Sunday, 26 April 2009

Soldier in a silver blanket

It is a source of shame to me that I have lived in London for 13 years and never in person watched any part of the London Marathon – even though I cry at the highlights programme every year without fail (the limping heroes! the ludicrously rousing music!). This year I managed to be in the middle of town on the day, which represents real progress, and even caught a fleeting glimpse of a straggler in the wheelchair race on the Embankment as I crossed Waterloo Bridge above him on the 176 bus. However, my business in town was to see Tony Beak and Erin Boag in Cheek To Cheek at the Coliseum, a birthday present from Lady C (so maybe it's OK if your birthday cards are still up three months on, as long as you are still harvesting your presents), rather than to weep at athletes.

Running a marathon is pretty much an everyday miracle but still, a miracle is a miracle. Right, Jesus? Because of this, I can never quite believe my eyes when I see the marathon runners suffering the trials of public transport on their way home. I don't know what I'm expecting. I'm sure there's little enough in the hospitality budget for the elite athletes. There's no way it can run to a chauffeur-driven car for each plucky club runner or foolhardy fundraiser.

Still I always feel it's fundamentally unfair when, as this afternoon, I see someone in a batman costume waiting for the bus in the resolutely inglorious environs of the Elephant & Castle, or watch a woman dissuade the bus driver from whipping the doors shut for minute on agonising minute on Denmark Hill while her race-weary companion winces his way down from the top deck, as though there were upturned razor blades on every step.

If you have a medal around your neck, even if it is materially worthless, forged from melted down fragments of an unloved Esso Coin Collection, surely you should not have to dirty your hands with Oyster cards, or your aching legs on a matted tube seat studded with chewing gum and fried chicken bones. It somehow shatters the illusion of heroism. It's like going to visit the Wizard of Oz and discovering the little old man behind the curtain, or seeing the rods furiously working the limbs of the Muppets. And I don't want to witness Clark Kent going about his everyday business, even though I usually fancy him far more than I do Superman. 

I don't understand it. But from being in town this afternoon, I understand this most clearly. If my husband or partner had just run 26 miles, probably painfully and for charity, I wouldn't then make him follow me around the Charing Cross branch of Jigsaw, sitting red-faced and weary outside the changing rooms while I tried a load of new clothes on. Even if there is a sale on.

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