This morning, I decided to take that hoary self-help motto to heart:
Do something for yourself first thing in the morning. You won’t get a chance later.
I went for a run along the beach.
About a kilometre in, I heard the heavy foot-slap and raspy breath of a long distance runner coming up fast behind me.
Before long, I could feel them right on my heels. Subconsciously, though I didn’t mean to, I sped up until we were matched stride for stride.
My lion race instinct taking over.
(One for Narnia fans: in Turkish, the word for ‘lion’ is not ‘aslan’, but ‘arslan’ 🍑)
I looked over my shoulder to see with whom I was now sprinting down Bournemouth promenade: barefoot shoes, ponytail, nose piercing.
Between agonal inhales, they gasped: ‘Thanks for running with me. I’ve got one k left and I don’t want to ease off.’
I then proceeded to ask my fellow runner a battery of questions, none of which, I swiftly realised, they were in any position to answer, being (as they had so politely explained) into the last thousand metres of what had clearly been a long, hot, fast, hard training run.
I did manage to understand that they were training for some kind of biathlon, a run and swim, possibly in Tenerife, possibly as part of Team GB.
I did not manage to see them over the line, however. Five hundred metres short, I spotted two friends (👋👋) on a morning stroll, flasks in hand.
I stopped to chat, of course, before polishing off my run: my sweet spot is currently four kilometres.
As I turned at the halfway mark, I realised that I was gaining on a tanned cyclist loaded up with panniers. As I got closer, I noticed that they were flying a mini Welsh flag.
I said hello.
Jack was originally from Wales, but now lives in Oswestry, on the borders.
My head did the automatic mental route planning that is the reflex of all long distance tourers: Oswestry, Shropshire, probably down the Wye Valley trail into Newport, over the Severn Bridge to Bristol, then country lanes to Salisbury before dropping through the rolling Dorset hills, down to the coast.
Nope. Jack had just come in on the overnight ferry from Cherbourg, Normandy.
Two weeks of cycling into the wind, round through Brittany and back north. Would’ve taken him only one week if he’d been going the other way.
Living, as I do, by the beach, it’s considered bad ettiquette not to finish a sweaty run with a dunk in the waves and a handful of litter picking.
That’s when I met a council worker, litter tongs in one hand, bin bag in the other.
They wore that rusty, ruddy look of an outdoors dweller: eight hours a day on the beach, they told me, from March to October, walking eighteen miles a day, shovelling sand off the prom or shifting last night’s litter from the shore.
Normally there’s a three a.m. tractor that does the bulk of the litter trawling, but last night they were on a training course. So there’s a lot for the team of pickers to get through today.
There’s no real purpose behind these little vignettes of a Thursday morning, other than to make the point, again, that we are always free to make chance connections, to play the game of propinquity with the world: learn a little, expand a little, and — god dammit — commune with each other and this stupid little universe.
And, when you do get chatting with the universe, it’s always worth remember a little something that the Dalai Lama (fourteenth edition) once said to a pal of mine who runs a garage:
When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.
Ahem. Anyway. As I made my way back up the cliff slopes to my home, a silly poem, an aide-memoire, popped into my head:
Be brave. Say: 'Hi, I'm Dave.' No shame. 'What is Your name?'
Later than I expected, I returned home to start writing this email to you. I wanted to get it done by lunchtime so that I could prepare for this bike ride tomorrow.
Instead, I spent the morning in the Lush Green Hub with a friend (👋), picking out delicious donations, showertime products that might have unsellably passed their Lush-fresh peak, but are still very much fabulous.
Lush are kindly passing these intoxicating products onto Thighs of Steel so that our disgusting, smelly cyclists stay fragrant all the way to Athens this summer. Cheers!