Tag: Thames Path

Take Seven: Running to Switch Off…

Running time is meant to be time for me, myself and I to escape the stresses of family life, work etc. That means no writing, except for when I am running to jumpstart writing. For the most part, however, I run to switch off – not an easy feat for an author, particularly one on deadline.

Thank goodness nowadays I am not on a major writing deadline. Though I have a new book coming in October, the writing of it has long passed. The editorial process is upon me. Yet while running one morning recently, truly believing that I was in the escape zone, I found myself writing figuratively, at least coming up with story lines or bits that would be useful to scenes, chapters, etc. at some point.

When I realised what I was doing, I couldn’t help laugh to myself and in doing so I decided to capture the moment. Why not make the most of it, share top story ideas I happened upon while running. Take seven:

  1. A trail of fresh blood leading from the walls of the Embankment to the pavement, which disappears into the earth suddenly. While I am no sleuth, that has to be one worth investigating.
  2. Three buxom men, dressed in black, wearing earpieces as they pace up and down a certain part of the Thames Path. They don’t look fighting fit like undercover agents to be honest, so just who the heck are they?
  3. The man dressed in a crumpled suit, grasping a beer bottle as he wandered to the edge of the river. At one point I expected him to walk right in, but he stopped suddenly and stared unblinkingly at the ground. Then he found a piece of wood and dropped down on it. What is or was his story?
  4. The yappy dog that longs to have a round with the Great Dane, who ignores him rather intuitively it seems. Does he understand that he is cruising for a bruising?
  5. The boot camp female runner who wears black gear and a massive backpack, as she tears along the boardwalk. All she needs is a splash of camouflage underneath her eyes to get fully into character. Everything else about her already says Private Benjamin.
  6. The barefooted runner who jogs up and down the boardwalk on the coldest of days, despite the worry of shattered glass, nails, whatever, and on some days he runs along the road. Most recently, I saw him hotfoot it in the rain. What is that about?
  7. The middle aged Englishman who practices Tai Chi rather clumsily but happily. You have to admire the guy.


Actually, I appreciate them all, even if they do distract me, with exception of the blood. That worries me. Never mind! Who needs to switch off anyhow? Not this writer. Time to switch on and deal with these edits – The Seasons, coming October 2014.

Gnats in London, Anything but Idealistic

In the Georgia countryside where I grew up in the US, gnats were part of the landscape and surely still are. As a child, I remember that they were prevalent in the summer time, causing great disruption to play and picnics.

Having moved to the city, I thought gnats were long behind me. Not a chance.

Since the weather has begun to warm up in London, I have experienced swarms of them on the Thames Path, although they go by the name of midges, here.

Midges, gnats, they are all the same, if you ask me or pretty close kin anyhow. The thing is, however, I don’t remember gnats biting and swarming in the forefront all the time. Surely they crashed barbecues and ballgames regularly but either bored fairly quickly or sensed that they would be penalised if they didn’t leave. Away they went.

I have this image of seeing them in the distance, a part of the landscape. How very idealistic.

Realistically though, midges stake out in the path of walkers and runners and fly right along, until the next best thing happens by. So if you happen to be the only thing, so to speak, on the path, you’re fair game.

Apparently, midges live near water, which explains why I’ve only started to notice them lately.

Short of staying away from rivers, streams, etc. what are walkers, cyclists and runners to do? We could go out in only cold, rainy weather, but that wouldn’t do our attitudes or our physical health any good, would it?

So here are some tips gathered from gnat and midge dodgers around the world.

1)   Wear sunglasses at all times.

2)   Pull on a hat, too.

3)   And cover arms and legs if you can; apparently midges don’t bite through clothing.

4)   But wear light clothing instead of dark.

5)   In any case, spray on a bit of insect repellent.

6)   And by all means keep moving.

7)   But if you do get bitten, don’t sweat it. The best thing to do is to soap it to avoid bacteria.

Very well, I’ll give the tips a go. Still, who would have ever thought it—gnats in the city? Actually, they are midges. Whatever! They are all the same rotten lot.  And if you ask me, they are best left in a hazy memory, far, far away in the distance. Now that’s idealistic.

Order on the Capital’s Footpaths, please

Exploring London by foot is a not only a great way to get to know the capital, but also a good way to get around from A to Z, especially when there is a Tube strike on.

Even when there isn’t, more and more people are taking to the capital’s varied and intriguing paths, unless it is really raining. A little rain doesn’t stop the show here. Anyhow, that’s a good thing (using the footpaths, that is). Right?  So it is until the path becomes popular.

On the Thames Path, for instance, I’ve noticed negligence during peak times and now and again, a similar carelessness, off peak, too.

On one occasion, a group of people, out for a morning walk with two dogs, spread out over a wide area in a park and remained oblivious to runners, walkers, and cyclists alike. Many of us had to cut through the grass to dodge them.

Another time, a little girl played a game at a public gate, opening and closing it repeatedly, though there was a regular stream of people needing to go through. Meanwhile, her mom looked on as if others were causing problems, not her child.

And if that wasn’t discourteous enough, I’ve seen cyclists go straight in the path of a runner, albeit one time stragglers were causing hiccups. Surely still, there could have been a better way, unless, of course, this cyclist was dodging dog dirt—the epitome of carelessness.

Now, if road users acted so inconsiderate as to block the road just because they were having a leisurely drive, allow their children to close public gates to keep others from coming through, set their dogs free on the highway to do whatever they jolly well pleased, and drive right into oncoming traffic, we’d not only have countless minor incidents, but also numerous major accidents. Imagine!

Sounds farcical, doesn’t it. But when it’s happening on a footpath, it somehow becomes less ludicrous and more acceptable. That’s not a good thing at all. Our footpaths ought be enjoyable for everyone, not just a few.

