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Friday, 26 October 2012

Hearts on a String: An evening with Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra.

© Joanna Thomas
Picture the scene. It is a damp Tuesday evening in late October. I cycle home from a cruddy day at the office, already running late. As I pedal against the wind I think seriously about getting back to the flat and pretending that Justin and I DON’T have tickets to a gig tonight. But we’re meeting another friend at the venue and it doesn't seem right to bail. I get in and try on four different black tops before deciding on the one that I feel most comfortable with. Question: Do I maybe wear too much black?


Student-style, we inhale salami sandwiches standing up in the kitchen before venturing back into the night. In the queue at KOKO in Camden, I am forced to laugh at my black-top indecision. As if it makes any difference among all the fabulous costumes on display. Sparkly sequined dresses, tutus, top hats, studs in ears, noses, cheeks and tongues. Chokers and corsets and slick black lipstick. It is a strange and beautiful display.

Inside is scarlet and faded gold. Small boxes jammed with photographers climb the walls. The room is noisy but poised for each twitch on the stage, each lull in the music. Everyone is waiting for the magic. We are all waiting for Amanda Fucking Palmer.

©Hannah Daisy

We drink expensive cokes in plastic pint glasses and settle near a pillar, just below the balcony. Tuesday still hovers. Work in the morning. Dark autumn skies. My feet are tired, my back aches. The people in front are too tall and I cannot see the stage. Someone else’s ponytail flicks in my face.  I am jostled and tired.

She comes on stage in her hat and dressing gown. Everyone screams. She proffers her supporting acts like gifts; a four minute bass solo, a young woman with wild hair and an extraordinary, haunting, wailing voice. Things are being laid before us, strange sounds and breaking hearts.

Supporting act Mali Sastri. © Alex Moore

When Amanda Palmer at last takes the stage it is to a deafening roar. Like or love her lyrics, the girl can sing. She can fill shouts or whispers with pure emotion. She is lively and funny and bonkers and talented. She strips to her bra a song or two in and no one bats an eyelid. Mid-song, she and the band dash about swapping instruments. The stage is in beautiful, glorious chaos. She sings perhaps my favourite of her songs, which I love for this simple, perfectly expressed sentiment:

It doesn't matter if you want it back. You've given it away. You've given it away.

We all sing along to the chorus, belting it out, jumping up and down, celebrating our past mistakes.

Falling © Alex Moore
A few songs later, Amanda Palmer spreads her arms wide, closes her eyes and falls into the crowd. As she rides a sea of hands an enormous, diaphanous wave spreads out behind her in the form of an expanse of sheer blue fabric. Fingers strain and stretch beneath it. She never misses a beat.

Flying © Alex Moore
Then she sings a sad one I do not know. I cannot see her at the piano, so I bow my head and let the room swim in and out of view.

Don’t know how long we've been lying here in fear
Too afraid to even feel
I find my glasses and you turn the light out
Roll off on your side like you've rolled away for years
Holding back those king-sized tears
Amanda Palmer – The Bed Song

© Alex Moore
At some point during the song I look up to a box on the right of the stage. Neil Gaiman is leaning against the wall and watching his wife perform. He is unobtrusive, enraptured along with the rest of us.  I nudge Justin and we smile. There are one or two people in this room who have come only in the hopes of getting a glimpse of this man, of being near him. But this is a private moment, and lasts less than a minute.

© Alex Moore
We are in the middle of a whirlwind. Amanda introduces Scroobius Pip, who performs his Letter from God to Man with the improvised backing of The Grand Theft Orchestra. He wins hundreds of new fans. His lyrics are clever and cutting and funny and thoughtful. The dystopian tune rises behind him as the song reaches its climax. With his enormous beard and immense charisma, Scroobius Pip becomes the evening’s prophet.

© Hannah Daisy

You see, I wasn't really the creator, I was just the curator of nature
I want to get something straight with homosexuals right now: I don't hate ya

Scroobius Pip - Letter from God to Man

I should not love Neil Gaiman. Every idea I have ever wanted to write has already been written by him, better than I could hope to write it. But I do love him, because no envy can conquer the pleasure of sinking into the dark, delicious worlds he creates. And what joy, what pleasure, could surpass that of seeing Neil Gaiman take the stage with a clown-attired sawchestra?

© Hannah Daisy
“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections
© Alex Moore

Gaiman and the clown saw musicians perform ‘Psycho’ by Leon Payne. Obviously, it’s brilliant. Surely there's nothing that could top it? Amanda Palmer herself tell us there's probably only one thing in the world that could be better...

