The Tobacco Man

IMG_20171125_143840.jpg

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 It then takes between one and three weeks to arrive at its destination, where the information is now far outdated, as I have continuous daily contact with the recipient or, if not, they have probably seen something on social media, so are informed about how life here is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.

IMG_20171220_152248_162

Advertisements

Moving to Italy: One Month In

dav

The sea

One month ago today, on 2nd November 2017, I moved out of the flat where I lived in East London, packed a select few belongings, and moved to Genova, in Italy.

dav

On one of my many walks by the sea

This was easy and difficult in equal measures. Easy, because I had been mulling the idea over for years, wanting to do it, wondering if I would actually ever do it, preparing myself mentally for it. Difficult, because my whole life was in the UK, and more precisely, in London. Everyone I loved the most was there, my job was there, my life was there. It was what I knew and what I enjoyed.

I knew, however, that this itch, the desire to live in Italy, would bug me until I scratched it. When I imagined getting to age 70 or 80 and talking to people about what I’d done in my life, I hated the idea of being the person who said, “Yeh, I’d always loved Italy, I spent lots of holidays there, I even attempted to learn the language using apps and what have you. And I always thought about having a go at living there. But I never did. O well. Never mind.” And the person I was talking to would perhaps say, “O, so, why did you never go and live there?” Then I’d go, “Um, because, um, I just didn’t. I don’t know why.”

How idiotic would that be? To not go for any valid reason other than I “just didn’t”.

dav

Looking down over Genova from the mountains

Earlier this year, I decided that I was not going to be that person. I had been on holiday to the coast in Northern Italy and liked it and I had a friend with a flat in Genova where I could live and, despite having then met a lovely man who I want to spend the rest of my life with, it still seemed like time for me to finally do it.

The preparation was minimal, primarily because, still being in the EU for now, there’s not really a lot that needs doing. You have the good fortune to be able to make a decision, buy a one way flight and just arrive.

My first week here was whirlwind of fun. Nine of us from the group I worked out with in London every week flew out together for a birthday party in a beautiful house in a small town called Celle (cheh-leh, for non-Italian speakers) and ate our body weight in chocolate, gelato, lasagna, pesto (more of this to come), focaccia (will also reappear) and pizza. We also went for a swim in the cold cold sea and might I add that despite flying out as a rather multicultural group, the Armenian, the Italian and the German all found other things to do, leaving us six Brits (idiots) to take on this task alone!

Almost everyone else departed, leaving myself and my other half in Genova for the next four days until he, too, had to leave and then that was it. I was here alone. Things had got serious. I had to work out how to survive alone.

When I said I hadn’t done any prep, perhaps that’s not completely true. I have spent the past few years ploughing away on language learning apps on my phone, attempting to build up my vocabulary. When I started having private Italian lessons with a teacher in London, I was equipped with a fair amount of vocabulary but my grammar was all over the place. She helped to pin that down, so that I could attempt to build sentences that might even make sense, if I was lucky.

One of my first tasks, however, was to find a job, thus making my life here sustainable. To get a job, one needs a CV, which I realised was more than just running my English CV through a translate app. Firstly, CVs are usually formatted differently in different countries. Then yes, I had to translate the actual words. Getting a severe case of cabin fever, I stayed inside for the whole weekend, undertaking this mammoth job and kicking myself for not having done it before I left the UK.

As I was sending out my CV, I knew it was likely that it was littered with mistakes that might technically be fine but that you’d never actually say, as a native speaker. I longed to already be fluent with Italian.

As it happened, I found a job not even using the Italian CV I had slaved over for so long. I used my English CV because the job uses la mia madrelingua (me trying to sound fancy while saying ‘native language’).

I also found the job in a surprisingly short amount of time. On the Sunday, I was despairing that I’d never get hired. By the Tuesday, I had something in place. I have a lot to thank the world for. No matter what situations I throw myself into – under-prepared, naive, hopeful – it seems to sort things out for me.

sdr

The view from Righi

 

 

Work was sorted, then. The basic admin stuff like getting a tax code and a bank account have been successful to different degrees. Tax code was fine. Bank account creating seems to be dragging a bit. First I set up most things but needed to bring in my passport and tax code certificate, which required a second appointment. Then I was told I would receive a code on an email and another by text. Then I would be able to open the online banking. Then I would need another appointment for finalising it and putting some money in to open the account. I’m about half way down that road so far.

