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The Return of the Immigrant

So we're back to Dorset, Thomas Hardy country, for another White Star event. However, apart from naming the half-marathon the "Casterbridge", they seem to have no Hardy references whatsoever.

I think WSR are more cow people than literary types.

But nothing wrong with that: if I had to choose between cheese and poetry, I think I'd take cheese. Actually, I'd take cheese over a great many things, and most things over poetry. Damn, there goes my reputation for being deep :-(

"Wouldn't you just die without Mahler?!"


Bugger. Better get on with it then!

I think this road sign may date back to Hardy's day. It's a good job we have satnav now.

The BBC weather forecast is pretty horrible, so we abandon it for the Met Office version, which is much more to our liking, although it still claims it'll piddle [I choose this word carefully, for reasons you will see] down for a good part of the morning. As we drive from our B&B, the heavens indeed open, but while we're sitting in the parked car because we're quite early, it eases off and stops.

So it's all a bit damp looking, but not actually raining.

They've booked the Town Crier to do some announcements, and an agricultural implement from which to make them, but obviously Town Crying does not include great athleticism in the job description and the poor chap is struggling a bit. (And look: sunshine!)

There he is, he's made it. I'm not quite clear what the purpose of the bloke with the phone is: I don't think that the Town Crier is actually an animatronic model controlled by an app...

Amanda later tells me that she can barely hear a word he says. I, by contrast, can hear him perfectly all the way along the start/finish straight and beyond to the main road. Did somebody put the loudspeakers in the wrong place?

But obviously they all hear him say "Go!" or something, because they all come flooding out of the farm a few minutes later. Right, here we are, that's the point-two done, just the twenty-six to go...

They're off into town now for the first few miles. I had pondered a town photo location, but when we had a bit of a walk around yesterday I couldn't really see the perfect spot, and I'm not too sure about the logistical details anyway, so I'm going to cut across to where they come back into the countryside again.

Ahh, cygnets. Nothing to do with running, just ahh.

There's always one! Let's see if he's so frisky in twenty miles!

Oops. He's cutting the corner as the road goes at right angles and the footpath takes a diagonal. Fortunately for him, his number isn't legible in this lo-res picture, but I have the original! Later folk either have stronger consciences or are more aware that they will be caught bang to rights on film (metaphorically speaking) and get back on the road if they're on the footpath at this point.

Oh, and that's Jess on the left of the picture. We'll see her again later.

Note that Amanda has a hint of a shadow. The sun went away again earlier but it's starting to come back now. This is not what even the more optimistic forecast said should be happening, but we're not complaining.

Ok, cross-country to the next spot...

Hmm... Satnav says this is a suitable path for a bicycle... Well it may be a bit marginal here, but by the time I get to the trees at the end of the field, it's clear that this is definitely a footpath, not a cycle route. There's a kissing-gate there and a stile fifty yards further on, and those are just the immediate obstacles I can see. Bad satnav. Naughty satnav. I reverse my path and discover that the road route is only the tiniest fraction further anyway.

You know I said there's always one? Well sometimes there's two!

Err, wait a mo', that's going to be mistaken for smutty innuendo, I just know it!

You know I said there's always one? Well sometimes there's more than one!

It's properly sunny now and really getting rather hot. Some people are already starting to struggle up this long hill, even though it's not too steep. It's quite humid, too, which doesn't help. Amanda's channelling her inner lizard though, it's cold she doesn't like.

So look, I know Surrey isn't what you'd call a byword for ethnic diversity, but this is literally the only black or brown face I can recall seeing the whole weekend! She's a member of a club in Dagenham, though, so not exactly a local.

I suspect my own ethnic minority content is pulling up the average round these parts, although I would be the first to admit that the proportion of Burmese blood in my veins is not huge, and casual observers often don't even notice it. Even when we went to Burma/Myanmar a few years ago, nobody welcomed me as a long-lost cousin :-( But I now realise my paternal grandmother looked quite a lot like Aung San Suu Kyi, so there!

So well done, Monique Sapla, 3:46, and I hope you didn't frighten any of the less well-travelled folk you may have met :-)

And here, just ahead of Amanda as we are coming up to halfway, is another foreigner: Lindsay of Wimbledon Windmilers! She and Amanda will swap places a number of times (although Lindsay will be ahead at the end) and swap stories too. Seems she's going to be doing the Picnic next month, so we'll have to watch out for her (although Amanda is only half-crazy and therefore 'only' doing the Munro).

This gesture means, "Where's my gel/sports drink/etc, I need it!!!"

"Err, it's just over there where my bike is, but I need you to pose against this pretty cottage!" I then employ my ability to run 100 metres in less time than Amanda can after already having done seventeen miles. But not much faster :-(

People see me on my bike and cry, "That's cheating!" I explain that it's the only way I can stay ahead of my wife!

Remember Jess?

In the short time we've known each other we've run a hundred metres together, she's found another man, she's left him again... And now she blows me a kiss as we part once more. No regrets, it's been wonderful, but nothing lasts forever...

