five miles home

I just dropped out of a 10mile race at 5miles, even shorter than the 6miles I run every day on the exact same route (the race took place in Phoenix Park). My shins seized up within minutes of starting, and by the second mile, I could barely walk, let alone run. I would have stopped then if I had been closer to home—I ran until the gate near my house approached, then peeled off, out of Phoenix Park. (Oh, this is a ‘Running in Phoenix Park’ story).

I regret taking part in the race because I’m injured now, but the experience did confirm something I’ve suspected for some time: running is not supposed to be a competitive activity for me. I shouldn’t have tried interval training in the weeks before the race—all I got out of that hateful exercise was my first ever sports injury (shin splints). I allowed myself a week off—not long enough—then I put my legs through an intense two-week stint to make up for lost time. Then finally, despite the nasty wet Irish weather, which I’d never otherwise dream of running in, I went out this morning wearing a bin bag with holes cut in it (head, arms) only to botch the race.

Rain was bucketing down. I usually won’t even run in drizzle because I hate getting my shoes wet. Anyway, I went out and warmed up, jogged down to the start—squelch squelch—hung around in the squall, thinking this is a crazy thing to be doing, trying to keep my legs warm and my shoes as dry as possible. I was out in the rain for 45 mins before the race even started. On the way to line up, an eager runner knocked me into an ankle deep puddle, and my shoes got soaked! When we set off, my shoes felt very heavy. My shins started to burn before I’d even worked up to my usual pace, and soon after that, my lower legs turned into cement blocks.

I feel better now—I’ve had a shower and some muesli, which I made (it’s the best!). When the rain stops, I’ll catch the bus to Tesco and get something for supper. Can’t wait until Rory gets home from the betting shop. We’ve been texting—he’s had a bad morning, too.

Oh, now the rain has stopped.

hello in there

I woke up feeling normal this morning. I thought: I feel normal. I did some writing, started a new chapter, which I’ve been too tired to even approach lately. The chapter preceding this ended with great agitation, pain and confusion, which is supposed to propel this chapter, or so I thought. When I read what I’d written this morning, I saw that the boy (my 11 yr-old protagonist) is actually calm, and the peace and new maturity radiating off him is going to drive this chapter. Then I stood up and went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror for a while, and I saw myself (not my reflection) looking back, and I thought: oh, hello in there, I’m extremely calm, I can tell, I haven’t been this calm in so long. This is my most treasured state. To test it, I went and stood on the balcony, looking at the mist and trees. I felt the strong slow thud of my heart, and thought: yes, wow, I am extremely calm. I wonder if I felt calm before I started writing, and that’s why the mood of my writing is like that, or if writing this scene made me feel this way, because I was sure I felt normal before.

I’m so calm that I will share what I wrote this morning, in its draft state, which—as you’ll know if you know my writing—is radically different to how it will eventually look. And if you know me, you’ll know I’ve never in my life shared even a draft paragraph with anyone. (I promise I won’t edit it).

….

He gets into bed. His mind is roaring with light and noise; Rollo’s sobs have stuck to him; his chest is filled with fishing sinkers, and he is sinking into his mattress, but not under water; he is still here, still awake. Inside his mind, it’s bright daylight. His ears are trained on the sound of his own voice straining to say things to his grandfather, who is not able to hear him at first, but now his grandfather is listening, understanding him perfectly; even so, he is repeating himself so he can hold onto the words because he is making sense, surprising himself with clear thoughts that were always there. He opens his eyes. The room is dark, or his eyes were already open, or perhaps his eyes were open and now they are closed.

