Sunday March 20th 2020 – 16km run. Home, Greenwich Park, Limehouse Basin and back.
Sixteenth and 21st century timelines colliding. The Queen’s House. The ever-expanding Canary Wharf, wealth rising upwards towards the heavens.
It’s a world which seems faster, harder, more negative than ever with relentless 24 hour news cycles priming us to fight and flight and panic.
Running and raving helps me cope. First of all to 21 Years with Groove Armada Disc 1, celebrating the weekend, the sunshine, harness and project positive energy in a world full of painful contradictions.
And then the iconic, soul shredding house classic Junk Science by Deep Dish for the trip back home. This album circles back to zero point with its shuddering deep bass lines reaching deep into my brain and out into space.
Timeless, floating, endlessly resonating from its launch in 1998 to now:
‘Mohammed is Jesus is Buddha is love is the way I see it.’
‘Stranded in your American dream/ Of a Polaroid lie I have never seen/ I’m living…‘
Music, mirror, reality slide.
‘The future of the future will still contain the past. Time goes slow and time goes fast…’
The final kilometre home was my fatest – the hypnotic house beasts of Sushi giving new life to tired legs.
Beats dropped in the right place at the right time connecting and unlocking hidden energy.
The Thames at low tide. Running through Limehouse, past mud banks, luxury flats and glimpses of a lost dockyard past. I’m listening to the haunting, heartbreaking strains of Agnes Obel’s Familiar.
The sun glints crystals on the water. A sudden mood shift from my running playlist to Erasures’s euphoric Give a Little Respect .
A small terrier barks and rears up. Its lead is nearly choking it, it’s trying to attack a much bigger dog, who stares down at it with benign confusion. Above them, their owners start to trade angry words. A potential war is started, averted when the bigger dog gently nudges his owner who walks him around and away.
The wind chases the clouds and hides the sun. I’m now listening to Dostoevsky and the Russian Soul. As a young man, Fyodor Dostoevsky found himself in front of a firing squad. For 10 endless minutes, he thought he was about to die. His sentence was commuted to hard labour and military service. Dostoevsky’s observations during his time in Siberia, revealing the deep contradictions of our human souls: the peasants, brutish, violent, yet capable of unexpected kindness, the deep rooted fear of ‘the other’; the need to define ourselves by what we are not; Russia is not the West, the West is not Russia.
Nations endlessly going to war. We act against our own best interests in the name of abstract concepts like freedom. And yet at the same time, we are capable of showing great kindness and compassion.
Literature holding a hopeful mirror up to reality.
Leon finally emerges from his deep coma and the nightmares caused by the accident that almost killed him in hopsital. He’s been given a test treatment, Syndrome K. As he takes more of the drug, an unexpected side effect emerges: the startling increase in his intelligence.
Not particularly academic at school, Leon notices with astonishment how K opens up his mind and his perception. The drug makes Leon first notice and then begin to understand strange patterns, the interconnectedness of art, music, science, everything that surrounds us.
But the drug soon starts to take over and Leon becomes increasingly enmeshed inside his own consciousness, turning ever more inward while his brain searches restlessly for the ultimate Gestalt, the pattern that underpins the entire universe.
Award-winning US writer Ted Chiang’s sci-fi thriller was published in 1991 and explores with rich lyrical density, what it is like to become ever more self-aware. The sad irony: the more self aware and hyper intelligent Leon becomes, the more he’s becoming locked inside his own head, separated from the rest of humanity while seeing how connected we all are, the strands of energy that vibrate between person to person.
‘Benevolence’ muses Leon, ‘being able to bestow generosity on other people. How many emotions are required by the presence of another person….’
Leon creates his own language from all the languages of the world so he can express the inexpressible. He writes a poem ‘which is like combining Finnegan’s Wake and Pound’s Cantos…’
Ted Chang’s book is packed with rich descriptions: Leon’s search for the ultimate Gestalt and the struggle to describe what lies beyond the capabilities of human language – yet still having to use language to describe what lies beyond words and most mere mortals’ comprehension.
Gestallt – the patterns and the systems that underpin us, climb inside and understand the secret machinations of the universe…
After his third dose of K, Leon watches his mind watching itself working itself out, each time creating chemical reactions and interconnections. Leon’s watching himself watching himself fall into ever deeper understanding but the more understanding, the less that is understood as the universe expands out in a giant fractal. Soon, he’s using more of his brain than any other human in existence but his mind is getting too big for his brain, a mere piece of organic matter, to contain.
‘ Exploring the nature of reality and existence – that life is an illusion, that life is just a dream – that the true reality is just out of reach. That to be biologically concious means we can never get to ultimate reality – our thoughts, our emotions, our attachments constantly getting in the way.’
Patterns everywhere. Life ending and beginning across the globe one second at a time. The condition inexorably changing as time moves constantly forwards one moment to the next. Steam rises from the subway, smoke curls up from the bonfire, the child laughs, the clouds chase each other across the sky.
Plane trails, leaves falling, people walking. The exhalation of my breath running on a cold Autumnal day.
The universe: zero point, one giant fractal. Half into half into half and back out again.
Further Thoughts and Reading
There was a definite mind expanding, examining theme to this weekend. The trailer at the end of Episode 3 was for The Haunting of Alma Field.
31km, 19.2 miles. My longest distance ever. I was running a steady, much slower pace than I’d originally planned; once more I found myself naturally speeding up for the final 4km and actually enjoying the run.
26.2 miles amazingly now feels achievable. I just need to figure out the final part of my route and avoid the strangely magnetic presence of the A205 South Circular when I reach Eltham…
The next part is still TBC as I lost the Green Chain route and ended up on the A205 South Circular for the third time. The plan on the day is to continue on the Green Chain route to Oxleas Wood, pick the Thames at Woolwich and loopback until I reach 26.2 miles.
Beckenham back to Greenwich: Change of scene via BBC Sounds. I travelled to nineteenth century Russia and a classic tale of doomed romantic love with Anna Karenina – imagining Beckhenham Mansion (below) was the place where Count Vronksy abandons Kitty to dance with Anna for the first time…
Where I awarded myself a Personal Best for Distance – not for time, this was one of my slowest runs ever – more like a fast walk in parts! However, this was my first long run where not only my legs weren’t screaming at me to stop for the final 2km, but where, amazingly, I was actually picking up speed for the final few km instead of slowing right down.
So there’s a first marathon lesson – run much slower than you normally would for the first half.
Next October with one marathon under my belt, I will focus on improving my time. This year, I’m focusing on enjoying the unique London Lockdown Marathon experience and raising money for South London Special League.
The playlist this week moved between The Prodigy Experience, Arab Strab’s Monday at the Hug and Pint and The Last Romance, Baxter Dury’s Prince of Tears and Marhaba by Maalem Mahmoud Guinia.
The green contemplative peace of Beckenham Woods – another part of London I didn’t know existed before marathon training.
Following the Green Chain from Beckenham to the Tudor / art deco architecture fusion of Eltham Palace.