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Proud banana

Could I please have a quiet sit down now?

For a few days after my recent holidays, all was calm. Admin was done. A short period of reflection and relaxation. A couple of social events.

And then came the big weekend of ‘activity’.

A small charity for whom I volunteer from time to time had entered a team in our local hospital’s sponsored nighttime walk – A Night to Remember – which was in aid of their Bereavement Services.  This was originally due to take place while I was on my walking holiday, so I was not entered, but it was postponed because of Her Majesty’s demise. When I realised that I would now be able to take part, it seemed like a good idea; I am after all a bit of a walker anyway. There was a choice of five or fifteen miles, and being a glutton for punishment I opted for the longer of these. 

And so it is that I find myself at 7.30pm in the back of a neighbour’s car on the way to the start point, groping a stranger’s bum (as you do) to try and fix my seatbelt and wondering fretfully whether – even though I earlier performed a perfunctory brushing – my filthy walking boots might be depositing recent Devon mud and sand in the beautiful cream footwell of this upmarket car. I feel a weird presence at my shoulder, checking me out. Already sure I’m guilty of something, I realise with a jump that it is, in fact, a silent but very inquisitive dog clearly wondering why on earth all these unaccustomed humans have piled into his car.

After the obligatory sign-in, team photo and donning of charity lanyards – and a rather affecting completion of a ‘who I am remembering on this walk’ cardboard heart to hang on a remembrance tree (actual tears – pull yourself together woman!) – we are greeted by the Kingston Mayor for words of encouragement in the Market Square, and then released into the night – a chatty agglomeration of determined pedestrians.

The first five miles is a circuit taking in Thames Ditton and Hampton Court, returning to Kingston Bridge where the five-milers (several of whom are wheelchair warriors or boldly be-crutched) peal off to cross back into the Market Square and the brave long-haulers immediately confuse themselves in a small riverside estate where they mercifully just avoid the security guard before rejoining the intended route. Some serious misdirecting here, we still maintain.

Onward, and we are now firmly in a small group of four. I know one of these three guys well (it is his car I may have despoiled on the way), and have met one of the others several times as he is also a neighbour. The fourth man is the husband of a newish friend and I have not met him previously, but in our extended and gentle walking chat we find some common ground, perhaps surprisingly, in arithmetic (he’s a maths tutor and I’m a numerate nerd) and some areas for disagreement, mostly around where to cross the road. All good natured of course – and as we swap around during the six hours it takes to complete the distance, it is nicely convivial.

Once we have extricated ourselves from the private estate near Kingston Bridge, we trundle to Twickenham, past Eel Pie Island and along the riverside walk in front of Marble Hill. It rains quite a bit here, to our dismay, but unlike on my cliff walks I am able to deploy my umbrella which saves me from the worst of it. I think my fellow walkers consider this a sign of feminine weakness as they, to a man, stick with their hoodies, but I don’t care.

We reach Richmond via its bridge and begin a town circuit to build up the distance so that it will be a full fifteen miles by the time we are back in Kingston. There are biscuits and water on a support team table, which we nearly miss by taking some stairs at the bridge, but somehow we are caught and fed/watered and continue on our way. It’s great that people are willing to spend their nighttime supporting us in this way – it is around midnight I think at this point. They don’t even get the medals we will later be awarded for walking.

Circuit complete, we find ourselves back at Richmond Bridge and fight our way through crowds on the pavement outside some hostelry, feeling decidedly underdressed (or overdressed, depending on one’s perspective) as we marvel at the post-midnight activity through which we would all normally be sleeping. Engrossed in our conversations, and eagerly sharing thoughts on which of the enormous houses we have passed may belong to David Attenborough, we cover the small-hours miles.

Feeling I am on the home stretch now, I am surprised at how long it has taken us, but already encouraged at the proximity of the finish line. My three companions have not seemed impressed with my occasional ‘Are we nearly there yet?’s but I try it once again here. Still a muted response, but I sense some increased positivity…until, we notice a policeman in the road up ahead and one of those Do Not Cross tapes barring our way forward. There has been some sort of incident and we must make a diversion. Noooooo.

Collective local dog-walking experience apparently comes in handy at this point, as one of our number is confident he can navigate us around the footpaths, and we end up marching down what would, in daylight, be a beautiful avenue, grateful for our phone torches in the absence of any street-lighting or moon. The support team are all over this – pretty good effort here to ensure we are safe, and we briefly join with others who are taking the diversion.

At last, fully six hours after we set off, we reach the finish – an inflatable arch which has replaced the similar one which said Start when our feet were less sore all those hours ago. I will confess to being glad that we had a car parked nearby to make the journey home even though I would normally sniff at using wheels for such a distance. Strangely, I care rather less about muddying the footwell this time and the dog is not there to judge, as he only did the five miles and went home with someone else. Wimp!

As I sneak carefully into bed at 3.30am, no more than two hours before Mr J needs to get up to go to a rowing event, I realise just how much I hurt. It seems that I have reignited an annoying pain in I cannot tell exactly which part of my body – a toss up between my back, my hip, my thigh or my knee. I’m too tired to determine what medication or exercise might be best for this and make the most of a bad job by sleeping fitfully and grumpily until 9am.

With Mr J long gone on his own self-knackering mission (the Pairs Head this time, on the Tideway Thames), I ready myself for another big day of long distance mass fundraising. This time however, Daughter J is the one doing the distances and I am to provide enthusiastic support. Much to our surprise, the formerly least sporty of our small family has been persuaded to take up a charity place in the London Marathon.

It was  last Autumn when her employer suggested that all the restaurant managers could run on the Royal Osteoporosis Society ticket, the return favour being that the ROS get to base themselves in Daughter J’s restaurant on the day and, of course, collect all the dosh. So she has had plenty of time to train. 

