Archive for the ‘Humour’ Category

Moving To Italy: Two Months In

There’s been a bit of everything in the last month – some ups, a down, lots of uphills, one fall downhill and a lot in between.

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My little Monday and Thursday routine of walking along this pathway on my way to a little pebbly beach called Boccadasse is now well established. I work about an hour’s walk out from the centre, so on my way back, instead of going directly to the centre, I walk down to the waterfront, down little alleys and side streets, always hugging the water’s edge as closely as possible, until I arrive at Boccadasse, where I sit down with a good book and my lunch and just enjoy the moment and consider how lucky I am to live next to the sea. If I’m feeling flash, I’ll also get some gelato from the ice cream shop next to the beach to start my walk home with. My current favourite flavours are panna cotta and marron glacé.

I then potter along the Corso Italia, a lovely spacious path alongside the water, back into town.

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My weekends usually look like this – on Saturday I go to one of the museums in town where I can use my annual pass and on Sunday I walk either up into the mountains or down to the sea.

I’ll say this much, if there’s one thing Italians do well, it’s a museum! They know what they’re doing, trust me. I always want the museums and galleries to be packed because there’s so much great stuff there, I want more people to be seeing it. But at the same time, one of the things I enjoy is the utter peace and tranquility I often find in these places, only disturbed every so often by a few others. My latest great find in Genova is the Galata Museo, the museum of the sea. It was seriously fascinating. On two of the floors, they have built full size ships which are representative of the period in history that that floor deals with. It is fantastic. I was able to go on board both boats and have a really good poke around. On one of them, a guy on a recording was “talking” to me and, although I knew it was for kids and he couldn’t see me, I still felt sort of like I should answer him and so did! I was in the museum for over three hours and only got around half of it! I then rushed the end as they were closing but really should visit soon to do the last half properly.

Two big things have featured in my life in Italy in the last month. The first is my ability to wind myself into a frenzy by my frustrations about not being fluent immediately upon arrival. I recognise that I haven’t been there long and I should go easy on myself but it’s easier said than done. Sometimes I’m fairly at ease when talking to someone and then my words will just eat each other up and I end saying something jibberish then fleeing in horror. Let me explain.

I went for a run down to the sea the other day. I was on my way back after about an hour. I was running up the final set of steps before arriving home. An older couple were walking down the stairs past me.

“Complimenti!” they said, applauding my audacity in running the stairs.

“Sono stanca! Ma ho finito adesso. Il mio appartamento è qui!” – I’m tired but I’ve finished now. My apartment is here – as I indicted just up the road to where I live. Now, I know that’s probably a bit off, I will have conjugated the verb ‘finire’ incorrectly, I’m sure. But my basic meaning was communicated to them.

They said I must be very strong and fast to run in Genova. I guffawed at the “fast” and assured them that no, “non sono veloce,” I am not fast. It was all going swimmingly.

Then as they started to move off, I wanted to say ‘have a good day’ – buona giornata – but realised it was late afternoon so ‘have a good evening’ – buona serata – would be more appropriate but at this moment they were just wishing me good luck – buona fortuna – for the rest of my run. So the thoughts and words got jumbled up and I opened my mouth and came out with “buona ferata” which means….. nothing. It means nothing. A ferata is not a thing. Certainly not a “good” ferata. Silence fell momentarily. Our eyes caught. We immediately looked away, saving the embarrassment for everyone, and I fled up the stairs at a speed I would never have thought possible. “Buona ferata,” I spent the next few hours muttering confusedly to myself. “It doesn’t even bloody mean anything.”

At the moment, language-wise, there is still a disconnect between my brain and my mouth when conversing with Italians. They speak Italian to me. My brain madly sorts through possible replies, limpingly says something which is inevitably wrong then backs out fearfully and leaves my mouth, abandoned and empty of content, fear in my eyes as the silence falls and I know, somewhere, that I have the words I need, they just refuse to enter my mouth. As I depart from the conversation, I will be able to conjure up exactly what I should have said in reply, just not at the time when I needed it.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a meltdown, along the lines of “how can I ever survive here if I can’t even make my brain tell my mouth what to say in real basic conversations?!”

