I don’t want to change the world
I’m not looking for a new England
Are you looking for another girl ?
Billy Bragg, July 1983;
Kirsty MacColl, December 1984
It might seem a stretch to link political activist and singer Billy Bragg with the new leader of the Conservative Party, but both featured in the news this week.
Billy received a write-up in The Observer for his new book on English patriotism – a decidedly risky concept within the social landscape of modern Britain, fitting entirely comfortably neither on the terraces of Upton Park nor on the East London streets of Bragg’s childhood home in nearby Barking.
And David Cameron was everywhere it seemed, following his début at the Tory Party Conference, where he made that speech – a decidedly risky exercise within the political landscape of the right, fitting entirely convincingly neither in the Conservative Party conference hall nor in the white middle-class streets of Bournemouth which surrounded it.
It was a cool, misty morning on the banks of the River Avon, the rain falling as softly as Irish tears beside the Liffey.
And as I ran this Sunday, I set my mind back to all the great Ryder Cups I’d watched through the years. Some won, some halved, and so many which were gloriously and frustratingly lost. Every single one of them was just as captivating and compelling as golf ever can be.
And yet in this year’s event, I felt there was something different, something intangible which I hadn’t seen before.
To be sure, the spectacle, and the atmosphere were more magnificent than ever, with both teams privileged to drink at long last from that well of Irish hospitality and welcome which flowed to the brim in County Kildare this week.
But more than that, I realised that it was our expectations which had changed.
My dream had come true – a request to write a journal editorial about Africa, and it had arrived on the same day that Bono edited The Independent, too.
‘May I say without guile, I am as sick of messianic rock stars as the next man, woman or child.’ Those are Bono’s words from 16 May, but substitute ‘geologists’ for ‘rock stars’ (they’re almost synonyms, after all) and perhaps you’ll soon agree.
The African geology conference in London earlier this month placed the wonders of the continent firmly at centre stage. I’ve been fortunate to witness something of African geology from Cape Bon to the Cape of Good Hope, and my geological travels have revealed many highlights in between, from the souk in Tripoli and the coffin shop in Tema, Ghana (Planned City at the Centre of the World) to the snow-capped High Atlas peaks rising beyond Marrakech.
And one of my most formative experiences as a geologist and a politically-conscious human being was a summer spent on a diamond prospect in the darkest Karoo.
So what have the musings of a messianic rock star like Bono to do with life as an explorationist?
I’ve run along the Wey towpath a thousand times. The river passes through Guildford not far below my house, and close to where I used to work.
From Guildford, I can head north or south to link with other paths and tracks on routes from 3 miles to 22. Some of my earliest, shortest and most faltering runs played out along the river bank, and some of my longest and hardest pre-marathon tests as well.
I’ve run there in lunchtimes, mornings and evenings, from the office and at weekends, in spring, summer and autumn, and in dry winters, too.
And although the riverbank lies almost on my doorstep, it’s still one of the most beautiful places I know to run, just about anywhere.
The Ionian Sea is shimmering brilliantly beside me as I look across the bay towards Ithaca. Late afternoon in a Greek summer is no time to be running, but it had seemed like a good idea as I lay beside the pool.
Now, half an hour later, the road is rising steeply out of Sámi, climbing up from the harbour through the pine and scattered olive trees. There are no houses here, no villas or hotels, and the landscape presents itself as it always has through history. Since time immemorial.
It’s hot here at night, lonely, black and quiet
On a hot summer night
Billy Idol – July 1982
The changes to our weather patterns over the last few years have been gradual, but they really don’t seem that subtle any more. More than anything, there’s a certainty about our summers now which belies all those clichés about the weather in this country.
You only have to look at those once green lawns and fields, all uniformly browned and bleached for weeks now, to realise that southern England has become just another segment of the Mediterranean for a month or two every year.