There are some things that should not happen. We are years too late, surely, to see the legendary Richard O'Brien perform the Time Warp live on stage? Such a thing cannot happen to us. Such a thing is the stuff of strange and unattainable dreams. And yet…

I didn't know how much I needed to see this until I saw it. ©Alex Moore

© Hannah Daisy

I do not think there are words to describe the joy and delirium of those three minutes. We jump to our left, we step to our right. But, without a shadow of a doubt, it is the pelvic thrusts that will really drive you insane. Our delight is enhanced by our utter surprise. A thousand people dance the Time Warp again. We are in the midst of true magic. The spell cast on us could not be more complete or more perfect.

And, finally, after endless thundering applause, Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra re-appear in one of the tiny boxes. They have two guitars and a megaphone. They reprise Want it Back, all of us stamping and clapping and singing at the top of our lungs. This finale makes us once again part of the performance.  We are all part of the magic, and it couldn't have been created without us.

© Hannah Daisy
I've been to gigs before. I've even been out on a school night before. I’m struggling to justify making this an official part of my 30@Thirty. But when I look back over this memorable year I know that my night in the crowd with Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra will be as special to me as all the other extraordinary experiences.  So, in the spirit of creative anarchy…

© Alex Moore

Eleven down, nineteen to go…

*Any actually good pictures are courtesy of Alex Moore and Hannah Daisy, who kindly responded to my Twitter appeal for snaps. Check out Alex’s awesome drawings here, and Hannah's fabulous photographs here.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

On Yer Bike, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lycra.

This blog, this whole experiment, was never supposed to be all about physical endurance. But I suppose it's natural that a lot of the challenges presenting themselves to me are physical. It's also relatively natural that I should feel the need to apply myself to these physical feats, and to conquer them at all costs. This stems in large part from my sheer bloody-mindedness, but also from an experience I had in 2011, when I was well and truly trounced by a physical challenge. Despite every effort of will and body I did not, could not, make it to the very top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I wanted to. I wanted to so badly that I was basically depressed for a good few months after my failure. I made it to Gilman's Point, 5681m above mean sea level, but just could not go a step further, despite being only 300m short of the peak at Uhuru. I felt 100 years old, weaker than I had ever felt in my whole life, and completely defeated. At one point during the agonising climb upwards, I looked down into the deep, soft volcanic ash and thought seriously about lying down, closing my eyes, and letting it all fade away forever. It took me a long time to even come close to accepting that I had been badly affected by altitude sickness, and that there was nothing I could have done to change things that day. Altitude sickness can hit you no matter how young, strong and fit you are – well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Sad but smiling at Gilman's Point.
But the bare, painful fact remains that I did not make it to the top. I doubt I will ever go back to Kilimanjaro, which means that on the eternal tally of woman vs. mountain, it is Kili: one, Jojo: nil. This does not sit very well with me. There are few things I have undertaken in my life that I have not been able to get through via sheer force of will. I may not do them with style, I may not do them with elegance, but I'll usually do them. So I think that I have, ever since, been trying to even the score in my head. A sprint triathlon is not Kilimanjaro. Throwing myself off a trapeze is not Kilimanjaro. A half marathon is not Kilimanjaro. BUT, if I keep totting things up, perhaps I can start to feel a renewed sense of that old Jojo, the one who always finished what she started.

This is a rather long-winded way of saying that today's blog post is, once again, about a physical challenge.

Ostensibly, the Palace to Palace challenge was this: Cycle 45 miles, from Bucking Palace to Windsor Castle, in aid of The Prince's Trust. Boom. Not that difficult. I have a sexy bike. (It is purple, which naturally means that it is both speedy and elegant.) I also have some lovely cycly-type friends, including my challenge-buddy Julia and her wonderful husband Tom, the manager of a Cycle Surgery. This basically means that I have constant access to energy gels and revolting electrolyte drinks, and my own personal bike mechanic should anything go wrong. BUT, I had cycled nearly 45 miles before. I was only just short of it during my last ride. So I was clearly cheating. This wasn't going to be nearly difficult enough. Right?

