Social Media Policy: what if it mattered, or, writing in ink

We mostly don’t need to think twice about throwaway comments on social media, because they’re just that: something to scribble down and discard.

The majority of content on Facebook, twitter and associated digital ephemera is in that ballpark. In this analogy, it’s a very messy one filled with balls of paper that either say nothing in particular, or say things that are so foul as to be either hilariously absurd or warrant immediate incineration. Perhaps often both. Now that ballpark is filling up at twice the rate, thanks to millions of daily selfies and photos of food, if my lazy prejudices are anything to go by.

Most of these balls of paper are unwrapped and passed between ‘friends’ (whatever that now means), ‘followers’ (always sounds scary to me) to some extent. Occasionally someone influential will serendipitously pick one of these up, and share it with their enormous circle, giving the originator of the message a flicker of celebrity. Not quite fifteen minutes of fame, as Andy Warhol proffered, but at least several thousand vaguely entertained clicks’ worth.

For some social media superstars, an artfully crafted breakfast photo that gets less than ten thousand likes is immediately deleted by advisers concerned about the negative effects of perceived unoriginality or lack of conspicuous public interest. Perhaps.

I follow more people on twitter than follow me. Some of us follow each other, which really only makes sense if we’re moving in some kind of giant sand circle, but maybe I’m taking this too literally. I have over five hundred friends on Facebook. This is about over five hundred minus, say, five, more than the amount of people I talk to at any length on any given day. I used to work in a running shop and have lots of broadly meaningless conversations. Now I don’t; more on that elsewhere.

I’ve been on Instagram for a few hours and appropriately have zero followers. I’m also on Strava, which positions itself as “the social network for athletes”, but if it was that, you’d have people editing the pacing and distance of their runs with some kind of elaborate filter to ensure more likes. I have more followers there than follow me, but, in the interest of transparency, I think that’s purely because one’s Strava following can be correlated with performance. Despite a few successful attempts to prove myself talentless, I’ve also had a few pretty good performances.

For various reasons, mainly past performance in sport (about 12 years of being a determinedly mediocre hockey player), expectation, confidence (or lack thereof) and the consistency of my health, I never thought I’d make it this far. I assumed I’d get ill again, get hit with a serious bout of depression, or just lose my love of the sport that’s become a job, give up and want to go home. I still want to go home, but I know I will in the next few years, and that’s enough for now.

Equally, I still love the sport, perhaps even more than before, and, hell, sometimes I’d be so happy and humbled by untroubled solitude and beauty of the environments I was running through so much I’d cry a little. I’m less depressed than before, even dealing with rather more sad and stressful things than I expected this year, and while anxiety, fatigue and depression have undermined a few performances this year, I’ve done what I set out to do.

My coach often mentioned that it is in some ways harder to prepare for success than to prepare for failure, because when you succeed, you need to change your beliefs about yourself. I’ve never really been brave enough to do that, and so I’m almost always surprised when things actually go well.

Training on the track in Tenerife on Wednesday, in admittedly hot conditions, I fell apart. According to a lab test in February 2016 (one of the things that convinced me to give athletics a proper go), my maximum heart rate is 200. Five days ago it was 202,. I felt like collapsing, but I thought I should at least get to six from the initially planned nine sets of two and a half laps (1km), even if I did collapse.

It was a bit of a watershed moment, a somewhat ironic choice of words as I was pretty dehydrated and at that point wanted to ingest as much water as possible.

I did the last rep, it wasn’t that much slower, and I didn’t die. I didn’t even partly collapse, which, while concerning, would have felt suitably dramatic. As evidence of my continuing survival, see below:


Although I did spend half an hour in bed afterwards, after lying down face first for what I convinced myself would be thirty seconds before hauling myself into the shower. I was okay again. Not immediately, but well before my next hard training session on Saturday.

Among the various thoughts going through my head, I imagined elite sport like playing Jenga while getting progressively better. Eventually, your tower will fall down, and you’ll need to start again, but, with luck, the next arrangement of blocks will be taller. It’ll always suck when it collapses, but as well as getting better at carefully removing blocks you’ll also get better at starting a new tower.

Ultimately, you can’t be afraid of tumbling down. Especially if you’ve chosen the steeplechase as not only your athletics event, but as a sort of job too. Not everyone does their job right all the time though. Sometimes it’s outside your control, like a goalkeeper trying to save a penalty bound for the top corner, or Teresa May (or, ah, anyone) trying to make Brexit work.

Sometimes you fall over ‘just a bit’ and manage to style it out. When everyone’s job is trying to win, most people will go home disappointed. That doesn’t mean you give up.

