Raising Lazarus at the River Ayr Way

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

After a Gobi Desert type dry spell in the ultra marathon world; and after a disappointing DNF in the West Highland Way, I thought I'd end this season with a bit of a gimme at the River Ayr Way.

Now let's get this right, RAW is still 40 miles, and anyone equating water only flowing downhill with a coasting from start to finish is in for a bit of a kick in the bollocks, but I've done this race four or five times before (I'm sorry, I can't be precise because I don't keep a log of races I've run. I tried keeping a training diary once but the plethora of blank pages months after its beginning preyed upon my mind like Marley's ghost, so I threw it out), always with minimal training, and always achieved a finish (except the time I couldn't be arsed so went to the pub after 10 miles).

My training for this year's effort included three of four gym sessions a week with a blast on the treadmill and one 13 mile off-roader about a month ago. The gallus, over-confident side of my brain told me the 70 miles of WHW in June was enough to get me the 40 miles from Glenbuck to Ayr; its opposing sensible, cautious side did it's usual and remained as mute as a church mouse. Let's just say I'm gonna give the latter mentioned hemisphere a good slap and tell it to speak up in future.

Anyway, the day of the race arrives and Mrs Mac and I are in the little car park in Glenbuck surrounded by 80 or so others. There's a bit of an air of excitement, this being the 10th anniversary race, and folk are chatting happily. I say hi to a couple of runners I know but the vast majority are strangers- testament to the fact that ultra marathon running in Scotland has widened its appeal...or that's just a really pompous, self important belief simply because nearly 80 people have never encountered an ageing tattooed, Londoner on the start line of a race.

Somewhere in the glove box of the car is my race plan that I scribbled down on a used envelope the night before. I reckon I can comfortably average 10 minute miles for 10 miles, then each 10 mile section add a minute which will get me home for a sub 8 hour PB. Piece of piss.

The race starts and my pacing is perfect. I'm happily tripping along, listening to my music, in my Hokas.

Yes, you read that right....in my Hokas.

Having launched an online campaign a few years ago against the bumper car-like monstrosities, and anyone that wore them, I'd gone and bought a pair in the hope they might be kind to the calf that I tore in April. I wore them briefly in the West Highland Way, coupled with a pair of gaiters, and they gave me blisters on my insteps. I blamed the gaiters.

Seven miles into this race, sans gaiters, the familiar soreness at my insteps indicate the gaiters are not the villain of this piece. It's those ridiculously clumpy, stupid looking breeze-block-cum-trainers. The soreness becomes full on blisters and the blisters burst and weep serum into my socks.

Thankfully Mrs Mac is waiting dutifully for me at the shoogly bridge, just past checkpoint one, so I dump the Frankenstein's monster footwear and don my reliable Inov-8s.

Off again enjoying the extra minute per mile I've allowed myself, I'm cruising along for a few miles when 'PING', my lower back siezes and sends signals of pain to my brain, which wakes up the sensible, cautious side, which then instructs: 'STOP WHAT YOU'RE DOING!'

'FUCK OFF!' I reply, and keep going, but my stride is shortened to such an effect that those 11 minute miles are nothing but an unachievable aspiration and that scribbled race plan is catapulted spectacularly out of sight.

Sorn is a lovely little village about 17 miles into the route. The river runs through it, ducks quack and waddle about and there's a beautiful stone bridge where loving couples or families might picnic in the sun. On Saturday, however a dark cloud entered the village, limping along, swearing and cursing and demanding Ibuprofen (yes, I know the dangers of consuming NSAIDs during exercise but they're outweighed by the slagging one might get for another DNF).

Mrs Mac is there with a folding chair set up and feeds me a beef roll and coffee.

'Brufen' is all I can say.

I neck the little, red capsules of relief and set off walking, waiting for them to take effect. I realise that if they fail to improve matters, a DNF might be on the cards, as might a move to Antarctica where I can avoid any claims of blouse ownership and wuss-boy status.

Sometime later the pain subsides and I'm running again. Not exactly Lazarus from the dead, but to me a remarkable turnaround. The rest of the race is really just a hang on for the finish affair, but just to make things a little more difficult, a poorly parked car blocking a gate, a misinterpreted instruction, and an idiotic optimism that the wrong way will metamorphosise into the right way added an extra three miles to my travel.

To make the effort worthwhile, meeting Mrs Mac at Tarholm bridge, where eight years ago a fledgling romance was embarked upon as the River Ayr tumbled beneath our feet, sealed the deal. An encounter with old friends, Tim and Muriel Downie, and Tim's company over those last few miles reminded me of the good people you meet along the way. And my friend and colleague from London, Aldo Diana waiting for me at the finish secured the realisation that, actually it's all worth it.

But some training wouldn't go amiss.

