Monday, 28 May 2007

Marathons and Yet More Americans.

This weekend was another full schedule - which is most unlike the folk of HC, who are more hermit in temperament than socialite. However, when friends beckon we jump into phone boxes, don cloaks and wear our underpants on the outside, before whisking off to be at their disposal. Unless, of course, we don't want to. Then we stay in bed and pull the duvet over our heads.

On Saturday, we travelled to Elie in order to meet an old friend from Albany, NY, and his wife, who are visiting Scotland on a nostalgic tour. WC went to St Andrews University in the '50s, with my father, and there struck up a friendship with him that would last half a century and see him become godfather (albeit an utterly indifferent one) to my sister. He's actually had more contact with me than Sister, owing to my 3 month gap year visit to the US, when I stayed with him for some time. He and his first wife were very good to me, and I was delighted to be able to return at least a tiny particle of the favour by buying him lunch at the Ship Inn, Elie, and then taking him and his second wife, Rainia, on to St Andrews.

We were supposed to meet them at noon, but waited over 2 hours before they showed. Trouble with the car rental place, as well as traffic on the bridge and no mobile phones meant they were delayed and unable to tell us about it. I imagine WC's unfamiliarity with the roads, and the car, and driving on the left, also added to the delay. When we drove to St Andrews after lunch I went with them in their car, and we canoned off several kerbs and never got above 30 mph the whole way, so if that's how they journeyed from Edinburgh I'm surprised it only took them 2 hours.

Lunch was fun, and showing WC St Andrews was also a pleasure. He wanted to check out the castle, and see the pier, but with Rainia not very good at walking owing to arthritic knees, we didn't want to walk very far. So, we wandered slowly down to St Salvator's Hall, where WC had spent his JYA, and a lenient porter allowed us to go inside so he could have a quick look at the dining and common rooms. We then walked over to the quad. Rainia was obviously far more interested in the flowers than the buildings, but the fact they were both taking such pleasure in the place was great to see. A coffee and carrot cake at the North Point (I didn't have carrot cake. I was restrained and had only coffee) was all we had time for before Fisher and I had to head back home, pack up the car with bags, my bike, dogs and doggie things, and set off to Edinburgh. Naturally, poor Spartan and Blarney were having to bear the weight of our descent once more - but I softened the blow by promising them supper at a local Italian, so Spartan could 'carb up' in preparation for the morrow's marathon.

I was feeling the effects of PT again, so I decided the best course of action was to stay away from bread, cheese, and any rich food. Therefore, I ordered a salad with parma ham, avocado and eggs. It was good - but not as good as the sight of Fisher's pizza calzone, which turned out to be the size of her own head and filled with tomato-ey goodness. Nevertheless, I felt no ill effects from supper so my choice was obviously wise.

Goodness, how food-oriented this blog is. Well, there we go. I've decided one of the things I hate beyond hatred is women (in my experience it's only women) who judge what you eat and sneer at it. There seems to be a real upswing of food snobbery around, which makes me furious. Yes, I disapprove of eating nothing but frozen ready meals - especially if that's all you feed your kids - but I don't go to the bitching lengths that some women go to. The two girls on the train, who inspired my short story, were having a right snide go at one of their grandmothers who would always cook a full meal for her granddaughter when she came to visit. Apparantly this was a source of great discomfort for the skinny little shite, because she would cook a fillet of salmon and drizzle melted butter over it. How disgusting! The girl actually said:

"I find it so hard to keep it down!"

Fish and melted butter? What the bloody hell is wrong with the girl? How much of a fecking puritan do you have to be to object so strenuously to melted butter? She then went on to scornfully tell of how the Evil Grandmother would then insist she take chocolate bars away with her - which was also, apparantly, disgusting. I wanted to get up and smack her one, right in her sneering mouth. There wasn't a single word about how lovely it was for her grandmother to go to the lengths of cooking a meal, or how sweet it is of her to want to give her something to take away - no matter how misguided it may be. She sounded like a spoiled brat not getting the exact toy she wanted at Christmas.

Anyway, I can shake my head in despair at people who refuse to cook fresh food - but I don't think I look down my nose at them as people, or think them disgusting! And people who are fussy eaters are just a bore from start to finish, whether it be because they don't like anything or because they're the sort of people on a permanent health kick. I'll give them a health kick - right in their bony arses!

So - where was I?

Oh yes. The wise choice I made at supper. Hm. I forgot to mention that, because I was feeling so chipper, I then went back to Blarney & Spartan's and generously helped them get rid of some of the cheese Sister left as a thank you for their hospitality. Blarney, Fisher and I all tucked in to the divine selection, while Spartan sat on the sofa and looked folornly at the roquefort - occasionally issuing threats over the finishing of it. He needn't have worried. There was a hefty slab of it, and even I wasn't prepared to hoover it all up in one sitting.