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The day after this meltdown, in which I had convinced myself that I was cursed to a life of silent nodding so long as I stayed in Italy, I woke up and just didn’t feel that way anymore. I’ve never been that worried about meltdown days as I know they serve a purpose. Every meaningful positive change I’ve ever made in my life has consisted of a turning point, which was usually a meltdown day. So even while feeling down, I knew I had to go through that phase, to push me to change things. Since then, I’ve made a few language exchange links with other Italians and started doing Skype calls which are half conducted in English, to help them, and half in Italian, to help me. It is helping to build my confidence with speaking.

It’s still very early days and learning a language does things to you that are unexpected. For example, as a generally chatty confident person, to have that natural instinct whipped out from under your feet is strange. There are words flying all around your head, everyone is smiling, laughing, raising voices, disagreeing in a friendly way, discussing something interesting…. and you can do nothing. You can’t join in as you’re not completely confident what is even being discussed, even if you do know what everyone’s talking about, you can’t formulate answers in your head to contribute, you can’t do a witty joke because a) you can’t think of the words fast enough and b) even if you could, would the humour translate well? Thus, the completely alien situation of being a rather shy, quiet figure in a crowd, with the very real possibility of being considered boring. This was unexpected, this new facet of my being, the boring wordless version of me. Hopefully, when I write a month three update for you, I will no longer be boring.

The second thing has, thankfully, been more upbeat. I was finding that the downtime I first loved when initially leaving London, had started to stagnate a little. I wanted to move again. Sitting around for hours on end with nothing to show at the end of the day wore thin and I decided that the hills would no longer scare me and I would get back to running.

After a few brief excursions out, just little runs of twenty minutes, I have started in for some longer routes. Down to the sea and back takes about an hour, depending on my route. Up into the hills and around can be anything from thirty minutes to an hour. I am running every other day and discovering new places with each run so it is also nice for exploration of my new home. I did, however, recently, fall victim to the uneven surfaces that are all over Genova and about which I am constantly conscious.

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Sure enough, they claimed me on my last run before returning to England for Christmas. I lost skin, dignity and part of my knuckle in the fall but I am recovering well and have barely told anyone about it nor expected sympathy or kept showing off my wounds. Honest.

Christmas and New Year in England have been lovely and very mince pie filled, given that mince pies aren’t sold in Italy so I’ve had to get my fill while here. It was awesome seeing my nephew, easily the best conversation being the following:

My sister-in-law: “What’s the largest planet?”

Nephew: “Jupiter.”

Sister-in-law: “And what’s the hottest?”

Nephew: “Mercury.”

Sister-in-law: “And what’s the smallest?”

Nephew: “Mars.”

Sister-in-law: “And what planet do we live on?”

Nephew *thinks for a moment*: “London.”

All in all, month two has been shakier than month one, less of an exhilarating high because I live in Italy now and more of a realisation that if I want to say more than ‘hello, how are you’, I’m going to need to really put in some hard work and effort.

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The Tobacco Man

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A couple of times every week, I go to one of the shops, known as ‘tabacchi’ to buy stamps to send letters or postcards. I like to write letters. Moving to Italy has allowed me to indulge in this now-quaint pastime of laboriously writing down on paper what I could send easily in a text (which would take less half the time to write), then digging out the address of the person I am sending it to, then walking down to the tabacchi, purchasing a stamp, then finding a letterbox and posting it. It then takes between one and three weeks to arrive at its destination, where the information is now far outdated, as I have continuous daily contact with the recipient or, if not, they have probably seen something on social media, so are informed about how life here is going for me. It’s all a bit of an unnecessarily large rigmarole.

