Thursday, 7 July 2011

We, the runners.

The news spread slowly, by word of mouth. Of course, we'd have all heard more quickly if we'd used The Apple Network, but all those transactions left a trace, and for all of the members of The Group, the consequences of such action were unimaginable.

No-one knew how many members The Group consisted of, or how it came into being. All that was certain was that The Group did exist.

The numbers were small and decreasing year on year, but while ever individuals retained a fierce, independent spirit and a need for transcendence - while ever individuals still wanted to live and not simply be sustained, The Group would survive.

The years since The Shift Of Power had been long and demanding. When News Corps had taken over the traditional means of government, we, the runners, had sensed dark days lay ahead, but we'd never envisaged the scenario we now encountered in our day-to-day struggle.

The rise of the Corporations had been inevitable. Now, all Consumers shared the same life-style. Since the mortgage system had collapsed and all property had been reclaimed, Consumers lived in a house owned by The Bank. They worked for one of the seven Corporations. Their earnings would be split in several ways. The majority of it would be deducted at source by The Bank. This would guarantee a roof over their heads.

News Corps would receive a share in return for providing Consumers with Entertainment and The Truth. (In the years since The Shift Of Power, the concept of the lie had disappeared. There were no longer any lies, only The Truth.)

Some of the credits earned through working for one of the seven Corporations would be spent on consuming products produced by the Corporations.

A small part of a Consumer's credits would be available for spending on Leisure. All Leisure took place in malls or gymnasiums, where access to Entertainment screens was available at all times.

It was in 2019, when the mountains were designated an Area of Forbidden Entry that rumours about The Group emerged. But it was the publication of The Adams Report, commissioned by TESCO, in 2020, that was the catalyst for the explosion of The Group's popularity. The findings of the report stated that 'the increased levels of naturally-produced chemicals inside the human brain, as a result of endurance running might have detrimental side-effects in terms of the propensity to consume.' Such findings, unacceptable as they were to News Corp and the seven Corporations led to immediate action. On October 21st 2020, running was declared illegal.

Members of The Group were encouraged to run alone and to stick to Out-Of-Bounds Wilderness Areas, where the numbers of Corporation detectives and News Corps hackers were more scarce. By such action, it was hoped, the possibilty of detention would be more remote. Increasingly, however, new methods of surveillance and Private Life Intrusion techniques had led to capture. And when detention centres were full, the Corporations had pioneered the practice of 'processing'. Through a combination of Electrical Cortex Stimulation and Positive Behavioral Therapy, an individual captured and detained as 'dangerous to society', or simply 'a runner' could be transformed into a model Consumer. A house would be provided by The Bank. A job would be provided by one of the seven Corporations. News Corps would enable said individual to experience the fullness of life through their provision of Entertainment and The Truth.

As members of The Group declined drastically through the 20's as a result of these measures, a mythical hero emerged. Cassady, it was said, had run over every peak in The Lakeland Zone. Having never missed a day's run in many years, he had somehow escaped detection. Stories grew about his feats in The North, most of them probably wildly exagerated, but inspiring nonetheless. In our darkest of days, here, at least, was a glimmer of light in an existence made unbearable.

But all lights go out. The news spread slowly by word of mouth. His detection, detention, processing.

And now I understand it will come to us all. I know that, but it makes little difference. For until my time is stolen from me, I will continue to greet the sunrise from impossible summits or the ocean's edge. I will continue to pay worship to the woodland tracks and forest trails. One foot in front of the other. A breath. A heartbeat.

And I'll rejoice in the shared secret - one that only we, the runners, truely understand.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

That Feeling

1982 (14 years old)

Kid Jensen's smiling, surrounded by a group of starstruck young birds. Bubble perms and ra-ra's. 'Next up, it's Shalamar, A Night To Remember.'

History homework's on my lap. I put down my Parker pen, take a slurp of tea and rest the cup on the chair arm next to the empty bag of Nik-Naks. My mum looks at me disapprovingly and tuts.

The camera pans out and settles on the face of Jeffrey Daniel. His hair's in a classic wedge. He looks straight into the lens as if he's checking himself out in the mirror before a night out. One gloved hand pushes his fringe aside before straightening a white skinny tie.