So I got the gimme that so nearly wasn't such a gimme.  I also realised that my days of turning up to races having done minimal, if any,  training are probably over. This, I think, is due to two possibilities, or maybe both playing in tandem. The first is that I've probably drained the well of liberty taking as far as expecting my body to do extreme things without adequate preparation is concerned. The other is that in four months I will be 50 and maybe the  relentless march of time is having a negative effect. Or maybe both are giving me a two handed beat down in these increasingly grey and sparse years. Whatever it is I'll need to be more considerate in the future.

But finally I have to say that Tarholm Bridge, and the vision upon it, were as magical eight years on as they were in 2008.


The Four Goblet Challenge

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Well, it's true that we haven't been here for some time, folks. I suppose the creative activity of the written blog has been taken over by the soundbite simplicity of the micro-blog. Facebook, with its meandering posts, photo albums and quizzes- the other day, after allowing a Facebook app access to all my photographs, I discovered that the Hollywood actor I most resemble is Charlie Sheen (WINNING!). After smugly posting a self indulgent, soft focus picture of myself taken seven years ago alongside one of Charlie before he really smashed the granny out of cocaine and prostitutes, I discovered that a few of my mates were similarly compared to Charlie. Even my Jamaican pal, Radcliffe, my auntie Joan and my dog, Mason.

Anyway, in this rapidly changing landscape of the blog, Facebook was quickly relegated to second division by its limited-symbol, express-yourself-succinctly, bastard child Twitter. And just as I started to get the hang of that particular medium, and the reasons why perfectly sane individuals would post fuck all except a string of loosely associated words all preceded by a hashtag, along comes Snapchat. If you've yet to encounter this most modern phenomenon of the blog world, allow me to explain: it quite simply allows you to send a photograph from your mobile phone to a selected recipient, which is then viewable by that recipient for up to ten seconds before it disappears from existence like a politician's promise.

So, if you're following my rambling logic here, my blog has been out of action because the once creative art of sitting in front of a PC and developing a considered, word processed account of an important life event, then posting it to Blogger or Wordpress, has been rendered redundant by the ability to send a soon-to-expire picture of your cock to your burd.

But why this revival of Subversive Running? I hear you ask. 

Well, going back to its beginnings, the reason for the birth of Subversive Running was to diarise my 2006 journey toward the West Highland Way Race- a 35 hour, 95 mile expedition on foot from Milngavie to Fort William. It was also meant to be a foil to the plethora of boring, rather-gently-poach- my-testicles-in-simmering-vinegar-than-read -your- time-and-splits-obsessed-bollocks. In fact, my blog very quickly became nothing more than a rambling record of alcohol consumption, fighting with police dogs and of being verbally abused by horse riders on Epsom Downs, with zip about running. But its revival is to enable a return to its raison d'ĂȘtre....yes, that's right, I'm running the West Highland Way Race again.

I had a quick scan back to the blog report I wrote following my failed attempt of the race in 2013 and it's a sorry tale of pain, exhaustion and the violent expulsion of fecal matter in a field in Dumgoyne. Indeed, following that race I went on record to swear I would never run it again. 

If you care to look back at that report, entitled 'Bodily Movements in the West Highland Way Race,' and you access the comments section, some of those that contributed their thoughts said things like: 'Yeah, yeah..whatever. See you in 2015.'

Well, they were a year too early but they were right. I'm back.

I've tried to keep away from public statements of my intention to race, preferring to use Facebook to record pictures of baked goods and fanciful ideas that I have a passing resemblance to Charlie Sheen...viewed through the eyes of a partially sighted drunken geezer in a darkened room fifteen miles away. 

That policy came really good in April when I tore my left calf while running up a hill in a weight vest. It appeared then that the race was off and June would see me supporting my big, numb-skulled pal Martin Antoninus Horatio Hooper instead- and assisting him to acquire his fourth finisher's goblet so that he could Lord it all over me for at least the next twelve months.

But the God of calf repair smiled on me and said 'Son, if you're a good lad and you sit on your arse for five weeks I'll place you on the start line alongside your mate, Hooper.' And so he did.

So, I've managed a clutch of 20+ mile runs with two 70 mile weeks since early May and I've done everything I can to ensure as good a chance I can of a finish. But, Dear Reader, this is about more than just a finish. This is the Four Goblet Challenge.

Both Hooper and I have three finisher's goblets sitting on our shelves at home (well, I have two and a half. One of mine was involved in a red-wine-meets-the-sound-of-breaking-crystal event a couple of years ago) and this is the quest for goblet number four.

Before I go off to stretch my hamstrings, bake some bread and do a quiz that tells me I resemble Brad Pitt (or maybe that should be Brad Pitt's arse) I'll leave you with a discussion Hooper and I had while running together last week:

'Here, Mart, you see if we're running this year's race and we've battled valiantly over Conic Hill, scrambled along Loch Lomond and suffered over Rannoch Moor?'