Wrong. You see, the thing about signing up to charity cycle rides with people like Julia and Tom is, that if the cycle ride finishes in Windsor, i.e a long long way from the sofa upon which you wish to end, they will invariably insist on cycling back again. Suddenly 45 miles becomes 87. EIGHTY SEVEN MILES. I'm sorry, but that is a long darn way, even for ole' thunder thighs here. Of course, I was magnanimously given the option of getting the coach back from Windsor to Hammersmith, but that bloody-minded bit of me that is still niggling away at the Kilimanjaro wound made me accidentally-on-purpose forget to book a place until it was too late. If Julia was cycling back, so was I.

So, the physical challenge element had just become considerably more, erm, considerable. But wait! There is more.

In addition to cycling this great distance, there was also the issue of the correct outfit. A few years ago I went cycling with Julia and our friend Nuria around London's Regent's Park. I met them outside London Zoo and, I confess, a little shiver of embarrassment passed over my skin when I clocked their outfits. All of us were, at the time, riding fairly bog-standard hybrid commuter bikes, nothing fancy. But they were both wearing cycling shorts. CYCLING SHORTS. Who in their right mind wears cycling shorts? They look ridiculous. They show off every bump and lump. They are inappropriately tight. They are, basically, obscene. I was wearing some loose pedal pushers. The clue is in the name, girls. I was clearly more aptly dressed. I would never, never, never allow myself to be seen in public in a pair of cycling shorts. Those days ended when I stopped going to infant gymnastics classes at the YMCA. OVER.

So there I was, at 8am on Sunday October 14th, 2012, rocking the padded cycling shorts. And what is more, I was going commando.  Here, word for word, is Julia's text to me from the evening before the ride:

NO underwear – seriously – it can cause rashes, and lumps forming on your bottom. I am serious. And it will get wet from sweat. All bad.

Well, far be it from me to court the emergence of lumps on my bottom...

So there I was, commando, in a pair of shorts that made me look, and feel, like I was wearing a shiny black nappy. I was even wearing those lethal clippy shoes that attach you bodily to your pedals. Oh how the mighty are fallen. And what is more, I was freezing, FREEZING. Because I hadn't really accounted for the fact that whilst your upper body generally warms up when cycling enormous distances, your legs don't. It was a cold (though mercifully dry) day, and within half a mile of Buckingham Palace my legs could accurately be compared to frozen pork chops.
A picture of my legs, doing an excellent impression of some frozen pork chops.
The first small stretch of the ride took us through roads full of traffic lights and traffic. We wound our way to Richmond Park, and then through it. Instead of sweeping views and picturesque stags, we saw mist, fog, and then some more mist. I don't want to know what the temperature actually was, but I would say somewhere in the region of ruddy freaking cold. We paused at a rest station within the park and wedged our hands up our tops or down our pants. I won't say who did what, because it would be inelegant of me to tell you that the usually ladylike Julia publicly shoved her hands down her shorts in order to defrost them. After all, she reminded me, the crotch is one of the warmest areas of the body... Tom spent the first half of the journey, and all of Richmond Park, cycling with both hands in his pockets. Show off.

For a little while after we left Richmond Park, my memory is somewhat blank. We settled into a fairly steady pace, didn't have to stop too often for traffic, and mostly managed to keep more or less together. We were all cold, but the atmosphere was jolly. We powered up hills, glad of our light steeds as we passed intrepid cyclists on Boris Bikes. Tip of the helmet to anyone who made it all the way to Windsor on one of those. 

The ubiquitous London 'Boris Bike', ridden by the man himself. 
I was concentrating mostly on avoiding large bumps in the road, and getting my shoes out of the pedal clips well in advance of any potential stops. I was having a bit of trouble on that front and really didn't want to fail and fall over. Apparently it happens to all novices to the clippy shoe, but I was trying very hard for it not to happen to me.

Then, at some stage, I became aware of where I was. It was a gradual realisation, and one that tied a little elastic band around my heart. I kept hoping we were going to turn off and go a different way, but we spent over an hour haunting lanes and highways crawling with old, bitter-sweet memories. I'd never looked at the route, you see? I wasn't prepared to be passing within seconds of the childhood home of the person who bought me my first grown-up bicycle, and whose heart I broke a few years ago. I wasn't prepared to ride down pathways we had ridden, to pass by shops we had shopped at, pubs we had pubbed at and parks we had pic-nicked at. I wasn't primed for the rush of memories, so happy at the time, so tinged with sadness and sorrow now. I never meant to hurt you, I wanted to say. It just wasn't right. I'm sorry. I hope you're happy. I cycled on with my thoughts, trying to tell myself that this was cathartic, whilst knowing that it wasn't, not really. 

