The space between the barriers, or, three hundred and seventy one days


They almost look like phone numbers, lists of digits preceded by a plausible commencement of code. They wouldn’t quite be the same area, but perhaps the two strings would share regional affiliation.

How we break numbers up is a huge part of their significance. I guess it works for words too.

22-05-16 93300 That’s a bank sort code, although followed by an implausibly short account number. Perhaps some digits have got lost in translation?

+22 051693300 Set like this, even without the plus, it’s a phone number. The eleven digits check out, if you call it you might even get through.

If I google the first code, the only result is an indecipherable list of numbers, headed in Mandarin or Cantonese script that I can’t begin to fathom. Any decryptions are welcome.

There are so many permutations, and they may mean absolutely nothing. For me, at least, this bizarre puzzle has a solution.

22.05.16: 9:33.0 27.05.17: 8:37.62

Three hundred and seventy one days separate two dates, and two performances. One was good enough to take me to the English championships a day after my lowest point of the year, and the second was a qualifying mark for the commonwealth games, the world university games (sadly not applicable), and thirteen hundredths of a second short of the mark required for the European Championships. It came, too, after a depth of hopelessness I don’t wish to return to again, and the number thirteen has a significance outside its culturally ominous portent that will be returned to at some stage. Perhaps.

In the space of time in between both races, I’ve written well over a hundred thousand words, perhaps closer to two, most of which lies in incomplete piles under a series of titles that I most recently counted at two hundred and fifteen. It’s impossible to quantify the depth of human experience in numbers, and by extension it’s impossible in words, as that’s all these are.

In writing on a screen, thoughts that take place in language switch form between nerve impulses from brain to finger into kinetic pops onto a digital keyboard, flipping rapidly from a numerical electronic signal to the standardised shapes we all recognise as letters. As in the subtext that accompanies those enticingly swish adverts, for narrative purposes steps have been removed and the sequence has been shortened.

I suppose I like to try. I sit down, sometimes in a spare moment on the tube, and often when travelling on more amenable aerated or rapid transports, and put pen to paper, or skin to screen. Inevitably these sorts of things fail, especially if they’re written on a Sunday evening and have drifted invariably off a topic that was originally quite simple.

The space between publishing posts often gnaws away at me. It wouldn’t if I felt nobody cared at all, and I was just writing for myself, but then I’d never end up finishing anything. I have a vague idea that some of what I write is for other people.

The things that actually go up on this blog are either pieces I’ve actually felt I’ve had to write (most recently before changing clubs, and subsequently to attempt to reverse stepping on toes, and in the clumsy attempt, I suspect, crushing more feet), or the throwing out of any piece of almost complete poetry to fill the space, and deprive silence of its empty power.

I’ve never set myself a deadline, and there’s so often been the excuse of work, training, or laziness (whether genuine or feigned I can never quite decide). I suppose I should have opened with an exciting account of a recent race, and goodness me there’s enough of that to be going on with. I might have produced an account of my first holiday since the summer of 2014, a trip to Slovenia that brought more new experiences than I could find words for.

That’s perhaps because my grasp of the language extends to basic courtesies, assorted fruit names and, aptly, the word for forest, gozd. There were a lot of forests, and I found being able to look out the window into dense woodland more restful and restorative even than the hours of sleep gloriously undisturbed by the noise and light of London. Like Tolkien, I have always had a love of trees and green space, and every return to London feels in some part like a betrayal of the desire to be apart from the compulsion to be conspicuously busy and ‘interesting’.

Sometimes when putting things off for long enough, we can be paralysed into inaction, or when returning to something after a long break, whether it’s a crossword, a painting or a friendship, the reunion can be underwhelming. That clue can still remain elusive, the colours and shapes flatter than we recall, or the communication more awkward and effortful than we remember.

There are so many things I could have written instead, but none of them were finished, and another poem would definitely have been a cop-out.

A clean slate seemed a fine place to start, but having painted all over it with words, I think it might have looked better empty. Much like the silence, the calmness of its surface ‘seemed to dislike being broken’, as Tolkien wrote of the quiet of Mirkwood.

I suppose I’ve also realised since returning that London isn’t as safe as even I’d thought, and we can’t know when our opportunity to break the silence, even ineptly, will leave us forever.

I’ve made an effort over the last week to contact friends and family more, and although that was simply an attempt to ground myself and stay focussed after the distractions of success unexpected both in its very arrival and its height, it now seems especially apt.

There’s so much more to write, and so much more to finish, but I think this will do for now. Thanks for reading, for I suspect at least someone has, and goodnight, good afternoon or good morning as appropriate.

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.