Arbitrary Guff: running in London & the collapse of society

In Arbitrary Guff by All This Running Around1 Comment

I was in London this weekend. I like London a lot, always have. When I was a boy, the majority of my paternal grandmother’s family lived in the capital, and we’d travel up regularly from where we lived in Kent. Those visits became a lot less frequent when we moved up to Warwickshire, a life changing event that every single person that knows me has had to listen to me talk about in punishing detail, often when I’ve been drunk. I’m really, really great company.

We were down there this weekend visiting my sister-in-law and family, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon on Saturday walking east along the South Bank. The sun was shining, and the street performers were mostly excellent. But not the crusty pillock making bubbles. Bubbles! A fucking monkey could do it. And there was a bloke doing – well, I’m not quite sure what he was doing but he had an ancient Korg analogue synth that he appeared to be abusing. He certainly looked the part (in that he looked like a scruffy twat), and the resulting sound was like an abattoir where all the animals have had kazoos jammed up their arses and grown men are bashing bin lids together. But let’s not be negative. It was lovely.

No, actually, let’s be negative. Because there was one specific thing that gave me the right arse, and that was people running. If you’ve ever walked along the Thames on a nice day, then you will know that it attracts a lot of people. It’s not quite ‘coming out of a gig’ crowded, but it’s crowded enough to make progress fairly slow. The pavements are pretty narrow in places, and tourists are not the fastest moving demographic in the world. But it’s ok; you’re out for a stroll, you’re taking it all in. No need to rush. Go with the flow and allow for the fact that people will occasionally stop in front of you, or walk across your path without realising. It’s all perfectly fine.

Except for the runners. The fucking, fucking, FUCKING runners. When I saw the first one (about thirty seconds after we got down to the London Eye and started walking along the river), I said to my wife “what a stupid place to go for a run”. Within a few minutes, and having seen probably ten or more people run past, I realised that it’s obviously a very popular location for runners. Why? It’s crowded (particularly at 2pm on a Saturday), it’s completely flat, and you’re in more or less constant danger of colliding with somebody. Why would it appeal to anybody? It doesn’t make any sense. Except, of course, it does.

The showy runner. The “look at me runner”. You’ve seen them. They’ve got every conceivable bit of gear. Big headphones. Overpriced shitty shoes. What makes it infinitely worse is that, in most cases, these runners are crap. Big stupid feet slapping down on the pavement, chests stuck out, smug expression slapped on their idiotic faces because they think lots of lycra and ten minute miles along the South Bank marks them out as some kind of superhuman.


If you run along in a seriously crowded place like that, you’re a huge pain in the arse. That’s it. Your self righteous expression of annoyance when you are forced to take action to avoid a tourist just makes me want to smash your face in with a cricket bat. Want to run somewhere flat? Any idea how many miles of tow path there are in London? Want to run along the South Bank? GET OUT OF BED EARLY AND DO IT WHEN THERE’S NOBODY ABOUT. Want to run somewhere ¬†else that’s nice? Ever been to Regent’s Park? Don’t live near Regent’s Park or any of the other parks in London? Then fuck off and live somewhere else, because the next time I’m down there I’m throwing people in the fucking river.

I need to calm down, so let’s talk about the total collapse of society instead. A week or two ago, I watched ‘Threads’ for maybe the fifth or sixth time. For the uninitiated, Threads is a television drama made by the BBC in 1984 that deals with the build up and aftermath of a nuclear war. (Coincidentally, the first scene takes place almost exactly thirty years ago; March 5th 1984.) It’s based in Sheffield, and tells the story from the perspective of several characters from different backgrounds, all of whom will be affected by events in different ways. The first hour is incredibly tense, as the threat of nuclear attack builds slowly in the background while the characters go about their lives, seemingly untroubled by events until it’s too late. It’s a terrifying and hugely impressive piece of television, with the kind of writing and understated performances that you could take for granted thirty years ago, but which seem depressingly rare now. I first watched it with my sister as a ten-year-old, when it was repeated by the BBC in 1985. We were on holiday in Cornwall, and it scared the living shit out of me. I made it up to the part where the bombs actually start to fall, at which point I basically went to pieces. My parents had gone out for a drink, leaving me and my sister on our own. They returned to find me sobbing in my bedroom. Nuclear war: it was actually quite a scary thing back then.

Since some kind soul put the whole thing on YouTube, I watch it occasionally. It’s still as chilling as it was back then, although the ending now seems a little bit far fetched. A day or two after my most recent viewing, I read an article in the Guardian about something called ‘prepping’. Prepping is essentially preparing for either a temporary or permanent breakdown in society. I’m not going to attempt to cover every aspect of it here, but perhaps the simplest way to think of it is by asking yourself some of the following questions. What would you do if there was no electricity, nationwide, for a week, or two weeks? Or if there was a serious pandemic that meant you didn’t want to leave the house? It’s not necessarily about nuclear war or huge natural disasters. Infrastructure can at times be alarmingly fragile, and it really comes down to this: if there was a problem, would you be able to keep yourself and your family warm, dry and fed?

Having read up on it a bit, it’s clear that there are wildly different levels of prepping. Some people are not just stockpiling food and water, but also training themselves to be self sufficient and keeping weapons (albeit legal weapons). It’s easy to write people off as nutters, preparing for an apocalypse that never comes. But as I said, if there was a state of unrest and people were desperate for food, the first thing I would want to do would be to lock the door and wait it out. We’ve seen what happens when there are rumours of potential fuel shortages, and how supermarkets are cleared if there’s a bit of snow forecast.

It’s something I’m seriously looking at, and no doubt I’ll be writing about it again in future. Which is actually a pretty fucking stupid thing to do, since the one vital thing about prepping is that you don’t tell anyone you’re doing it. But nobody reads this blog so HA!

Running is going reasonably well. I had an annoying few days break when I caught a cold. I was recently given a Garmin Forerunner, so am developing an unhealthy obsession with numbers and times. This runs contrary to what I laughably call my philosophy on running. On the other hand, it’s entirely consistent with my status as a massive hypocrite. I ran a new route this morning, and made the mistake of not really looking at it properly first. Thought it would be about eight miles, turned out it was just over eleven. But it’s nice to be in a situation where that isn’t a big deal. My plan was to take it easy and try and keep the pace somewhere around 8.45 minute miles. I’m steadily trying to up my mileage, so pace isn’t all that important. But still, I prefer not to crawl around too much. Aching slightly but nothing that will stop me running tomorrow.

I’ve been moaning about having to do my running on the road thanks to all the wet weather we’ve had, but it struck me today as I ran towards Pebworth with the Cotswolds in the background that I’m a pretty lucky bastard. All things considered. Apparently there’s nothing they can do about the face.