Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Swimmer

It's a sunny September morning and Ned Merrill, a seemingly successful and popular middle-aged advertising executive, is running through the woods of an affluent suburb of Conneticut. He's barefoot and wearing only a pair of swimming trunks.

The start of a new day. His mind wanders to his beautiful, loving wife and his four daughters. He thinks of the breakfast they shared by their poolside that morning.

He walks out of the woods and into the back garden of some old friends, sitting beside their own pool. He chats with them, shares a drink, and the idea of a unique journey forms. He tells his friends that he intends to 'swim' home, across the county, by dropping in on friends' swimming pools which form a consecutive chain leading the 8 miles back to his own house. He imagines these pools as parts of the River Lucinda, named after his adoring wife.

He dives into this first pool and emerges at the other end. Pulling himself from the water with an abundance of youthful vitalty, his journey starts.

The weather's unseasonably warm. Cotton wool skies, low teens, not your typical December day. I shut the gate behind me and set off slowly to the old pub, leaving Christmas behind for another year.

It's the day after Boxing Day. Christmas Day had been a pleasure. After spending the 25th last year on a camp-site in Western Australia and enjoying being together but out of the traditional festive loop of spending too much on rubbish, eating too much junk and doing things 'the way they should be done ', Tam and myself had made a promise to keep this Christmas low-key. We'd done a pretty good job. We'd spent the 26th being spoilt at the in-laws, and now I'd got two work-free weeks to look forward to with the rigours of the next Christmas frenzy another year away.

Past the old pub, I take the lane that leads to Skendleby and breathe in the immaculate views towards the coast before the road drops steeply to the bottom of the Fordington Valley. I exchange grudging pleasantries with a large crowd of country folk busily descending from 4x4s onto a grassy verge, and, as I continue on my way leaving behind just the soft padding of footfall, they traipse, tweed-attired, into neighbouring fields to get their seasonal kicks by killing animals for fun.

As has been the case on every run for the last 5 months, it isn't long before my concentration turns to my left foot. Ever since my jog around The Lindsey Loop at the end of August, it's been an ever-present source of pain and frustration. Whilst it's not really curtailed my running as such, it certainly has curtailed my enjoyment of those miles. It appears, however, that Mr Claus may have brought me a most welcome gift. Whilst there's still some stiffness there, the arch pain and heel pain have dissolved away. Regular visits to an osteopath, a change of footwear, golf ball massage and an all-consuming obsession with foot drills, foot stretches and foot strengthening exercises in my non-running waking hours eventually seem to be paying off. There's a spring in my ultra-runner's shuffle as I reach Skendleby.

Lying in the bottom of a beautiful Wolds valley, every road out of Skendleby involves a fair climb. Usually, I'll take one of the country lanes which lead to the Bluestone Heath Road, but today I fancy something different. If I take the field path past Lodge Farm, I can get a good look at the grand house on the hillside. Sitting adjacent to the route of The Lindsey Loop, I've been past this building numerous times, but always from the opposite direction, and always in the dark.

In a couple of minutes, I'm around the back of the village and climbing over the stile that leads onto the Lodge Farm estate. The grounds have a certain majesty, but the location of the house, sitting commandingly on the rise to the East, is simply breath-taking. I  briefly imagine the family that must live there, the stories of generations that the house could tell, and then jog on slowly, curious and eager to see a little more.

Ned Merrill receives warm welcomes as he meets old friends - members of the well-to-do set with plush homes in the outer suburbs. As his journey continues, however, it becomes obvious that each swimming pool brings him face-to-face with particular aspects of his life, some of which he's done his best to forget.

As the day wears on and Ned sees those who have been close to him more recently, the welcomes begin to sour. His boasts about his wife, his daughters and his home are greeted with jeers or suspicion. In one back yard, he meets a young girl who used to babysit his daughters. They leave together and she reveals an unspoken teenager crush she used to have on him. When he clumsily tries to seduce her, though, she flees, leaving him foolish in his inadequacy. As he carries on, dropping in at the pools of other acquaintances, it begins to unfold that his life has, somehow, gone quite wrong.

I'm half-way across the estate grounds when I begin to realise that things aren't what they seem. The grand facade of the old house, when viewed closer, is tatty and untidy. There's an air of neglect about the place.

Closer still, I see that some of the huge windows are broken. Others are boarded up. Window frames are rotten. Paint has peeled and left behind just shadows of what once was. For some reason, I'm filled with a sadness.

In the late afternoon, Ned Merrill winds up at a crowded public swimming pool where he's shamed by local shopkeepers to which he still owes money. They exchange angry confrontations about his wife's snobbish attitudes and his daughters' recent troubles with the law. Unable to take any more, the swimmer flees to his only sanctuary.

The sun's setting as a shivering Ned staggers up a rocky hill, shoves open a rusty gate and walks through an unkempt, overgrown garden to his own home. A thunderstorm starts as Ned knocks on the locked door of a abandoned, empty house. Breaking down on the front step, he starts to cry.

Another stile leads me over a fence to the right of the grand old house. I make my way along a narrow path between weeds and nettles, and look back over.

The house - what's left of the grand vision I'd built up having run nearby for years - is derelict. The roof of the back buildings is falling down. A sheet is secured by bricks and wooden planks in a hopeless attempt to prevent heavy weather getting in. Piles of rubble litter the disused yard.

It begins to unfold that things, somehow, have gone quite wrong.

