Never be the same again….

Never be the same again….

Sat not three feet from the gently rippling Caribbean sea, I turned the last of the 415 pages of Preparation For The Next Life by Atticus Lish. As a few beads of sweat from the wonderful, sweltering heat dripped onto the cover as I gazed at it in awe, I’m sure there was a tear or two amongst it. I would never quite be the same again. Heart-warming,  heart-wrenching, heart-breaking, this brutal modern romance consumed me, amazed me, horrified me and illuminated me.

Desperate for more, yet exhausted from having my emotion squeezed to the end.

Set in post Iraq war New York, an unlikely couple emerge from the wreckage of their lives. Zou Lei is a Muslim illegal immigrant from the east, sucked into, spat out from, hidden from, persecuted by and constantly in fear of the authorities. Brad Skinner is a veteran of three active tours of Iraq and has been physically, emotionally and psychologically butchered in his few adult years to date.

A chance encounter in the maze of New York’s mess of an underground world, where a hidden (mostly illegal) immigrant community lives in a desperate economy all of its own, leads to comparing of muscles and rare laughter.

Zou Lei’s strength is her work ethic and single minded determination to make the most of her, apparently destitute, existence. Brad hitch-hikes into town, with the remainder of his forces pay out withering in his bank.

They, with their ragged clothes and lives, somehow find their souls alive.

His desperation, her devotion, their private battles, their joint journey and the unlikely chaotic romance which ensues are dealt with in a style who’s prose is honest, clipped and, like the characters, on the verge of breaking. It’s like having a window into this couple’s world through filthy and cracked glass.

Wonderful.

Commentators, far more informed than I, have suggested that this tale of how the hopes of the hopeless are crushed by the inequality and heartlessness of a fast and selfish world  is important in its belief that these tales need to be told. Fiction it may be, shockingly real it definitely is.

You’ll get no plot spoilers from me, but if you’re looking for a twee love story I’d perhaps recommend you avert you eyes.

It is a rare thing for a book to bring tears to my eyes, yet on this wonderful holiday we have just enjoyed, two books have managed to achieve just that. (Expect a review of the other soon)

A heartily recommended read.

 

 

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No Problem

No Problem

I try, in these ramblings, to avoid politics, religion, in fact controversy of any kind. Sometimes I may say something which makes the occasional reader bristle. In general though, this blog is a designated place of safety….

asleep on airplaneSo, it is with some trepidation that I commence typing a little piece I scribbled on the overnight flight home. During which I repeatedly thought to myself, how DO people sleep on airplanes?!?

A (ficticious) character, who has moved into my head whilst I’m creating my ‘novel’ (yes, it IS happening…..slowly), is know to chant “god loves a trier, but does he trust the non-believers?”. My atheism forms part of my own belief system but certainly doesn’t intend to influence, nor comment on, anybody else’s. It just seemed something that this character would say.

 

2017-12-05 07.36.09
Christmas, Negril style

Whilst in the land of the birth of Rastafarianism, I saw a plaque with a fabulous saying carved into it. Think of those motivational or loving slogans found on pieces of home-art in The Range or Dunelm, but found in a beach market stall in Jamaica.

 

It simply read “God made Marijuana, man made alcohol……”

I don’t partake of any of the three nouns in that sentence, yet I found myself nodding.

After 14 days of these beach traders and their, let’s face it, stoned, dry humour and “no problem, reeespect” attitude to seemingly everything, it was quite emotional to be wheeling our suitcases alongside the beach ready to begin our epic journey back to (freezing cold) reality.

This disappointment was exaggerated by the particularly drunk pair making public fools of themselves (and potentially jeopardising the flight) on the way home to a Gatwick seemingly populated by the stressed, angry, jostling, selfish majority.

So, there you go, maybe, just maybe, those guys and girls on the Negril beach are on to something……

 

Anyway, approaching the end of the year, I found myself writing a festive, reflective piece for my regular column in the excellent online magazine Run Deep. Mulling over the years pictures, it struck me what an absolutely extraordinary year it has been.

 

de icing car
We’re home!

 

Ahhh, regular readers (if you’re still out there after our little hiatus?) will be only too aware of Nicky and I regularly proclaiming to be ‘on it’. Well, we’ve really pushed the boat out this time.

In fact, and I do digress rather, always trust the advice of a local……

Having managed to get Nicky out on a little catamaran dinghy (we literally ‘pushed the boat out’) whilst in the Caribbean, we attempted to get a boat again on the penultimate day of our amazing stay. The wind was up. Consequently, unseen by us, so was the red flag. I thought it meant Jeremy Corbyn was in town…

We went to the desk…

“Yeah mon?”

