Friday, 27 March 2020

Run fast comrade, the old world is behind you

Interesting to see that a 'Louise Michel Sports Club' has been established in South East London, a radical group based around 'solidarity through fitness' with an initial focus on running, self-defence and hiking. They are named after the famous Paris Commune revolutionary who lived in SE London later in her life (a while ago I promised to organise a walk around her old haunts, maybe it could be a radical history run some time). Anyway I am dying to get my hands on one of their forthcoming t-shirts which they previewed on their twitter feed earlier (@louisemichelsc): 

Anyway that reminds me of another idea I had for a radical running t-shirt, based around a slogan written on the walls of Paris during May 1968 - 'cours, camarade, le vieux-monde est derriere toi' (run, comrade, the old world is behind you)

or in another variation 'cours vite...' (run fast...)

Would love to reproduce one of the above on a running top some day, technical fabric of course.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Courir ou mourir? (run or die?) - Portrait of a Lady on Fire

There is a scene in Céline Sciamma's 2019 film 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' where Héloïse, one of the two central characters runs towards the edge of a cliff from which her sister is believed to have jumped and killed herself. As Marianne, her companion and soon to be lover, catches up with her she tells her that she has been dreaming of doing this for years. 'Dying?' asks Marianne. 'Running' replies Héloïse (Mourir? 'Courir' in the French original).

In another scene, Héloïse expresses her determination to get in the sea. 'Can you swim?' asks Marianne. 'I don't know' she responds before getting in and trying. Earlier we see Marianne plunging into the waves from a boat to rescue the tools of her trade as a portrait painter.

Héloïse has recently left a convent and is about to be married off to a man she has never met. In the brief interlude of freedom in between, running, swimming and sex represent an escape from the restraints on the female body, in this case in 18th century France. This liberty is acted out in what the director describes as a short term utopia of 'sorority', an 'all women world' of mutual support away from the male gaze - the film is set on a remote island in Brittany where for the duration of the story at least men are more or less absent.

Previous posts on Running on Screen:

Saturday, 29 February 2020

The Sporting Landscape of New Cross

Update 16/3/2020: Unfortunately this event has been postponed. The Telegraph Hill Festival has been cancelled as a result of Covid-19. We hope to rearrange once things have calmed down.

Very excited to announce this event taking place in the 2020 Telegraph Hill Festival:

The Sporting Landscape of New Cross

Tuesday 31 March 2020, 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Council Chamber, Deptford Town Hall, New Cross Road, New Cross, SE14 6AF

'Which internationally-known wrestler was said to be 'the most popular man in New Cross' in the late 19th century? Where was the country's first stock car race held? Which Goldsmiths athlete went on to coach the British Olympics team?  Which local school's playing fields were once graced by England’s greatest cricketer?

This event will include three talks on the sporting history of the New Cross area told through some of the places used to play, compete and spectate. The New Cross Stadium, the Den, wrestling and boxing gyms, horse racing and running tracks, cycling, roller skating, the New Cross Public Hall, Laurie Grove Baths, Fordham Park and more. As well as sporting venues (many now vanished) these places have been important centres of social and cultural life. 

Speakers include:

Sarah Elizabeth Cox  (Grappling with History) researching Victorian wrestling and trainee Lucha Libre wrestler

Prof. Les Back (Goldsmiths), sociologist including co-author of  'The Changing Face of Football: racism, identity and multiculture in the English game'

Neil Gordon-Orr (Go Feet), local historian and member of  Lewisham's finest Kent Athletic Club 

Saturday, 18 January 2020

'Spinning Out', skating and safeguarding

Really enjoyed 'Spinning Out', Netflix's new for 2020 figure skating drama. It has a great cast, including January Jones of Mad Men fame and Kaya Scodelario (who started out as Effie in Skins) -not to mention a cameo from Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness. Of course it also has lots of figure skating with one of the characters being played by actual ice skating Olympian Johnny Weir. 

Kat (Kaya Scodelario) out on a training run in Spinning Out

With its speed, athleticism and elegance, figure skating is one of the most awesome examples of the human body in motion. But as the fine theme song ('In the Water' by Joy Downer) observes, 'Everything I want comes at a cost'. Of course excellence in sport always involves sacrificing huge amounts of time and energy, made more complex in the case of 'Spinning Out' as both Kat (the main character) and her mother are living with bipolar disorder.

But at what point does support and encouragement of young athletes cross over into abuse? The sexual abuse of young people by coaches and other adults involved in sport is one thing, and figure skating has had its share of that - former US skater Ashley Wagner is one of those raising this issue. But there is also emotional abuse where children are shouted at, belittled and unduly pressured. 'Spinning Out' features examples of this, including one of the characters skating on through injury and intense pain to please her family.