Nevertheless, I love it. I love applying my thoughts to one task. One cannot be doing a million other things when one is writing a letter. One can easily text whilst also making a cup of tea, putting the pasta on to cook, talking to one’s flatmate and listening to an audio book. A letter, though, refuses to take a backseat. It will have centre stage or nothing. If your flatmate wants to talk to you, you must stop writing until silence again reigns and you can return to the letter. I like the totality of the experience. I also like the routine of buying the stamp and posting the letter then waiting excitedly to hear that it has been received.

Going to the tabacchi to get a stamp has almost become the part I love the most, though. I always go to the same place. It’s between Piazza Marsala and Piazza Corvetto, on the right, near the roundabout.

I go in, holding my letter, rehearsing in my head the Italian words for what I want. I see the man, who I refer to in my mind as the tobacco man, although a tabacchi sells way more than just cigarettes. They are more like English convenience stores, but smaller. The tobacco man is sometimes at the back of the shop, but usually behind the till on the left, often hidden away, kneeling down, unpacking something, doing something important.

“Buongiorno,” I greet him.

“Buongiorno.”

He smiles, imperceptibly. On my first visits to this tabacchi, he stayed straight faced. he was polite but not friendly, as such. He was helpful but not demonstrative. Yet something about him made me smile, made me want to get my stamps from him only. Over the weeks, as I visit every few days, his manner has shifted ever so slightly, from politeness to recognition, from helpfulness to friendliness.

“Avete il francobollo, per favore?” I ask – do you have a stamp, please.

He asks me where the letter is going to, even now, when for seven weeks I have only ever asked for a stamp for the same place.

“È per Europa,” I say.

He asks me for the letter, while getting the stamps and asking for “zero, novantacinque,” 95 cents. He peels the stamp off the sheet then sticks it in place for me. He always does it himself. He never hands the stamp to me to do.

I hand him a one euro coin and he gets me 5 cents change.

“Grazie,” I say warmly. “Buona giornata.”

“Anche tu,” he says, politely, as I smile over my shoulder, thinking, one day we’ll have a chat about the weather or something, just you wait and see.

Not yet, of course, that would be far too much now. I mean, it’s taken seven weeks to get that slight smile from him and something resembling familiarity. One can’t rush these things, you know.

But sometimes I think about the tobacco man and I think about how it is when you move to a new country and have to learn a new language and make new friends etc. It comes slowly, very slowly. The new place has to get used to you, to the fact that you gave it no choice but are now existing in its midst, demanding it’s time and attention, poking your face into it’s museums, fancy churches, cafes, shops, demanding that it allow you to make a life here.

Sometimes it feels like Genova has chosen to say no, you may not just blend seamlessly in here, you must struggle, you must feel intimidated, afraid to even conduct basic conversations due to the certainty that you’ll get it all wrong. And then sometimes, it smiles a little, makes room for me, engineers a chance encounter that will lead me to new opportunities, help me see the beauty and wildness of this country, with it’s unforgiving mountains which turn you around, get you lost, throw brambles at you, and it’s unevenly surfaced hills and steps, which trip you up and throw you, sprawling, to the ground, to remember that, just because you are living out your dreams, does not mean it will be easy.

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Campout Fun In The Park

We gathered outside Richmond station in the evening light and after quick hellos, started to make our way up the hill to watch the beautiful red sunset over the river before making our way into the park and finding a little copse of trees with a small clearing, the perfect place for 10+ people to share.

Out came the ground sheet and on went the snacks. There were homemade flapjacks, a loaf of bread to tear and share (a trademark of Laura-led YesTribe campouts), delicious chocolates, crisps and, pleasingly, some freshly-mulled wine. We got underway with introductions.

“How did you hear about the YesTribe? What does it offer you (or mean to you)?”
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“I met Dave at Explorer’s Connect.”
“I was on the Mississippi with Dave.”
“I heard about it through Project Awesome.”