There’s a great quote in a book about positivity a friend of mine gave me.

Whenever you fall down, pick something up” (Oswald Avery)

The first thing to pick up is yourself, and I’m getting better at that. Another one is a response to failure: “fail again, fail better” (by Samuel Beckett, who is ironically often rather distopian in his outlook). That seems to be working too, if managing to eat regular meals and keep a vaguely normal sleeping routine after the Irish cross country championships is anything to go by.

This title came from actually getting a bit of social media training last week. I’m faced with the seemingly unthinkable situation that, in some small way, some of these scribbles might mean something. I always knew someone read them, but I have to grudgingly admit more people are doing so. With a increasing but still small readership comes an increasing but still small set of responsibilities and sense of significance. There’s a small chance I might matter, so I have to pretend everything I write could.

Again on social networks, here’s a bit I like from a film of that name:

The Internet isn’t written in pencil Mark, it’s written in ink”

Just as you can’t remove a bad result in athletics, you can never fully scour something from the internet once you’ve dropped it there. To be honest, I can probably get away with changing or removing all my past posts, or indeed this whole  blog, and have it vanish effectively, just as I could walk away from the sport that has brought new extents of delight and despair over the last year and a half.

As time passes though, doing so will become harder. I have responsibilities now I didn’t have before, and I can’t pretend otherwise. I’ve written openly about depression and anxiety before, I’m not going to stop doing so. That’s as much a part of my life as anything else. I’ll say and write more stupid things, and get more bad results, but, if the time since June last year is anything to go by, it’ll be worth it for the better moments.


Conversations with myself: part two

Part Two: Plato’s Socrates

“Socrates said writing would be the death of memory, which is ironic really, considering that he’s only remembered because Plato decided to put pen to paper.”

Sometimes he’s in a genuinely good mood, and we have interesting conversations. I’m not always on the receiving end of a self-talk that would make Donald Trump or Nicklas Bendtner come out like the lion from the Wizard of Oz or Neville Longbottom (early in their respective stories).

“Fair point, and, actually, I really like that. Can I use it in my blog? I think it’s a great bit of thought” I chirp back, on this occasion very grateful for his input.

We were running, but as I’m wasn’t using physical breath to produce that statement, I didn’t really need to worry about it. Sure, it took conscious effort, but as most of my training takes place at ‘conversational pace’, there’s a lot to spare. With an irony that would be sadder if I wasn’t so willfully solitary, I rarely have anyone else to talk to on most of my runs, so the conversations are often of this nature.

The conversations are often of nature, too, and I tend to feel happiest when I’m running through trees and forests that remind me of my ideal of home: peaceful woodland, clean air and soft paths.

“Don’t you mean our blog?”

“If you had a blog nobody would read it, you’re just a voice buddy.” I reply, more playfully than in anger.

“Isn’t every writer just their voice, and what they choose to express? Plus, you need me as much as I need you.”

More rhetorical rhetoric. He’s right too, unfortunately. I couldn’t deal with having nobody to bounce ideas off.

“Is this going on the blog?”

“No, it’s too weird, people wouldn’t get it.”

“Right you are sir. Maybe if you let me talk more people would understand it.”

If I let you talk all the time we’d both be screwed, I pondered silently, trying to play for time before remembering he was probably reading my thoughts again.

“Are you gone?”


I laughed, despite myself, or in fact, because of myself (my self, him? Never mind).

“Did you just say silence? How are we supposed to convey that on paper?”

“Maybe use a different font. Here’s one for you. What typeface did Cicero use?”

“No idea. Garamond? Comic Sans?”

“Not even close. Times Old Roman.”

“That’s terrible. Okay, time for bed, see you in the morning.”

I thought some more.

“Let’s make a deal: if I get up at 2:30 to take a piss, you have to keep quiet.”

“What do I get out of it?”

“Well, if you do it every time, I’ll sleep better, and maybe we’ll get to go to the European Cross country championships.”

“I’d like that. Does it mean we can properly call ourselves an international athlete?”

“Yeah. For real. Deal?”

“Okay, but you’ll have to start tidying up memory lane, I want to try out my new bike, and I’m tired of dodging piles of unfinished stories.”

“Seems fair. Where shall I put them?”

“I’ll just make some room over here…”

Some files start moving around precariously.

“Careful, that looks important!” I shout anxiously.

“Shit. Adam?”


To be continued…

No news is bad news (sometimes), or, talking to myself

I realise I haven’t written one of these for absolutely ages. Apologies! I have written heaps of things since, but none of the other ones are finished. This was first finished as a bit of an angry rant, but I’ve cheered it up a bit with chocolate and jokes, so hopefully it reads more positively now.