This kind of abuse featured in some safeguarding training I took part in earlier this week. I am one of the club welfare officers for my club, Kent Athletic Club, and the Time to Listen training arranged by England Athletics focused on the safeguarding aspects of this role. A powerful element of this was watching a video produced by the Child Protection in Sport Unit of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Entitled 'My magic sports kit', the premise is that people make allowances for children in everyday life but once they put on their sports kits to compete they can be subject to unfair or even abusive adult expectations and treatment. Check it out (and check out 'Spinning Out' too if you haven't seen it yet) 

Club welfare officers at our England Athletics 'Time to Listen' training, January 2020 - held at London City Runners fine club house/bar in Druid Street, London SE1.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The days of empty Lidos: London Fields and Brockwell Park

I went for a swim a couple of weeks ago for the first time at London Fields Lido. I was surprised how busy it was on a cold and wet November day, even with a heated outdoor pool. Lunch afterwards from the famous Jewish Deli stall on nearby Broadway market was also excellent.

On the way out I bumped into an old friend who swims there regularly and he reminded me that the Lido had only reopened in 2006 having been left closed and empty for many years. He recalled going there when it was squatted and used for events by Reclaim the Streets and others in the 1990s. 

'In at the deep end' - Reclaim the Streets benefit at London Fields Lido, 1993
I didn’t go there then but it was a similar story in South London at Brockwell Park Lido, close to where I used to live in Brixton.  I went there occasionally when I moved to London in the late 1980s, as I recall it was as much a place to hang out in the sun (Brixton beach) as to swim, don't recall too many triathletes bombing up and down the lanes in those days. The Lido closed in 1990 due to Council funding cuts, but the vacant building was occupied at various points for parties and other events, and I went there a few times - I remember going to visit a friend, a German squatter, when she was living in a room by the side of the pool. A big event was the Exploding Cinema 'Dive In' festival in August 1993, where films were projected in the empty pool. The Lido reopened the following year, and long may it last.

Exploding Cinema Dive-In festival  at Brockwell Lido, August 1993 (more at Brixton Buzz)

Hard to believe with the current outdoor swimming revival that we nearly lost these places permanently. Others such as Victoria Park and Peckham Rye Lido were demolished in that 1980s/90s period. There were active plans too to demolish London Fields, with campaigners having to block a bulldozer at one point (see history of campaign to reopen it here). So thanks to the people who in different ways kept the buildings in use in the dark days of the empty Lidos.

The video for Serafina Steer's lovely 'Night before mutiny' (2012) was filmed at London Fields Lido. Directed by Jarvis Cocker, it features Asha Randall and Olivia Federici of the UK Olympic Synchronised swimming team 

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Running the lost river Peck

Secret Rivers, a recent exhibition at the Museum of Docklands, highlighted London’s lost and neglected waterways. As the city spread in the 19th century rivers and streams were increasingly covered up and diverted underground through pipes and sewers. Still for the most part they continue some kind of subterranean existence and we may even find some ghostly traces remaining above ground.

One such 'lost river' is the Peck, which apart from one small section has largely disappeared from view in its South London home. A couple of weeks ago I set out to run its course.

View from One Tree Hill
I started from One Tree Hill at Honor Oak close to the supposed source of the river, always a bracing run up to the summit from Brenchley Gardens. From the top there are great views across London. I paused too to remember the time I played three-sided football there 20 years ago

. There's no sign of the river here or on its route flowing down to Peckham Rye, although running down Kelvington Road/Cheltenham Road towards the Rye you do pass another hidden body of water - the covered Honor Oak Reservoir with its improbable Aquarius Golf Club course on top.

Peckham Rye park is the only place where a section of the Peck can still be seen.
Along with many other runners I have lapped this park many times during Peckham parkrun. The course crosses the narrow stream and its rivulets five times so each parkrunner crosses 15 times every Saturday morning.

The area of the park through which the stream flows was first laid out in the late 19th century with its current course there being the result of human landscaping. It is sometimes little more than a trickle, but at least here the water can be seen and appreciated.