“I have been living abroad for twelve years and the YesTribe offers me a way to find like-minded people in this country.”

“My job is stressful and it feels good to get outside for a night.”

“It’s nice to spend an evening with people who don’t think I’m crazy just because I want to sleep outside.”

“I don’t have to explain myself to my fellow YesTribers.”

“It’s a way to reset my batteries in the midst of manic London life.”

“It is exciting to be around like-minded people.”

“Tell us something interesting you did recently.”

“I ran a vertical mile.”

“My work agreed that I can go down to a four day week.”

“I had a go on Dave’s half-bike in the park.”

“I just got back from travelling around the Balkans.”

“I learned how to ski.”

“I signed up to the Sierra Leone marathon.”

“I decided to make proper steps towards moving to Italy.”

As we shared our stories, more and more common ground was found. The phrase “like-minded people” came up again and again. It was a few people’s first campout. Others had done plenty. Someone wanted advice about how to carry camera equipment while running a marathon. Someone else had a contact in Italy. Someone else wanted to learn how to stand-up paddleboard. One of the group was fresh back from a three month stand-up paddleboarding trip. Someone wanted to cycle through South America on a homemade bamboo bike. Someone else knew someone who had built their own bamboo bike. One person is forging their way ahead to a zero waste life. The rest of us marvelled and asked for tips.
This is what campouts are about. Learning from each other. Feeling our hearts warm as they fill with inspiration.
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A few late stragglers joined us as we put out tarps to protect us from the rain we knew was coming in the early hours and got into our sleeping bags.

We awoke to a scream from eight-year-old Emily (“Aaah! There’s a slug!”) and the smell of coffee being brewed. One of our number is an expedition leader and, like a boy scout, he had come prepared. The cool factor sky-rocketed as he whipped up bacon sandwiches (with ketchup!) and freshly made coffee. We then slowly packed up our stuff, gave goodbye hugs to early leavers and configured our brains for re-entry into the ‘normal world’.
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In fact, the more nights I spend outside, as nature intended, the more I think that this is what normal is supposed to be.
(Thanks to the gorgeous Anna for the amazing images! Find more of her stuff here.)

Thank You, Italy

I wrote this the day before leaving Italy, on my run from Rome to London:

I held the scrunched up napkin in my hands and told my two fellow pilgrims, “This napkin is the pilgrims and my hands are Italy.” Then I wrapped my hands gently around the napkin and held it to my heart.

“This is what it feels like to be a pilgrim here.”

I have spent the last forty days in Italy, traversing its length from Rome right up north to the base of the Alps, where I sit now whilst writing.

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It has been the most incredible forty days. I have run through Tuscany’s rolling hills, I have clamoured alongside Lazio’s motorway, I have plodded through Lombardy’s endlessly flat rice fields and I have limped my way through more hours than I care to count. Through it all, the ever-present warmth and care of Italy for it’s pilgrims has nudged me on when I felt I had no more to give.

Here I have lost my heart and I am not sure I will quite feel complete ever again until I return. The joy of bathing in Italy’s musical language has been a rollercoaster ride of fun, confusion and education. I am now fairly fluent in the essentials of saying no but ‘grazie‘ to the constant lifts I am offered, explaining that ‘si,’ I am travelling ‘a piedi‘ and have done all, ‘tutti,’ by foot from Roma and will ‘finisce a Londra‘. To their shocked faces I explain that I am a pilgrim, ‘sono una pellegrina‘ and as their faces show recognition, ‘ah, la Via Francigena?’ and I nod, they wish me luck, ‘buona fortuna‘ or ‘in bocca al lupo‘ and drive off. It is a conversation I have at least five times a day.

Italy’s stunning landscapes have surprised me time and again. From crossing streams in thick forests to climbing mountain passes, every day brings with it a new terrain and a new challenge for me to encounter. I love just trusting myself to the route waymarkers and seeing what will happen. The route, the Via Francigena, does occasionally spit me out in a field someplace with no indication of what to do next and no clue where I might have gone wrong, but on the whole, I can trust it to get me to my end destination for the day. Every time I pass a marker, I say a little “grazie” to whoever took the time out of their day to put it there.

