70. Livin’ on milk and alcohol

Amongst bizarrely balanced nutritional regimes, this particular Dr Feelgood diet must score almost as highly as Eric Clapton’s lyrical blend of peaches and diesel. But it’s a much more innovative non-runner’s recipe which I’ve been following this week, my own newly-patented formula of Champagne-and-Ibuprofen.

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I’ve been injured, and I haven’t been running. For quite a few weeks now, and perhaps a few more to come. It’s frustrating, even if it has given me some time to restructure this diary, adding more pictures and a whole ream of random running thoughts to the ether.

I’ll spare you the details. Runners’ injuries are pretty tedious, even to runners. But suffice to say it was the usual stuff – old shoes, ignored warning signs, and a desperation to keep running. Until finally, sense and the doctor were seen, in fairly rapid succession.

It’s been a novel experience, not running for this long. I’d almost forgotten, how not to run. I guess that there’s not much to it, really. You just do the normal things, and a lot less laundry. But I’m not sure I’d like to do it, or rather not do it, permanently. And that’s why I really do need to rest a little while longer. But life has been exciting enough.

Travelling to a Bonfire Night party on the evening of the fifth of November always provides a marvellous spectacle. Driving over the Downs and watching the pyrotechnics of fireworks displays all around me last Friday, I was struck by the new poignancy of this particular festival, since even as I write, a latter-day version of Guy Fawkes is doubtless plotting with renewed vigour to blow up the Houses of Parliament. At least that’s the impression given by the large numbers of flak-jacketed sub-machinegun-toting coppers you see hanging around Westminster these days. But my historical ponderings on this audacious and ultimately failed seventeeth century terrorist offensive were rapidly diverted, by the shocking sight of a car upside down on its roof, right in front of me. Choosing to ignore this most flagrant breach of the Highway Code, I decided to be civil, and stepped out to join a few other bystanders, two of whom happily turned out to be the quite unscathed occupants of the car. But it did make me wonder, how it might have turned out for all of us, if my last set of lights had been green, rather than red.

The very next day came terrible news of a train crash just west of Reading, with seven people dead. I was certain that this must be very close to the home of my good friend Andy, whom I knew would be travelling back from the QPR v West Ham game at around that time. Fortunately, he wasn’t on that train, which had hit an immobile vehicle, stalled on a level crossing. The charitable interpretation of the driver’s actions was that he’d blown his mind out in the car, that he hadn’t noticed that the lights had changed. But there remains the macabre possibility, still unproven, that stopping there was a deliberate and especially dramatic way of committing suicide. The problem being that the entire train had derailed and he’d taken six other people with him.

The day I saw the doctor offered a perfect November morning, with sunshine streaming through the last of the leaves as I drove across Ranmore Common and through the staggeringly picturesque village of Brockham. It was one of those times when life seems well worth all of its inevitable hassles. Maybe I’d always feel like that, if only I started work at 11 o’clock every day, but it’s hard to say, and I guess we’ll never know. Just then my eye was caught by a new sign beside the road, asking if anyone had seen an accident there at 19:35 last Friday evening. That same Bonfire Night, that same route, but a different accident, this one just a few minutes after I’d passed by.

Those Police signs generally mean only one thing, and sure enough, a few yards further on skulked a grimly thin little shrine of plastic-wrapped flowers by the roadside. All those hassles of life were no longer a problem for at least one more person. The sunshine flickered more rapidly by through the last few miles of my journey, with the prospect of not running for a few weeks frankly no longer an issue.

Fortunately, my doctor turns out to be a runner, and says there’s not much wrong with me that a few shed-loads of ibuprofen can’t fix. It’s good stuff, he tells me. And so it has proved, especially washed down with champagne. You see, finally it was me who drew the short straw compelling me to attend an evening reception after work in Town. The sort of social-cum-work commitment which isn’t every one’s glass of Möet & Chandon. But as soon as I got there, I was captivated. The lift doors opened to reveal a marvellous view straight across Oxford Street over the illuminated Edwardian temple that enwraps Selfridge’s department store. An architectural and retailing icon of its time, seen from a new and exciting angle across the heart of the night-time West End.

Forced so cruelly to experience the event as a temporary non-runner, I must admit that the vintage did slip down particularly guiltlessly. Finally I emerged at 10 pm to hail a cab for that familiarly spectacular neon-lit tour through the city and across the river to Waterloo. And what a journey – for a few minutes, life stops and you can watch the lights and life go by. Somehow in my mind it always turns into a screenplay accompanied by music. I think it was one of the old Pet Shop Boys videos which featured a taxi ride through the night lights of London.

I’m not sure now whether it really was “West End Girls”, or one of their later hits, but it hardly matters, since they all sounded much the same and it was all about atmosphere anyway. It’s the spirit they captured which counts, that special buzz and excitement of the night-time city. Truly, this was indeed the perfect champagne-and-ibuprofen moment.

Related articles:
85. A homage to London’s Gherkin
76. A year of running, rainily
77. The most miserable day of the year
147. Eurydice – from this blackened earth

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