his posterior stuck in the air and his face dangerously close to the road in an effort to reduce drag.

To no avail.

They part company when the animal veers around the bend. The man continues down the grassed incline.

Alone.

On Rollerblades.

I walk on. I am in training. There is nothing to say, really.

Mush.


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Monday, April 21, 2014

Collateral damage


Not everybody in attendance at the Battle of Clontarf 2014 went away unwounded.

Some got badly fatigued on the retreat to the city when Dublin bus sent its fleet back from the battle stop full of people.

They were then unable to pick up stragglers on the five kilometre march back to town, though unarmed people waved in vain at the passing ships of the road.

It had been 1,000 years since Brian Boru and his Irish army defeated a heap of Norsemen and their Irish supporters in the area of Clontarf.


Many re-enacters arrived from all corners of the globe from Texas to New Zealand, Denmark and Ballymun to pretend to kill one another in front of thousands of people come to see a re-enactment in scorching sunshine.

There was the nub.

Sunshine on Irish skin is more dangerous than any amount of vaux Vikings roaring their heads off.

The glaring sunshine took many of us by surprise.

Including myself.

I had been chatting to the warriors before they assembled to march into battle.

I became trapped among the marching Dublin warriors and could not escape from within a funnel of people newly opened up to allow the column of fighting men through to the battle ground.

Before long I found myself at the corner of the killing ground where I stayed as my new friends walked on.

I was soon surrounded by several million spectators.

Grand so.

But I could not retreat from the beating sun, no hat, nor sun cream was to hand.

That's how I got my battle burns.

Standing in an Irish park in the broiling sun watching a re-run of a thousand year old battle.

Brian Boru was killed that day, though his army won the savage confrontation.

Nobody ever says whether anyone was sunburnt though.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A knee in the groin

I am in a London airport.

I am mightily vexed with body frisks and repetitive baggage checks visited upon us.

This, in response to people with nothing else to do but attempt to blow up aeroplanes with, or without, themselves on them.

This always strikes me as boredom gone mad.

Anyone who thinks that blowing up other people is a worthy idea needs to meet more personable people than the morose mammals with which they are currently consorting.

A good tickle and a chuckle would not go astray.
 Like.



I am in a lift when a pained man in running shorts and a full backpack arrives in with his fully clad wife.

Her demeanour is one of a person on a mission. She wears a smart business suit. It's light in colour for it is a Sunday.

But she makes it very clear she is there to protect and preserve her man.

He wears a very large brownish medallion that somehow signifies he did something worthwhile, like completing the marathon, just now.

He is so stiff in walking that I am reminded of a crab moving along with determined motion.

I think to ask him what his time was; but if it was not up to his personal best standards, then he might be distraught and the woman in the nice suit might knee me in the groin.

Then I wonder if I will mention that I am in training to walk the Dublin City Marathon, a few months hence.

Perhaps not: I am fully clad for I need a pocketed jacket to carry my books past the airline's weighing machine.

I remain silent.

Next morning, when I tumble onto the road to walk, I am stiff of limb.

I wonder if the suited woman is waiting for me.

Security.


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