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The red and white stripe on that tree is waymarker for the route

I also say a “grazie” to all the people in towns on the route who put water or food out for pilgrims to take, for the people who keep a room in their house for passing pilgrims to stay in overnight, for the people who’s religion leads them to show kindness to the pilgrims who come asking for a place to stay. I have stayed with nuns, monks, priests. I have stayed in convents, monasteries, churches and a 1000 year old Cistercian abbey.

To be a pilgrim in Italy is to feel a whole country take you into its arms and guide you gently through.

I am now halfway through my run home from Rome. Tomorrow I will go to Switzerland and leave this wonderful country behind. I have no idea what awaits me in Switzerland or France but I already feel a deep sadness about leaving Italy that will take a while to overcome.

Thoughts on finishing my first marathon

Well, to say I was desperately under-prepared is to put it mildly. I hadn’t trained properly due to two hospital stays in the five weeks leading up to it. This meant that at a best guess, I have probably run about four times in the past month. Not what you’d call ‘training runs’ either, between nine and thirteen miles each time. This may initially sound like a lot but when you consider that a marathon requires you to run thirteen miles twice, it adds up to a rather forlorn picture.

There I was this morning, at Beachy Head, feeling pretty chilled cause I had no illusions that I was going to do well. I was simply interested to see what my little legs would do, at what point they would give out and send me shame-faced, back to get my bag, having dropped out from sheer despair. I had downloaded an array of audiobooks so that I would have anything my brain could want to keep me going. I was wearing a completely inadequate bra for running in because I had forgotten to pack a sports one. Everyone around me had Camelpaks and belt things which looked like they should have guns in but actually had bottles of water and snack bars and gels. They were fiddling with GPS watches and Ipods and advising each other which hills to walk and which to run and talking about how they wanted to aim for ‘sub four hours’. In short, everyone looked prepared and raring to go. In comparison I had a raincoat tied around my waist, my ‘barefoot’ shoes on and nothing in my hands. Nothing. I wasn’t even wearing a watch. I was amused at my own audacity at even having arrived at the start line.

Before too long, we were counted down and off we went. The first thing that happened was the steepest hill I’ve maybe ever climbed in my life.
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After our flurry of activity leaving the start, we all accepted the inevitable and slowed to a walk, even the speedy Gonzales’ up front. Once we had crested that hill, I expected we’d be able to get running but the incline continued steadily and I was determined not to go until it evened out or I would end up using all my energy in the first mile.

Finally we were able to pick up speed and the sight-seeing began. It really is a beautiful part of the world and we were running on the South Downs for the majority of the route. When I reached the 4 mile marker and had some water, I was genuinely surprised that I was making ok time. Considering the large amount of walking that I had done, I expected it to be the afternoon already.

The path leading away from the water station was steep and rocky so again we filed up the hillside at walking pace. The stony pathways were starting to bug me as, with my minimalist shoes, I felt every annoyingly spiky stone, stabbing the soles of my feet. I had it easy, however, as I found a real barefooter at this stage.

“O god, these stones must be so annoying for you!”

“Yeh, I didn’t realise it would be this stony.”

“Me neither,” I said, then revealed conspiratorially, “I didn’t read up about the route or anything. I’m so unprepared.”

I don’t imagine I needed to tell him this, given my general look of having brought nothing and prepared nothing.

When I reached the 8.8 mile marker I was again surprised that it was not nightfall yet and that I seemed to be making alright time. Most surprisingly, however, is that I was genuinely enjoying the views and being outside surrounded by such beauty. I kept looking around, grinning and stopping to take photos.
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I was able to appreciate things external to myself. I had expected to have withdrawn into my head by this point and be fighting a losing battle to persuade myself to keep going and that the end was getting nearer the whole time. But I didn’t need to. I felt fine. My legs felt fine. My mind felt fine. So on I went, rather pleased with myself.