I look over. Dennis and Alli are staring, saying nothing. Mum's disappeared into the kitchen.

On the screen, Jeffrey Daniel is imprisoned behind an invisible wall. He holds out his hands, presses them flat against the non-existent barrier and explores the surface to the right and the left, looking for a way out. Unable to escape, he hooks both hands over the top of the wall, pulls his upper body up and looks over.

I've never seen anyone dance like this. 'Mum, come and look at this,' Alli shouts from the lounge floor.

Jeffrey Daniel shakes his arms loose and bounces backwards towards a row of girls. One of them holds a jacket out. Without turning around, he slips both hands into the black bolero and smoothes it down. He bends his knees slightly, wraps two hands around a make-believe rope and heaves himself forwards across the studio floor.

Mum's in front of the tele now too.

Jeffrey Daniel jerks his body down into a disjointed limbo. When his back is touching the floor, he uses the invisible rope to pull himself up. But now he again finds himself trapped. His hands explore the walls of the invisible bubble, before he gives up and is tranformed into a human cyborg, every movement locked, robotic.

All of us are watching. Shalamar. A Night To Remember. The first time we'd ever seen body-popping.

The song moves to the instrumental break. Jeffrey Daniel turns sideways and puts up an imaginary umbrella. He forces himself forward into a raging wind, making little progress. And then a gust threatens to rip the umbrella from his grasp. It's blown behind him, his arm outstretched behind him too, holding on, and he's pulled backwards across the floor. His feet are stepping forwards but he's sliding backwards, walking the wrong way up a conveyor that  just isn't there.

'Wooaa!' All of us say the same thing together. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen.

And in that moment, everything's changed just a bit. From now on, things will be just slightly different.

I sit in silence, unaware of the tide of excitement that a dance move would have at school over the next few days. Unaware that a year later, having been taught the move by Jeffrey Daniel, Michael Jackson would perform it at the Motown 25 show and the press would christen it 'the moonwalk.'
But kind of aware - that feeling - that this would now always be a key event on the timeline of my own personal history.

1993 (26 years old)

Just back from our honeymoon in Egypt. Cracking tan, the hair's longer than it's been for a good while. I'm wearing my new Blundstones - black, round-toed, tailored black trousers and a white cotton shirt I bought in Luxor. I look ace.

I guess it's a case of my mates rallying round. All of the stuff that's happened in the weeks before and after my wedding day. Den and Dom will be round soon to pick me up. Literally and metaphysically. We'll meet Paul by the boating lake. He's got a new girlfriend, Emma. I've heard she's cool.

It had all started three weeks ago with the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. As I'd laid on the settee in that tiny flat above the caff, The Girl From Australia had threw me over the magazine, folded at the page she wanted me to look at. 'What are you, Chris?' she asked me.

I'd looked at the page. One of those crappy quizzes. 'ARE YOU HAPPY?' Pick an answer - A,B,C or D - for each of the questions and add them up at the end. Mostly A's - your life was great, you couldn't stop smiling. Mostly D's - your life was rubbish, may as well give up.

'What are you?' she asked again.

'I'm not doing this,' I told her, 'What a load of old bollocks.'

'No. I want you to do it,' she persisted and I notice there's tears in her eyes.

'I'll be C or D. You know me. My glass is always empty.'

'I know Chris. Even when it's nearly full.'

'It's not easy being a pessimist,' I told her, smiling.

'It's not easy being with one,' she replied.

I go back to watching the tele. I know I'm a miserable sod, but living with me can't be that bad.

'I'm not marrying you Chris. I'm not happy. I'm going home,' she said. She's crying. She left the front room and went upstairs.

I finish watching Top Of The Pops. She goes on sometimes, I think, give her ten minutes and she'll be back down apologising.

There's a buzz around Corkys. You'd be surprised at who's got caught up in the rave scene - the drugs have mellowed the Top Boys and football casuals into huggable mates who'd rather kiss you on the cheek than smash your face in. We stand around drinking Coke, checking out who's out, before handing over notes for little white pills from the big guy in the cap down the corridor near the toilets. The night's for the taking. This is it. If only I could forget her.

