Denmark, like a Christmas tree
Tonight this city belongs to me
After ‘Angel of Harlem’ (‘Rattle and Hum’, Island Records – October 1988)
Another week, another city. The traveller’s laments may be eternal, but so often they are rewarded by a fresh viewpoint on the world.
It’s a short flight across the North Sea, and yet remarkably it deposits us from grey old Gatwick into the floodlit swirl of a million scattered snowflakes illuminated by our approach beam. Even in the airport there is that quintessential flavour of Denmark – warmth, light, sophisticated simplicity, and a sleek array of thinly sculpted, contemporary wooden furniture.
We’ve a fine team assembled for our foray into the Viking heartland. Two geologists and an engineer, hardy souls alike, all three of us athletes of some description. There may be several kilometres of softly slushy snow separating us from the city, but it’s a challenge, not an obstacle. By the time we’ve trudged to the far end of Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard to reach the famous Tivoli Gardens, we’re warming to the blizzard, and a stroll around the Christmas lights still seems a good idea. It’s only when the first Krøne are exchanged for Glögg that we realise that the cold and wet are winning, and exchange the cold market stalls for a warmer restaurant. Pasta is followed by more cobbled streets and slush, views of canals and the enormous Christiansborg palace, before finally we see the hotel lights welcoming us with their rosy ‘God Jul‘ – Merry Christmas – shining into the Scandinavian night.
For all of this cheery gesture, in truth, it’s a soulless modern hotel, with a better line in sushi than smorgasbord, but the morning view across the winter twilight is almost worth the lack of atmosphere. 21 storeys beneath me, the snow lies still upon the old city’s fortified ramparts, standing sentinel across the water. The clock of Rådhuspladsen is clear even from way up here, and the huge Christmas tree seemingly as tall as the Town Hall tower behind.
There’s just a taste or two more of captured Copenhagen on this busy trip. A few moments in the dawn of a snowy square in front of the Royal Palace of Amalienborg. Much later, a sunset over Chistiansborg, snatched from the office window, and a monochrome Mercedes-borne view of Nyhavn’s dusk on the taxi-ride back to catch our flight. These are the merest glimpses, and yet together they make up the essence of a city experienced in one season, on one December day. There is no chance to run this time, to join it all up in my mind, and yet the memory of a snow- and slush-filled Danish winter evening is surely one which the casual but conventional tourist will likely never ever share. A tiring trip it may be, and yet still an opportunity to be opened.
Back in England, with my running shoes laced up again at last, I’ve a seven and a half mile test of progress and Yuletide spirit planned. The festive atmosphere seems uniquely celebrated around these parts by an amazing panoply of plastic and inflatable Father Christmases. An invading red-coated crowd, climbing a hundred Crawley chimneys and posing pruriently on porches. It would be mean to harp, but I wonder, is this really our new religion ? The cult of crap commercialism and kitsch ? Amongst the scores of Santas, I realise that I’ve seen not a single representation of the Christian faith. Not a single star, or cross. A festive mood is fine indeed, but how far have we sunk into latter-day pagan myth, our holy festival now built around this one untruth which we all so systematically peddle to our kids ?
Seven miles is refreshing mental download space, but it’s not a special run, in any sense, along this route I’ve run so many times before, and at a faster lick than this. 1:09 was where I embarked, a year ago, on winter wooded lanes, and 1:03 was the place I sailed to before my April London race. But caution runs through my legs today, my recovery not tradeable for speed. Even now, at times, there’s a low fire smouldering in my hip. Is this my injury calling, or just the tighter lycra shorts I’ve purloined in place of my ones left at home ? As the embers burn, I try hard not to notice the 10:05 miles sneaking across my stopwatch screen. There’s no sense in pushing too far, on this, my longest run for two months and more. I’ve felt that gap much more today, and even though 1:12 is an all-time worst, to emerge unscathed is still a big success of sorts. It’s hard to say, though, since for all the wisdom of running slow, a snail-like time was somehow still not my aim.
It’s a lesson which I should have learned well by now, to leave the watch at home on runs like this. I’ve travelled, I’ve returned, and not yet rested, but at least I’ve run. And that alone should be good enough for me, today.
Merry Christmas, and God Jul, to one and all.