At the mile 12.2 marker, we went through a little village and loads of people had come out to cheer us on and clap and say encouraging things like, “Come on 1142! Keep going, looking good! You’re doing well!” Suddenly I got all puffy-chested and picked my feet up a little more and lifted my head up and smiled at my adoring fans like I was Mo Farah. I powered on through that village, eager to show them my sporting prowess. I heard whisperings of hot cross buns up ahead and that was all I needed to speed things up even more, arriving at what felt like a million miles an hour and filling both hands with hot cross buns before heading off to chomp en route.

We passed the white horse in the distance and I photographed it to show you all but I can’t remember what the story is behind it. Anyone who knows is welcome to inform me. I just know that it’s carved into the side of the hill and it’s famous. You’ll have to really squint to see it. It’s just left of centre.
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At mile 16.7, a lady said, “Oo, look at those,” about my shoes and asked me about them. I had a good old chat with her about how I feel I run better in them, how my legs felt totally fine and I felt on top of things. She said, “Yeh, you look amazing. You realise you’ve run 16 miles?!” I hadn’t and I got a bit puffy-chested again from the compliment. Only ten miles to go and I still hadn’t collapsed in a shivering wreck of nerves and broken limbs. Something was going right, strangely enough.

There were no more markers after this but somewhere before I overheard talk of 19 miles, we had two stair climbs – a fairly small one and then a huge one. I could hear people saying, “O, is this the 204 steps?” and I thought to myself, “Should have read the race info.” I had no idea there was a 204 stair climb. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be actually. Lots of people were hanging onto the railing for dear life and panting heavily but I just looked down and stepped and stepped til it was done.

Thus began, the Seven Sisters. Yes, another point at which everyone else seemed to know what was going on (“How many have we done? Three?”) while I powered down hills and crawled up hills and wondered when it would end. It was about hill six when I heard someone say, “Almost finished the Seven Sisters,” and realised, again, that I should have read the race info beforehand. At the last hill, a man passed me by in the other direction and said encouragingly that it was the last of the Seven Sisters. I stopped to chat (any excuse!) and he explained the rest of the route to me, saying it wasn’t far to the finish. He appeared again, miraculously, about ten minutes later as I approached a food station and walked with me. He said he also runs in minimalist shoes and had done the 10k that morning. I mentioned how stony paths ruined any illusions of running as you just can’t get up any speed when you are feeling every stone. He kindly offered me a banana and said encouraging things about how I’d finish the marathon, no problem. Feeling buoyed up by this, I pottered off to the food station (“O god, there are people around, I should run in case they’re watching.”) and immediately located the cake supply. Two hands full, quick drink of water, on I went.

Something happened at this stage. Because I knew I was so close to the end, only four miles or so, and was still feeling fine, I got all complacent and started to treat it like a stroll in the countryside.
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I strode purposefully but feeling no great need to actually turn it into running. I was winning at life and I did not have to prove myself to anybody. Plus, it was my first ever marathon. If I got a slow time, it would make it more easily beatable at my next marathon. It was a strategic move, you see? Not laziness.

Seeing a photographer up ahead when I was a few miles from finishing, I said to the lady next to me, “Come on, we’d better run, he’s taking pictures!” Laughing as we noticed the people behind us doing the same thing, we ran and kept up the momentum for the next long slow uphill. Fortunately I was actually moving with a little speed when I saw the man from earlier clapping and shouting, “Come on, Vibrams!” (I was wearing Vibrams.)

Finally, some marshals directing us around a corner said, “Only one mile to go,” and I couldn’t believe it. Without feeling like I’d put myself through any great difficulty, I’d pottered a distance of 25.2 miles at an alright time. I checked with my mind and I was feeling pretty good, not despairing or desperate for it to be over. I checked with my legs and they were good too, no big aches or pains at all. I checked with my feet and ankles and, while they were feeling a little weary, they were by no means about to go on strike. It was all really rather surprising.