'Yeah, what about it?'

'And then we've stomped together up the Devil's Staircase, seen the sun rise on the Lairig Mhor and then hit the road into Fort Wiliam?'

'Yeah,' replies Hooper, warming to the romantic notion of shared pain and suffering and impending brotherly glory.

'Well, in instances such as that I've seen athletes join hands over the final yards and finish together in a beautiful, sporting display of togetherness.'

'Lovely idea, Dave, I can picture it now,' says Hooper, dreamily.

'Well, the thing is, I can sprint faster than you so you can fuck right off if you think that's happening.'


Drinking and Driving is So Much Fun

Sunday, 15 March 2015

If you're a user of social networking sites like Facebook you would have seen it today.

Every single person who acknowledges being brought into the world through a woman's birth canal wishing their mother, aunt, gran, wife, neighbour and, in one case I saw, some Z-list celebrity, a happy Mothering Sunday.

I avoid such frippery, preferring to look on from afar with snooty, snobbish disdain. Mainly because much of it is just stomach-churning, chintzy nonsense.

But also because my old ma died 21 years ago.

I used to get a bit upset at this time of year because my mum, Val checked out shortly after Mother's Day 1994. But they say time's a healer and it's true that the feelings of loss and sadness fade as the years pass. She's never forgotten, of course but memories of seaside trips to Southend and fishing with a net for sticklebacks in Keston ponds kinda replace the reminiscence of that night 21 years ago.

I'd been to see my mum during the day. It was an 18 mile trip from my house in Surrey to my parents' gaff in Camberwell made easy by journeying on my motorbike. When I walked into the sitting room my brother, John followed in behind me.

Mum was lying on the sofa, her 54 year old body ravaged by chemotherapy and looking like she'd been the victim of a concentration camp. She never carried too much weight anyway...I remember as kids we'd sit down to a meal on Sunday and she'd have a bowl of Brussels sprouts because there wasn't enough to go round.

'Hello, David,' she said (I was always called by my birth name rather than the more common, Dave).

She looked at my brother John and said, 'Who's your friend? Tell him to sit down and go and make him a cup of tea.'

We knew then that things weren't looking good but the quacks reckoned we had another couple of months with her.

We spent a nice day together watching the telly and chatting, my other siblings popping in through the afternoon. When I left I made mum promise me that she'd drink this highly calorific meal replacement shake that she'd been prescribed.

'David,' she said. 'I promise that if I can take it I will.'

I left, jumped on my motorbike and fucked off home. No kiss for mum, no 'I love you', no nothing. We'd been raised to not indulge in such endearing behaviour...I can't recall ever being kissed by my dad in 48 years.

I got home and slammed into a bottle of Scotch. Mum hadn't even recognised my brother, there was no way she was gonna be here in a couple of months. As I sat in my chair pouring drink after drink I promised myself that next time I saw my mum I would kiss her and tell her I love her.

It was 02:30 when the landline next to my bed rang. I picked the receiver up and groggily croaked, 'Hello?'

'David, it's Dad,' came the reply. 'I think your mum's dead. She's lying next to me not moving. I don't know what to do.'

Immediately everything came into focus.

'Dad, what's her temperature like? Have you checked for a pulse?'

'She's cold, son. I don't know how to check her pulse...' then he started sobbing.

'I'm on my way, Dad,' I said and jumped out of bed.

I made my way toward the pile of clothes on the dressing table and stumbled, almost falling over. 'Shit!' I thought. 'That bottle of whisky has properly fucked me up.'

Never mind, it was 02:30 and adrenalin was driving me on. Clothes on, boots on, jacket and crash helmet on and I'm roaring through the streets on my motorbike heading into town.

I got as far as Clapham before a police car pulled up alongside me at the traffic lights that control the junction into Brixton.

I stared ahead, not looking at the car; a sure sign that the motorist in question is panicking. In my peripheral vision I saw the police car's passenger window open.

'Oi,' I heard. 'Look at me.'

I turned my head to see two uniformed coppers in their motor. The one in the passenger seat was young with an Elvis type quiff.

'Pull up the other side of these lights, son,' ordered Elvis.

I did as instructed and waited for the inevitable. There was absolutely no chance of passing a breath test and any romantic notion of outrunning the Old Bill in a haze of burning rubber and a flipped middle finger was dashed by my motorbike being registered to Yours Truly.

Elvis made his way toward me and instructed: 'Take your helmet off.'

I did as ordered and then decided to throw myself at the feet of human kindness and understanding.

'Listen, officer,' I said. 'My mum's just died and I need to get to her house. Do me a favour and let me go.'

I remember the following exchange like it was spoken yesterday.

'You're joking?'

'No, I'm not.'

'How far have you come and where are you going?'