I stand and look for ages. Take a few pictures. I feel so let down. I can't help but think of The Swimmer.

It was the 1968 film starring Burt Lancaster that introduced me to 'The Swimmer.' I read the John Cheever short-story, on which the film was based, many years later and was equally spellbound. Both are beautiful, astounding - powerful allegories, perhaps more relevant now even than they were in the 60s.

Moving from morning to dusk, from sunshine to rain, from youth to age and from fantasy to truth, 'The Swimmer' reveals experiences that are set over one day, but represent a lifetime.

In 95 minutes of celluloid or a few pages of text, 'The Swimmer' is a simple, yet deceivingly complex retelling of the most ancient literary form - the Epic. A hero sets off on a journey and has many strange adventures along the way, during which he learns the fragile nature of life. At last, he arrives at his goal, older, wiser, and with many stories to tell.

At the start of the journey, the swimmer is our hero. We believe in his greatness. Gradually, however, with each pool visit, a layer of fantasy is stripped away - truth is slowly revealed, and the hero's fate is, ultimately, tragic.

Things aren't what they seem.
For whoever, are they ever?

I run the remaining miles home, lost in thought.

The impressive facade of the grand old house giving way to the reality of a derelict shell. Does this fate - the same as the one which befell Ned Merrill in 'The Swimmer' - await 'the hero' of my own forthcoming journey? I've mythologised it with 'Six Statements', built it up with words, thought of little else for many months. But what awaits me? If each route is a swimming pool, what will each reveal to the people who love me, those who think they know me? What will each route reveal to myself? Can that Rainbow kid hack it, or is he too a derelict shell with just a knack for stringing a few hollow sentences together?

For better or for worse, all will be revealed in the journey. All-conquering, or crying on the front step?

The door's locked when I get home. A thunderstorm starts as I knock and knock. The house is empty.

I jog round and look through the window. A Christmas tree dominates the front room, lovingly dressed, fairy lights dancing. Lightning's paints are scattered across the coffee table, and various A4 sketches litter the surrounding floor space. Whirlwind's cuddly toys are snuggled together on the settee, wrapped in a red, furry blanket, tucked into bed by their 7 year old mummy. I hear her voice as I look, '... sleep tight my little darlings.'

An empty house, full of my proudest achievements.

I sit on the step in the rain, and wait. Tam and the superheroes will be back anytime soon.

I think of the journey of the last 10 years - the one that's built our family, and I think of the journey that awaits me next year. Suddenly, it doesn't feel as important anymore.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Ultra-Modern Nursery Rhymes No.1: Shadows Over Sunflower Valley

The ground was frozen over, the snow crisp as crystal, as Bob the Builder hoisted the heavy pack onto his back, grabbed a shovel from the front yard, and set off at a jog in the direction of the railway tracks.

Last night, as he'd downed his tools on Christmas Eve and headed home, he'd been full of cheer. A fortnight of lie-ins, long runs on the moors and evenings spent poring over the blogs of a multitude of high-profile US toy ultra-runners. Bliss!

A cold snap had arrived unannounced however, and trudging through the slush on the town's pavements had played havoc with his plastic feet. Passing 'Ye Olde Trumpet' public house, the temptation had been too great. Mind, a couple of pints at Christmas never did anyone any harm.

Christmas Day was still new as Bob settled into his run, the pack bouncing ungainly up and down. In the dawn light, Sunflower Valley looked like heaven. This is the way he'd like to remember it, he thought.

Before long, he was out of town, heading down the farm track through Shady Wood. In the clearing at the wood's edge, Bob the Builder shuffled to a stop. Leaning his shovel against a tree, he discarded the ruck-sack, took off his run-gloves and unzipped the left pocket of his waterproof jacket. He fumbled inside and took out a piece of lined paper and two safety pins. Unfolding the paper and carefully checking its message, he pinned it to the front of his coat. Then, grabbing the shovel, he spent a good deal of time digging a large hole. He whistled a familiar tune as he dug:

'Bob the Builder - can you fix it?
 Bob the Builder - yes, you can!'

When the hole was big enough, he placed the shovel once more against the tree, for a good tradesman always treats his tools with care. He wiped his brow, more out of habit than for any practical reason, since toys don't perspire, and pondered his predicament. A messy job this, but if anyone could fix it, he was sure he could.

Bob the Builder dragged the heavy back-pack towards the hole and pushed it in. It rolled over the frozen ground and landed at the bottom of the hole with a thump! Grabbing his shovel again, he quickly filled it in. And as he worked, he whistled a familiar tune:

'Bob the Builder - can you fix it?
 Bob the Builder- yes, you can!'

A good tradesman never leaves a job half-done. So, after tossing the shovel aside - he wouldn't need it again - Bob stood beside the hole, and placed his little plastic hands around his little plastic ears. With a grunt, he pulled and pulled with all his might.

After what seemed like an eternity, his head came off with a pop! Bob the Builder's little arms shook and shook, and, from the hole at the base of his plastic head, memories started to trickle out like drops of water from a leaking bottle.

A lifetime of memories drip-drip-dripping out of the bottom of that cute little head.

And what memories!

... a glorious childhood in the country,

... lessons in woodworking from a helpful and loving grandfather,

... his and Uncle Peter's 'special secret,'

... his HND (Hons) in building and brickwork,

... the first time he set eyes on the beautiful Wendy.