I don’t like lying to people. Okay, that’s a lie, I’m actually quite fond of mendacity, and only partly because there are so many fantastic words for it. Wonderful words like duplicity and perfidiousness, that make it sound so exciting and important.

I also enjoy dissembling (both the word and the deed itself) which actually means disguise or concealment, rather than lying in a direct sense. This isn’t because I enjoy tricking people, or as a result of a pathological desire to deceive and mislead friends and family. It’s because it makes life enormously more practical.

If I were to report exactly how I felt when asked, the response would occasionally be quite dreadful to read.

Today I didn’t eat any food until the evening, just because I just didn’t quite feel like it. I meant to, but somehow it didn’t quite happen for most of the day.”

“I wanted to leave the house today, but I never quite managed it. I had a slight calf strain, and thought it might be better just to keep myself from walking too far. That, and I was afraid of going outside.”

“Today I looked at houses back home in Northern Ireland, and thought about how lovely and quiet life would be there. I could live in the countryside, away from the caustic London air, polluted by noise, chemicals and incessant light. Maybe I could work a few days a week as a handyman, and make ends meet with some writing or editing.”

(Although I’ve never written professionally, I have worked as a tradesman of sorts, so that bit isn’t quite as ridiculous as it might seem)

The last one doesn’t sound so bad, but to be fair I think those sorts of things most often, and if I tell people that I’d worry they’d think I was taking the city life for granted, and not appreciating my lot. They’d also be right in thinking that I’d be leaving them behind, as I have a lot of friends in London, and would very probably not hurry to return once I left properly.

Happily I manage to eat and leave the house almost every day, so it’s not as bad as all that. More often though, I have days where I’ve hardly left the house, and if I wasn’t running or going to work there would probably be a lot more.

When I’m at home in Northern Ireland, I’ve never not left the house in a day. If I want to get out for some fresh air, I open the door, I don’t need to travel miles to a green space that’s almost clean enough to breathe happily. If I want to see the stars at night, I turn off the lights and look up.

IMG_2337Home! Fine weather not necessarily representative of normal conditions…

If I want to visit one of my oldest friends, I, well, I ask him to pick me up, because I still haven’t bothered to learn to drive, and we always hang out at his house, partly because there was always decent space to play hockey and football. Our garden doesn’t really work for football, unless the game was to be radically reinvented, requiring both teams to kick the ball steeply uphill once they’d carried it past the midfield, towards which they’d carry the ball downwards. It’s a field with a huge dip in the middle, I’m sure you get the picture.

A good friend of mine said that I was the most un-London person he knew, and he was rather amazed I’d been here for so long. So am I. Well, not entirely, because I know how much I’m afraid of change, and how hopeless I am at making important decisions. I’ve never made an important decision about my job, for example, and as a consequence spent four months unemployed after finishing my Masters Degree, and the following three and a half years working in running shops.

Ultimately though, that resulted in my becoming a semi-professional athlete and achieving a lifetime dream, so swings and roundabouts I guess!

Going back to the point about lying, I find I can easily convince myself of things that aren’t true, and a transcript of my self-talk might sometimes be startling.

Here’s an example. I’ve centred it in italics so it stands out, as formatting options are limited here, and caps lock would look dreadful. This choice does sort of make it look like an absurdly bloated haiku, but hopefully that undercuts the dire tone.

I miss the sport I loved. Not running, though I am taking a break at the moment and the lack of running does cover everything with a decidedly murky aura. No, I miss judo.

I don’t like to spend much time thinking about the moment I lost judo, because it’s one of my worst memories, and I won’t write more about it here. Often though, when I’m injured, my mind travels back to that point, and brings out some of the worst aspects of my character.

After every training session, I went home feeling like I’d done a hard evening’s work. I miss the scratches, the bruises and the ache in my arms that stood testament to having tried my best. I never have that now. Running isn’t the same. Either you’re injured, fatigued, exhilarated after hitting a great time, but you never have the same sense of really suffering for something.

Now I come home feeling tired of having to answer people’s stupid questions about whether their foot, knee or ankle pain can be instantaneously and magically solved by a new pair of running shoes. (It almost certainly cannot, but sadly the conversation is never that mercifully brief)

I come home after travelling on a hot, humid and cramped metal cylinder with hundreds of other equally unhappy people (well probably, I don’t ask them, that would be a hideous breach of London public transport protocol, and at the end of the day I’ve spent far more time than I can comfortably handle talking to people).