'I left Ashtead about 30 minutes ago and I'm going to Camberwell.'

'Right, if you've got this far in your state I think you'll make it. Tuck in behind us and we'll take you there.'

Ten minutes later I was outside my mum's house shaking Elvis's hand.

'Next time you'll get nicked,' he said as he climbed back into the police car.

I climbed the steps to the first floor landing of the block of flats where my parents lived. I walked along the landing and knocked the door.

My old man answered and just said: 'She's upstairs.'

My youngest brother who still lived at home was sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea. As I made my way up the stairs I looked at him and saw his eyes red and raw.

For some ridiculous reason that I'm fucked if I understand now, I knocked on my mum's bedroom door.


I walked in.

Mum was lying there with her mouth agape. She was nothing more than a husk.

I knew she was dead.

'Mum,' I said. not expecting a response, although I've always been an unwavering optimist.



I left the room and closed the door.

Too fucking late to tell her I loved her.

Too fucking late to kiss her.

If you take one thing from this story let it be that you indulge in endearing behaviour...


I saw my mum two years later.

I'll explain......

In Answer to Your Question, Murdo....

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

It seems planning, buying and cooking my next meal has taken precedent over everything else in my life, recently. Feeding myself seems to have become something of an obsession and other stuff is suffering as a result.

Take training, for instance; I can't face any of that fasted cardio nonsense in the morning. I've got to load up on breakfast before I consider ever raising my heart rate. Then the gap between breakfast going down and lunch prep beginning leaves little time for the gym, regardless of the attraction of the mid-morning MILFs that proliferate David Lloyd Epsom at that time of the day. The afternoon is probably the time most likely to see me pull on a pair of trainers but a post lunch snooze always seems more appealing than a beasting on the treadmill.

I realise all of this kinda suggests I don't work but nothing could be further from the truth. Regular readers of this blog will know my paid employment is as a fire-fighter in the sunny streets of Battersea, South London. But that's a feast or famine type of job (interesting description given my reference to food....maybe it is an obsession). Being a fire-fighter involves four days of blue, flashing lights; hot, red flames and black, choking smoke followed by four days of stand down that ought to result in the perfect time for exercise. 

Alas not.

In an attempt to kick start my training I decided to buy a road bike. I imagined myself streaking along the roads of Surrey, heading for the nearby zig-zag route up Box Hill that inspired so many two-wheeled lunatics during the Olympics. I acquired said bike but in actual fact it now sits in my lounge performing the role of an ineffective clothes horse.

'Why is this?' I hear you ask.

'Because you're a lazy, food-gobbling, shiny arsed twat!' I hear you reply.

Well, yeah...partly that, but also because I'm fucking terrified every time I go on the road and bastard lorries thunder past me. Also, because you get numpty fucking drivers with 50% of their attention fixed to the text message they're sending as they bear down on a totally inept cyclist wobbling along the road like a baby giraffe taking its first steps.

There's a reason for my road-bound terror but I'm not sure the statute of limitation on relating operational incidents I've attended involving dead cyclists would yet allow me. Not that you need to hear this stuff anyway.

But that statute of limitation....I'm not sure it applies to incidents involving animals, does it? I'll let you be the judge of that.

So I received a Facebook message from Murdo The Magnificent today asking me what the Fire Service's current approach to incidents involving cats in trees was (his cat had obviously taken refuge from Murdo's terrible singing in a high, leafy canopy).

I sent what I believed to be a detailed reply and mentioned my personal belief in the appropriateness of the emergency service's deployment to acts of animal welfare.

Murdo's cat decided that the lure of Kit-e-Kat was enough to tolerate his master's strangled rendition of 'Flower of Scotland' and lured him from the branches of his leafy retreat, so my advice was not required, but it got me thinking of the Bronze Medal for Animal Life Saving that I was awarded by the RSPCA some years ago.

You might think that an RSPCA Bronze Medal for Animal Life Saving is pretty inconsequential, right? I'll admit that it doesn't exactly sit as proudly on the chest alongside campaign gongs and medals for gallantry that one might see at a Remembrance Day service, but it once got me out of the shit when I flashed it to an RSPCA officer after being accused of kicking my neighbour's dog.

Anyway, back to my awarding of this medal: We were called to a house fire in Battersea and arrived to discover a two up-two down terraced house with flame and smoke punching out of the windows on the ground floor. At the time I was a foot soldier in the fire brigade and as such received instruction that it was believed a resident was in the property. My task was to enter the burning house with a colleague and a charged hose and search for the individual concerned.

After starting my breathing apparatus set and checking my mucker was ready to go we entered the house and began our search. I would like to say that we charged in and rapidly cleared each room like you might imagine a black clad SAS seek and destroy team might as they hunt some soon-to-be-extinct terrorist cell. But the fact is that a Victorian house affected by fire becomes something of a death trap, with holes in the wooden floor and stairs that might collapse at any moment, so we move through the house without the luxury of vision and with our weight on our back foot, sweeping and stamping with our front foot as we proceed.

