One Day In Paros

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I could write about that day in Paros where we walked the beach road from Parikia out past the ferry port and the bar and the restaurants, past the campsite and the restaurants on the beach, past the sports beach club where we had swam the day before, where I had found the empty sea urchin shell, out along the narrow beach path, out around and up onto the headland where the wind blew through the aloe vera plants and we climbed high over the sea below, round the corner where the headland felt more of a desert than a beach now and on until we started descending to the roadway below past the deserted campsite club and squeezing our way onto the edge of the end of this new beach.

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We walked a while and found ourselves now opposite the town and its beaches, where the ferries now passed between us and docked in the distance. We joined a handful of locals in the sun under some abandoned beach shade umbrellas and watched a scruffy little dog do as it pleased along the water’s edge. We swam and dried off. We swam again, slipping off our constricting swimwear and swimming free in the sea. We lay in the shade to dry off and watched an old man arrive in an ancient Fiat and enter the sea for his daily lunchtime swim, out to the buoy and in again and back along the beach edge.

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I entered the water and followed his route, my bravery enhanced by watching his success. Swimming out in the sea and I was free. Free and a little scared, scared of all those things they tell us to be scared of, the depth, the currents, the cold cramp, exhaustion. I thought of all these things as I swam out following his path, his invisible trail somehow holding its permanence through its daily repetition through the waves and I returned victorious. I had conquered the sea.

And that is the story of the sea of Paros one summer of 2017, in the year after the fire and before the operation.  

 

Thinking On

Every day I walk these streets I try to take them in. Every detail, the pall of smog from the incinerator smokestack separating the oily black of the night sky from the neon glow of the streetlights lining the A50 below. The football stadium stands like a citadel in the middle of the middle distance and the drone of the traffic rises up to meet me.

Chamberlain Avenue draws up from London road in a exponential steepness dragging its way upwards from the kebab shops and oatcake shops, broken windows and broken paving slabs. The discarded sweet wrappers, beer cans and broken glass are suddenly gone and fallen leaves take their place in piles of brown and gold. Council workers blow and sweep the leaves into the back of their pickup but they don’t pick up the rubbish in London Road. Chamberlain Avenue leads to Penkhull, London Road is Stoke. Stoke Town. One of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent.

I take in these details, because one day when I have left here and find my peace, these things, these memories and sights and sounds will become words and stories and songs. But for now they weigh heavily and it is the best I can do to take them in at all.


January 2019 and these thoughts did distill into a song carrying the essence of some of my Stokie experiences:

Chamberlain Road – James Laurie / Pony Folk – Stoke-on-Trent version 2

https://youtu.be/Rj10g1D3CX8

The Street Where I Live

Sometimes I don’t want to go outside, I don’t want to leave the quiet, calm sanctuary of our home, but needs must. The first task outside is always to pick up the rubbish from outside the house. I don’t know where it comes from, but it arrives in a tide washed and blown down the street. Rubbish on the pavement, rubbish in the gutter, rubbish on the oil-stained kerbstones.

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Most of the time the street is chock full of cars, the rubbish strewn gutter hidden away under the hulks of metal.

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Towards the top of the street is a green area. Nobody knows who it belongs to or what it is for. It never gets its grass cut and no-one uses it. It could be beautiful, it could be a community garden, an allotment or wildlife haven. Heaven forbid, it could also be used for parking, even that would be better than the rubbish dump it’s used for now.

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We have a jitty through to Chamberlain Avenue from the top of the street, it’s great for pedestrians and the occasional fast-food delivery driver uses it too.

 

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Some people like to use it to discard their unwanted rubbish.

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Chamberlain Avenue is nice, they recently had their road and pavements resurfaced, block paving installed around the trees in the path and the drains were unblocked and cleaned.

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There’s no rubbish on the street in Chamberlain Avenue. Once I have negotiated the carcasses of sofas, the pile of old flooring and the discarded sandwich I can but only envy the people of Chamberlain Avenue. At least for now….

Incantation Number 7

Write something profound,
Write something meaningless,
Write for the joy of writing,
Write for the hate of writing,
Write for the ugly,
Write for the beautiful,
Write the way,
Write the time,
Write for the right now, the long goodbye and the happy ever after
Write for all the dark mornings and the long dark nights,
Write for the summer sun and the winter stars,
Write for the blazing heat, the bitter cold, the warm rain and the cold snow,
Write for the stark mountain peaks and the lush valleys depths below,
Write for rivers of ice, streams of crystal cool, gold filled, earth blood,
Write for the burning horizon an the nothing in-between,
Write for love,
Write to save your soul,
Write for peace,
Write for right and write to make the world whole,
Write to be read,
Write to be ignored,
Write to be indifferent,
Write, just write once more.