“We’d like to go sailing, please”

“Not today…..” (pointing at the red flag)

“Tomorrow, then, our last day?”

“Nobody sailing tomorrow…..” with a knowing smile.

 

2017-12-04 06.48.04
Like a mill pond…. until it wasn’t!

We awoke the following day to find all the resort’s and beach traders’ boats absent from the beach. In hiding apparently. The waves were seriously crashing. It’s almost like the locals knew….

Anyway, back to… er… where was I? Oh yes. ON IT!! We did run the hot Hot HOT Reggae Marathon (read all about it HERE) and a couple of beach jogs and a little bit of swimming. But mostly it was all about the four ‘R’s…

READING, RECLINING, (W)RITING and RAIDING the fabulous all inclusive food and tempting restaurants on offer.

Yes indeed, I came home 8lbs heavier than I went!

Not only this, but we’ve started to push the boat out with endurance targets and ambitions for the year ahead….. there’s talk of over night running adventures, long distance triathlons. There’s also talk of my rather beautiful, inspiring lady wife coming out of her Ultra Marathon retirement, watch this space.

So, yes, we’re ON IT!!

Oh and hopefully we’ll be stuffing an envelope with some of those shiny new folding notes in the hope of saving up for a return to the streets of Negril (and why would you go all that way and NOT run a marathon?)…….

 

 

The Reggae Marathon (paradise found)

The Reggae Marathon (paradise found)

“Brexit! Yeah Mon, Brexit. HA HA ”

We had a lot of shouts from spectators and fellow runners. Wearing Union Flag vests, it seems, attracts a lot of cheers and banter….

“God bless the Queen” “Ingerland” “Go Great Britain” “Do you guys speak English?” even “Go Canada”!

But “Brexit”!!! It appears our country’s decisions are the subject of much mirth even this far from home.

Anyway.

Here I am feeling like my heart has won the lottery, lying on the beach in paradise with the most beautiful astonishing lady in the whole wide world.

I’ve said it before, but every single day I feel truly blessed.

The Reggae Marathon. The pressure of representing Team GB lessened as we realised the number of British competitors milling around at the start was swelling.

Team GB discuss tactics

Gravitating towards each other, we exchanged greetings and soaked up the bubbling atmosphere. The sweet smell of weed drifting across the runners with the deep reggae bass.

With the 10k, Half Marathon & Marathon there were 2000 runners ready at 5am for the best running party.

All three races go off at 5.15, the torch lit road guiding the runners into Negril town where the bemused but encouraging locals lined the streets despite the early hour.

Apologies here….. We bumped into so many lovely people and even had shout outs for the blog at the pasta party. This was not just the UK runners either. The Dutch and French contingent it turned out are blog readers!

Some of Team GB

We cheered and high fived runners from Poland, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, The USA, Canada and, of course, the beautiful island of Jamaica.

So, “hi” to (and this is a far from exhaustive list) Darragh, Rachel, Sue, Gary, Elise, Cédric, Adele, Samira, Pieter, Don, Tracey and the boys from the resort shouting “GO BOSS” from the window of their bus to work.

HOT!!

Grandson Ollie could have commentated here – one of his first words was “HOT” as he was warned clear of mugs of tea etc.

After turning in Negril and heading back past the start & finish area, the route headed out past our hotel. Which we did four times!

Our goals were simple: have fun and try to finish. The build up to this holiday has been rather demanding and family illnesses and caring issues, for a while, looked like jeopardising the trip.

So lining up at the start line felt like an achievement and a massive relief. Not as much of a relief as the timely positioning of a (already well used!) portaloo at about 5 miles…….

After the 1300 or so 10k runners had peeled off to turn for home, that left us running with the Half Marathoners heading back towards home.

You don’t like reggae?? Probably not the marathon for you, these guys were everywhere

The Half was won in 1h15 and a lovely chap staying at our hotel, Steve, came 5th in 1h25. Of course they were too quick to enjoy what we were going to be treated to……….. It was going to get really HOT!!!

We got to the half way point, where the field was packed with partying finishers from the shorter races, in just under 2h 30m. With the temperature rapidly rising and the sun getting higher in the sky……..

HOT!!!

As the 2nd half started the frequency of seeing other runners diminished but that only made those of us still out there even more determined to high five and cajole each other, shouting determinedly our encouragement.

HOT!! the roads were lonely and exposed making the last hour quite brutal. Nicky was starting to wilt as I tried to help by running with my shadow cast over her.

We repeatedly crossed the road in search of shade and were more than ‘quite’ relieved to see the mile 26 sign and run in our traditional hand holding style!

I truly AM blessed.

“Made it!!!”