After discovering and extinguishing the fire in the downstairs lounge we completed our search of the house, sweeping and stamping every room, hall and landing, content that no human resident was present. You should appreciate that at this time not only was the house still full of black smoke, it was also heavily affected by steam resulting from our successful extinction of the blaze. All of this results in zero visibility....hold that thought.

Upon our exit of the property a neighbour is busy telling the officer in charge that the resident of the house is at the pub but her two dogs and two cats are definitely inside the building.

'Lads, get back in there...there's four animals need rescuing,' instructs our governor. So we do as instructed and head back into the smoky darkness looking for a couple of pooches and a pair of cats. 

It doesn't take long before we discover two small dogs and a wee kitty hiding in a corner of the kitchen. We sweep them up in our arms and rush outside with them. They're placed in the footwell of an ambulance and oxygen is administered by the paramedics present. Luckily, because they're low to the ground, the animals made the most of the diminishing oxygen in the property and their natural instinct to move away from fire kept them safe. But, fuck me, we searched high and low for that final cat. In the dark and smoke we swept and stamped that whole fucking house to no avail.

When we came out we agreed that Tonto the tabby had probably escaped through a window so we packed up and went back to the fire station for a cup of tea. Of course, work still needed doing at the property, but we handed that over to a relieving crew from Tooting fire station. We'd done the heroic stuff, that was later recognised by the RSPCA, and happily left the shitty clearing up to Tooting.

Next day my governor received a phone call. 

It went something like this:

'Hello ****, this is ******* from Tooting. Just to let you know that, last night, after the smoke cleared at that house, we found Tonto the tabby.'

'Ah, that's great. Really glad he's OK...is the householder happy?' replied my Guv.

'Not really, ****, we found Tonto on the upper floor where he'd been stamped flat into the carpet. We peeled him off and could have posted him in a large envelope.'

So this statute of limitation I mentioned.....

Laters (from a holder of the RSPCA Bronze Medal for Animal Life Saving)

A Subversive View on Scottish Independence

Saturday, 13 September 2014

With less than a week to go before we discover whether a union that, at times has been slightly strained, but one which usually sees us rubbing along together OK, will be broken up for ever more.

No I'm not talking about marriage number three.....I keep asking Mrs Mac to tie the knot but she tells me she's got some shopping to do or has to paint her toe nails or something....I'm talking about the rather longer lasting union of the United Kingdom.

Yep, in six days time the Scots go to the polls to decide on the little matter of independence and I have quite firm ideas on this.

I'm definitely and solidly in the No camp.

Why? You might ask.

Well, I've thought long and hard about this but I'm not sure I want to get into a rambling piece about the unity of the working class and how Alex Salmond's plans for unbelievably low corporation tax will benefit large companies but won't ever be passed on to the working man and woman. I think I'd rather consider my affection for a country and a peoples that pretty much dictate where I spend my money, where I go on holiday and what I do while making untold journeys on Virgin Train's wonderful Pendolinos. But I will tell you of my attempt to engage with the debate and put how I attempted to put my opinion on independence to the test.

So I decided the only way to do this would be to come up to this strange land where men wear skirts and women have a hierarchical system based upon the number of their remaining teeth, and get amongst it. I decided that I ought to immerse myself in the debate, in the desire for yes or no, in the singing of Flower of Scotland, in the bagpipes. And in the longer opening hours and relaxed attitude to falling over at the bar. I was also travelling up to see Mrs Mac (who was on a week long course at Stirling University) to get another knock-back when proposing the change of her surname but that's not as poetic and doesn't translate as well into a suggestion that I'm actively involved in the referendum.

Long suffering readers of this blog will know that I'm often in Scotland and it's a place I love. I love it for its scenery, its history, its culture and its quirkiness. I mean, where else in the world can you go for a spot of lunch, order a steak pie and chips (for some reason I'm still yet to discover it's called a 'supper' regardless of the time of day it's consumed) to be asked 'would you like your pie fried or just blasted in the microwave?'

Where else in the world can you go out for dinner, pay the bill with a number of bank notes to be asked 'do you want your change?' Now, I consider myself quite a generous fellow and generally tip waiters and waitresses regardless of the level of customer service but to assume I don't want my change because I'm gonna give it to you anyway is a little rich (excuse the pun). By the way, if you are a waiter/waitress and happen to be reading this, shit customer service will get you a tip. But good customer service and some direction to the higher percentage ABV wines on the list will get you a ridiculously generous tip from someone who doesn't actually earn a great deal.....particularly if Mrs Mac is paying. As she was when this particular incident occurred on Thursday night.