We all went to bed pretty early. Spar had to be up at 6.30 to be sure of eating properly and being mentally as well as physically ready for the challenge of 26.2 miles. We had to be up in order to leave at 9, which was much more civilised but still a relatively early start by Fisher's and my standards. We spent a while plotting the best route to take out to Musselburgh Race Course, then hit the hay.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny. In our dreams! No, it was a traditional Edinburgh May day - grey and utterly pissing it down. Luckily I'd remembered to bring a waterproof - which is some kind of miracle for me - so I wasn't too concerned by the rain. I'd promised to ride my bike along the course and park myself at suitable intervals to hand out chocolate and encouragement. I'd planned on doing it with Chopper for company, but it soon transpired that, with her usual lack of organisation, Chopper had failed to leave the house by the time we arrived. Therefore, I didn't see her until the end of the race - but no matter. I ended up having a lovely time on my own, cheering on the runners (and sounding frighteningly like the PE teacher from St Trinian's) and following them as far as I could.

Christ on a bike, though - it was hard going on the way out! The wind was whistling off the Forth, and riding up to Prestonpans, out to Cockenzie and along Links Road was seriously hard work! The wind was right in my face, and my bike almost ground to a standstill. I'd been so blasé about the distance - it never entered my head that it might actually take some levels of fitness! Plus, I couldn't even grumble about it - considering what Spartan and Phiddipida were undertaking. (Well - I say I 'couldn't'. It's more like I 'shouldn't .... have done.')

Anyway, I took Spartan's chocolate bars and bought some jelly babies as well, to hand out to needy runners. Some of them were so rude! I mean, I know they were knackered and everything, but that's no excuse. I held out the bag and one bloke just reached in and grabbed a fistful, scattering most of them into a puddle and shoving the rest into his crusty maw. Idiot. So from then on I doled them out in a strict 'one for one person' quota, holding each one out and making sure I put them firmly into an outstreched hand so they didn't fall on the ground. I think some people were a little taken- aback by me calling out:

"Hands out for a jelly baby! No snatching!"

But I didn't lose a single baby after that. See, all people really need is a bit of discipline.

At mile 14 - which was about the 6 mile point for me - I was prevented from riding my bike further because the runners had started to double back, making a 2 lane course of those going out on the left and those coming back on the right. Luckily it turned out to be a good spot to wait. Having dawdled at the 7 mile mark handing out jelly babies, I'd had a foolish impression of how easy it would be to overtake Spartan and Phid. I managed to get ahead of Phid, but I was eating Spar's dust! I was a bit worried that he'd curse my name when I failed to reach mile 19, which was an evil finger of pointless road you simply ran up and came down again and which I'd hoped to stand at and cheer. Fortunately, Spar assured me that his stomach started growling about 2 miles before he saw me, and getting his Cadbury's Caramel at mile 20 was spot on. Can you imagine?? The furthest I've ever run in my life is 10k, and there I was cheering Spar onto his "last 10k" when he'd already put 20 miles behind him!

It's quite awe inspiring, the stupidity of these people.

Anyway, I'd seen Phid go past me on her 15th mile (when I offered her a jelly baby she gave the barest shake of the head and looked as if she'd trodden in runny dog shite. Next time I must remember to ask what she'd actually like!) I'd also very nearly been run down by an elite runner as I scampered across to speak to her. God, I'm the sort of spectator I ridicule and scorn when I see them on TV.

I waited some time, and then Spartan's face bobbed into my sightline. He seemed white as a sheet to me, but when I waved and held up his chocolate he gave a great grin and bounced up to me like Tigger. He spared a few words and a laugh before boinging past with the sort of jauntiness I only ever feel after a good long sleep, two cups of coffee and several lines of coke. The man's some kind of machine.

I was in sporadic communication with Wheeler as he tried to find his way along the course on his clapped out motorbike, and he told me he was at mile 20 - which was odd, because so was I. He must have been literally round the corner, where I couldn't take my bike. He said he'd seen Phid go past, but I must have missed her. She certainly wasn't drawing any attention to herself. Unlike Spar, she runs with eyes down, face covered by a cap, and with as much economy of movement as possible. Speak to her and she gives you the merest, glazed glance - perhaps the ghost of a smile. It's a bit like trying to win the appreciation of a snooty cat. And the only way I recognised her the first time was by the flailing of her little legs. She has a most distinctive run ...

She's going to kill me for the little legs comment. Especially as, despite the fact I'm considerably taller, my legs are probably about the same length as hers. At least the knock-kneed freak is in proportion.

Enough of abusing friends in the manner to which, by now, I am sure they have become accustomed. I should turn the abuse on myself, because I'm pretty sure I should have waited longer for a sight of her before giving the rest of my jelly-babies and the second chocolate bar away. I thought I'd missed her, so I got rid of the increasingly sticky confection I'd been carting around all morning and set off pell-mell to see if I could find her en route. This I completely failed to do, but instead entertained myself by riding alongside the runners and cheering them on from behind - which made at least two of them jump out of their skin. Something I'm sure they appreciated, just as they appreciated me dinging my bell to get them to clear the road for me.

Not really. I only did that last bit once, and it was to clear some pedestrians from the route because they were actually blocking runners. Idiots. God, it's annoying when spectators get in the way.


