Running every street of Oxford
Britain’s fourth most picturesque street starts with a historic coffee house dating from 1654, claimed to be the oldest in Oxford Queen’s Lane Coffee House. The barriers keep the traffic off once you step some distance right about halfway into the street. Just the thing you need when the disorienting chaos on High Street is leaving you borderline Enochlophobic that is the fear of large crowds. In that lane, you can pretend to be whoever you want to be because no one’s watching. Bracketed between high walls, flowers and leaves overflowing and falling over to this side, and occasional cyclists turning at the corners, their ‘ding-ding’ audible before they are visible. I have happened to have walked with my favorite people on that lane together. The street ends at a point called the Bridge of Sighs, an articulate emotion to end your run, into a mob of tourists, pointing there cameras going all paparazzi and you photo bombing all their pictures
I have run close to two hundred kilometres in the past week and a half of being here. Whichever direction I shoot off in the morning, which I primarily decide in two seconds, when I am zipping myself up with my back towards Exeter, I try to come back to the Queens Lane, which at some distance becomes the New College lane, from where I reach the Turl street via Broad Street and Catte street.
Running is much like and unlike writing.
Running points the inbuilt compass to north. It resets, all the inaudible cacophony of brain chatter of the previous 24 hours. However, writing muddles up all the resetting you have done with running in the past 2 hours.
On my early morning runs at Oxford, streets open magically and iron grilled gates part ways. French poodle, Labradors, Huskies and breeds that I do not even recognize, I have stepped on the poo of a phenomenal number of dogs. The enchanted gate to a park that I had been hovering around for the first few days was right in front of me. I just didn’t believe enough that it will open up. Somewhat like the blank paper and the ink in your pen, which has the potential to script magic, we just don’t know it, till we bring the nib of the pen in contact with the flat of the paper. Similar to not knowing how far we can run until we let the soles of the feet on the hard of the ground.
If you look closely, half of the running time involves being suspended in air. If we only accept that half of the writing time involves holding your pen in hand and pretending that you are about to write just in a minute, keeping the pen close to the paper, as if there is some electricity emitting from that sheet, charging and refiling the ink and the heart, body, mind and soul.
Running claims earth and writing claims the soul. They make the dark, obscure corners less scary and the heaves more aware and conscious. The places appear less dangerous and the unknown much more familiar. People on the streets appear human and the stranger with whom you are sitting all your life, your self, appears more familiar.
You cannot pretend to write, like you cannot pretend to run. Well, not for long. And what I am going to say now holds true for both running and writing and anything at all that matters to you. SHOW UP. Keep pushing till the adrenalin inside pumps and, runs run themselves and words write itself. Show up if it is raining or you are tired. Show up, even harder, if you cannot put one feet ahead of another, or have not a word in your head to write. Weather on the tracks, or on a blank sheet of white paper. It may not be the best run or the best words that you have written. But they are at least better than a run that never took place or a word that was never written.
Running and writing makes the hearts go fonder, limbs go stronger, lives go better, if not longer, minds go ponder, and souls go wander. Writing makes the world seem brighter, mind go lighter.
My favourite street, The New College Lane that becomes Queens Lane depending from where you are entering, is the tangible manifestation of mind – I will continue running in Oxford forever on paper.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.