But this is supposed to be a treatise on Scottish independence, not just a few recent observations from eating establishments. So allow me to continue.

So I boarded the train at Euston station for my journey north to engage with the independence debate. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Euston station is a pretty soulless place. It's pretty bland and utilitarian with scant concern for appearing attractive. Travellers tend to stand around on the concourse with their necks craned and heads looking up at the departures board waiting for notification of which platform their train's departing from which acts as a trigger for them to unceremoniously rush to their train in the hope of bagging a table seat.

Once on the train after unceremoniously rushing for it in the hope of bagging a table seat...and failing, I sat watching the minutes tick by to get us past midday. You see I have this rule that alcohol consumption should only ever begin after 20:00. Unless I'm on a plane or train in which case there's a generous time reduction to midday.

At precisely 12:00:01 I cracked open the small bottle of cider I had in my rucksack and began celebrating my journey to Scotland and my engagement and involvement in the Scottish independence referendum. The plan was to pay the extortionate sum of £8.00 for access to the onboard WiFi and research all there was into independence arriving in Glasgow an informed and enlightened man. I also planned to make use of the facilities in the bog to wash, shave and clean my teeth as none of those things had yet taken place due to an overly relaxed approach to journey preparation.

Probably unsurprisingly my plan gradually dissolved as the celebrations gathered apace and the onboard bar got a hammering. My iPad was used for listening to music and looking at Facebook rather than my important research into the potential fracturing of the United Kingdom and my planned visit to the loo to conduct my ablutions was forgotten in a wave of 13.5% red wine.

Having arrived at Glasgow Central I skipped through the streets with my Staffordshire Bull Terrier on his lead and my rucksack on my back toward Queen Street station. At least in my mind's eye I was skipping. To the skirt wearing, partly toothed locals who invariably wore pin badges proclaiming 'YES' or 'NAW' skipped probably translated better as 'lurched ungainly'.

A quick pint in the boozer before boarding the train to Bridge of Allan gave me time to log my iPad onto the free WiFi in an attempt to get a feel for which way Scotland was leaning in the forthcoming referendum. From the online edition of the Daily Record I discovered that Tatiana Williams, a 'voluptuous' transgender woman had spent £60,000.00 to achieve a sixty inch bum and that some Glaswegian police officers so adore a particular sandwich shop that they're willing to transgress parking regulations to get their roll and square sausage.

As I drank my Guinness and marvelled at Tatiana's massive arse I completely missed the opportunity to use the facilities to change my appearance from slightly drunk homeless man to slightly drunk fella that's used a pub toilet to wash and shave.

The second train journey of the day was unlike the first in that there was no onboard bar and therefore no celebrations. Neither was there any WiFi so my iPad once again become a tool for music appreciation rather than a portal into the raging debate over Scottish independence.

On arrival at Bridge of Allan I phoned Mrs Mac who informed me that I was to wait at the station where she would pick me up in 20 minutes. Great, I thought....time to wash and shave. So I dragged my washing bag from my rucksack, placed my iPad on a bin and used its front facing camera as a mirror to shave and wash my face with a few Wet Wipes.

After transforming myself from an unshaven, unclean, wine stained hobo to man on a mission to engage in the independence debate Mrs Mac arrives in her car and I throw my washing bag into my rucksack and we're off to a campsite which would be my accommodation for the next few days. The suggestion that she smuggles me and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier into her University dormitory meets with hilarious laughter and the directions to the Witches Craig campsite.

Now if you've ever been camping you'll know that a successful and comfortable experience depends upon the amount of kit you have and the time spent establishing your pitch. 

Tent erection, sleeping station preparation, table setting, cooker building all takes time. Add in a trip to the local chip shop for dinner and a journey round the supermarket for provisions and we're talking four hours.

Witches Craig campsite. Not a bad spot.

Back at the campsite Mrs Mac and I are chilling out in the warm, early evening air before her planned departure back to Stirling University. A perfect opportunity to log on to the campsite WiFi and start this research into the independence debate thinks Yours Truly.

I reach into my rucksack to retrieve my iPad. I find my washing bag and pull that out. I fish around inside feeling socks, shirts, the odd running shoe.....but no iPad. An alarm bell rings in my head. I turn my rucksack upside down and spill its contents onto the ground. No iPad. Mrs Mac looks at me and I look at her.

'Fuck,' I say. 'I left my iPad at the fuckin' train station.'

'You idiot,' replies Mrs Mac. 'C'mon, let's go and report it as being lost at the Police Station.'

'What for?' I ask. 'Someone will be at home with a free iPad looking at my internet history and my research into transgendered birds with huge arses.'

'If you want to claim on your insurance you'll at least need a Police reference number,' she says.