On and on, drip, drip, the night before Christmas:

... a couple of pints in 'Ye Olde Trumpet',

... double rum and coke, and a few shots,

...the way JJ's daughter, the delicious young Molly, eyed him up,

... back home to Wendy - Wendy and her incessant bloody moaning. Going on the way she always went on. Why couldn't she ever bloody let it lie?

... the first push had been out of frustration. It had sent Wendy skittling over the back of the kitchen table.

... but now the floodgates had opened. The guilt of a thousand botched jobs, hundreds of over-inflated quotations, prosecutions for breaches of Health and Safety regulations - it all came out. The way Wendy looked on him with such disappointment. His drinking at work. His unhealthy addiction to certain web-sites. That little whore Molly's words earlier in the night in response to his clumsy advances - 'No way, you pervert - you're old enough to be my dad!'

It all came out.

Unfortunate for Wendy.

The drip-drip-drip of memories show it all, even the hours Bob the Builder couldn't remember. The blind fury, the drunken rage, the hidden side of our friendly hero.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

... Bob the Builder wakes in the morning with an horrendous hangover. He's lying on the kitchen floor. Broken tables. Broken chairs. Broken Wendy - her little plastic body scattered in little plastic pieces.

... Bob the Builder takes a slug from a bottle of The Famous Grouse and considers his options. A messy job this, but he can fix it. He finds his big back-pack in the cupboard under the stairs and stuffs all that remains of Wendy's doll life into it.

... he laces up his favourite fell shoes, hoists the heavy bag onto his back, grabs a shovel from the front yard, and sets off at a jog in the direction of the railway tracks.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Memories trickling out of the bottom of his cute little head, like drops of water from a leaking bottle.

Until there's no more left.

Bob the Builder replaces the head onto his little plastic doll body. His eyes open. He looks around, startled, new eyes on a new world.

Poor old Bob. Doesn't even know who he is!
Poor old Bob. Hasn't a clue where he is!

He looks down and sees a small, crumpled piece of paper pinned to the front of his waterproof coat. He undoes the pins, takes the paper and looks at its message. 'LIE DOWN ON THE RAILWAY TRACKS,' it says.

Never leave a job half-done. Nearly fixed.

Bob spots the railway siding in the distance and heads that way.

As he walks, a tune from a past he can't remember flitters through his empty little plastic head, and he starts to whistle a tune he doesn't know:

'Bob the Builder- can you fix it?
 Bob the Builder - yes, you can!'

The railway tracks are cold, but Bob the Builder's smiling as he lies down and gently closes his eyes.

A locomotive's whistle down the line tells us that Thomas The Tank Engine's on his way, laden with Christmas gifts for the boys and girls at the Sunflower Valley Juvenile Detention Centre.

It won't be long now and Bob's job will be done.

A very merry Christmas from The SJC!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Six Statements

Empty miles have led to the end of this road. I stop, turn, and look back in the direction in which I've come. The Fast Boys have already made their turn and are heading back over the brow of the distant hill. Their pace is quick, and quickens as they jostle for position and attempt to lay down a pecking order. I watch their backs as they disappear from view.

And now I'm alone.

Beyond the road lies a forest - dense undergrowth scarred by a solitary single-track path. I listen to the sweet symphony of silence and collect my thoughts. I think of the five statements that have become so important to me during this year as I planned my next adventure. Actions, lives, silent gestures.

I step off the road. Begin. One foot in front of the other, a breath, a heartbeat. The sixth statement.

The First Statement.

The vision is about to become real. That was all that John Carlos could think as he walked into the Olympic stadium, clutching his running shoes, on the evening of October 16th 1968.

The road had been long. The plans had changed over the course of the year. But the vision had kept him strong. John Carlos' vision - the after-race, the statement.

The events of the morning had been insignificant. The race had meant nothing. The Olympic bronze medal had meant nothing. The vision, the after-race, was everything.

The vision was about to become reality.

The human rights movement in the United States had burned through the early months of 1968. A wind of change fanned the flames, igniting opinion, indignation and prejudice. The elite black sportsmen who made up the majority of perhaps the greatest ever US Track and Field team couldn't help but be caught up in the fire. Inside a stadium, these Americans were 'heroes'. Outside of a stadium, they were 'negroes'. Sociologist, Harry Edwards had founded the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). He had called upon black athletes to boycott the Games. For a while, support seemed overwhelming, but after the assasination of Doctor Martin Luther King, the feeling changed. The movement stumbled. It would now be one man's vision that drove it forward. One man's vision that changed sport forever.

On the evening of October 16th 1968, the three fastest sprinters in the world walked out into the Olympic stadium, Mexico. Leading the group was Tommie Smith, winner of that morning's 200 metre race in a world record time of 20.06 seconds. Australia's Peter Norman - second in the race, followed. John Carlos brought up the rear.

Each man wore a badge pinned to his tracksuit top. The badge bore the words, 'Olympic Project for Human Rights'. Smith and Carlos carried their shoes, walking in their black socks to the podium. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck, Carlos a necklace of beads. In a breach with strict Olympic protocol, Carlos wore his tracksuit top unzipped. On Smith's right hand, he wore a black glove. Carlos wore his black glove on his left.

The three men received their medals.

The vision.
The after-race.
The statement.

As the opening bars of 'The Star Spangled Banner' started, Carlos knew the vision was nearly complete. Each action, each piece of clothing. premeditated, chosen with utmost care.

The vision.
The statement.

