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.
My winter’s journey of 18 weeks and 499 miles is over. Only four more days and 26 miles to go.
From the bleak beginnings of a frozen, snowy Christmastime in Scotland, through fifty Crawley lunchtimes and Guildford nightfalls I’ve wandered.
Along pretty Surrey towpaths and under pitch-black Houston skies, I waved those winter months goodbye.
I’ve seen the North Downs slopes from every side, gasped breathless in the Alps, and loped lazily down last weekend’s Warwickshire lanes and the Avon riverbank, too.
It’s been a long way, this year.
I’ve felt no real promise, honest aspiration, or even false pretence of quicker feet or swifter legs, this time.
Just run through winter, until you reach the spring, I said.
So I just got through it. And now I’m here.
Oh my love
It’s a long way we’ve -come
From the freckled hills
To the steel and glass canyons
U2 – November 2002
My watch says almost midday, and still I’m waiting for the sun to come up. I’ve been sitting in my hotel room for a couple of hours already, wide awake and yet bleary-eyed with jet-lag, but a glance out of the window and across the freeway shows a resolutely dark sky over the plains beyond The Loop.
Oh well. There’s no point in waiting any longer. I chuck on a T-shirt and shorts, lace up my shoes, trot out through the lobby and hit the sidewalk running.
It was a less of a bang, and more of a low thud, which woke me on Sunday morning just after 6 am.
Something had fallen off a shelf downstairs somewhere, I thought, and I went back to sleep.
I’d never really believed those stories about the Krakatoa explosion being heard in India, 5,000 km away, or of Londoners being able to hear the First World War guns in France, but now I do.
Because that sound which woke me early on Sunday wasn’t generated in the house at all, but by an exploding oil storage facility on the other side of London, over 100 km away. Remarkable.
The road from Marrakech.
Traversing a flat and featureless plain stretching southeast from the city. Empty. Just bare soil, patchy scrub, a village or two, and a few goats.
And always ahead is the grey outline of the mountains, rising slowly in front of us. They beckon silently with an understated call, and it’s only half an hour from the city that the scale of their promise is revealed.
For the Atlas Mountains are no mid-continental ripple – that much is clear as soon as the blue haze crystallises above the foothills to uncover the height of the snow-capped range behind.
‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.’
Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott), 1982
A long, perfect beach in southwestern Spain, August 2005. Five miles through another blue morning under flawless skies in Zahara de los Atunes. It’s an elemental sort of place – the summer ocean is murmuring in the distance through the breeze to my left, the waves sparkling on the bay beyond the sand dunes front of me.
We talk and we talk
Until my head explodes
I turn on the news
And my body froze
I’m going underground, going underground
So let the boys all sing
And the boys all shout for tomorrow
The Jam – March 1980
Many thanks for your note earlier, as well as for your concern. It’s been a terrible day.
Fortunately, I wasn’t up in town this morning. Although I have been unaffected directly by today’s events, that is not to say that I have been unmoved. It has been quite simply the most remarkable and poignant week in London that I can ever remember.