This is the hardest thing I've ever done, I think, as I finish the list. Everyone who was invited to the wedding knows now. Knows now that she's left me a week before the big day. But they don't know why. Neither do I for that matter.

We walk down Lumley Road and past the Clock Tower. We can already hear the music from the Festival Pavilion. The Promised Land. We're heading for The Promised Land.

I'd still thought I could change her mind. She'd moved out, rented a room in a mate's house round the back end of town. She'd invited me round for breakfast. A strange thing to do on the day that we were supposed to be getting married. Must have something to tell me, I'd thought, probably changing her mind. I'd walked round, dressed in my wedding suit, clutching a big bunch of flowers. That should do the trick, I'd thought, knock her off her feet. Make her want me again. But she'd laughed as she opened the door and we'd eaten breakfast in silence.

I love this feeling. The tingles. I look at the others and they're the same - swaying, moving with the music, coming up, becoming a part of it. And then a big tune drops and we're on the dance-floor, lost in it, feeling it, eyes closed, smiling.

I'd seen her for the last time the day before the honeymoon. I'd talked Dennis into coming to Egypt with me, I said, but a romantic Nile cruise with my twin brother wouldn't be the same as one with my wife. She'd laughed as I told her and handed me our photo-album.

'I don't want that,' I said, thinking of all those shots of us happy together. 'I'll keep on looking at them, making myself sad on purpose.' I'd gone to push it back over the kitchen table, but she'd stopped me.

'No you won't,' she said.

She'd hugged me before she left. I'd watched her go down to the caff's back yard from my spot at the top of the fire-escape stairs. 'See ya,' I called, not believing this was happening, seeing all this above, as if we were actors in a film. Just before she reached the back gate, I couldn't help myself. 'Hey!' I shouted. She'd turned round.

'What are we doing? What's going on? We love each other, right? Give me another chance. One chance. Go on. I'll change. I'll be whoever you want.'

That was what I should have said. But I didn't. I didn't say anything. I just stood there.

Eventually she goes, 'Chris? What?'

'Err.. when you going to bring my bike back?' Dumb words. The last words I ever said to her.

She'd shook her head and gone.

I stood, dazed for a while, and then went back inside. Sitting at the kitchen table, I reached for the photo-album. I pulled it towards me and opened it up. All the photographs of her, of us together, were gone. Four years gone in two short weeks. I closed my eyes and saw her. A crack appeared in the porcelain. I started to break.

Richard from The Aloof's on live percussion. He finishes his bongo solo and we're all going mad. A lull follows - the calm before the storm, a big tune on it's way. And the expectation, the whistles, the horns, the stamping of feet and the hands in the air. And when it comes, it kills us. Knocks us down while the piano riff smothers us. Chicago House. DJ International. Sterling Void and Paris Brightledge. 'It's All Right.'

'Generations will come and go.
But there's one thing for sure,'

A girl in front's wearing a t-shirt. A SMILE IS AN APHRODISIAC it says on it in 70's bubble writing. She looks at me and I smile, pointing to her shirt and then my face. She dances over, kisses me on the lips, and dances away.

'Music is our life's foundation, 
And shall succeed all the nations to come,'

I look across at Dominic. He's smiling. He winks at me and points after the girl. We both laugh.

'And it's gonna be all right...'

I look across at Dennis. He's smiling. We salute each other.

'And it's gonna be all right...'

I look across at Paul. He's smiling. He puts his arms around Emma and pulls her close.

'And it's gonna be all right, 
Cause the music plays forever on and on.'

And, in a moment - that feeling - I know it is. Hearing music on a timeless wavelength, never dissipating but giving me strength. The crack's disappeared. I'm unbreakable. And I know that a life fully lived is just a pile of good things and bad things. You can never have one without the other. And that's the way it should be, the way it has to be. But the bad ones won't break me. I'm unbreakable. It's gonna be all right.