As I rounded another corner, I saw the mammoth hill we had walked up at the very beginning and the red finish line and scampered down, eager to finish. As it levelled out, I sped up, faster than I think I’ve ever run in my life, and shot like a bullet to the finish line, claps and cheers accompanying me as I overtook the other runners. I barrelled into the finish area and a waiting medal giver-outer called me back, saying that if I went off without my medal, I’d have to go all the way round again in order to get one!

It all felt quite surreal afterward. I located my bag and went to change out of my running clothes then, with a few hours until my train, I went back to the finish line to clap the other runners in. For some reason, seeing the others finish kept reminding me of my own finish and I started to feel a bit emotional, turning to make my way to the station with tears in my eyes (I always cry after running long distances, it seems).

So there you have it. A surprisingly ok marathon after nowhere near enough training, the wrong bra and not reading any of the race info.

A Farewell To Facebook

It’s hard to know where to start with this. Like a break-up, there’s so much that needs to be said. Like a relationship that has soured, I am becoming someone I don’t want to be when I am with you, Facebook. I am unable to distinguish whether I am proud of myself because of certain achievements or I only become proud when I have shown the world the achievement and the world has given me a thumbs-up. Do I feel real pride in myself if there are no ‘likes’? I’m not sure any more. I’m starting to fear that the things I don’t like in the world around me are creeping into my own behaviour. Selfie sticks, statuses that let everyone know I just got home from work and am knackered, a need to photographically record significant moments, a resulting inability to assess what are significant moments and what are simply moments. Moments that probably don’t need sharing.

Because they’re not interesting to anyone else apart from me?

Because they don’t accurately represent my real life?

Because some things should be private?

Because privacy is an alien concept?

I worry about the version of my life that people see if they look at my Facebook. It’s not my real life and I don’t want people to think it is. Although, I don’t necessarily want people to know what my real life does consist of. I feel that in this age of recording obsessively, privacy and reality will be the last vestiges of sanity. In years to come, we will wonder why we needed to tell hundreds of people when we felt ill or excited. It will seem odd, embarrassing. Those momentary bursts of anger that we shared will now exist in the ether forever. Long after we would have moved on, the words we wrote sit there for everyone to see. When we have such an open view into each other’s homes, relationships, children, the space we spend away from Facebook will become the space we most treasure.

Even this post is a puzzle to me. Am I writing it because I really want to leave Facebook or am I writing it because I want people to see me doing it and, thus, in some strange way, admire it, giving me my required dose of outside approval? If I really wanted to leave Facebook, would I be doing it so publicly? I don’t know anymore. Simply being self-aware doesn’t make one immune to the forces that pull us all toward the desire to share.

Is the desire to share a bad thing in itself? I don’t know that either. I only know that something about it doesn’t sit right with my soul. I feel down in my bones that, while I love keeping up with what friends are doing, I sometimes find myself losing vast amounts of hours scrolling down my news feed and this is not a good thing. I’m just scrolling down…. down… down…. Looking…. And I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I never find it. I’m just killing time.

What a ridiculous concept, that I would need to kill time. I’m at a point in my life when I have finally decided to embrace the thing I have always wanted to do, since I can remember ever thinking about it. I am writing. I would like to be a full time writer. For my job.

There. It’s out.

It may go nowhere. You may never hear of my name connected to something that is successful. That’s not really why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because of the need to be honest about who I am and what I want to do.

To become a writer, I need to write. I have things in my head that I am constantly contemplating. I read lots of different books at the same time, to fill my head with as many styles and ideas and words as possible, to develop as a writer. My spare time is spent reading, writing, running, thinking. Or rather, it should be spent doing that.