Eventually, I started reciting poems in my head, a sure-fire way of emptying my mind of woes and worries. I cycled e.e.cummings, Thom Gunn and William Blake round in my mind, until their beautiful and masterful words took the place of everything else. I looked up at last and found I had left those haunted lanes behind. We were cycling down a beautiful leafy avenue somewhere near Chobham, and I was back on unfamiliar territory. Then a stunning vintage Rolls Royce sailed past and distracted me so thoroughly that I went the wrong way. 

Four wheels good, two wheels baaaaaaaad.
By the time Tom caught up with me I had descended a rather long hill and was just starting to wonder why I was the only bike on the road. Back up the hill we went. I apologised profusely to Tom, but suspect that the little burn suited him well, given that his usual average speed and distance far exceeded the pace of the ride. The little elastic band around my heart was gone, and I was back to the job at hand, and pedaling hard for the finish line.

Windsor Castle loomed in to view, and then loomed quickly out of view again, much to my dismay. It turned out that the ride actually ended at Windsor racecourse, which is not nearly so spectacular. Perhaps Her Majesty wasn't up to the sight of all the Lycra, and who can blame her?

Queen Elizabeth, wearing my kind of cycling attire.
Down at the racecourse we accepted our medals and goody bags, took a few snaps, and devoured an indeterminate number of complimentary sandwiches. 
Julia, Jojo, Dalia. Notice how I endeavour to make sure my helmet is off in every photo...
Eventually, Julia and I narrowed our eyes at each other. Tom hadn't broken a sweat. The sun was shining. Neither of our bicycles had broken. We'd made good time to Windsor. All of this was pointing in one direction. The stiff shoulders and pork chop legs weren't going to be accepted as viable excuses. We were definitely cycling back.

No helmet here...

Ninja helmet removal strikes again.
So, well, we did. We cycled to the castle, so that I could get my much coveted snap and demonstrate that I hadn't just ridden aimlessly around London all day. We had a hot coffee and a brownie from a small independent café, and then we pointed our bicycles in the direction of home.

Hello Windsor! Hello Lycra! (Note helmet hanging discreetly from left handlebar.)

Going back through Shepperton, we passed a house I'd lived in, back in the day. I waved gaily at the ivy creeping over its walls and windows, and wondered if this experience might, perhaps, prove cathartic after all. Somewhere in that vicinity Tom stopped to check the map and I had a heart-in-mouth moment. Pulling gently into a sloping driveway I tried again and again to release my left shoe from the pedal. I jerked and twisted as I got closer and closer to Julia and Tom's bikes. I clocked the raggedy gravel and, with a sudden dreadful realisation, hollered “SH*T, I'M STUCK!!” I caught a glimpse of the alarmed whites of Julia's eyes in the semi-second before I started falling sideways. Then, both feet came free at once, and I touched the ground not a moment too soon. Disaster averted. They'll get me one day, those pesky pedals, but not today. Not today.

We rode on, past trees and rivers. Under bridges and down bus lanes. Two or so hours after we set off from Windsor, we arrived in Hammersmith, where the Palace to Palace coach service would have dropped us had we taken that option. I was knackered, but glad at heart that I was still on my bike, pushing myself, climbing that mountain in my head.

Going back through Richmond Park. Dammit  Snapped with the helmet on. Goofy Photo Fail.
The final few miles were difficult. We were hungry and cold, and the traffic was heavy and unforgiving. Every turn felt so close to home, and yet so far. Somewhere near St Mary's Hospital on the Edgware Road (where I was birthing partner to my wonderful friend Lisha) we stopped to consume the last of our energy bars and sugary gels. We soldiered on, despite sore seat bones and stiff shoulders. The heels of my hands were bruised and tender, and my face was thick with polluted grime. But I was happy. I was gonna make it home with a smile on my face.

The final tally was 140 kilometres, or 87 miles, door-to-door. Here's the proof:

But the tally was also:

Lycra: 1, Lumps on the Bottom: nil. BOOM.

Ten down, twenty to go...

Monday, 8 October 2012

GO GO JO JO! My first half marathon.

Two weeks ago I came down with acute bronchitis. This has happened before and will happen again. We Thomases are famously weak of chest. But the timing was pretty atrocious, since it was two weeks before I was due to take part in the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon, and the bronchitis caused me to miss nearly a fortnight of training. This wouldn't have been quite so bad if I hadn't signed up to the race just six weeks before, and if the longest run I had managed in my training wasn't 14K, a mere two thirds of the final race distance.