One part of the park is known as the Sexby Gardens, named after horticulturist and first Superintendent of London County Council Parks Department, Lt-Colonel J.J. Sexby who oversaw the development of many London parks. His fascinating 1905 book ‘The municipal parks, gardens, and open spaces of London; their history and associations’ includes a description of the Peckham Rye water features:  'In a secluded hollow delightfully shaded with trees a lake has been made. It has an island in the centre and is fed by a small watercourse running though the grounds, which has been formed into a number of pools by artificial dams. This rivulet has its source in a fountain springing out of the rockwork, and thence meanders through the park, receiving some life when babbling over some miniature waterfalls before its entrance to the lake' (you can read/download the whole book for free at

Illustration from Sexby's book

The river now disappears underground with its course following the western edge of the park (Dulwich side) towards Peckham. Greenwood's 1830 Map of London  shows what seems to be a pond fed by the river on the north end of the Common, the triangle now cut off by East Dulwich Road. This was also the location of Peckham Lido which was open from 1923 to 1987 - plans have been put forward to rebuild it, we can only hope.

Peckham Lido

 The map shows the river carrying on down Peckham Rye, past the White Horse (a pub of the same name still stands on the same spot) and then more or less  following the line of what is now Copeland Road, with a footpath alonside it. In the 1830s it seems to have filled a pool in what is marked on the map as a brick field site - this may have been a result of quarrying rather than a natural feature.

1830 map

After that the river is believed to have crossed Queens Road and headed towards the Old Kent Road crossing it at a point somewhere north of the the Ilderton Road junction - I ran down Consort Road, Kings Grove and alongside Brimmington Park to Old Kent Road then crossed over and ran down Ormside Road before joining Ilderton Road. Somewhere in the vicinity of South Bermondsey Station the Peck joined the Earls Sluice, another now buried stream which still flows on to the Thames - but today as part of an underground sewer. I will return to the Earls Sluice another day.

Peckham Lights - from a series of contour maps of the Peck and its environs by artist Loraine Rutt

Here's my River Peck running route - full details on mapmyrun - just under 7k  though I actually ran 12k getting to and from the route. It's an approximation of the course of the river, as there are fences, railways and buildings in the way 

For other people's takes on the route see: London's Lost Rivers, Londonist,  Peckham Society, Diamond Geezer

Monday, 16 September 2019

Let's go to Dungeness

 Dungeness on the Kent coast has a famously bleak beauty, a shingle headland between Romney marsh and the Channel. Taking advantage of the September sunshine, we went down at the weekend.  A couple of intrepid members of our party swam in the sea but I contented myself with a run around the area - flat for miles around with the only real hazard apart from the occasional car  being stretches of running on pebbles. 

Other than than the nuclear power station there is a stretch of mainly wooden low houses in unfenced plots facing the sea, two lighthouses and a couple of pubs.  It is very much a working stretch of coast, with fishing boats pulled up on the shore as well as the decaying remains of previous seaside industry. Sea anglers certainly outunumber sunbathers, in fact I didn't see any of the latter.

We had a drink at the Britannia Inn, and food from the Fish Hut Snack Shack which is just what it sounds like. Freshly caught fish served up with salads, rolls and wraps with a vegan alternative for those so inclined. We also popped into the End of the Line cafe, located at the local train station at the end of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light railway (where there are clean public toilets incidentally).

Dungeness has its own micro-climate with lots of wildlife. I saw a couple of black redstarts which are fairly rare.

Prospect Cottage, pictured below, was the home of film maker Derek Jarman (1942-1994) in the later period of his life. His Dungeness garden, built around driftwood and other beach finds, became quite celebrated and still attracts visitors.  

Jarman was one of the most outspoken public figures talking about living with HIV in the early 1990s, a period when I was working in the AIDS sector. I like the fact that a plaque was recently placed to mark the 25th anniversary of his death at another place he lived, Butlers Wharf by Tower Bridge (close to my work and which I often run past)

Derek Jarman plaque at Butlers Wharf  'film-maker, artist and gay rights activist'

I looked back at his Dungeness diary from September 1992 (published in 'Dancing in Slow Motion') - 'Swallows swoop low around the house... The garden has never looked better'. He mentions a visit by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (drag nun AIDS activists) who had annointed him a queer saint -'we all walked to the sea where the most intrepid paddled in the waves' with 'nuns changing in the loos of the Britannia Inn'

'here comes another winter of long shadows and high hopes'

Dungeness has featured in numerous films, videos and photoshoots because there is nowhere else quite like it. The Prodigy  (Indvaders must die) and Nicki Minaj (there's a funny film of her being carried down the boardwalk while making Freedom video) have shot there, while Athlete and Trembling Bells are amongst those namechecking it in songs. I particularly like the fact that the cover of joyous noughties album ‘So much for the City’ by The Thrills was apparently shot there. The album is essentially a fantasy of West Coast USA as imagined from Ireland. The band even got to appear in the OC - let’s just say that Dungeness is a long way from the Orange County.