2 years ago when we were here the finish area was pretty much packed up by the time we arrived. It was no different this year, the stage and p.a. had already been dismantled as had the bar etc. Luckily we had preempted this and frozen a couple of bottles of coke and put them in our drop bag.

Nectar!

This event gets listed by many in those ‘must do’ lists. It’s easy to see why….

Like Seaton on Grizzly day, the whole town chips in. The main road is closed all morning (apart from a free shuttle bus service which crawls up and down all day). The early morning, torch lit start is quite magical. The sounds, sights and colours (especially in the first half) are quite magnificent and the atmosphere amongst the runners is special and really heart warming.

The route is repetitive and tedious, especially noticeable as it gets hotter. BUT we just focussed on the amazing place we’re in and had (and are having) an absolute BALL!

Will we be back?

To Jamaica? Undoubtedly

To Negril? Almost certainly

To do the marathon???…….

Maybe the 10k………

5h12m47s

5h12m47s

So two years ago we completed the Reggae Marathon in 5h12m47s…. Competition time…… How long will we take on Saturday when hopefully it’s not quite as warm as today!!! A lovely 5k beach run this morning whilst Nicky swam. Were an active bunch here in the Athletes’ Village! So post in the comments a guess at how quickly we’ll go on Saturday – first (and only) prize us, er, er….. A MENTION IN THE BLOG!!! Guesses on here on on my Facebook page. Three Little Birds courtesy of these cool guys Jogging in the early morning sun Art? “Ya Mon…. Boat trip today??” Nicky will be looking to gate crash international group photos this year too!

THIS JUST IN….

THIS JUST IN….

Shock news coming in from Team GB in the Athletes’ Village…..

The runners have been seen….. EXERCISING!

In Negril preparing for Saturday’s Reggae Marathon, the British contingent started the day by not bothering with their planned early morning beach jog.

What a beautiful Jamaican morning

And they weren’t quite as sharp as yesterday claiming their beach spot. Concerns and rumours were abound as one of them only had TWO courses at breakfast.

Then the pair were seen to take to the water and swim. I mean really swim, several times up and down parallel to the beach in the lush warm waters.

This happened during despite yesterday’s HORRENDOUS (well, it did hurt at the time) jellyfish sting.

Tean GB. Teak tough and taking it all very, very seriously.

In other news, Negril is still, indeed, paradise.

Number collecting tomorrow and a blog competition to look out for……

3 days and counting………

Not a bad spot for a bit of scribbling

Panda Eyes

Panda Eyes

Feel free to blame John Bew and Clement Attlee for holding up my book writing progress.

One of the books I devoured on holiday was Citizen Clem. Nicky and I are both avid readers, so a week in the sun with our books was a very welcome rest.

Holiday BooksNicky claims (without any foundation, I hasten to add) that I am prone to being more ‘high brow’ in my book choice. We actually both enjoy being entertained and challenged and are as happy to be lightly titillated by a read as we are to have our beliefs, or realities suspended.

It’s probably true that I’m more likely to pick up a 700 page political biography, but then I suppose I’m the whiny, leftie dreamer amongst us!

I imagine this weighty volume, which kept me in sunglasses for many hours, leaving gorgeous white rings on my weathered face, has become prominent again in recent months after the apparent resurgence in Socialism, and of the Labour movement, as Jeremy Corbyn led his party to savage the hideous majority previously enjoyed by Theresa May.

Truthfully, I’m no great political historian and cannot claim to have been a frustrated Attleeite awaiting a chance to be part of a larger crusade. Aware of his tenure through regular references and opinion columns in the type of newspaper I lean towards, his name was also our dinner table topic a few months ago.

“Who was Prime Minister when the NHS was founded?” Why this question? Nicky and I share a home with Frank, Nicky’s father. As regular readers will know, Frank suffers from dementia and quite often struggles to join in topical conversations over dinner.

 

holiday writng
Not a bad spot for a bit of scribbling

Whilst he may struggle, on occasions, to remember the days events, either domestic or from the news, he can quite often hold more detailed conversations when delving into his longer term memory.

 

With this in mind, we sometimes pick something in the news (like the NHS) and try and relate it to occurrences in the past. We try and have our social time over a meal each evening and this ‘tool’ we’ve developed can often lead to a more inclusive conversation.

Anyway, between us we, I’m ashamed to say, failed to answer with any certainty, until we delved into the magic little google machine. To be fair to Frank, he was only 9 at the time!

I picked the book up at Bristol Airport on the way out, and was initially daunted by it’s weight, page count and small print (and luggage allowance!).  BUT, as Nicky will testify, I became quite antisocial as I feasted on the glorious cradle to grave chronicle of one of the truly ‘great’ Britons.

