In order to combat the insomnia I’ve covered previously, for the last few weeks I’ve taken to power marching the boundaries of a small park behind my flat. It’s called the Rec, short for recreation ground, but the obvious homonym is far more apposite. For every day, I encounter troubled souls doing something similar, usually alone and lost absolutely in thought. As I myself have discovered, there is comfort to be had in movement, but more particularly in the routine of it. So it comes as no surprise to see now familiar faces in now familiar spots at very specific times.
If I set out at 9.30am, I know that at approximately 9.40am I will see an elderly jogger under one of the horse chestnut trees, his face distorted, eyes dead. He does not acknowledge me, nor I him, but we both know. Similarly, if I leave twenty minutes later, I’ll twice pass a woman dressed rather more formally than is required for a walk. She moves at a crawl, her head tilted in reflection. Every time I pound past them, trying desperately to get to a place where the body becomes exhausted enough to allow the brain to function, I can’t help but wonder what it is that brings them here. Tragedy? Loss? Loneliness? Or is it perhaps something altogether more banal? Whichever, I have found myself actively anticipating these fleeting moments and building them into my own routine.
The dog walkers are a little different, for they have a companion and are more inclined to offer up pleasantries as I approach them. This induces mild panic, as I will momentarily be forced to leave the safe haven of contemplation in favour of an appropriate response, usually preceded by an active engagement with the pet itself. It is enormously disruptive, so if I see one looming on the horizon I tend to adopt the requisite speed to avoid them entirely. Sadly this isn’t always possible, and it takes a good lap of resentment to get things back on the level.
There is one character I haven’t quite yet figured out. He wears green municipal fluoros and carries a large bag, presumably for collecting leaves. Invariably he stands inside one of the hard tennis courts, clutching the wire mesh with his free hand and staring out at something in the far distance. He hardly moves as I circumnavigate, and the only times I haven’t seen him is when the court is occupied. Which isn’t all that often. It is a magnificently solitary pose, akin to John Fowles’ French Lieutenant’s Woman but lacking the insider knowledge as to why this is so. In all probability he’s just on the skive, but where’s the romance in that?
When the book campaign ends this Sunday, I’m going to knock it on the head. I’ll have stacks to do and it’s all too easy to become yet another ghost. But I hope they’ll notice I’ve gone.