So - I rode my bike all the way back to Musselburgh, cheering all the way. As I got close, Fisher phoned and told me that Spar had crossed the finish line in a PB of 3hrs 37minutes. Considering he'd not trained properly, this was quite annoying. I mean - of course - this was quite marvellous. Having missed his triumph, I turned the bike again and headed back along the course, determined to find Phid. I rode back to Presetonpans before I found her, still looking composed but obviously weary, and after giving her a 'woohoo' I rode discreetly behind her all the way back. I didn't want to get too close in case she found me hugely annoying, but I wanted to keep pace with her so I could let Blarney, Fisher and Spar know when to expect her. I also wanted to act as silent moral support. Anyway, she didn't notice me at all until we were on the home stretch.

"Oh," she said, in tones of mild surprise, such as one might use upon discovering the pot of jam believed finished is actually half full, "it's you."

We exchanged a few jovial words, and she ran off to finish her 26.2 miles of running with a careless toss of her head.

26.2 miles.

Twenty-two-point-two miles.

That's the same as from HC to the far edge of Broughty Ferry ... and back again! I can barely drive that far.

Anway, reassured that both Phid and Spar had survived the experience with no ill effects, save a little nausea on Phid's part, we were ready to take them all home for some food and a nap. I took the two runners in the Drover, with my bike. I'd originally planned on riding back into town, but suddenly discovered I really wasn't too keen on the idea. I'd done 18 miles in total, and found to my considerable dismay that it wasn't the walk in the park I'd expected. In fact, I was so tired that when we eventually got back to the flat, had a cup of tea, greeted Fisher and Blarney - who'd taken the bus and fetched some lunch for us all so didn't get back until after us - and eaten something, I discovered I was ready for a nap as well!

I was a little concerned that Blarney would want to go on the shopping spree I'd suggested, but it soon transpired she was as willing to nap as I was, and so was Fisher.

Is it possible that our parents have lied to us all, and we're actually not 30 years old or younger but well into middle age? Basically, we spent a lot of time in the fresh air with our friends, then went back to their flat and had a nice wee sleep. It's pathetic, I tell you! Ok, it's not pathetic for Spar or Phid, but the rest of us ought to be ashaaaaamed!

I have to say, though, the nap really revitalised me. It was less than an hour long, but I went from not thinking I would be able to go out for the post marathon meal at all, to being bright eyed, bushy tailed and raring to go. We were booked into the Sizzling Scot on Hannover Street for 7.30, and it was a mixed experience. The service was utterly abysmal. We waited some half an hour to have our orders taken, then 15 minutes for a second round of drinks to arrive. Food didn't show until we'd been in the restaurant for over an hour. Blarney was doing her usual Devil's Advocate rubbish and giving me a whole bunch of excuses for their ineptitude, but I really think waiting over an hour to be fed is pushing anyone's patience. Mine, which is fleeting at best, was just on the verge of heading for the hills when the food started to arrive.

The orders were almost right. Almost. My steak was medium rare, not rare. Wheeler got mash, but not cheesy mash. Fisher had no bacon in her bacon and cheeseburger. Someone else had to send a steak back, but I forget why. Possibly it was the wrong cut. Eventually we all had our food in front of us, either because we compromised or because they amended their mistakes, and then the evening took a major turn for the better. It was all good, honest grub, well cooked and hot, and truly hit the spot. We even managed to order pudding and get it in a reasonable length of time. If it hadn't been for the fact the original service was so piss poor, it would have been a great experience. Either they were short handed, or simply didn't know how many people it took to serve the numbers - but either way, keeping customers waiting like that is inexcusable. With any luck they'll sort out the kinks and the Sizzling Scot will be a great wee place. I'm willing to give them another shot, anyway, because the food really was good.

In the end it was a long but very enjoyable night. Fisher and I drove back to Fife feeling tired but most content with out lot. It was a true pleasure to collapse into bed, watch an NCIS and drift off feeling the content of people who have filled their day with activity.

Well ... apart from the middle aged nap in the middle of it.

And with that chastening thought, I close with a hip-hip-hooray for my truly inspirational pals, Spartan and Phiddipida.

Oh ... I forgot! Two priceless Blarneyisms:

1. Spartan was bemoaning the Evil Finger at mile 19, where everyone had to run up and back down an entirely pointless road, at which Blarney asked with all the innocence of her evil, cheating soul: "Why can't you just skip it? Just run across the bottom. Nobody would know." I think the idea of a personal challenge might be lost on her.

2. She was seriously worried that Spartan, who does sport for a living, wouldn't be fit enough for the marathon. Now, I can see why she had some concerns. He'd complained of a dodgy knee, and he'd not done nearly enough training. However, he's also an adult with a few ounces of common sense, so I was surprised when Blarney actually expressed concerns, not for his knee, or ability to finish the course, but for his life!

"People died on the London Marathon!" she squawked. Yeah - one person. Out of nearly 36,400. And in exceptional circumstances.

The woman is crazy as a bagful of mongooses.