If you read about my triathlon, you'll know that I sorely berated myself for not putting in enough work beforehand. The whole thing was agony from start to finish, and I staggered across the finish line not far from last, feeling defeated, deflated and like I'd let myself down. I was not a pretty sight. I was really keen not to let that happen again, but the bronchitis had its own ideas. There was nothing I could do.

Ewww, thick mucus.
So, over the last week or so, I have been racked with doubt. My partner Justin, both of my parents, my colleagues and my indomitable training buddy Julia all reminded me that I DID NOT HAVE TO RUN. There would be no shame in pulling out. Julia - also due to run the race - texted me the night before with "no one is making you do this". But she was wrong. SOMEONE was making me do it, and that someone was me. We Thomases are also famously bloody minded, and, frankly, I'd handed over £45 in order to take part in this communal self-torture session. I knew that if I didn't even try, I'd spend the day feeling miserable. So I decided to get cheerful about the whole thing. If it took me three and a half hours, it didn't matter. If I had to walk the whole way, it didn't matter. If I felt like my legs were about to buckle beneath me and my lungs were about to explode, it didn't matter. Well, actually, it probably would matter if my lungs exploded, but I tried not to think about that. Julia's next text, once I'd confirmed my attendance, was a smiley face and the reassuring message: "Remember, none of this matters". Great minds...

As if to match my new found PMA, the sun shone down on us on the morning of the run. Being a Londoner, I am a regular complainer about the weather, the traffic, the hell-hole that is the Underground and the sheer numbers of bodies that one has to fight through on a daily basis. Being a Londoner doesn't always make you a nice person. But the sun was out, and the early-morning tube trains were packed with people in lycra and trainers, many of them looking as reassuringly nervous as I felt. For once I felt glad to be one of the multitude. We (me, Julia, and our personal photographer and sherpa Tom - Julia's husband) shuffled off at Knightsbridge and wandered through the crisp morning into a beautiful Hyde Park. Amidst the green were a few trees doing that clever autumn trick of being a hundred different shades of red and yellow. These trees tug at my heartstrings and remind me of the house I grew up in, and a beautiful colour-changing Chinese Maple that I will always love, even though I haven't laid eyes on it for nearly ten years. Excuse the sentimental digression.

More than 12,000 runners and thousands more in faithful friends and supporters poured into Hyde Park with us. We located Julia's charity marquee and agreed on it being our rendez-vous spot for after the race. Julia was running for Tommy's, a phenomenal charity funding research into stillbirth, premature birth and miscarriage. This is the moment for a double confession. Firstly, I was not running for a specific charity, because I had been lucky enough to get a ballot place. Secondly, I had done something naughty, and taken a ballot place belonging to someone else. This is against the rules of the half, because places in this particular run are coveted, and the organisers quite rightly want to avoid people selling their places on for a profit. But the circumstances are more than mitigating. My beautiful friend Aleks recently moved to Sierra Leone with Save the Children, another amazing charity. She's literally gone to Africa to save lives, so I think can be forgiven this small infraction. Lord knows what possessed me to stick my hand up when she offered her place on Facebook, but there we go, I did. The 30@Thirty spirit can be dangerous.

At the dreaded GREEN starting funnel.
Aside from a 20-odd minute queue for a genuinely revolting porta-loo, nothing else stood between us and exploding-lung-leg-buckling-doom. We missed the warm-up thanks to aforementioned queueing. So off we trotted to the start funnels. Since I was Aleks for the day, and since Aleks is a marathon-running legend, I was wearing a light green race number. This indicated that I intended to finish the race in two hours, which, of course, I did not. But nonetheless, I followed Julia into the green arena, safe in the knowledge that amongst so very many people, I was unlikely to stand out as too much of a fraud. Julia gave my hand a squeeze as we shuffled forward. We wished each other a good run and, at the starting gun, Julia was away, heading for her sub two hour triumph.

I set off at a modest trot, determined not to blow myself out too early. My plan was to intersperse running with short walks, but I figured I'd try and run at least 5k before my first break. I had the wise words of both Justin and my friend Jenny in my head right from the start. Slow and steady, slow and steady. London was glorious. The first stretch of the race was outside the park, and the sun danced on the buildings and statues, amongst them the Wellington Arch, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament, one of the most extraordinarily beautiful pieces of architecture in this town, if you ask me. I was just starting to get over the initial shock of running again after more than two weeks when I hit the one mile marker, and felt for the first time that I might actually manage this after all. Thousands of people lined the roads, shouting and cheering, and despite the fact that loads of runners were streaming past me, I knew that at no stage was I going to find myself cast adrift. I know that is is still possible to feel lonely in the midst of twelve and a half thousand people, but somehow I felt in my heart that I was going to feel a part of this crowd, not alone within it.