Night creaks by. He is talking to his grandfather in a calm voice, like his dad’s voice. Now he is listening to his dad’s voice. Behind the sound of his voice and his dad’s voice speaking to his grandfather he feels a thin excitement: he should be asleep, everybody else is asleep, but he is awake, talking in his head. He opens his eyes. The room is not properly dark anymore, or perhaps his eyes have adjusted. He is still awake. He alone is awake. He will go and sit with the dogs. He gets up, dresses in the dark, and tiptoes down the passage to the kitchen. The dogs are sleeping on the stone floor near the stove, though the fire inside has burnt out. Lying on their sides, their smooth moving bellies are exposed. As he steps around the dogs, reaching for the box of matches on the counter, he pictures himself accidentally stepping on the soft edge of the nearest dog’s underside, where the sparsely haired softness joins the coarser, hairier inner hind leg: imagining the sharp pinch of his sole on the dog’s pliant skin makes his breath catch for a moment. He is careful not to step on the dogs. He strikes a match and lights the hob first time: a hiss, an almost liquid red flame. The smell of gas makes the dogs stir. They look up at him with uncertain eyes. With his mind he tells them: I have not slept, dogs, I’m still the same person I was yesterday, and he can hear that his voice in his head has not lost its grownup quality. He makes tea for himself doing what Kiphane does but decides against milk because the milk-boy hasn’t come yet and he doesn’t want to go around the corner into the darker scullery where the fridge is. He takes his cup to the table, already set for breakfast, and picks up a teaspoon to stir—the pure tinkling sound makes his eyes see the silver trickles of condensation on the dark window panes. He opens the kitchen door to the night’s chilly mist, and sits on the cold step. The cold air moves in through the doorway, and the warm dogs brush past his shoulders on their way out. They stand around on the paving, waiting for him, saying: we’re up because you’re up, so now what? he answers: go entertain yourselves. He lets his eyes be absorbed by the grainy dark. His tea is less sweet than the tea Kiphane makes, and it tastes like boiled bark without milk, but it’s still nice. If he gets hungry, he’ll make toast. He could make anything.

….

Thanks for reading my blog—if you’re a regular reader, or have just stumbled in.

so long african national congress

These were my highlights of the South African municipal elections, held on 3rd August:

The ANC lost majority support in economic and political hubs— Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay. Yes, enthusiasm for the ANC has dwindled, but the main reason its proportion of support dropped was that the DA and the EFF gained more support by encouraging a higher turnout of voters—especially youth, for EFF—and by luring voters away from the country’s smaller parties, like UDM and APC, whose supporters have never had the experience of feeling that their party could win. This means that while old ANC supporters are fairly loyal, others who were not previously able or motivated to vote, or who have until now supported no-hope parties, came out and voted for what they believe are viable alternatives to the ANC. To me this suggests that though the ANC has failed to provide even a minimum level of dignity for all, South Africans have not lost their faith in democracy. Viva!

Julius Malema is now the Kingmaker in South African politics, with The ANC and the DA both needing to form coalitions with the fledgling EFF. Asked whether they would be prepared to form a coalition with the ANC, both Julius Malema and DA leader Mmusi Maimane said no. Both gave the same reason: the ANC’s loss of majority support is a sign that the people want change, and it would be disrespectful towards defecting ANC voters to allow the ANC to govern the cities anyway. While they gave the same response, they differed in tone: Mmusi was earnest and business-like, while Julius—registering the irony of his Kingmaker position just a few years after having been expelled from the ANC— thought to add the half-serious suggestion (taunt) that if the ANC were to drop Jacob Zuma immediately, the EFF would consider a coalition.

My favourite election quote: “On 3 August we are not going to bury [the ANC] but we are going to unveil its tombstone.” –Malema

My favourite election news story: Julius Malema accidentally voted for the ANC. He was a member of the ANC for so long, selecting ANC as a matter of course, and on the day of the elections had so much on his mind that he picked Zuma’s party. The Kingmaker apologized to his supporters for this blunder, and promised to vote for the EFF next time.

weekend culture roundup

Bank Holiday weekend. We (my husband, Rory) had Monday and Tuesday off. We went to a play called The Wake, and watched three musicals at home: Oklahoma!, Show Boat, and Singin’ in the Rain.