What a brilliant name! The only thing that could possibly beat it is the River Piddle, upon which Puddletown stands. Unfortunately although I see the Piddle, I don't see a good sign for it.

The "Lovestation" around twenty miles, where all manner of goodies are on offer to restore flagging bodies and spirits. Note particularly the beer barrel dressed in the Union flag at the right. I feel it my duty to share Amanda's struggle by drinking the beer for her; and as nectar of the gods it is!

Amanda herself is having water poured over her head. "To each, according to their need", I suppose. Maybe that Marx had something after all...

I'm now diverging from the runners again, going under the bridge they're crossing. It's a bit weird here. As you can see, the road is completely devoid of traffic, but barely another lane's width to the left is the A35. You thus find yourself immersed in the sound of huge numbers of fast-moving vehicles which are completely invisible!

I think this is a "Well done, Daddy" moment, not blatant child abduction in broad daylight in front of witnesses.

A couple of small boys here are asking their mum if they can race with any of the runners. I tell them that if they shout "Well done, Amanda!" to this lady coming, they can race her. They cheer her, but then their nerve fails them and they don't actually run after her.

Some more Dorset scenery.

Note that there isn't a thing except farmland visible for miles, and certainly not a soul. So I'm feeling the need of a quick comfort break, and I literally do no more than stand by the hedgerow when another trail biker appears out of nowhere!

Towards the end, even Amanda has been feeling the heat, and the last few miles throw in a bunch of hills just to make you feel you're not getting off too lightly. She's been walking a bit, but so have plenty of fit young lads; even the most summery forecasts haven't been a patch on the day's actual weather, and it's way hotter than anyone had imagined. WSR's organisation is absolutely impeccable, though, so there's been no shortage of water and all the help that anybody might need if they're struggling.

Ah, this would have been a triumphant shot of Amanda crossing the line, but some bloke got in the way.

Slightly annoyingly, the half-marathon timer on the right is clear and easy to read, but the left-hand clock is a bit washed out by the sun. It says 4:13:16, but her chip time is 4:12:52. That's significantly better than Reykjavík, which is the closest comparison we have, being another event where it was unexpectedly hot and Amanda needed water poured over her head. She's been on a bit of a roll lately, despite a conscious decision not to push too hard for the sake of her knee.

The Town Crier has escaped his aerial prison and some of his ceremonial robes, but I bet he's still bloody hot in there! Mind, we're told he's a rogue! Well that's fine by me, I come from a long line of rogues and won't hear a word said against them. (I'm sure my father would have been outraged if he were alive today and didn't get enough #metoo mentions - I really am the white sheep of the family).

Ah, a fine pint of Piddle!

Yes, there really is a local brewery called Piddle - - and this is (well, mostly was) their very excellent "No. 1 Lager". On a day like this has turned out to be, a really cold beer is a medical necessity and ought to be provided on the NHS, but given that it's still a lot cheaper than a pint back home, I guess I can't complain too much.

That's a good red colour!

In what is known in sporting and gaming circles as an "unforced error", I clipped one of the "Road Closed" signs on my bike and took a bit of a tumble. It looks a lot worse than it it actually is, but it's a good job I was wearing shorts because it would have ruined a pair of trousers. I think the prang must have looked quite spectacular, because all the nearby runners stopped and asked if I was ok. "I'm fine, honest! Thanks, but get on with it you guys, you have a race to run!"

FTAOD, I'm not playing it down because I'm macho. It really is no more than a nasty looking but superficial graze.

Hmm... this doesn't really convey the sheer size and weight of the medal. Perhaps I ought to take a picture of it on the weighing scales!

Final verdict: a beautiful day for a beautiful race, brilliantly organised by some of the best in the business. Amanda reckons that this has to be her number one recommendation to anybody thinking of doing their first marathon.

Damn, I just realised I forgot to sprinkle obscure (ha!) Hardy references throughout my text. Never mind. In the interests of broadening your education, I will regale you with some of the complaints made against Thomas Corton, abbot of Cerne Abbey. Cerne Abbey is, or more accurately was, in Cerne Abbas, better known for the chalk giant with the big willy. Sadly, only aerial photography shows him to his best advantage: up close you can't really see anything but grass, and from the best terrestrial viewpoint - a car park on the A352 of all places! - it's still a poor view.

But anyway: the not so very reverend Abbot was indicted for, amongst other things,

keeping concubines in the cellars of the abbey

letting the church and lands go to ruin

wasting the goods of the monastery on his concubines and children

openly soliciting honest women in the town and elsewhere to have his will of them

allowing some of the monks to play at cards all night and celebrate mass in the morning

allowing women to stay with the brethren from noon to evensong

There are some suggestions that these charges were motivated more by malice than an honest desire for truth, but I don't want to think that. I want to think that the Abbot was a proper rogue, just like the Town Crier, my father and me!

Love to all,


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