Despite my complete lack of confidence in the policing of the ridiculously idiotic misplacing of property and a preference for drowning my sorrows in Buckfast, I climb into Mrs Mac's car and we zoom off to the police station. The fucking things not insured anyway but her ideas usually better mine in most instances. 

En route to the police station we pass Bridge of Allan train station and as we do so my eyes widen and my mouth is agape. 

There, on the bin, four hours after leaving it, sits my iPad.

I retrieve it to a repeated chorus of 'you lucky, lucky bastard' from Mrs Mac.

And that, Dear Reader is my engagement in the independence debate and my arriving at a decision on my preference for self governance:

For leaving a £500 iPad in situ for its dozy, idiotic owner to return to retrieve it, the Scottish people can have anything they want, and they can have it with a cherry in top, without any comment from me.


Waiting for the Bus

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Like many of those that might read this blog post (oh for the days when I recorded 300 hits a day) I was nominated by a number of friends and family to conduct the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

While I applaud the efforts normal people go to in order to raise charitable donations for deserving causes I can't help but think for some it's an opportunity to make a spectacle of themselves then dress it up as an exercise in courage and compassion.

So while being someone who likes to refuse to follow a trend I also explained that to accept a nomination for 'David and his entire fire crew' to use fire brigade equipment to soak ourselves on duty, in fire brigade time and then post it on YouTube or Facebook might result in me and my colleagues tapping the boards in a smart outfit to collect our P45s.

And that close involvement of my employer in any comment made regarding activities done in their name is one of the reasons why this blog became somewhat redundant (the fact that it was always supposed to be about running and I've run as many steps as Vanessa Feltz and Alex Salmond put together...a comment about Scottish independence on its way...is of course another).

But here I am, dipping my toe into the water of workplace story telling, because having conducted a robust risk assessment, believe I can get away with this, here goes:

So there we were, 04:55hrs on a random night duty at Battersea Fire Station. Now you have to be aware that due to the dynamic nature of our job we're allowed to 'rest' during the night time in order top be physically and mentally prepared to deal with any given situation. So it's fair to say we were 'resting.'

Rest is disturbed by the trumpeting of the alarm indicating that someone, somewhere is in trouble.

I jump up from my resting platform (you might no this by it's more common name of a bed), chuck on my trousers and shoes and make my way down three flights of stairs to the fire engine. There is a traditional pole to transport the user from the upper floors to ground in a matter of seconds but I find the stair descent provides time to engage ones brain and consider the information regarding the incident that's sent to my pager.

We're on the fire engine and out the doors in a flash of light and sound, barrelling through the streets of SW11 en route to a fire alarm in an old folks' home. The guys in the back of the fire engine are preparing breathing apparatus, the driver is negotiating his way through the virtually empty roads and I'm considering the various scenario permutations that we might encounter.

We arrive at the address to discover an old folks' home in darkness and silence with no apparent distressing occurrence unfolding. Of course that doesn't mean it isn't so a full on approach is adopted ie crashing through the security door armed with breathing apparatus, breaking in gear and mean intentions.

Once inside we stand there, wide-eyed, dressed in the latest personal protective equipment, armed with enough gear to extinguish the fires of hell to be met by a silent alarm panel and a little old lady sitting on a chair. She's dressed in an overcoat, carrying an umbrella and has a rolled up shopping bag in her hand.

'Who are you?' she asks. 'Have you brought the mobility shopping bus?'

'No, my love,' I reply. 'We're from the London Fire Brigade and we're here to respond to a fire.'

'There's no fire here,' I'm told'. 'I'm waiting for my bus. I've got some shopping to do.'

Once I've ascertained the old burd is right, there is no fire, I stand my guys down and continue our discussion.

'So this mobility shopping bus....it's picking you up here, at this time?' I ask.

'Yes,' the old girl replies. 'I've been waiting an hour.'

'What time is it due to arrive, love?' I ask.

'Ten, ten,' she replies.

'Ten past ten!' I exclaim. 'But it's only ten past five! You've got another five hours to wait!'

'Really?' the old burd asks.

'Really' I reply.

'Well fuck that, I'm going back to bed.' she says, and shuffles off down the corridor.

And this event demonstrates the joy of human interaction that my job provides.

We get back on the fire engine a little bit disappointed there was no opportunity to throw loads of wet stuff at hot stuff, a little bit glad that the lack of hot stuff means an absence of sorrow, but laughing our socks off at the Anglo Saxon comment demonstrated by the old burd before hot footing it back to her bed.

One day all of these stories will appear in a book. It'll make me rich and famous and I'll but you all a drink. But only if you comment below :-)

Cold Showers and Abstinence

Friday, 28 March 2014

During my nine-year dalliance with ultra running I often heard fellow athletes discussing their optimum race weight. They would argue that achieving anything but a physical comparison with Skeletor might cost them two minutes and 35 seconds in a 100 mile race. In fact it's a good thing that race registration at the West Highland Way is over in a matter of a few hours or some local Samaritan might establish a soup kitchen in Milngavie car park to feed the poor, malnourished souls that gather there one night every June.