We ranked our favourite songs from all three musicals combined—some overlap!

Rory’s list:

  1. Singin’ in the Rain
  2. Ol’ Man River
  3. Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man
  4. The Farmer and the Cowman

My list:

    1. Ol’ Man River
    2. Oklahoma!
    3. Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man
    4. Kansas City

send help

I don’t like to admit it, but my first week as a housewife was largely spent on Youtube, sailing the seven seas. It’s tempting to narrate several videos here, but I’ll just mention the two I talked Rory into watching when he came home from work.

I’ll start with this video. Something that I found troubling about the #savemarinajoyce fiasco was the media’s response to Marina Joyce’s mother’s assurances that her daughter was fine, and that—not to worry—the voice saying ‘help me’ in the background was in fact her saying ‘stand like me’ (she was directing the video). There is something nightmarish about this situation: the mother reveals her presence behind the camera, and the media, rather than questioning the mother’s possible role in her daughter’s distress, dismisses the possibility of danger all together. To take the mother at her word, the media must ignore the fact that teenage vloggers living under their parents’ roofs can earn thousands of pounds a year through endorsements. We can’t know how much money Marina Joyce’s Youtube channel generates, or how she and her parents handle it, but shouldn’t we at least acknowledge the potential for abuse by her mother? Much of the speculation I’ve read about Marina Joyce’s fates ends with the mother saying everything’s fine, and we’re all free to get on with our meme fun and games. This for me is like that moment in your nightmare when you’re in danger, and instead of helping you, the people you expect protection from laugh at you.

Black Mamba White Witch is a wildlife documentary about a snake handler, enthusiast and conservationist living in Swaziland. The “white witch” and her brave assistant (husband) respond to calls, sometimes four a day, from frightened Swazis who discover black mambas in their homes and are understandably too terrified to remove the snakes themselves. What’s amazing about this story is the woman’s dedication to her community, but since this was a wildlife documentary, whoever wrote the narration chose to focus on the woman’s dedication to black mambas. While it’s clear to the viewer that the white witch risks her life in order to save her neighbours’ from fatal mamba bites, the narrator seems convinced that she catches the snakes primarily to save them from the people who want them dead. After a while, the effect of the narrator telling us that the white witch was off to ‘save another black mamba’ became quite silly, and actually added to my enjoyment of the documentary. I also learned a lot. At one point in the film, the narrator explained that black mambas are not black, but olive grey. The snakes get their name from the black inside their mouths. Hearing this, Rory said, “Oh, that’s interesting. Just like the cottonmouth.” And I said, “Is the cottonmouth’s mouth also black?”

past the zoo

This is the first of what I’m sure will be many posts about “something that happened while I was running in Phoenix Park.” I’ll report other events when they happen, but I don’t often leave the house except to go running.

So today (while I was running in Phoenix Park—which, by the way, is massive) a driver pulled over and asked for directions to the zoo. He looked quite stressed, as if he’d been driving around in circles. Now I noticed the little girls on the back seat—quite a few of them, all understandably anxious to see the caged animals. Usually when someone asks me for directions, I pretend to be as baffled by our surroundings as they are (it’s for their own good), but on this occasion I was the only other person around, and the man had already put quite a lot of effort into helping me understand his accent, and actually I do know the park quite well—I even run past the zoo every day—so I told him how to find the zoo via the north road. Visibly relieved, he thanked me and drove off.

Of course it soon dawned on me that I had sent him the wrong way: there are no visitor entrances on the north road, so if anything, he would be feeling even more lost in the zoo’s immediate vicinity, and in his anger take a long time to discover the narrow dirt road that cuts across the polo grounds to the carpark on Chesterfield Avenue. I felt quite bad when I thought about the girls. I imagine that for them, a fun afternoon planned in advance is really just a bunch of ways that an afternoon can be spoiled. Now I’d already gone and introduced disaster. By the time this thought had fully come together, I was running downhill through long grass, and feeling quite a lot worse for the man than I had felt for the girls. My sadness passed, and for the rest of the run I thought on-and-off about the zoo contingent, interspersing made-up scenarios—involving myriad combinations of a dad, up to four girls, zoo keepers, and all different types of animals—with scenes from my own actual and made-up past and future life. To top it off, when I was running past the wrong side of the zoo, where the big animal enclosures back onto the north road, I heard the shrill trumpeting of what could only have been a baby elephant. I hope the girls heard it.

