Years ago, I read a poem by the late British writer Adrian Mitchell called ‘On the Beach at Cambridge’. From what I recall, not having been able to put my hands on a copy today, it is set after some, probably manmade, catastrophe that has brought the ocean to the landlocked city of the title, and has an eerie, apocalyptic quality.
I thought of that poem yesterday when, walking along the gusty boardwalk on the seafront at Folkestone, we passed a woman running the London marathon. My husband, a marathon veteran, had told me that we might see one or two such runners: the postponed London marathon was finally taking place and, while the elite athletes completed laps of St James’s Park in the capital, amateurs had a window of just under 24 hours to complete 26.2 miles wherever they were in the world.
And now, here was this woman, race number pinned to her top, running with two non-racing companions into the wind gusting along from Dungeness.
Knowing what goes into training for such an event, my husband and I stopped and cheered as she passed, trying for a moment to represent the crowds that would have lined her route in any other year. The wind whipped our voices away and we must have looked rather mad standing on the shingle, punching the air and clapping as grey waves crashed a few metres off.
Still, the runner smiled and powered on. Perhaps she felt, as I did, the surreal connection of the moment – all of us performing roles in an event traditionally defined by location, taking place in diffuse fragments around the world.
Yesterday, I passed a woman running the London marathon along the seafront. That’s a sentence that, a year ago, would have made no sense. Now, however in this new era of remoteness, virtual interaction and distance, it does not surprise me.
Not quite ‘On the Beach at Cambridge’, perhaps, but a drastically altered world.
Picture: ‘Wooden Way: Folkestone Beach’ by Luke McKernan on flickr.com