“Hear their shouts, hear their roar
They’ve probably all had a barrel or much, much more….”
The rousing 1981 masterpiece Swords of a Thousand Men has been my earworm this past couple of weeks, as I once again escape to the pox-ridden sixteenth century in my spare time. I still haven’t found bedtime reading to equal Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, but my training took on a distinctly Tudor flavour this past fortnight, courtesy of another eccentric virtual running challenge thrown down by my hyperactive millennial boss at Secret London Runs (it’s a bit complicated to try to explain, but more here).
In short, I had to cover the 99 miles Catherine of Aragon travelled after her dismissal by Henry VIII, in two weeks. My Garmin, through Bluetooth and GPS sorcery, told SLR admin that I achieved that (in Lewisham – roads much travelled). So it’s all good.
How I loved Eddie Tudor-Pole; his attractively cadaverous form draped in leather jacket with added sagging puffling pants (as Ben Elton memorably termed galley-hose breeches), his sharp-cheekboned lean and hungry look, the way he attempted stage leaps, with his gangling stick-insect limbs splaying out of control. He was my ideal bloke, the type I pursued frequently in the early eighties. Perhaps that’s why I’ve taken to endurance running in middle age, to be chasing down spindly men while the shadow of middle-age spread lounges comfortably on the sofa.
I seem to remember Mr Tudor-Pole enjoyed some success in the early noughties as a telly presenter (was it Crystal Maze?) but I didn’t study him much at that point, being otherwise engaged. He’s still with us, I think, although I’m loth to look him up in case he’s some landed Brexity Tory who likes Stilton and port. In my imagination he still slides around the tiny ToTP studio like a hyperactive schoolboy.
Lockdown 3 has afforded plenty of opportunity to relive such former glories via YouTube, or even spin a few LPs on the Dansette, while swerving horrors like the daily Covid news and the tax return. I’ve also taken to reading my favourite picture books to my grandsons via WhatsApp. I did Little Rabbit Foo Foo last week. It’s one of my favourite works of literature. Michael Rosen signed my daughter’s copy many years ago. Living in a fantasy world, where wanton violence is punished by being turned into a Goonie, is the only way forward.
My more demanding fantasy world sees me in the thick of marathon training. The much-postponed Richmond Marathon stills declares a date of 27 March for its carefully Covid-secure rerun, despite ever-more rigorous lockdown, and Kentish and South African variants of the virus alarming the scientific Powers That Be. Still, it’s distractions we need, and there’s nothing like the rigours of a training regime for keeping despair at bay. Galloping through the south London mire while planning all the journeys I shall make to hug friends at family WATIO is what’s keeping me sane at the moment.
As I write this the news is all about the death of Sir Captain Tom Moore. He decided to keep moving, walking round his garden on his frame, aged 99, to raise money for National Health Service charities. He turned 100, having raised £33million and was knighted for his effort. He died of Covid, but his century year was an absolute blast, I’ll wager. I hope his final days were pain free.
Elderly movers and shakers fascinate me, unsurprisingly for a blogger who calls herself Marathon Gran. My current bedtime reading is What Makes Olga Run? by Bruce Grierson. The late Olga Kotelko was a star on the athletics track in her nineties. She could jump higher, run faster and throw javelins further than most other seniors, and held 23 world records in track and field. Grierson’s meticulous study of her athletic prowess tries to find a reason for this golden girl’s seemingly ageless body and mind. She agreed to be subjected to a barrage of fitness and intelligence tests, accompanied by Grierson, who turned their adventures into fascinating reading for obsessives like me. Yes, I do harbour fantasies of being a nonagenarian Marathon Great Gran one day.
Until then, I guess I’ll keep on following the elders. The other day I rang the oldest member of our athletics club, Ron, who’s in his mid nineties and has had a nasty bout of Covid, which hospitalised him for a time. He told me he was doing well, and mentioned how bored he was with his daily walks on the same old streets day in day out. He can’t wait to get back to the road less travelled, either.