What am I doing instead? Facebook. I can feel myself wasting my valuable time and I wonder when I’ll realise that the trade-off is no longer worth it. I am distracting myself from the thing I most want in life because I’ve deemed it necessary to share the 17 mile run I just did. The 17 mile run exists, regardless of whether I share it or not. I’m not sure that I truly appreciate this fact.

A holiday is still enjoyable even if I don’t tell anyone it happened. A relationship is still full of love even if I don’t change my status to ‘in a relationship’ online. It is still possible create and leave something behind in the world without the relentless pursuit of an online persona. And if my writing is good, it will still find an audience even if I don’t post a link on my Facebook account.

And so, I have made a decision… I think. I have decided to suspend my relationship with Facebook. We’re taking a break from each other until I have finished what I’m working on. I can no longer justify the Facebook hours while my half-baked ideas go undeveloped and unwritten. If I can think reasonably about you after this break, we might get back together but it might be that we’re better off apart. Let’s see, Facebook. Let’s just see.

Goodbye.

Why it’s not just about the fun

It’s a strange concept, taking time off work (very unusual for me) and spending money and effort for something that, ultimately, I wouldn’t say was ‘fun.’

My Wellington Run has taken a while to digest but I’ve finally arrived with a solid understanding that it was a very very good thing to have done. Although a part of my brain knew this when I finished, I couldn’t really embrace it because of how much I wanted to sit down and eat cake. Some days it wasn’t really fun, day 2 for example. Day 2 was rough. I just had this overwhelming need to stop. The miles yawned out in front and I couldn’t seem to cover much ground. I ate a huge portion of my supplies and wondered about quitting. That day alone was not fun.

The next day was different. I smiled at horses in fields. There was much less stopping and my end point for the day was a beautiful farmhouse in the countryside. But again, that wasn’t really ‘fun’. Fun is the wrong word. I was doing well and I felt good. It’s different to fun, which is weird because I’ve identified with ‘fun’ for so long now. I don’t have children, I don’t have any big expenses like a house or a car that have forced me to do office jobs I don’t like in order to have money to pay for expensive things. I live a surprisingly selfish life. I only really do things I want to. And the things I choose to do tend to be things that I find ‘fun.’ Hence, ‘fun’ is my first check when I’m doing something.

‘Is this fun?’ If the answer is no, I generally stop.

Running has kind of broken the rules here though. When you first run, ‘fun’ probably isn’t how you’d describe it. It’s achievement, rather than fun.

When I think about my Wellington Run, it’s easier for me to view it as a whole now, as a thing I thought about then did. A thing that nobody else has ever done. No-one has chosen those roads and paths or started and finished in those locations or sat in that field and cried, trying to complete the mission. I invented the mission. And then I completed it.

It’s bigger than fun. It’s also more important than fun. It’s the knowledge of yourself. It’s knowing that you can power yourself to the coast of England, with no help, just your own little legs. I think we all know that any of us could do what I did. I’m not particularly special in my abilities, only in that I was brave/stupid enough to test those abilities in the way I did.

As a journey that I undertook from start to finish, I now view it as one hazy green forward motion. The fact that day 2 was really hard is meaningless in the overarching whole that was the 90 mile run to Walmer Castle. That’s why I got a bit overexcited the other day and signed myself up to a few (yes, a FEW!) marathons. I imagine it’s like the memory loss about childbirth that people get when they decide to have a second child, even though having the first was crazy painful.

My lasting impressions are of having spent four and a half days immersed in greens and blues, of seeing step by step the best that England has to offer. To run is to be part of your environment in the best way possible. It is to really love, really really love, the outdoors, with a craving that lingers down in your bones. It is as far from the associations I have with the word ‘exercise’ as you can get. It’s more primal, I think. It just kicks in and once you understand it, there is a basic need to run in order to repeat it, again and again.

So the next twelve months are about marathons (crazy, I know!) and during that time, I think I will plan another solo adventure. (I’m open to suggestions, by the way.) Here’s to more non-fun! Try it.