I come home knowing that I’m paying for the privilege of traveling on that underground train, paying for the vile air and frequently unpleasant population, and paying for a place that has none of the peace and quiet I would sacrifice a lot for. Just not enough, it would seem, to actually do something about it.

I sometimes feel that it’s cowardice and lack of conviction rather than affection that keeps me where I am, and I can lose myself in despair and a sense of being trapped in a city where a clear horizon is so often only in the imagination. Some of my favourite memories are of sailing in an open ocean, and this contrast hits very hard during my darker moments.

During these periods, things like the above come strongly to mind. I can pretend they don’t, and not tell people, but that’s rather less brave than being open about this sort of thing. I’m not an inherently brave person, but I am trying to change that.

Of course I love running, hell, I’ve found myself crying a few times over the last several years during the most banal recovery runs because I’m so happy to be fit and able to compete at my favourite thing in the world. Of course you suffer for something if you’re running, that’s the whole point of endurance sport – you endure stuff!

Working in a running shop is fine, sometimes it’s fun, and though occasionally it’s a bit aggravating, I leave my work behind as soon as I go out the door, and that’s worth so much to me. Sure, the tube is hot and stuffy, but sometimes it goes outside and you do get fresh air! Sometimes it’s really quiet and you can read while you hurtle happily toward a staggering range of destination options.

Sometimes part of a carriage will break out in spontaneous applause when an unknowingly headphoned passenger solves his Rubik’s cube, having followed his progress for minutes of mute entrancement. Okay, that happened once, but I did successfully start the clapping, and it’s also one of my favourite memories.

I spoke to a friend last weekend about depression, and I’d realised in opening up about some of the points above that I made my life sound rather bleak. Ultimately, those are the bad days, and those are outnumbered by the good days I have cause to be happy and grateful.

The main point is that every day I try and wake up hoping it’s going to be a good day, as if I don’t, I might as well stay down. That’s one thing I’ll never forget from judo. I never stayed down then, and if I can keep the same attitude to everything else, I can be happy that I’m doing my best to fight the good fight.

Sometimes it’s not enough, and I lose, sometimes badly, but there’s always another round after the next corner. That’ll do for me.

Lots of writing, but just a poem to show for it

Despite writing, in no exaggeration, well over ten thousand words of vaguely (blog) publishable content over the last four months, the moment of actually pressing the enticingly clickable ‘publish’ button has been endlessly snoozed. Like an alarm that you’ve set on a weekend to avoid wasting the morning, the only imperative to finish anything is a general sense of doing something worthwhile with time designated as spare.

As a significant portion of that time is spent running, doing activities related to running (stretching, strength exercises and jumping over things, mostly hurdles that I should be jumping over, occasionally other things), or thinking of running, I can be a bit listless the rest of the time. Listless, that is, apart from the constantly proliferating ‘to-do’ lists, featuring absurdities like (I kid you not) ‘review all previous to-do lists, collate and synchronise’, and, even more ridiculously: ‘backdate diet with receipts’ from July 2014. Needless to say the fact I still have that intact list, along with tens of others is testament to my failure to collate or synchronise anything.

With pieces of writing, I always find them partly started or half finished, with just enough material for me to know where I was going and someday venture in that direction again. I tend to finish poems, in that a first draft is produced with promises to ‘refine’ or not doubt ‘collate’ the words with some other witty thought buried alongside hundreds of other notes. In that spirit then, here’s something with no title I thought of mostly during a long run. It’s not complete, but in the spirit of actually finishing something, it’s complete enough to be going on with. More to come, perhaps.


The title, to choose something rather than nothing, is ‘a wooden form’.


The bough, in bending to the wind, resists by knowing it must yield,
Arms fend the swirling bluster off, with lissome limbs compose a shield.

Spry willow of new wood is wrought, a pliant will that knows its end,
These broken branches can be whittled, shattered but with strength to lend.

It breaks each time, but yet breaks later, body holds for longer, still,
The limits move from frame to mind, the form has done the work it will.

It matters not if mind’s cast down, drive tired limbs with ropes of thought,
Take strength from each resisting fibre, focus not on what is ought,

The wisps of hope, these threads, can help, if we can follow where they lead,
In each failed attempt, is strength, in each fallen fruit a seed.

Smith’s birch might offer shelter here, a story that has much to teach,
By all means travel, learn and wonder, yet ever know how far to reach.

If we strive out with arms of flesh, we must keep one eye on the flame,
Despite all our earthly delights, there is a darkness we must name.

None of us may live forever, but don’t let’s hurry to the halt,
Each, in every gilded moment, breathe with joy, forget, exalt.