The shoeless feet representing black poverty. Smith's black scarf representing black pride. The unzipped tracksuit top, a show of solidarity with all the blue-collar workers. The necklace of beads for all 'those individuals that were lynched, or killed, and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred.' The black gloves, a symbol that said simply, 'We are black and we deserve better.'

And then John Carlos' vision was complete. He bowed his head and rose his left fist into the air.

A silence descended upon the stadium, followed by widespread booing. A global TV audience was stunned.

The vision.

Carlos could hardly have imagined the repercussions of his actions. He might have guessed the outrage of the IOC would lead to his and Smith's expulsion from the Games. He might not have foresaw the death of his mother, attributed to the stress of the backlash from his actions. He might not have foresaw the suicide of his wife in 1977 for similar reasons, or his own destitution and depression that followed this. But if he had, I doubt John Carlos would have done anything differently. For John Carlos had a vision.

The statement.

The world was spinning as Carlos stood, head bowed, in the midst of his vision. And one thought kept him strong. Kept him upright. Made him proud. Black America will understand what we did tonight. 

In two weeks time, I start my journey. In the space of one year, I aim to cover, on foot, all the Long Distance Paths that start, finish or pass through Lincolnshire. Over 1700 miles shared between 30 routes that vary between 11 and 147 miles. Each route will be covered in one continuous run. It promises to be one of the biggest challenges of my life.

Is this my statement? I guess it is. But it's something else too - a reflection of my running maturity. I've spent a lifetime putting one foot in front of the other. I've run track. I've mixed it with The Fast Boys on the roads and cross-country, chased splits and PBs. But I've grown and moved along. Discovering the lure of openness during my Bob Graham Round training changed me. It revealed to me a new way of travel. Long, continuous journeys where the emphasis was on the distance gone rather than speed or the time in which the run was completed. As an Empty Miler, I'd found my home.

This project feels right. It excites me beyond belief. But, at the same time, the contrary spirit in me wants to make a point. Wants to stand up for what I believe is the essence of running and rally against the crap that it's in danger of drowning in. As I've run my empty miles through the year, this aspect - my own personal statement - has invigorated me. And whenever I've considered this, whether on rambling jaunts across the Wolds or just sat on the step, the five other statements - the most inspiring examples of doing what is right, showing your true spirit - have never been far away.

The Second Statement.

Many people have, at one time or other, considered walking out of the office and throwing it all away for a life of simplicity. After leading a very conventional existence until the age of 36, Millican Dalton did just that. Leaving behind his job as a London insurance clerk, he turned his back on conformity and shallow materialism, cast off all that weighed him down and walked towards a life of asceticism and stoic simplicity, determined to follow his dreams and live by his convictions.

He gravitated, naturally, to England's great wilderness - The Lake District - and camped at High Lodore, before moving into a cave under Castle Crag in the 1920s. Naming his new residence 'The Cave Hotel', he commenced a life, mostly in seclusion, at one with his surroundings. His strict vegetarian diet was provided through growing his own vegetables on the terrace outside his cave, baking his own bread and foraging nuts from local woods. He collected firewood to keep him warm through the winter, made his own clothes and kept fit by climbing crags and trees.

During his twenty five years in the Borrowdale Valley, he styled himself as a 'Professor of Adventure' and scraped a living by offering 'camping holidays, mountain rapid shooting, rafting and hair's breadth escapes.' Inevitably, these trips would end by a camp fire with Dalton consuming copious amounts of coffee and expressing his strong views on socialism, the pacifist movement and virtually any other subject.

The exceptionally harsh winter of 1947 was to lead to his undoing. He contracted pneumonia and after spending his last few days in a hospital ward, he died on 5th February. He was 79 years old.

Millican Dalton left little trace. He neither wrote books or painted pictures. His legacy can, therefore, be difficult to assess and easy to dismiss. He will be remembered, however, as a man of high principles, a man who made a powerful statement through his search for simplicity. Unmoved by the heavy weather of ego, envy and the acquisition of material goods that shackles the average man to his place in the scheme of things, his life has touched many since his death.

Modern guidebooks carry no notes as to the whereabouts of Dalton's cave. Its location, however, can easily be ascertained through word of mouth. Over 60 years since it was last inhabited, the cave retains a feeling of sanctity. Hundreds visit each season. A handful have a desire to camp there overnight. And, being there, it's hard to shake the feeling of the presence of Millican Dalton - an ascetic for our modern age, a man who understood the beauty of isolation and the fickle nature of man, a man who will be remembered by many but emulated by few.

We've been blinded. Stabbed in the eyes by so many phony protagonists that it's become impossible to determine what is right or wrong. Brainwashed so thoroughly, indeed, that what is so surely right is widely believed to be the opposite.

The act of travelling on foot, of putting one foot in front of the other, is beautiful. To move between two points under our own efforts is an elemental experience that, inevitably, leaves us tired, but elated. Whether walking or running, it doesn't matter - they're just points along a continuum of movement. However, the whole act of movement is being eroded by a modern culture that stresses that 'easy is good', 'fast is best'. It's time to take a breath and reassess.

Over the last couple of years, I've read with interest about the 'Slow' movement. I didn't get it at first. Just the word 'slow' has such negative conotations - it conjures images of bumbling ineptness and inferiority. In an earlier life, all my running was geared around an antidote to 'slowness'. Indeed, the whole running culture, as it now stands, is still a testament to this. Magazine articles scream 'Get That New 10k PB!', 'A Marathon Best In Just 6 Weeks!' Articles outline myriad schedules for running faster. Put any group of club runners together and within a half-hour they'll all know their place in a hierachy determined by speed. Surely 'slow' and 'running' don't belong together?