Well, I say she had plenty of time to train and we had heard of a few tentative joggings during the year, but in early September with just a few weeks to go it seemed that no really lengthy runs had been undertaken. After an exhausting summer – when the heat was not conducive to moving, let alone running – including overseas trips for work and other people’s weddings, there had been too little mileage and rather too much alcohol in the training schedule to bolster anyone’s confidence of completing twenty-six-point-whatever miles. I had convinced myself she would be foolish to even try at this late stage, and on the basis that she would graciously withdraw, I had merrily enrolled in my nighttime walk (see above), in the sure and certain knowledge that I could enjoy a lie-in and a lazy day on the Sunday.

Haha – she is made of sterner stuff. And so, it seems, I too will have to be.

Shortly after I signed up for the Night to Remember, Daughter J appeared at our door having run the fifteen or so miles from her flat in North London. Despite wearing new trainers which were a full one-and-a half sizes too small, it later transpired, and never tackling such a distance in one go before, she appeared relatively unruffled and merrily downed a pint of water, executed a few gentle yoga poses on the patio and then wolfed down a couple of slices of pizza before walking to the train station for her return journey. At this point I realised I would not be fulfilling my motherly duty if I lounged around on Marathon day after all.

Of course, the London Marathon for the elite athletes starts much earlier than the race for the Masses and shortly after I wake from my painful slumbers, I am able to watch the improbably speedy progress of the leaders on television whilst shovelling in my porridge. Cue the usual Marathon music, and I start to become emotional. Oh lord, here we go. And it gets worse. I have loaded the TCS London Marathon App onto my phone and it pings to tell me that Daughter J has started her race. I sob – proper sobs. What the hell? Is this pride, or tiredness, or yet another late-effect menopausal irritation?

Not just any banana – a proud banana

I gather myself and set off for the train. I have promised to make an appearance somewhere in Canary Wharf and have plenty of time. As the train approaches Waterloo, I receive a Voice Note from Daughter J. Not a clue what she’s saying. I return the favour – she almost certainly can’t tell what I am saying either. Eventually she writes ‘Banana’. I am momentarily confused by a follow-up message which tells me she’s sad because she has already been overtaken by two rhinos. I don’t think rhinos eat bananas. But my immediate mission now seems clear: source a banana and deliver it to my best-deserving daughter so she can catch up with those horny-nosed beasts.

It is rare that I visit a branch of Sainsbury’s and come out with fewer than ten items, but today I am laser focused and emerge clutching just one banana (27p), diving immediately back into Waterloo station and down to the Jubilee Line. I can do this manoeuvre in my sleep (not necessarily with a banana) as it was part of my wet-days journey to work when I couldn’t face getting soaked on the two mile walk. This time, I resist the reflex to alight at London Bridge and instead journey on to Canary Wharf where I rise up to the surface, still dutifully brandishing my banana, to face a row of portaloos (noted for later) and a random milling of other supporters.

I have done my homework well. From here, I can walk to several different vantage points at miles 15, 18 and 19 – all key motivational spots as the possibly undertrained athletes begin to suffer and wonder why they ever thought this was a good idea. From a glance at the tracking App, I see that Daughter J is approaching mile 15 and I break into my own unseemly staggering run to meet her before she disappears. Within seconds of my arrival, she is there – I spot her on the far side of the stream of humanity passing by and valiantly wave my trusty banana. She gives a little leap and a large smile and threads her way towards me. Oh this is marvellous! Such pride in my little girl who seems not to be suffering anything like as much as I would have expected. She devours the banana and I happily take the skin to dispose of sensibly later. She says she’s a little tired, but shoots off again with a definitely springier step than many of the others around her at this point. I have reminded her that the rhinos train hard for the event, and she confirms that she is ‘over’ worrying about wild animals overtaking her at this stage. This is, I believe, my proudest banana-related episode – surpassing even my triumphant creation of banana-bread mid-lockdown.

Laughing through the pain?

We make similar, though banana-less, rendezvous twice more in the maze of Canary Wharf streets. For my longest wait, I lean on the barrier and watch several unicorns, more rhino and even a chap with an ironing board and iron strapped to his back pass by. Beside me, a similarly-aged lady explains with interesting visual code exactly where runners need to apply their vaseline – to a horrified younger woman who wonders whether it would have been preferable for her mother to actually say nipples and inner thighs rather than using exaggerated mime.

After a last enthusiastic wave at Mile 19, I return to the tube station via the conveniently placed portaloos. Whilst waiting in the orderly queue for these facilities, I overhear others bemoaning the lack of paper within. The family in front of me share out supplies produced by ‘mum’ and I smugly recall that I too have been carrying the last few metres of an ancient toilet roll in the top pocket of my rucksack for years now for just such an occasion and finally that infinitesimal extra weight will be justified. (And it was.)

Meeting up with Mr J in St James’ Park is a little easier than anticipated (previous years had shown the mobile networks unable to cope at this point), and together we greet our amazing daughter after she has collected her medal and her belongings. Remarkable achievement, and she is still able to walk faster than either of us as we all make our way to Covent Garden and the glorious cheers which are raised as she walks through the doors. A few tequilas later, I’m not sure anyone would realise quite how her day had been spent, apart from the medal around her neck.

We leave her to it and I limp gently over Waterloo Bridge to catch the train home. The sunset is my reward. And the half-hour wait for the next train my punishment for walking so slowly whilst gawping at the view and missing the one I should have been on. I’m getting used to this – same happened when I did my pre-funereal walkabout. Will I never learn?

I don’t care. Proud mama – and at least I’ll be too late home to cook the tea so we can just carry on snacking.

Just to show off my late-night achievement, at the finish with my co-walkers





Follow one crying eye on