mundane adventures in running
It is hard to imagine just how hard something can be. Diamonds, glass, steel. A theoretical gap exists between gold and iron. Theoretical insofar as I defy you to directly, without mediation to adequately assess which is which, which is harder, which softer.
A diamond. I understand its legendary hardness. I believe the empirical proof of its hardness. I can prove it myself. If I take my wife’s diamond ring, her engagement ring, I can use the stone to scratch glass.
“There, I told you: this diamond is hard. The diamond has scratched the glass.”
Undeniably proof, but a rarified, refined proof: it’s a parlour game of a proof, an armchair proof, a proof of theory, not a proof of practice.
I experience the hardness of the diamond in a cool, detached objective way. I see its effect. I can make a note, record, video its effect. I don’t feel its effect. I guess I could scratch myself with it, but would it feel so different to the scratch of a thorn or a burr of soft lead?
The hardness of a diamond manifests in a a single carat and a tiny point. It yields by displacement. If I jump at a diamond, it moves.
Hardness, to be experienced directly, needs mass. Hardness is as much about solidity as it is literal hardness. A diamond feels like a flimsy gimmick in comparison with the monumental, two inch thick solid wooden table top I’m sitting at right now.
It’s a characteristic I have truly experienced a few times. There is a firing of neurones as when you see the colour red, or hear the noise of loud whine; this the firing of neurones as you encounter hard, unyielding, massive, unmoving, immutable.
The first time was a dumb damascene moment. A pothole somehow caught hold of, grabbed and stuck fast a bicycle wheel. The rider of the bicycle, me, described an orbit, pivoting around the pothole and was thrown into the tarmac road. At the moment of striking the ground the overwhelming sensation wasn’t of pain, or shock, or dismay, or surprise; the unique and perfect sensation was of the hardness of the ground: truly the hardest thing I had ever felt.
Ridiculous that at that moment I should feel awe at something so mundane. My shoulder was cracked, there was searing pain in my knees, a panic at the realisation I was lying in the middle of the road and unable to move. Still, all I could think was how impressively hard the road was, how much more solid it was than anything I had ever felt before, and how much more respect I owed it than I’d been aware of. Oh ground, oh road, oh tarmac, you are so hard, you are so big, I am nothing to you, you will break me, I dash against you and lie prostrate in your solid magnificence.
I thought of this on Sunday. I slipped on a thin, black, pissily undetectable skin of ice on an inexplicable strip of concrete in an otherwise packed mud path. I flew and made contact perfectly with the concrete: shoulder, hip, knee. The adrenaline of the fall, the pain of the impact were nothing in comparison to this experience of hardness, of solidity. I don’t want to hurt myself. I don’t want to spend £200 on osteopath appointments and take two weeks off exercise, but it is a good reminder of my own frailty and softness and a good reminder of the majestic hardness of tarmac, of concrete and of falling.