Maybe, just maybe, it would be better if they did.

For 'slow' doesn't mean just doing things at a reduced speed. It means doing something properly. It means immersing yourself in your task, appreciating its intrinsic beauty. It means taking the time to enjoy. Reconnecting. Millican Dalton knew that. And empty miles are built on those foundations. Time is not an enemy to be fought against (how many times have you heard a runner state 'I've just raced against the clock'?) Time is your friend. Embrace it. Savour it. And as you do, look around. What you see, what you feel, might surprise you.

The Third Statement.


On October 30th 1982, The Jam delivered a hand-written statement announcing their split.

Their fans were shocked. Their record company, Polydor, was furious. The Jam's bassist, Bruce Foxton, and drummer, Rick Buckler, were disbelieving. As two-thirds of the band, they couldn't comprehend that Paul Weller, leader and creative figurehead of The Jam could have submitted such a statement on their behalf. The action was to lead to bitter recriminations for the next three decades.

It's commonplace for bands on the decline to disintegrate. But The Jam were at their peak, the apex of the ladder, and no-one knows what they would have gone on to achieve. However, Weller was adamant that his decision was right. No-one expected the direction he would now take.

In late 1982, The Style Council was born. Paul Weller had put together a collective, built around the nucleus of himself and Hammond player, Mick Talbot, and they aimed, initially, to provide an exhillarating gateway into a cosmopolitan world of cappucinos, coffee bars, Blue Note jazz and rare soul.

Five years previously, Kevin Rowland and Dexy's Midnight Runners had promised the new soul vision with 'Searching For The Young Soul Rebels'. The Style Council were that new soul vision. They were socialists, vegetarians, didn't drink, wore cool rain macs, colourful knitwear, expensive footwear and set out with an agenda to make some of the most brilliant modernist music ever. In stark contrast to other bands of the time, they also wanted to speak out against the corrosive issues of the day, even if it meant commercial suicide.

The Style Council, indeed, was Paul Weller's grandest statement.

The inaugral LP, Cafe Bleu, set their thrilling manifesto. Abandoning the traditional rule book and casting aside the musical legacy of The Jam, Cafe Bleu was a deliberate attempt to confound expectations. A brave, if not foolish, mix of pop, soul, jazz, rap and funk, Weller sang on only 6 of the 13 tracks, 5 of which were instrumentals.

Politics, as well as the mash of musical genres, was also on the table. Royalties from second single 'Money Go Round' were donated to Youth CND and Weller publicly backed the National Youth Trade Union Rights campaign against 'industrial conscription', calling for supplementary benefits for teens who refused to join YTS schemes and for the protection of youths placed on such schemes.

Second album 'Our Favourite Shop' came in due time, and first single from it, 'Shout To The Top' was a fervent celebration of worker solidarity with press adverts decreeing,
'Make no mistake
 This is all class war
 Fight back
 Shout To The Top!'

Next single, 'Soul Deep', raised money for the miners' strike, for whom The Style Council had already played numerous benefit concerts in aid of.

'It wasn't a time to be partisan,' Weller reflected years later, 'It was too serious a time, too extreme. In The Jam, I didn't want to be part of any movement. But this was different. Thatcher got into power in 1979, and from the Falklands war onwards, that was her wielding her power. The trade unions were being worn down. We had the miners' strike. There was mass unemployment. There were all these issues. You had to care, and if you didn't, you had your head in the sand and didn't give a fuck about anyone but yourself. You couldn't sit on the fence. It was very black and white then. Thatcher was a tyrant, a dictator.'

Important records followed.

'Walls Come Tumbling Down' was forthright, passionate and dedicated to socialism. It was defined by anger and bile set to a pounding Northern Soul beat. It opened with the line, 'You don't have to take this crap.'

The Style Council's first two albums were uncompromising and inspiring. 'Our Favourite Shop' hit the number one spot in the UK charts. Weller had managed to bring The Jam's following along with him so far on his musical, lyrical and political journey. But that was soon to change. Weller's finest hours were still to come.

In 1987 'The Cost Of Loving' was released in a plain orange gate-fold sleeve. Being Weller's attempt to create a 'modern American soul sound like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis', it mystified music critics and fans alike, and was a commercial disappointment. Undetered in his vision, however, Weller continued on his personal mission to make music that was important to him, that felt right, regardless of others' perceptions.

The next LP, 'Confessions of a Pop Group' was, in a similar way to Dexy's 'Don't Stand Me Down' (also released around this time), unlike anything expected from a 'pop' band. The record fused barber-shop harmonies, soulful ballads and Debussy-influenced piano suites into a mind-blowing mix that dumbfounded everyone. Fans hated it. It limped to number 15 and disappeared quickly into chart obscurity.

'Weller's lost it!' That was the general opinion in 1988. Paul Weller, however, had one more grand gesture up his sleeve.