Half way down The Mall, a gentleman just behind me answered a phone call in Portuguese, and cheerfully explained that he was running. Whoever was on the other end of the phone clearly didn't quite understand the seriousness of the run and kept him on the phone for a few more minutes. It made me laugh. I felt happy, despite the fact that I became aware that there was no way in hell I could have answered a phone call at that precise moment. In fact, when I spotted Tom a few minutes later I didn't even have the puff to call out to him, and instead ambled towards him wildly waving my hands. I found out later that Julia had done exactly the same. Below are the respective pictures of us signalling that all is well.

Thumbs up!
Hello! Lungs haven't exploded yet!
Bye bye!
Here are some other interesting things that happened along the way. Very close to the start, I saw a banner saying 'GO GO JO JO!' To whoever made that banner, thank you. I hope your Jo Jo did well, and I hope you don't mind that I stole a little bit of the banner's positive energy as I trundled past it, both at the beginning and then again towards the end.

Seen better, seen worse.
During the course of the race, I was overtaken by Scooby Doo, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a man in nothing but pink y-fronts and running shoes, a lady with an inexplicable bag of balloons on her back, a purple gimp, a giant squirrel, several tu-tus, and a fantastic sign that said "keep running Lizzie! Lots of cute guys checking out your bum." This of course led me to wonder how my bum looked, a question expertly answered later by one of Tom's photographs.

And here is perhaps the strangest, most wonderful thing of all. I felt great all the way through, and not once did I stop and walk. Not once. It could be argued that my pace over the last two miles was slower than the slowest of slow walks, but I was still jogging right up until the last 100m, when I managed a little tiny sprint. Not once did I feel defeated, deflated and like I'd let myself down. In fact, although I didn't have a watch on me, I knew from the six mile mark that I wasn't going to take the three hours I had predicted. I knew that I was doing OK. I mean, let's be clear here, I'm no Mo Farah, but I almost felt this good when I finally crossed the finish line at two hours twenty-seven.

I smiled my way through that race, singing strange snippets from random songs in my head. I looked at the people around me and wondered what had drawn them to the race. I watched the different sized bottoms jogging past me, appraising them without judgement, full of good will towards everyone who passed me or was passed by me. I read people's charity shirts and thought about the personal experiences that make people dedicate so much effort and energy to a particular cause. I thought of the autistic children, the grandparents with Alzheimer's disease, the millions of people fighting, beating and losing to cancer, the mothers and fathers who had lost children, the people still to be lost, the people being helped by the money raised on that sunny day, as we all jogged around London. I thought about how important it is to smile, and how it feels to be part of something good. I did my best to ignore the tightness in my ankle and the increasing pain in my knees and hips. I took Justin's advice and kept channeling The Little Engine that Could, all the way to the finish.

So, here's me with my wooden medal, in the shape of an autumn maple leaf.  I hope this is one of those trinkets I manage never to lose.

And here are some happy finishers. The wonderful Julia, who finished in an extraordinary one hour and fifty-three minutes, and her lovely friend Kati, who was heroically leaving Hyde Park to cook a Canadian Thanksgiving lunch for several friends. Hats off to that, since after the race I managed a cheeseburger, chocolate milkshake, onion rings, fries, and an obscenely long soak in a hot bath. Not all at the same time, I hasten to add, though that might have been nice.

Happy Ladies!
As I write this I am curled on the sofa trying to avoid moving my legs. Despite the liberal application of Tiger Balm after my bath, I am still walking like a pregnant T-Rex with balance issues. Tomorrow will be a slow day. Stairs will be a challenge. But despite this incomprehensible agony, I feel great. My enormous thanks to Aleks, for letting me go a lot slower than she would have had she not been off doing wonderful things in a wonderful country. My thanks to everyone who supported me, and as always to Julia for believing in me when I struggle to believe in myself. Huge thanks to Tom, Justin, Jenny and Roland for showing up to cheer us on. My thanks to the sun for shining, and to all the volunteers who made it a great day. My thanks to the guy in the pink y-fronts, for making me giggle. OK, enough with the thanks now, I'm off to take some ibuprofen and pass out.

Nine down, twenty-one to go...