Run Forrest Run

I hadn’t heard that for a long time, at least a month or so. “Run Forrest run”, the street heckle of adolescents vying to impress their peers in a world where shouting catchphrases from a film that was screened before they were even born is the pinnacle of a street heckle. C’est la vie, kids will be kids. Last Monday we were out for a speed session. Running is often thought as a pastime where the ‘jogger’ pulls on their trainers and plods around the same route three times a week before going home for a hearty breakfast or piece of cake depending on the time of day and day of the week. Fortunately the reality is far more interesting and technical. There is a maxim in running:

“the only way to run faster is to run faster”

Is this intuitive or counter-intuitive? If I tried to run faster then I would run out out of steam before I’d finished my allotted route for the day, so runs are broken down into different types. A typical set of runs for the week might be the ‘long run’, perhaps on a Sunday morning this is the longest and slowest run of the week used to build up endurance. A ‘tempo run’ might then be next, from a technical perspective this is a run where the pace is just below the lactate threshold ie you are still flushing out the lactate quicker than it is building up in your legs. It is fast and it is hard and it is maybe 20 minutes long. Another run might then be some kind of technical speed run, this could be sprints over short distances, sprints up hills or sprints around a running track. Basically a burst of speed followed by a jog or walk rest period all broken down into sets. This is what we were up to that day.

There is a wide pathway between two warehouses near where we live, it is about 150 metres long and has bollards at each end with four equally spaced lampposts along it. It’s a short warm up jog down to this path from the house and then we do some plyometric exercises to work down the lampposts to the bollards at the far end. High-knees, heel-flicks, sides-steps right foot leading, side-steps left foot leading and then striding out like leaping gazelles down to the bollards. Our speed session here is a pyramid set of sprint to the first lamppost and jog / walk back, turn and sprint to the second lamppost then jog / walk back, then the third lamppost, then the fourth then back down to the third, second and first. Then rest and repeat. We happened to coincide this week’s run with lunchtime at the @MarksandSpencer warehouse where a flock of yellow hi-viz vested workers were crowded around a picnic table in the carpark’s designated smoking area. “Run Forrest run!”, the lone cry came from that direction as we hurtled toward lamppost number three.

The best comedy is fear based we were told a couple of weeks ago by a stand-up comedian, he had told us how he prepared for a gig by watching the audience. Picking up cues and generalisations on class and maturity and education to try to pin down what he thought they were most afraid of. This, he said, is where the humour lies: in taking peoples fears and playing them back to them and exaggerating them for the laughs. All laughter is fear based.

What generalisations could I make about our audience? This wasn’t a group of adolescents on a street corner vying for popularity among their peer group, their ends, their homies. This was the frontline of the retail powerhouse of the high street, this wasn’t just any old warehouse employee, this was after all an M&S warehouse employee.

“Run Forrest run!”, the peak and pinnacle of heckles on a bright Monday afternoon, from a grown, mature, functioning member of society. Perhaps working in a warehouse is no different from being at school? Clocking-in, clocking-out, performance tested, being told what to do, bossed around? It’s been a long time since I worked in a warehouse for extra cash whilst studying for my A Levels. Perhaps things were different then, perhaps Forrest Gump hadn’t been made back then, perhaps nobody ever ran past while we sat outside in the sun.

Around that time I was attending Aikido sessions at a nearby village hall. It was a small club, almost all the regular members were black belts, first, second, third, fourth Dans with a handful of other belts. In the summer we were occasionally disturbed by the local youth banging or jeering through the open windows. On occasions like this merely closing the curtains would make the problem disappear – the common heckler outfoxed by a curtain. Now you see it, now you don’t. On other occasions where this didn’t work, Sensei would invite the youngsters in, to sit at the back and watch our group of judo-suited, barefooted and be-skirted performers dance the dance of Aikido. This usually upped the ante for us as well as the throws and holds became more exaggerated and acrobatic. Often times the kids would laugh and squirm and be gone in five minutes, but occasionally some were fascinated and would stay and watch. This was a great lesson for me in the craft and practice of Aikido, not just as a practice but as a way of being as well. There are no attacks in Aikido, everything is a deflection of an attack, using the inertia of the attackers force to deflect or throw them away in a circular motion. Thus hecklers are invited in to become part of the ceremony rather than confronted, their fears are allayed and they are heard and welcomed into the community. It is there for them if they choose to take it. I wonder how this can be translated to the hecklers on the street or the M&S Car Park, I can hear your fear from seeing something different but it is here for you if you wish to find out more and overcome those fears.

“Run Forrest run”, perhaps this can be your running mantra, after all he ran right across America as I recall in the film, that’s a long way from smoking on your lunch break in the M&S Warehouse car park.

Come join us on Saturday morning at #Parkrun, 09:00 Hanley Park, there will be over 350 of us there waiting for you.