To me, all this talk of limiting ones calorific intake in a running context was anathema because when I trained properly I could scoff like Vanessa Feltz at an eat-all-you-can Chinese buffet. Regardless of how much I ate I wouldn't put an ounce of weight on. In fact, it was all I could do to keep the escaped POW look at bay and Mrs Mac would say that after a long ultra the weight loss could be detected in my face. Indeed, there are a few photos of me knocking about with a race medal round my neck and Cruella De Ville cheekbones jutting from my skull.

As I write this I'm eating a bag of Sharwood's prawn crackers and a big plate of stir fry so you can get a feeling for my approach to 'optimum race weight,' and to be fair it's never been any different when discussing the pastime of quickly putting one foot in front of the other. This, however, is in sharp contrast to a sport I formerly competed in where optimum weight did indeed exist. In fact the weight requirements for that sport were cast in stone and Lord help you if you didn't make it. I remember attempting to boil down to 10 stone, which was the light-welterweight limit, and starving myself of food for two days and going without water for hours before the weigh in for a fight. Standing on those scales in nothing but a pair of pants, watching the metal block being moved along the arm of one of those old-fashioned, upright contraptions, and then being told to go and skip another half a pound off, was torturous. All that was on my mind was a pint of water and a big bag of chips. I made the ten stone limit that day, then went off and put three or four pounds on in a matter of minutes as I hoovered up whatever food was placed in front of me.

Anyway, these days I'm more concerned about Mason (dog)'s weight than my own. He's a healthy 25kg and self manages his calorific intake: if he's exercised regularly he'll wolf his food down; if he's injured and being rested he might pick at what's put in front of him. Plenty of muffin- topped Batterssa Belles could learn a lesson or two from him. But I've had occasion recently to concern myself with the weight of three other individuals. Addi, Mark and Omar, three young men from my boxing club are due to engage in their first contest of pugilism tomorrow night.

It was Monday that Mark, the young, 18 year old man shown on the right of the picture above, arrived at the gym an hour late.

'Sorry, coach I though we were starting at seven tonight, ' he said.

'No Mark,' I replied. 'It's always six in a Monday. Never mind, I can check weigh you for Saturday's bout, come over here and jump on these scales.'

So Mark wanders over to the set of bathroom scales that I keep in the gear cupboard and kicks his trainers off.

'Take that body warmer off, too,' I instruct him. 'That's gonna weigh a few pounds.'

Mark complies with my request and stands on the scales. The needle shoots round the dial and past the Chinagraphed arrow that indicates 76kg, the middleweight limit and target for Saturday.

'Fuck,' I think (because I clearly never use bad language in front of these young people). 'You're bloody 80kg!'

I look at Mark's face in an attempt to detect the evidence of an over amorous encounter with the biscuit tin. He still looks himself in that department, slim and healthy.

I look at his body in an attempt to detect the evidence of an overstayed welcome in the burger bar. Although he appears himself in this department too I notice an extra hood attached to his hoodie. Hang about....it's not attached, it's under the one he's wearing.

'Mark, how many hoodies are you wearing?' I enquire.

'Two, Coach. It's cold out there you know,' he answers.

'Take them both off, you lemon,' I reply.

With the hoodies removed a sweatshirt sits atop Mark's torso with......yep, I'm not seeing things.....a man-bag strapped around his chest.

'Take your bag off too,' I say in an exasperated voice. 'And while you're at it take your tracksuit bottoms off.'

The man-bag gets laid down on the floor and the tracksuit bottoms come down to reveal....another pair of tracksuit bottoms underneath.

'Mark, I ain't trying to be funny, but you've either been on a shoplifting mission in Debenhams or you've been running naked through TK Maxx covered in glue.'

'Coach!' Mark pleads. 'I really feel the cold and I need my bag for my phone and keys.'

Eventually, a rather large pile of clothes topped by a faux Gucci man-bag sit by the set of scales and Mark climbs back on them to watch the needle sweep around the dial and settle nicely at 76kg. He's walking around at his fighting weight and can comfortably continue to eat and drink normally in the run up to Saturday. No starving or dehydrating for him even though he's wearing enough clobber to clothe a small family.

'Good lad,' I tell him. 'Keep doing what you're doing.'

There's an old adage in boxing that I don't believe exists in other sports and I've certainly never heard it in relation to running. I actually believe it to be a myth but it goes something like: 'In the run up to a fight, sex will make you weak so cold showers and abstinence are the order of the day.'

If I were to believe that to be true I've got no worries where Mark's concerned because if he were to find himself in an amorous encounter with his girlfriend by the time he'd stripped that little lot off she would have got fed up and gone to sleep.