By the way, telling the man “Chesterfield Avenue”, i.e. the correct name of the road, would not have helped him find the zoo. The roads in Phoenix Park have names—you can see them on Google—but for some reason there are no road signs in the actual park, which might be why so many people get lost.

julius take me to your heart

In 2012 the ANC expelled Julius Malema for trying to veer the party’s Youth League off its Mandela-sanctioned path. Malema’s—incorrectly labelled—“racist” agenda included, among other things, agitating for blacks to take their cue from Mugabe’s ZANU PF re: land redistribution, and singing the banned freedom song ‘Shoot the Boer’ at one too many political knees-ups. (He had already been found guilty of tax evasion, and had been accused of fraud and money laundering.) The ANC kicked Malema off their platform to shut him up, but he’s been noisier than ever since then as leader of his own party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF emerged, Malema says, to fill the vacuum on the South African left: no other party proposes to uplift the poor majority at the expense of the rich minority. Instead of wearing suits to work, EFF leaders wear bright red overalls, hardhats, maid’s uniforms, doeks and berets in a show of worker solidarity, and while they’ve upped the drama with their outfits, they have tempered their message: yes, they will take land and resources out of white hands and give it to blacks, but not a drop of blood will be spilt (Malema’s words). Lately, whenever Malema describes South Africa—the hypocrisy of the ANC, the exploitation of labour, the indignities of the poorest people—every word that comes out of his mouth not only rings true, but is true, and when he describes the South Africa that he envisions, it seems to me a desirable and long-overdue reality.

Malema for president? Should a white farmer’s daughter back a Mugabe-endorsing, ex-ANC hot-head? The thing is, he is hot-headed. Despite grappling with this question from a safe distance, I can’t bring myself to say that I’d vote for Malema. Not yet. Malema’s speeches tell me what South Africa looks like to him, but I can’t know for sure how that picture makes him feel or how he will act if voted in. I’d have to take him at his word. If Malema looks at his country and feels a sincere desire to peacefully redistribute its riches, then the EFF is a Godsend, but if—now or at a later stage—he actually feels something else (e.g. a desire for revenge against the party that expelled him and the whites who long oppressed his people) then can we rule out a bloodbath? I don’t mean that if Malema changes his mind about bloodshed, blacks will reveal themselves to be killers. I mean that if Malema sanctions violence as the means to achieve his economic revolution, then he permits South Africans who believe in the use of violence to do what they think is right. When choosing between parties, the leader’s emotional volatility should not be the main cause for concern, but in South Africa, where the president can unilaterally make decisions—e.g. Zuma’s latest—I think it is. To his credit, Malema has nothing but contempt for Zuma, but he reveres Robert Mugabe, who, like Malema, said some very good and sensible things before he came to power—the only problem was that Mugabe turned out to be a maniac. Casting a vote for any party in South Africa is a risk. When calculating that risk, we must ask ourselves how emotionally volatile the leader is, and do our best to imagine what will happen if he isn’t getting his way and his mood is our country’s rudder. I support what the EFF stands for, but it worries me that the party’s appeal—its very existence—depends on Malema’s personality. Malema says he wants to start a government from scratch and root out corruption at all levels. If that’s what Julius really wants, then the EFF could one day be in a position to weather its leader’s moods and steer its own course, even if Malema wants to take it elsewhere. But of course this can only happen if Malema lets it happen, i.e. if he feels like it, and I’m not convinced that he does.