Now for the big meaty questions. The first is about company and socialising. In London my life was packed to the brim with people – friends, family, colleagues. There were always people to chat to, to go for coffee with, or for dinner, or a workout, or a campout. Here, I obviously don’t have that same network. The friend who’s apartment I live in is absolutely one of the best friends anyone could have and his family have welcomed me with open arms. His two brothers and his sister in law involve me in dinners or parties they are having, or drinks they are going for. His parents have had me round for dinner so I could meet all of his cousins. I had my hair cut by one of his cousins yesterday. That is lovely and comforting and I am so grateful to have those people there.

When your social network reduces to a much smaller number, however, something happens. Your time suddenly is more free. I can look at a weekend and have no plans for it and that prospect is exciting. It’s like taking a massive time-detox, a huge step down from the fast pace of London life. If I’m honest, I think I was sort of ready to take a step back from the hectic schedules and packed days, just for a bit, just to return to myself, have time to think, have space in my brain to find silence and calm.

After my pilgrimage last year, I have better understood my desire to return to that calm every so often. In London, I found almost no time to do that. Here, I am bingeing on it. I love it. I walk for hours alone, in the mountains or next to the sea or just home from work. I take a bus perhaps twice a week and I walk everywhere else. I live simply. I have an annual museums pass, which is another ticket to calm and peace. I go into a museum or an art gallery and I look at beautiful images and I move slowly around, spending hours in each museum, totally immersed in art and beauty. It feels almost although I am only able to do that because my brain has begun to learn how to think slowly and calmly. I’m not sure that my busy London brain was ever so overwhelmed by art and sculpture and beautiful buildings the way my Genova brain has been. With a minimum of effort, one can also find really interesting free or cheap events happening around town. For example, last weekend I went to an opera for €6, on Wednesday I went to a free concert of 15th century songs, sung beautifully in a capella, this morning I went on a free tour of the oldest chocolate and sweet factory in Italy.

dav

Amazing Caravaggio painting. Look at those hands!

Just a side note on the name – I am living in Genova in Italy, not Geneva in Switzerland. Genova is the Italian name, Genoa is the English name.

On that note, the biggest challenge of moving here, and my main driving force for coming, is the language. Now, I had some level of knowledge before coming away but I don’t think any level of learning compares with being in the country, day in day out. Before arriving, I thought, I have enough to get by, I can make myself understood, I’ll stumble by and improve really quickly when I get there.

Lets talk about the reality now. Language learning is tough. It’s enjoyable, it’s interesting, it’s mesmerising but it is a fact that it is tough. I can sometimes see the same word ten times before I start to remember what it means (fuga, meaning escape, has taken me weeks to nail down). Today, I suddenly realised that the Italian for “I like the trains,” conjugates the verb “to like” in a totally different way than I had thought they would. Here I am, six months of Italian lessons under my belt, years of fiddling about on phone apps, one month of living in Italy, and a simple sentence such as, “I like the trains” – mi piacciono i treni – has boggled my mind. What hope can there be, then, for me to conduct any type of meaningful conversation with people I meet?

Well, fear not. Since arriving, I would say that my comprehension levels have gone up by about 60%. I am mostly aware of what’s being said to me and, of course, context helps, so I can make decent guesses too. My ability to respond has gone up by 25% so it’s the speaking that is coming slower, but it is coming.

dav

Discovering a painting by my favourite artist

Honestly, the majority of conversations I have are when buying things in shops, where I am now well versed in what I am being asked – “porta via?” for takeaway, “un sacchetto?” for a plastic bag, et cetera. If I sit at home alone, I can construct appropriate sentences. It’s just when I get outside and am faced with questions, that all these ready answers disappear and I’m flailing around, going “oh, uh, sì, uh, sono…. uh…”

Now, for a side note, pesto is the pride and joy of the Genovese, having been invented here, so I find that many of my snacks or meals are pesto based and, as yet, I’ve not grown tired of it, nor can I imagine doing so. Good pesto is not a thing to be underestimated. Focaccia also, should not be taken lightly. At least twice or three times a week, I will discover a couple of coins hanging around in a pocket and find myself holding them aloft and entering a bakery, to request my new favourite food, focaccia con cipolla (with onion). As soon as I get out, I have to walk far away before I can begin eating because once I have finished, I need another immediately, urgently. The only way to save myself from exchanging all my worldly goods for another one is to flee the scene at high speed.

dav

On the factory tour

And so there you have it. The first month of living in foreign lands.

 

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)?”
YT campout pic 10.4.17

“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.
YT campout happyface
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’.
YT campout bacon sandwich
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.

Displaying IMG_20161020_182651.jpg

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.

Displaying IMG_20161002_110336.jpg

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.
image

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.
image
image
image

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.
image

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.
image

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.