In the summer of 1988, dance music took over the UK in a tide of youthful energy and ground-breaking musicality that had not been witnessed since the birth of Punk in 1976. The 'rave' scene transformed the musical landscape and changed the foundations of youth culture in a way that had never been seen before, and has not been repeated since. The drugs associated with the scene - E, in particular- enabled the conservative media and the Conservative government to vilify the movement, but for anyone who was young at the time, the days of the late 80s were glorious. Positivity abounded, acid parties where thousands of people got 'luv'd up' and danced all night in a state of almost religious communion sprung up in disused warehouses and industrial wastelands all over the country. Heady times, all bound together by a bass loop, an uplifting piano riff and a beat from an 808. House Music.

Paul Weller immersed himself in this most modernist of youth movements. For Weller to make a record of dance music would have been unthinkable at the time of The Jam's dominance. Even though he'd now gained a reputation for doing exactly what he wanted musically, absolutely no-one would have imagined what he delivered next to the Polydor offices.

'Modernism: A New Decade' was a House record. Weller had stood firm. His statement made.

The A&R executives deemed the record unreleasable. It was shelved indefinitely, eventually seeing light as part of a box set ten years later.

Weller was furious but unfazed. Integrity intact, there was only one thing he could do. The Style Council, much maligned but the most important band of the 80s, was laid to rest.

'We had a band that went 'no thanks' and we were still successful,' Weller said in retrospect. 'I had total belief in The Style Council. I was obsessed. I lived and breathed it all. I meant every word and felt every action.'

I've been frustrated when people don't get it. A year without racing is incomprehensible to most of my running friends. A year 'jogging on paths around Lincolnshire' is equally alien. But, like Weller, I've a belief. I know it's right. And the few people that understand, I'm sure, will be the ones that I really want to understand.

I'm stepping aside from the 'running scene' and entering a new world that many have stepped into, but few have  so wholeheartedly embraced. A world where times are irrelevant, all miles are empty, and the experience is all. This world can exist anywhere. For me, its orbit is my home, the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Growing up, I always had the feeling that I could live anywhere - that the people around me were the important factor, not my location. And whilst my friends and family are, without doubt, the central thing in my life, my 'sense of place' has become increasingly important. I belong here - this place has captured me - I've fallen in love. To be able to lose myself in its beauty for large parts of next year is a wonderful prospect. Green lanes, field paths, country bridleways, hidden chapels, secluded churches, rolling hills and windswept beaches. These all await me. Freed from the prison of A-roads and the cell bars of the car windscreen, I can escape, discover, pay thanks.

The Fourth Statement.

Sometimes it seems there's nothing left. And it's at times like this that sometimes, just maybe, hope comes from the most unexpected sources. For Terence Stanley Fox, it came in the form of a magazine article about Dick Traum, the first amputee to complete the New York marathon. It had been brought to him, in the hospital, by Terri Fleming, Fox's senior high school coach. Stuck for words, Fleming had thought the article appropriate - after all, Fox was booked into theatre for the amputation of his right leg the day after. The coach doesn't remember the article making a great impression, but he was very wrong. In the hours after reading those words, Terry Fox made a decision that would change his life, as well as the lives of millions of others. The crazy idea that came to him during those lonely hours would be a statement. A statement of perseverance, of giving, of never accepting that enough's enough. A statement of hope.

Terry Fox had been lucky on the night of November 12th, 1976. Driving home to Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, he'd become distracted and driven straight into a half-ton truck. He emerged from the wreck unscathed except for a sore knee.

The soreness had continued into December, but Fox had dismissed it - athletes always had niggles - it would sort itself out. However, as the pain got worse in the opening months of 1977, he swallowed his pride and visited his local doctor on March 2nd.

On March 3rd, Doctor Piper, chief orthopaedic surgeon at the British Columbia Hospital informed Terry Fox of the bad news. X-rays and tests on the troublesome knee had confirmed the presence of osteogenic sarcoma, a cancer of connective and supportive tissue that strikes usually between the ages of 10 and 25 years, at a point in the life cycle when the body is growing most rapidly. Early on the morning of March 9th, Terry's right leg was amputated six inches above the knee. On the 21st, less than 3 weeks after receiving the bad news, he went in for his first fitting for a prosthetic leg.

The magazine article inspired Fox. After leaving hospital he embarked upon a 14-month training program, telling his family that he intended to compete in a marathon himself. This was true, but he kept a different goal to himself for now. Angered during his hospital experience at how little money was dedicated to cancer research, he began planning his 'Marathon Of Hope' - an epic run across Canada - 5300 miles, completing roughly 200 marathons in a row with no rest days in between. This was the dream, but the reason wasn't fame or personal glory. Terry's run would be a statement of hope - a light for all fellow cancer sufferers. His actions would increase cancer awareness, and along the way people would see Terry, recognise his cause and donate money for cancer research. Little did he know at the time that his actions would make him a treasured part of Canadian folklore.

In August 1979, Fox competed in a marathon in Prince George, BC. He finished in last place, ten minutes behind his closest competitor. His effort was met with tears and applause from the other participants. After the race, he revealed his full plans to his stunned family.

On the morning of April 12th, 1980, Terry Fox dipped his right leg in the Atlantic Ocean near St John's, Newfoundland, and filled two bottles with ocean water. He intended to keep one as a souvenir and pour the other into the Pacific Ocean upon completing his journey at Victoria, BC. Accompanied by his best friend, Doug Alward, who drove the van and cooked meals, Fox began his run. The mayor of St John's gave him an honourary send-off, but there was little media fanfare and no cheering crowds. That first day, he ran 11 miles.