2001 (34 years old)

It was a relief when I knew it was really happening. Thursday morning, 4 am. I'd been scheduled for a day teaching the Reception class. I loved teaching the older kids but those little ones did my head in. A baby on its way would be a good excuse to get out of it.

I'd laid in bed while Tam rang the hospital. It didn't happen like this on the tele. Come in straight away, the maternity nurse said, and be prepared for a long day. The Uno had started first time for a change, and a hour later, we'd been at the hospital.

Another adventure had begun. I viewed from the sidelines, back-rubbing and muttering encouragement. And just before noon a miracle happened. Where once we were two, now we were three. We became a family.

Sometime later, Tam follows the nurse down the corridor and I'm left alone with little man. I hold him nervously to my chest, his little eyes closed, his little head the most perculiar shape.

I'm overcome. That feeling. The same one I've felt just a few times before. My world's moved on its axis.

I can't stop looking at him. 'Hello Smasher,' I whisper, 'When you grow up, you'll be a superhero.' I know it's true. And when Tam arrives back and I hand him back to his mum, we look at each other for a long time, aware of the enormity of the moment, and I'm sure that she knows it too.

2011 (43 years old)

Over the previous three months, The Lindsey Loop had become my best friend, my favourite retreat from the everyday. I'd gotten to know her personality, her heartbeat. I'd fallen in love with her hidden valleys, her unique undulations through the Lincolnshire Wolds, her stiles, miles and byways. I'd sneaked away on spring evenings and visited her by myself, and on Sundays, I'd joined a gang from the Club and I'd showed her off, confident that everyone else would surely fall in love, just as I had. And they had.

Leon and myself had hatched the plan in February. We'd organise a club relay to cover the route of The Lindsey Loop, at 96 miles in length, the longest off-road footpath in Lincolnshire. It wouldn't be a day for bowing to the tyranny of Garmin or succumbing blindly to the god of The Training Schedule. It would be a day for moving from point A to point B on foot, a rediscovery of life's most simple pleasure. A day of running with Club members you didn't know too well, for having conversations and finding out that the guy you usually just say 'hiya' to is, in fact, one of the most inspiring people you're ever likely to meet. A day for enjoying the view, becoming lost in the moment. A day to appreciate the special magic of running.

The idea had been embraced with a passion that had taken me back. Everyone had wanted a part in this celebration. The excitement had become infectious.

The big day had edged nearer and nearer, and then was here, and now would soon be gone.

I'm stood by the cafe in Hubbards Hills, Louth. It's 7pm on a lovely June evening. As Club members arrive, meet up, chat and laugh together, I  cast my mind back over a fantastic day.

Our midnight start in Market Rasen.
Running those first 20 miles through the darkness.
The carboot cafe.
The crazy photographs, the brilliant company.
Following the relay as it wound its convoluted path through medieval sites and busy market towns.
The enthusiasm.
The laughter.
The atmosphere generated by the finest little running club I've known.
Ninety-five of the most enjoyable miles of my life.

And now, just one to go. A group of about 50 runners - all ages, all abilities, united in identity - have gathered together. We'll run the last mile into Louth town centre. It'll be a moment to treasure.

The gang gets going and I stick to the back. Our little girl settles into a jog beside her school friend. I look at her - Whirlwind - our second superhero. She's talking as usual, telling her mate that it doesn't matter if they're not at the front, it's the taking part that counts. She makes me laugh - that wise head on innocent shoulders. Lightning's up at the front. It's a lifetime away since I held him for the first time - won't even let me kiss him at bedtime now.

Soon, we're into the park and the snake of runners spreads out. The running's easy and the air is still. Tammy runs past, glances across, says something that I don't catch. But I hang back.

And that feeling returns. It's taken a lifetime of running to be here today. It's taken a lifetime of living to become who I am.

My family. My friends. And the one passion that has always stayed with me. One foot in front of the other, a breath and a heartbeat.

I think back to those defining moments of my life. Those times when things changed. That feeling. The feeling that's with me now. Jeffrey Daniel on Top Of The Pops, that night at The Promised Land, the birth of our little smasher.

And I look forward to tomorrow. To waking in the morning and knowing that things have changed again, just slightly.