Perhaps, a few rules are in order, even if they are unspoken, sort of like the ones in a supermarket. For instance, you wouldn’t ram your trolley into someone else’s, unless you were trying to get their attention and you certainly wouldn’t hop the queue at the checkout unless you wanted attention. But be warned, you might not like it when you get it!

Anyhow, I came up with a few rules, tips if you will, for keeping footpaths fun for everyone.

1)   Do move aside for others, an obvious one.

2)   Don’t allow your children to close public gates. Obvious, too!

3)   Do keep dogs on a leash. Maybe not so obvious.

4)   Don’t run or ride into oncoming walkers, runners or cyclists. Quite obvious!

5)   Do please, please, please clean up after your dog. Obviously if you don’t, no one will.

6)   And don’t laugh at others when a huge bird descends upon them.

No kidding. One Sunday afternoon, I went out for a run and noticed a woman, grab her child and run off from a squawking bird. I broke my run, perhaps to assist, but she shot by me, and when I saw the speed of the unhappy bird, I took off again, too.  Still, I couldn’t help noticing several people pointing and laughing. Not funny!

No pecking in order, full stop. But minding your manners and regarding others while meandering along a footpath is certainly in order. Do have your say here.

Dust from Sahara blows into London

I went to the gym this morning. So what, right? Working out is the big thing nowadays. Beats lying in, that is if you wear a Nike Fuel Band like I do. That’s why I take to the Thames Path three times per week and spend one hour weekly training with an expert.

Of course, racking up fuel points is not the only reason for exercising, but it sure is a good motivator for it.

Admittedly though, after hearing on BBC Breakfast this morning that the UK air might not be the best place about now for anyone, let alone asthma sufferers, I stalled.

For the last several days, high winds have brought dust from the Sahara Dessert to England and Wales. A haze, for instance, hangs over Birmingham today. Yesterday, many Londoners found their cars lightly coated with red dust.

No wonder I couldn’t see the Thames for the smog yesterday and I was a stone’s throw away from it.

Umm… with low-grade asthma and sore muscles that hadn’t recovered from yesterday’s intense work out, I pulled on my kit, warmed up, and begrudgingly headed for the gym instead of the Thames Path.

Wrong answer, I thought as I laboured for thirty-minutes on the treadmill. As soon as I was done, I rushed outside to the nearest bench and went into an extensive stretching regime, using any breathing techniques I remotely knew of.

As I took in the seemingly fresh air, it got me thinking about the environment.

How is it that dust from the Sahara could settle in the UK? What, if anything, does this have to do with climate change? And is running in a haze of dust actually worst than toiling and sweating in a stuffy gym.

While I don’t have the answers to the former two questions, I have my opinion about the latter one. I’d much rather run outside any day than in a sweatbox, no matter how swish and roomy it is. But if the air is polluted, I have to be realistic, don’t I.

Fortunately for me, the air is expected to clear by Friday. Even so, environmental issues won’t flee.

While the Sahara’s dust will soon pass over the UK, it will sweep into another country and other issues will crop up or flow in here—something for us all to think about wherever we are. What does it all mean and what can we do about it? No soapbox or scare tactics here, just plain on realistic questions.

In the meantime, I am lagging in fuel points; I need to get going, perhaps for a short walk, even if it is hazy outside.

Running in London, more than meets the eye

I’ve been running again. And though I haven’t signed up for the next road race, I’m up to 12 miles per week, even if a little old lady is faster.

Never mind her, the younger runners or the cyclists whizzing by, I’m in my own world and rarely come out for anything less important than crossing the road. That’s one of the things that I love about running; it’s just me.

On the rare occasion when I do come out of my thoughts, I catch some interesting sights. This week I saw a barefoot runner, life on a luxury houseboat and calm commuters making their way to the river bus.

Bear with; there’s more to this than meets the eye.

First things first, when I was a kid, I thought barefoot running was great. No better place for it than the Georgia countryside, vast plains if you will, and warm red clay underneath my feet. Never mind the odd thorn, bramble or rock.

But fast-forward forty something years and I wonder ‘why on earth’ or shall I say ‘why on concrete’ would anyone do it, especially on a frigid, damp day in London. No wonder the fellow in question was sprinting.

Still, he seemed to be having a blast. Maybe there was more to it than I could see. All the same, I’m not up for it. But I’ll tell you what I am up for—the river bus, but I’ll save that for last.

For now let me tell you about the luxury houseboats, which are moored between Battersea and Putney. According to one estate agent, the boats have two reception rooms and four bedrooms. Not your average narrow houseboat with a low ceiling, is it? Quite surreal to be honest, which is why I chalked them up as permanent exhibitions or river homes for the rich and famous.

This week, however, I caught a glimpse of a person on one of the floating luxury apartments. And suddenly, it dawned on me that this could be a regular person who had carved out an ideal lifestyle—idyllic views, fresh air and their own river bus. Yes, the river bus.

Just then, I heard it, tooting a rather composed horn. I looked up and watched it near the port. Meanwhile, very orderly commuters gathered and then made their way down the gangway.  What a vast difference to London’s train stations and bus stops during rush hour.

Breaking my run, I watched in amazement until the last passenger was on and seated. And then observed the bus move off into the Thames and cruise towards central London uninterrupted by traffic or signalling delays.

Though river buses are not as plentiful as trains or regular buses, there are several connections from Putney to Greenwich.

In the meantime, I re-set my running App and got back to the task at hand. Soon I shot past my building and headed towards the heliport, a helicopter coming in for a landing. With serenity in the distance, I remembered another thing that I love about running.

Soon it would be over and it would be coffee time, which is croissant time for me, just me. More than meets the eye? Interesting, indeed.