mundane adventures in running
Two years ago storms swept through Ruskin Park. The winds felled trees and in turn crushed fences. The park’s boundaries became permeable: iron uprights put out of joint rendered gaping, whole sections missing and bodged with galvanised metal and cable ties.
No one has fixed them yet. A lambeth van drives round the park every evening as the sun sets and diligently locks the gates. Each gate bulges with chain and padlock. The gates are very closed. There are no street lights in the park. The council workers often forget to turn of the lights in the loos on the South side of the park. Apart from that small orange oasis, it’s pitch black. The park is very closed. No one should be there.
Climbing through the fence and into the park is stepping from inhabited, populated, proper London into a different category of place. Without people, without light, it still feels alive. Without activity, dog walkers, other runners, people playing football, taking short cuts, imagination lends life to the park itself. Like you never noticed before that the park was its own living breathing thing.You never noticed that the park was a dark, landlocked kraken, silently slumbering.
I run laps, along the lines of trees, through the gardens, dipping under trees, staggering in potholes. I run steadily. It would be reckless to wear headphones; I need to concentrate. I need to make sure I can react when the park moves, when the ground shakes, splits and reforms: when tendrils shoot out from bushes, when mouths open in trees and puddles to swallow me whole.
The park has turned in on itself, but i can see outside: ambulances careering down Denmark hill, shadows shot into relief by flashing blue lights, the blinking horizon of the London skyline, houses on Finsen Road. As I run along the south side of the park, I can see people passing under warm glowing street lamps. The park has turned in on itself. It’s sealed to their gaze; I’m obscure and unseen. I’m forgotten until I emerge.
Three laps, and I get to the biggest, most easily passed hole in the fence. I stop to catch my breath. There’s a guy on Ferndene Road, a smiling faced, round, suited guy. He doesn’t notice me. Of course, he can’t see me while I’m in the park. I push through the fence, and just then he looks at me, and exclaims “friend!” excited, in a Nigerian accent. I think at first it’s directed at me, that he’s surprised at the emergence of another person from the darkness, about to embrace me and welcome me back to the world of humans. Then I realise he’s just talking to someone on the phone.
I amble home, jolted, exhilarated and relaxed from the run.