On fear and the London Marathon

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That’s me crying after running a half marathon along the river a few weeks ago on the right.

I’ve been meaning to write this post forever – and many more like it – about how I will be running the London Marathon in support of the Canal & River Trust. But I’ve been tentative about making a big deal of it as my training has been so hit and miss – in the two-and-a-half months I’ve had to prepare there have been three weeks off due to injury, another to sickness, two to bad organisation and one more due to heavy pollution, which should only have been a few days, but, you know, I had to make sure. There have also been countless runs missed due to friend’s birthdays (hangovers), unexpected work things (lazyness) and various other commitments (writing, failing to). I’ve spent weeks uming and aring about wether I’d be able to do it, so long that it has creeped up on me and now, like it or not, wobbly bum or no wobbly bum, the time is upon me: the marathon is tomorrow.

I’m scared. I feel sick. The longest run I’ve done to date is 13.2 miles along the Thames a few weeks ago, for at least seven miles of that I wasn’t entirely sure if I would ever be able to use my lower body again. Doing that twice and surviving will be a miracle. However, ridiculously, the thing worrying me the most right now is that I might bump into to someone I know there, I think I’d like to be alone – aside from the 30,000 strangers – with my pain and slow deterioration into a sweating, snivelling, sobbing wreck. The thought of someone I went to school with, one of those irritating ex-school friends who were just always good at life, sailing past me, calm and grinning, is too much at this point.

Anyway, it’s late and I have a long night of tossing and turning and night terrors ahead of me. And I’m still to iron my name onto my vest as I’ve no idea if I actually own an iron. By the time I write again I will, no doubt, be in considerable pain, but in the name of a good cause at least. The Canal and River Trust look after our waterways and the ecosystems they support – when you SPONSOR ME (as you will, because you’re all such nice people), your money could well help make life on the river that little bit better for a family of swans, or some eels, or otters, or trout. And, given the scarcity of our contact with nature in these modern times, rivers and canals definitely make life better for us.

P.S. sorry about the poster, limited time etc etc.

→ London Marathon shocker: I did it (and survived)

On the wilds of Battersea

1. The harshest weather is over and spring is here (again). Winter sloughed away the dead/dying vegetation, the land’s recharged, exfoliated, fresh faced and ready to start again.

London ducks

2. Under bright skies and the constant flow of air traffic, ducks and moorhens and geese etc bask and fish among the city’s wasted STUFF: forgotten shoes and slabs of polystyrene, otter-shaped garden statues stolen by the floods.

Battersea river shoes

3. Sherbet-pink blossom flakes from cherry trees and carries in the breeze like sugared wishes.

4. Wildflowers pop up in riverside wastelands, acid-bright against the fading grey.

5. In Battersea Park, this is the perfect time to see the heronries, while the herons are gathering to breed and raise their young and the vegetation is still thin enough to get a good view of their huge, unlikely nests.

Perched precariously in the tops of the tallest trees, herons tend to their tangled clumps of twigs in a spectacle that seems somehow lost in time – Pterodactyls roosting in front of Battersea Power Station, swooping and squawking and bickering with each other mid-air.

6. Bully swans team up into bully pairs to hassle the geese on the lake – nipping, bashing, chasing, hissing.

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 7. Geese fly low and heavy in the sky, honking a song in unison.

IMG_70228. This idiot.

Andy in the park

New column: more Wandling

My new column/regular feature is up and I’m really excited about it. It’s called Mind the Sap and is in The Journal of Wild Culture. It’s a sort of tangential approach to London nature, I’m no naturalist so it’s more about the way people interact with the nature around them. The first piece is called Deep Clean and is about the Wandle river clean up (I know, such a river bore).

Here’s an exerpt, and by the way, it’s definitely NOT poetry:

Waders on, hands in gloves, litter-picker ready – today we’re cleaning up the Wandle.
I slide down the muddy banks into the river. It’s fucking freezing.
What now?
Feel the riverbed, says a man who seems to be in the know.
Feel for things that shouldn’t be there.
How do I know what shouldn’t be there?
Look for bubbles.

I pat the riverbed with my foot.
Is that something? No, no bubbles.
What about this? Not this time either.

Read more here, I promise it’s exciting.

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We’re cleaning up the Wandle

Wandle clean up

There’s a certain romance to the River Wandle. Most of it’s hidden behind walls or pushed underground in concrete tunnels, the bits we do see are small and often littered with Lucozade bottles and broken washing machines. But despite our best efforts to hide it, dirty its waters and forget it even, it just keeps on flowing.

It’s funny how we treat nature in London. We seem to bully it, as though giving it an occasional kicking will somehow make it go away. I don’t think Londoners hate nature, I just think, for the most part, we fear it. In a fast moving city, we like our landscape to be straight forward and simple to understand.

The Wandle was once famed for brown trout fishing attracting, amongst others, Admiral Nelson to its waters. After a chemical spill a few years ago destroyed what was left of the natural population, the trout have recently been reintroduced. The water is so clear now that, despite the odd bit of crap, it has become a crucial reserve for the endangered London eel (European variety, not jellied). There’s even a nature reserve up towards Carshalton, the wonderfully named Wilderness Island.

In the 19th Century the Wandle became the most industrialised river in the world for its size, attracting textiles mills from William Morris, of wallpaper fame, and Liberty, of expensive fancy pants fame. There is even a theory that The Mill on The Floss by George Eliot – who lived in Holly Lodge in Southfields after she fell out with her family over a relationship with a married man – was set on her waters.

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Not my best shot but who knows, perhaps waders will be my new look for s/s ’13

The Wandle Trust organise a river clean up on the second Sunday of every month, anyone can volunteer. There are two jobs: picking through the river for rubbish, which means you get to wear waders, and collecting said rubbish, which means you get to play about with a wheelbarrow. I opted for waders on what turned out to be just about the coldest day of the month. Needless to say, I was in dire need of a cup of tea after a few hours getting absolutely soaked (must wear waterproofs under waders).

I can’t help but think that if the river was a single living, breathing entity, that all the rubbish we throw into it would somehow be feeding it. Perhaps one day, it will rise against us, taking strength from what we always thought was waste and force us to become its fleshy slaves.