Monday, June 13, 2011

Superstitions and omens

I’ve started running again.
Two years ago, I decided to do something about my burgeoning weight, which had been gleefully spiralling higher and higher since I a) turned forty, b) gave up the fags and c) got a job where I sat on my backside for the best part of the day.
Now, as anyone who reads this column regularly will know, spending money has never been one of my greatest attributes and whenever anyone suggested that I join a gym, my reaction of hysterical giggling would affirm the futility of pursuing that suggestion. Sure, didn’t we have pathways in abundance in Dublin 15 and even Fingal County Council haven’t started charging people for walking on them...yet?
So I dug out a load of old reject t-shirts from the top of wardrobe that I got when I used to work in a printing factory and rescued a couple of pairs of holiday shorts that my wife had earmarked for dusters and I announced that I was going running.
“What about runners?” enquired my wife.
“Sure, I have a pair of runners,” I informed her, “these ones that I bought in ShoeZone a month or two ago.”
Despite her assertions that these were not ‘proper’ (ie expensive) runners, I started off and for five weeks I was Roger Bannister, panting my way around the locality until a bad attack of shin splints and an even worse attack of ‘I told you so’s from an unnamed quarter suddenly put a premature end to my quest to regain fitness.
This March, the company I pretend to work for launched an initiative called Commit to be Fit, a sort of Operation Transformation for normal people. (I assume there’s a whole industry out there dreaming up snappy names for keep fit programmes – Great to Lose Weight, Brighter to be Lighter, Aerobics for Claustrophobics etc)
So I decided to do things right this time. Like a recalcitrant schoolboy, my wife brought me into Lifestyle, where I promptly fainted on seeing the price of ‘proper’ runners, only being revived with a drop of medicinal brandy. So, after a brief tug-of-war with the cashier and my wife over my €45, I emerged with a cushioned pair of runners that had the added health benefit of having a tick on the outside of them.
And I took it slowly. At first, I simply strolled down to the end of the road, sat on a wall for five minutes and then strolled back, looking for a piece of cake. Gradually, I increased the distance, then started running a bit until I’m now at the point where I can now run ten miles non-stop, though ‘staggering’ would probably be more descriptive of the final mile.
(Except of course when I see another jogger coming the other way. Then of course, I straighten up and jog along with an unconcerned air and a cheery ‘Good morning!” even though my insides are exploding.)
However, a series of incidents the other week had me questioning the wisdom of my new-found healthy lifestyle.
Now, I walk and limber up from my house to the end of the estate before I start running. I fondly imagine that this counts as the ‘warming up’ I’m supposed to do beforehand but I never seem to get particularly warm at seven in the morning, for some reason.
So, as I was tiptoeing past the house with the noisy dog at the end of our road, a slice of bread, with the crusts cut off, doubtless to thwart the forensic scientists, fell at my feet. As I stared at it, I imagined I heard a Welsh Male Voice Choir singing Bread of Heaven, though a loud “Caw!” from overhead soon disavowed me of any notion that this was divine intervention.
So, as I ran, I pondered the strange occurrence. I find pondering helps while jogging, as it helps to drown out the wailing and complaining of lungs and legs. Earphones also help, I’m sure, but I think I must have odd shaped earholes, as none seem to stay in my ear when I’m lying comatose, never mind running. I’ve even considered bringing along a boom box to distract me but I’m sure it would fall off my shoulder.
But back to the bread. Bread is good, the bread of life, give us this day our daily bread, so that could mean it was a good sign. However, it was dropped by that most evil and sinister of all God’s creatures, the crow – the killer crow, as my wife calls them – a harbinger of death and destruction, if ever there was one, particularly to open wheelie bins. Maybe Satan, in the guise of the crow, was mocking my attempts to improve my lifestyle?
Then, as I was passing Allendale on my first circuit of the block, I saw a shiny one cent piece lying invitingly in the middle of the path. (I should point out here that ‘the block’ is of course a Fingal County Council block of four kilometers. Our local authority hates through-roads and short cuts of any description out of fear that rats might run through them)
As I have mentioned before, I am somewhat parsimonious by nature and have always believed in the old adage, ‘Find a penny, pick it up, the rest of the day you’ll have a penny.’ But in the split second I had to decide between following my natural instincts to stop or to keep on with my comfortable stride, I chose the latter and soon, the penny was left far behind me.
Now, I’m not a believer in superstitions and omens. I believe that only superstitious people get bad luck and the course of events is pretty much random. But I have to say, I fretted about the one cent for the twenty five minutes it took me to do a complete circuit. How often are we short a one cent piece in shops? Of course, the cashier always says its okay but you know she thinks you’re a skinflint who has done it on purpose.
But fretting is akin to pondering when you’re running, and pretty soon I was back around by Allendale where I was delighted to find the one cent still shining up at me invitingly, so I quickly stooped down, scooped it up and went on my way like The Gooch collecting the ball on the wing and cutting inside for a pop at goal.
Mightily relieved, I continued around until I reached the roundabout for the world-famous Hansfield train station, when I heard a loud shriek. There, right in the middle of the roundabout, a male pheasant was standing and two female pheasants were running down the middle of the road towards him, doubtless wondering how they were going to spend his money.
This finished me completely. There is nothing in Greek mythology that I am aware of to explain the significance of pheasants in the middle of a roundabout. Nor bread falling from the sky. Nor shiny one cent pieces. I gave up trying to figure it out and staggered around the rest of my route, determined that in future I would run in blinkers.

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