The early days were unimaginably gruelling. Running against gale force winds and heavy rains, and frustrated by individuals he perceived as impeding the run, as well as a lack of donations, Fox and Alward arrived in Montreal, Quebec on the 22nd June, one third of the way through the run and barely on speaking terms. Omens seemed bleak.

But Montreal marked a change. Isodore Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts, a woman who had lost a son to cancer in 1978, had become intrigued by the 'one-legged kid trying to do the impossible'. She offered him free accommodation on his run, pledged $2 a mile to his cause and persuaded nearly a thousand other corporations to do the same.

On June 23rd 1980, Terry released red balloons from the roof of the Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal. It was the first time in 73 days that Terry hadn't run. It was also the first time that many people became aware of the miracle that was the Marathon Of Hope. In a few short weeks, there probably wasn't a single soul in the whole of Canada who hadn't heard the name of Terry Fox.

As his fame grew, Fox's integrity remained unblemished. He attended more functions, gave more speeches, and attempted to accommodate to any request that he believed would raise money, no matter how inconvenient to his running schedule. Yet he bristled at media intrusions into his private life, and rejected any pledges that demand he endorse a product. For the whole of his run, Terry was inflexible about his wardrobe. He would only wear his white Marathon Of Hope tee-shirts and grey shorts. Decades ahead of his time, he refused to wear clothing that had logos or brand names on them.

During the searing heat of the summer, Fox continued to run a marathon a day. On his arrival in Ottawa, he was greeted by the Governor General and Prime Minister. In front of 16,000 fans, he performed a ceremonial kick-off at an Ottawa Rough Riders game and received a standing ovation. Slowly, Terry was beginning to understand how deeply moved Canadians were by his efforts.

In Toronto, a crowd of 10,000 people met him in Nathan Phillips Square.

In Southern Ontario, he was met by his childhood hero, hockey player Bobby Orr, who presented him with a cheque for $25,000.

Early on September 1st 1980, just east of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Terry ran 13 miles. In the afternoon, the highway was crowded with supporters. The weather was good. 5 miles into his run, Terry began coughing and then developed a 'dull, blunt pain'. The pain persisted and worsened. 3,339 miles into his Marathon Of Hope, Fox got into the van and asked Doug Alward to drive him to the hospital. 'It's not my ankle, and it isn't my foot,' he told him. They drove to the hospital in silence.

X-rays quickly revealed that Terry's right lung had a growth the size of a golf ball. A less-defined growth, the size of a lemon, was found in his left. The bone cancer he hoped he had beaten had spread to his lungs through his bloodstream.

At the exact spot on the Trans-Canadian Highway where Terry Fox's run ended on the afternoon of September 1st 1980, stands a small wooden post. It was placed there in 1981 by Ontario's Ministry of Transportation. Jim Pope, a local mechanic mows the weeds and grass between the post and the highway during the growing season. 'I don't know how to put it,' he says, 'Everything today is to make money. People have to do nice things for each other.'

Terry Fox developed pneumonia and fell into a coma on June 27th 1981. He died on the 28th at 4.35am, his favourite time for running - a time free of traffic and noise. A time to enjoy the day, newly born and filled with promise.

His funeral was broadcast live on national TV. For a short while, the whole of Canada stopped to remember the 22 year old kid.

Fox had raised $1.7 million by the time he was forced to abandon his run. A week after the run ended, a 5-hour telethon, supported by Canadian and international celebrities raised another $10.5 million. By the following April, over $23 million had been raised.

With the help of Isodore Sharp, one of Terry's greatest supporters, the Fox family organised the 1st Terry Fox Run on September 13th 1981. Over 300,000 took part all over the country and $3.5 million was raised. The 30th Terry Fox Run was held on September 19th 2010. The Terry Fox Run is now the world's largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research. Over $500 million has been raised in his name.

Douglas Coupland's exceptional book 'Terry' contains the script of a letter sent to Terry by Darren Hardemann, a primary school student. It serves as a reminder that his life, his efforts, his statement touched everyone. It serves as a reminder that millions of people recognised in Terry a quality beyond simple physical perseverance.

'Dear Terry,

Here is a story for you.
Terry was a good boy but he did not know Christmas was coming. When Christmas came, he still didn't know Christmas was here. But when they gave Terry some candy, Terry said 'I will give you some candy.' And Terry gave them all his candy.

The End.'

I was a teenager when I first heard of Terry Fox. After doing a long run with Our Kid one wintry Sunday, I'd got home, had a bath and settled down in front of the tele with homework on my knee. On days like this, TV was usually background noise. But not today. The documentary we watched together that afternoon all those years ago still rates as the biggest influence on my running life. The story of Terry Fox. One scene - Fox running along a highway into the end of a rainy day, his van following slowly, The Hollies' 'He's Not Heavy' playing over the top, left an indelible impression. From that moment on, I knew that one day I would 'run a long way.'

Fox is still my ultimate running hero. I've admiration for scores of runners who have achieved outstanding feats, but the purity of Fox's vision, his raw honesty and selflessness, and, I guess, the emotion of the tragic end to his quest gives his Marathon Of Hope a status that always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

His feat may be repeated, but never equalled. He ran his miles in an age when the world was different. For an ordinary man to run a marathon in 1980, right before the first big running boom, was a rarity. For a courageous kid to attempt to run 200 in succession was simply unbelievable.

I think of Fox often. His image appears when I'm down, exhausted, pissed off. When my troublesome foot plagues me and has me questioning myself if my whole project is ever going to start, let alone finish, it's Terry Fox I turn to.

