Friday, 27 April 2012

Do You Remember The First Time? (Salcombe 1989)

Where were we… ah yes, “why Sheffield and then what happened “last time"."

I won’t start with “why Sheffield”. There’s time for that: there always will be. And I need to get it right, if only for my sake. So… “what happened last time”

You probably didn’t expect there to have been a “last time”, or indeed a “first time”. Truth be told, there wasn’t meant to be. Never was. It was just one of those silly things you do when you’re on holiday and then live to regret for the rest of your life. Which, incidentally, is hopefully not the category in which my Mum files meeting my Dad when holidaying in the town in which I eventually grew up).

Salcombe, 1989. I know it’s 1989 because our Joe wasn’t even one at the time. That much I knew at the time: where Salcombe was, I had no clue. But Auntie Dawn, Uncle Richard and their three kids, Natalie, Gabrielle and the aforementioned Joseph were heading there on holiday and someone (probably my grandparents) had obviously suggested it might be nice for me to join them.
The Woods were renting a house there for the week – near the seaside! I was told Salcombe was Darn Saath, on the left and all the way at the bottom, “South Devon” being the technical term. I live in North Somerset now, so Salcombe isn’t the million miles away (approx.) it was in 1989. But it might as well be: Devon and Cornwall are always a million miles away. Or at least thus it feels.

Now… “the seaside”… there alone lies a term worthy of definition.

I grew up in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy, some 20m (or 32k, to be precise) east of Genoa. It lies on the Mediterranean coast, its population of 12,000 (as I learnt at school circa 1983) almost doubling in the summer when the wealthy Milanese travel down to their second homes. This happens typically around August 15, the day Italy officially shuts down till the schools reopen a month later: it is all quite efficient, especially by Italian standards. Anyway, it was in “Santa” that I had developed my concept of seaside: small and crowded beaches, little wind, ‘calcetto’ (=foosball) and a very calm and mild sea. Tides? Y’what? What
’s one of them?

Salcombe wasn’t like Santa. The beaches were busy, but you always had space. It was windy. The sea wasn’t particularly mild nor calm. And it had tides…

… if you’ve ever been to the Med, you’ll agree that there really isn’t much in terms of tides. It’s not even a proper sea: it’s just an overgrown lake. So when, on our first day at the beach, Richard said it was time to move back, I thought he was joking. The sea was about a hundred yards away! How was it ever going to get closer?
Generally speaking, I do as I’m told. This was no exception. And, sure enough, just as well: the tide did come in, erasing all the cricket creases and all the goal-lines. Wow… welcome to proper sea!

Why am I telling you all this? No idea… oh yes, Salcombe. There were activities in Salcombe throughout that week. I only remember two of them, the other one being children sitting on a log over the sea and trying to push each other over. Natalie, then aged 5 ½, sat motionless for ages whilst another kid (around 15) franctically waved his arms around, before sending him falling into the cold evening sea without even touching him – all she did was point a finger at him. Still waiting on a stewards’ enquiry over eight thousand days later… but that was nothing like the injustice I suffered at my own hands (and feet) a few days later.

A 5k race. Salcombe was holding a 5k race. And Uncle Richard and Auntie Dawn (who, by the way, are 15 years older than me, which I’m sure is statistically less than most Aunts and Uncles – well, back in 1989, anyway) thought it would be a good idea if I entered. To this day I don’t know if it was my lack of any fitness whatsoever (throughout my childhood I never came across a kid less fit than I was), the lack of any training whatsoever or just the fact that I CAN’T STAND RUNNING that inspired them. I may have made some comment about my love for Springsteen (which had blossomed the previous winter following my first televisual encounter on October 15, 1988) and ‘Born To Run’: indeed, somewhere or other there should still be a video in which Richard films me before the ‘race’ saying “We should have it on in the background, shouldn’t we? ‘Born To Run’…”. But there’s a distinct difference between liking ‘Born To Run’ and liking just the ‘To Run’ bit.

5k… if you’re expecting a breath-by-breath account, you’ll be sorely disappointed. There was very little running and a lot of walking, for starters. In that, I was not alone. I held on to second plac… sorry, second from bottom for virtually all the race, keeping a young girl at safe distance and feeling quite happy with my unfit self. There I was, a hundred yards from the finish line, from the end of a scarring experience, when…
… when the organisers’ car passed me. With the girl in the back seat. Twenty yards from the end, out she jumped and ran enthusiastically to the finish. And Dorando Pietri thought he had it bad in London 1908 just because he was stripped of gold for a teeny weeny little help crossing the line!

Gutted. I was hopeless, but I was fair. I was cheated out of second-from-bottom by this sad excuse of a 12-year old (random guess). She jumped out of the car and still had the audacity to celebrate as if she’d won Olympic gold. Zola Budd had nothing on this lass, let me tell you. It hurt almost as much as Auntie Dawn berating me some 48 hours for using too much milk on my cereals and forcing someone (Richard and me, as it happens – not her) to go and buy another pint. Not that I hold onto these things, you understand. Oh no, not me.

As I said, Salcombe was 1989. As I type, it’s 2012. It’s been 23 long years since that 5k and only now am I finding some energy and/or desperation to give it another go. Still, at least I’m contemplating running this time. Darn it mind, twice as far – I’ve not thought this one through properly, have I?

Oh, and about the 23 September reference in an earlier post… it’s Springsteen’s birthday, that’s all. Just sounds cooler than a day with no reference whatsoever. September 23, 1949, Monmouth Medical Center, N.J.. Not that I’m a sad git when it comes to Springsteen facts and trivia, you no doubt again understand.

You’re going to have to understand a lot of things over the next few months. In fact, if you do figure out how my memory works and why it remembers certain things from 1976 (I was born in 1975) but not things from yesterday, do let me know. By the way, since my last post I’ve been running three times. So the momentum’s still there: my real fear is losing it if I stop for more than a day. Which I will do, if only because of work commitments: when I was filling in my planning spreadsheet I wrote of virtually all of the third week in May, which starts with an all-day meeting in our office on the Monday which will continue on the Tuesday until I travel to Switzerland for a meeting on the Wednesday and Thursday. Now, one of the advantages of running over other sports is its ‘portability’: have shoes, will practice. Some of my colleagues take their trainers everywhere for that very reason: running is their sole alternative to working or drinking. But, since the Wednesday evening will be spent socialising with our clients, romantic as the thought of running in Switzerland sounds it ain’t going to happen. Ah well – folk reckon you can train for a 10k in eight weeks, and at the end of that week Springsteen’s birthday will still be 126 days / eighteen weeks away (it says so on my spreadsheet*)

As Lord Cocker
(II) of Sheffield says: “Do you remember the first time? I can’t remember a worse time”. Quite.
Oh, as for what I remember from 1976 – don’t get excited, I just recall being in the pram and looking at the front-left wheel as my Mum pushed me down Via XXV (or 25, if thats easier) Aprile near our apartment. Extremely unspectacular, but all my life I’ve maintained I visually remember it. Now, since I was only born in December 1975, you can see why some people (including Auntie Dawn and Uncle Richard, I should add) have often questioned the accuracy of this recollection. But, even if it were a trick of the mind (which it isn’t, believe me), I’ve been saying it for so long that that alone is remarkable.
Now… who got fired on “The Apprentice” we watched last night (off the Sky+ - I know it’s on on Wednesdays!)? Oh, and to be 100% clear
that week in Salcombe was cracking.

* no, I don't keep a spreadsheet for Springsteen
’s birthday its my training spreadsheet, comic!

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