A man who was born in the 19th century, fought in one world war, was deputy leader of the country through another, won an absolute landslide general election victory for Labour and steered the country through the carnage of the post war years, his is a tale to behold.

It is a chronicle told with poise and elegance, an insight into the man as much through what he himself read as much as what he did. Bew’s ability to make such a potentially academic subject so ALIVE is wonderful.

 

holiday running
We took our training VERY seriously on holiday…

After a few days of slowly cooking myself in the sun, with my head buried deep in the book, I felt I truly knew this gentleman of a statesman. Despite Attlee dying the year I was born, I find him to be the type of political figure who feels me relevant to me.

 

Having enjoyed (enjoyed!) a 40 mile outing the day before our holiday, I felt I was ready for, firstly, a REST and secondly the Gower 50 which is rapidly approaching…

 

nicky in greece
Nicky still putting the lengths in after the sun had disappeared

I managed a few little runs on holiday and a couple of lovely sea swims just to tick over the fitness but with only now a week to go until the big one, I don’t feel I need, nor would I benefit from, any more epic runs.

 

So, this weekend we’re off to a secret location where I’ll be supporting Nicky as she, yet again, pushes herself to find new skills, new limits, new potential, and most wonderfully, new adventure. Yes, she’s making her debut in………..

Find out next week!

 

 

 

PS I’m a bit shy about this – but I occasionally post poems and scribblings here too –

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Air For A Cool Breeze

Hot Air For A Cool Breeze

Pink FloydI guess sometimes our heroes really ARE ghosts. We’ve all lost people too early, before they had chance to realise their own dreams and potentials. Equally, I imagine we’ve all drawn inspiration from those lost to us and, maybe, felt the urge to push a little bit harder to realise OUR dreams and find OUR capabilities whilst we are still blessed with the good fortune of health to do so.

2017-09-27 16.51.35Grief top-trumps is a game I find objectionable, the idea that there is a scale of tragedy worthy of different levels of sympathy is, quite frankly, unsavoury at best. And whilst I’m airing my gggrrrrs, what is this social media phenomenon of being asked to ‘prove’ you care by ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’ somebody else’s story? I don’t need to prove I’ve read all of your post in order to care. And yes I DO know how tragic cancer can be. Believe me. I know. tragic, cruel, relentless, indiscriminate, debilitating, destructive, painful and despicable. Yup.

So, where was I? Ah yes, ghosts as heroes.

road to spartaIt’s a breath of fresh air to read some books. The Road To Sparta by Dean Karnazes…. Now, I don’t know how many losses or tragedies have befallen the Karnazes family but I do know that he tragically lost his sister just as she turned 18 (the details of which are covered in his first book). This latest tome is a journey into his family history (him being of Greek parentage) and deep into the history of the Greek nation and the people therein.

Told with a wit and eloquence often lacking in ‘sports’ biographies and combining, cleverly, his strength of character and his confidence with his self depreciating humour and his self doubts.

Embarking on a mission to truly follow in the footsteps of the original ultra marathon man Pheidippides, it charts his frustrations as he struggled to make this happen alone. Ultimately tracing the route by competing in the uber long Spartathon, he compares his progress, diet, emotions and fatigue to how he imagines Pheidippides was coping way way back when.

 

sparstart
Spartathlon – a very VERY long race

Acknowledging the new modern fandangle of aid stations, crews and fuelling products, Karnazes made his attempt by sticking to traditional Greek foodstuffs instead of tubes of sickly gunk and power bars. These are the foods that would have been available in 490bc, although Dean concludes that the stomachs of ancient times must have been made of strong stuff.

 

His constitution wasn’t playing ball and he graphically describes his stomach churning attempts to eat or digest this food in the second half of the race. Don’t read these passages too close to your Greek supper, as I did on holiday!!

The second half of the 153 mile race was survived on water, an iron will and muscle memory. Hallucinations (or reality?), despair, negotiations with his maker, negotiations with his mind, body and soul are all charted and delivered in Karnazes’ trademark boisterous, page turning rhetoric.

Yes, it’s ‘in yer face’ stuff, the way life should be lived, honouring those ghosts. This book should be read at full tilt. you don’t need to be an ultra marathon runner (or a runner at all) to enjoy this book, nor a Karnazes aficionado, although you may well become both before long as a direct result of reading it.

I’m not claiming to produce a literary chronicle, but we do like a good read……… and this is DEFINITELY that.

I think, tomorrow, I shall run with my ghosts!

 

Anyway, find me on Facebook – here, Twitter – here, Instagram – here

AND, please check out the new online magazine RUN DEEP where you might just find some more words by yours truly!