Then a scene from a documentary plays in my head - a crazy kid run-hopping along a highway, and I hear the words to a song that still brings tears to my eyes:

'The road is long
 With many a winding turn
 That leads to who knows where
 Who knows where.

 But I'm strong,
 Strong enough to carry him
 He ain't heavy
 He's my brother.'

The Fifth Statement.

There's a story that goes round. I'm unsure how much of it is true, but speak to any Liverpool supporter who was in Istanbul that night and they'll vouch that it happened.

As a massive contingent of supporters hung out in bars and coffee shops on the night before the 2005 Champions League final, a figure made his way quietly out of the shadows of the back streets and moved amongst them. He sat and talked with them, bought some of them a beer and shared with them his hopes for the following evening. He stayed a while, made apologies and then went back to his hotel. It was an act of community, of thankfulness, that guaranteed that Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, would forever be an Anfield legend. The Liverpool fans sung his name that night - 'Rafa...Raphael...Raphael Benitez' with a fervour that could be heard all the way back to Merseyside.

Twenty-four hours later, as the AC Milan and Liverpool teams walked off the pitch at half-time, the same chants could still be heard. Hopeful, enthusiastic, defiant. One might not have guessed that it had been the most one-sided Champions League final in history. AC Milan had scored an early goal and proceeded to weave circles round a Liverpool team that looked out of their depth. Kaka, Crespo and Shevchenko had been untouchable. Indeed, the half-time score of 3-0 looked kind on Liverpool.

What Rafa Benitez told his team at half-time will only really be known by those in the dressing room that night. It's likely, though, that there was no rousing speech, no call to arms. The noise outside the calm and composed dressing room was to provide motivation enough. Through the quiet, the Liverpool team could hear the celebrations of the AC Milan players in the adjacent room. Even though the game was only half-way through, they were celebrating a Champions League final victory. There seemed no return for the shambolic team from England's north-west.

Maybe this was the catalyst for what was to come. Or maybe it was the noise of the crowd. The AC Milan supporters could not be heard. Liverpudlian voices filled the stadium. 'You'll Never Walk Alone' bounced around the ground in an unstoppable sonic wave.

At that moment, maybe Benitez looked at Steven Gerrard, Liverpool's talismanic front man, and for both of them everything became clear. Benitez would make the important tactical change that was to transform the match. He'd tell substitute Didi Hamann to lace up his boots, give him his instructions to sit in midfield and create havoc. Create havoc, and let loose the dog of war that was Gerrard.

At that moment, maybe Gerrard heard the words that he'd sung at Anfield since he was a kid, that his cousin had sung at the semi-final at Hillsborough before he and another 95 Liverpool supporters were tragically killed, that he'd heard from the stands as he'd worked himself up from local-boy-done-good to club captain.

'When you walk through a storm
 Hold your head up high.'

And when he heard those words, maybe he decided to make a statement - to attempt what everyone else believed was a mission impossible.

Making light of those first-half Milan goals, Gerrard tore into the Italians from the first whistle of that second half. In six short minutes, Gerrard scored, created the space for Vladimir Smicer to add a second, and then won the penalty for Xabi Alonso to drive Liverpool level.

It was six minutes that shook the world. It was six minutes that so stunned AC Milan that they would have no hope of recovery. losing eventually to Liverpool in a penalty shoot out. At the end of the match, devastated Milan team members would throw their loser's medals into the crowd, ashamed, unable to believe what had happened.

It was six minutes that turned sporting logic on its head, that sent the in-game betting world into meltdown, that stopped Evertonians celebrating in the streets back home and had certain Chelsea players cursing their television screens in frustration.

Orchestrated by the determination of Steven Gerrard, the tactical cunning of Rafa Benitez and the burning passion of the fans who demanded that each player perform with pride in the shirt, those six minutes were a statement in themselves. Six minutes that showed you should never give up.

There have been some hard times since that Istanbul final. Times when the impossible has not happened and defeat has left raw wounds. But even now, nearly six years on, a familiar exhortation will go around Liverpool players or supporters when they walk through a storm. Two words. 'Remember Istanbul,' they'll say, 'Remember Istanbul.'

The forest is dark. I've left everything behind - all the things I detest.

Corporate sponsorship; hollow world records manufactured by big city race organisers and facilitated by  mercenary pacers; meaningless shoe reviews in shallow magazines subsidised by the advertising of sports giants; exhortations that buying more gear will make you a better runner; treadmills; gymnasiums; pointless running-related Apps; virtual training in front of a TV; extortionate race-entry fees; the mugging of road races by charities; making up the miles for the sake of the training diary's weekly total; interval sessions; track work-outs; sticking to the road; running with a watch; being monitored by Garmin or Nike+. 

All these and more.

Who knows what I'll find along this path? Who knows how far I'll get?

Rain threatens as the clouds above the foilage thicken. Heavy weather approaching. I'll run through the rain, not race it. Knock down my demons. And if the clouds break - if I walk through a storm - I'll hold my head up high.

The leaves paint pictures of parts of me. Raindrops of memories; a comma; a blue plastic box; a singing car; empty miles; a beautiful wife and our superheroes. An old man on a lonely beach whispering 'Keep it up son.' One foot in front of the other. A breath. A heartbeat.

'And on we go.'

The sixth statement starts on January 1st 2012 with the Tennyson 20.