Still seeking solitude

It’s been a strange couple of weeks.

Going into lockdown felt comparatively easy for me. Cancel everything, stay at home. Only go out to exercise or to do essential shopping. No traffic noise, lots of birdsong. Four months later, reversing lockdown feels loud and complex.

It’s been great to have family and friends to visit; good to get a haircut. #GNRsolo runs are fitting into a new schedule of coffee dates and appointments. I have to confess that, some days, I have felt a little overwhelmed by the existence of pre-planned events in the diary.

As a child, I was frequently accused of being too much of an introvert. As if it was something within my control. Self-conscious, I became quieter and retreated to the world of books. The craving for moments of solitude hasn’t gone away. When life gets too busy I still need space and downtime. I’m not a recluse, I enjoy the company of others but I draw my strength from an inner depth. Extroverts can drain me.

I describe myself now as an ambivert. I need time to get in touch with my introvert side, but I’m frequently surprised by the joy of meeting similar souls. Like my school gate friend, Mary. We met for a walk by the river and an open air coffee. She told me that she had willingly sacrificed time alone in an empty house to meet up with me; I felt privileged. We understand each other.

Running solo

On Sunday, a challenge appeared on a whatsapp message for #GNRSolo. The link’s not working for me, I replied. That’s because it’s just a picture, said my daughter. Once that was sorted, I was able to search on line to read the challenge.

Last Sunday, 28 June, was the 40th anniversary of the Great North Run. It’s a late summer event now, but it seems that was not always the case. The challenge, should I choose to accept it: forty runs in the 78 days between the 40th anniversary date and the date of the, now postponed, 2020 GNR. No specification on speed or distance of the runs. That will motivate me, I thought, as I entered my details online. One by one, my family all signed up for the solo event. I even set up a spreadsheet to record my progress. After 5 short runs, my spreadsheet tells me that I have run the equivalent of one half marathon this week.

Mr A managed to achieve this distance in fewer runs, and in considerably less time than me. However, he is now out of action for a while. He hobbled home, battered and bruised, after crashing to the ground on his 3rd run. He had the misfortune of encountering a small dog running out of control between his feet. A trip to A&E and an emergency dental appointment followed. Whilst he may now be able to see the funny side of the event; the pain of his bruised ribs prevents him from laughing.

Running through the woods

A bright early spring morning. The sun shines in at the windows. It breaks through the fingerprints on the panes; highlights the dust dancing in the air. I could stay indoors and wage battle on the dirt, but it seems a little early for spring cleaning. I’m not expecting visitors. Even if I were, I would likely wave an arm around a hastily tidied room whilst issuing a vague apology for my standards of housekeeping.

I choose to put myself on the other side of the dusty windows. Cleaning windows is, by his own choice, one of Mr A’s jobs. He enjoys it. Almost as much as our grand-daughters enjoy leaving face and hand prints on the glass. It’s not a day for staying indoors, I get ready to go for a run.

Halfway through the door, the phone rings. I hesitate. Who rings the house phone these days? Sellers, ‘just carrying out a survey in your area’; fraudsters, claiming to be my internet provider…

I give in and answer. A pleasant, if delaying, surprise. For a change it’s a friend, seeking clarity on a date. More usually resolved by a quick text, it turns out that it is quite nice to take the time to chat.

I run away from town and into the woods. I am cheered by the light filtering through the trees, and by the snowdrops bursting into flower. My head clears and my thoughts unravel. The steady rhythm of running always straightens my thinking. The endorphins are doing their work. I run out of the woods, aware that last week’s knee pain seems to have passed; possibly helped by the consumption of large quantities of pineapple. The sadness that I feel reading my newspaper has not diminished, but at least I am able to find some respite.

Sing out my soul…

I love to sing but, unfortunately, this granny cannot hold a tune.

It’s 40 years or more since it was said to me: ‘no one would want to sit near to you in church’. It wasn’t that I didn’t wash, I think; just my lack of musicality. The speaker didn’t need to sit near me, she sat in the choir. It took me some years to regain the confidence to open my mouth and join in congregational singing with any degree of enthusiasm.

Reading the letters page in the Guardian, I mention it again. ‘It was a long time ago,’ says Mr A; ‘can’t you be forgiving?’ ‘Of course I can forgive,’ I say, but the memory stays with me. The pain and shame can bubble up and catch me unawares. Forgiveness doesn’t always wipe the memory clean. A harsh reminder, perhaps, that we should be careful what we say. Once said, things cannot be unsaid.

I married into a musical family and my daughters all received the music gene. I have always celebrated their ability to bring pleasure to others through music. I love to be in the audience and enjoy a concert; but I must confess to a little envy that I cannot do the same.

I know that I am not alone and the letters in the paper made my heart sing. A choir that’s for the tuneless, that’s got my name on it. I went to the website to see if there’s a tuneless choir near to us. Sadly there isn’t, but I’ve signed up just in case there are others near my postcode who need the same therapy.

Just ten miles, done

An early start this morning took me to the start line of the just ten miles. Parking space found, a short walk to the event village, toilet queue negotiated; I saw the marathon runners on their way. Elites, serious runners and fancy dressed fun runners set off at a pace down the hill. Down the hill. The hill that would be climbed 26 miles later. Mr A was there, and back in just 3 hours 43. He’s a fast runner. I may have the stamina to keep on running, but I’m not fast.

Then it was the turn of the just ten milers. It’s cold hanging about at the start of a run. There’s the opportunity to leave old clothes for charity. A trailer full of items abandoned by the marathon runners had already been collected. I said goodbye to the redundant cardigan that had witnessed life from the back of my office chair.

Our turn came to run down the hill and into the city. Over the cobbles, less treacherous than in last year’s rain. Under the city walls, past the minster, through the country villages. Encouraged all the way by spectators and fellow runners, my lack of serious training was not a big issue.  Lots of banter made me pleased to have given my Trump t-shirt another airing. Less than 2 hours later, it was my turn to climb the hill to the home strait. Marathon runners were already sprinting towards the finish, pulling the ten milers in their wake.

So that’s one of the ten mile runs done. Just two short weeks to go to the next one. The undulating Lake District run. The distance may not be an issue, but this granny will be challenged by the hills.

Go girl…

At the park run on Saturday, I heard cheers of ‘go girl’ directed at a 75 year old completing her 100th run. In the circumstances the language was probably well placed. The ‘girl’ in question went on to achieve a personal best. If I’m still runing 5k at 75 then any shouts of encouragement will do.

It reminded me of the outrage caused by Sir Roger Gale MP when he described mature working women as ‘the girls in my office’. I had much debate with friends as to whether this could ever be taken as flattery and compliment.

As an accountancy student in the early 1980’s there would be exercises set which would, we were told, ‘sort the men from the boys’. A nod of ‘oh sorry girls’ would acknowledge the presence of the female students in the room.

Does the language matter? To my mind it does. It is language representative of a paternalistic culture, keeping the girls in their place.

Last week I spent an evening at the cinema watching an interview with Margaret Atwood. Solid, steely and lovely; she is a prophet for the times in which we live, a wise woman. I can’t imagine anyone describing this strong woman as a girl.

I’m happy to enjoy an occasional ‘girls’ night out’, the equivalent of a ‘night out with the boys’. But on the whole, I aspire to become a wise old woman with the wow factor (definitely not a little old lady, lol). I’d like to be a role model worthy of my granddaughters. At the moment they are both beautiful little girls. My hope is to see them grow into intelligent and hard working women, following in the footsteps of their mother and their aunties.