“Enjoying the countryside?”

When I go for a run, there are two constants. Two absolute rules of the universe that simply cannot be avoided.

One:  The more wonderful it is, the more likely I am to find new and inventive ways to bring it crashing down around me.

Two: If my run brings me within 30ft of a nan, I’ll always manage to inadvertently annoy, insult or upset her in some way.

All too often, the two will happen simultaneously.

This particular encounter happened a few weeks ago, as I was finally starting to find my mojo again after having spent oh-so-long wallowing in the pits of a slump. My running hadn’t been the only thing to have had taken a nosedive in the last year or so. The silly little blog that you’re reading right now with your eyes1 had also pretty much ground to a halt. I wasn’t writing, so I had one less reason to run; and I wasn’t running, so I had nothing to write about.

But finally, through the support2 of my family and a healthy dollop of sheer bloody-mindedness, there was a chink of light at the end of the tunnel, and I’d begun to emerge, blinking and bleary-eyed, once more into the joys of running.

And that brings me to this particular run. It was just lovely: The day was comfortably warm with a cooling breeze, the birds were singing in the trees, and I hadn’t been chased by a single Gruffalo.

It was a longish run, maybe 7 or 8 miles, and I’d taken a route along a disused railway that I’d used countless times before (and written about on many occasions too). My legs ticked along in a happy world of their own. The pace was slow, but intentionally so. This wasn’t a run for agonising about speed (or the lack of it); this was all about enjoying the moment and being thankful for a morning spent bumbling around in the beautiful countryside.

And it was around halfway through this cheerful little journey that something happened that made it at least 46% cheerfuller (real word). As my feet padded along underneath me and the scenery zipped past, my brain started to fill up with stuff. Stupid stuff. The special kind of stupid stuff that, prior to my mojo haemorrhage, used to end up in the pages of this silly little website. Finally, the floodgates were open and my mind was once again awash with delicious idiocy. Ten scientific reasons why a chicken could win the London marathon. A product review for a magic running hat that hasn’t been invented yet. A handy guide to find out whether you’re a runner or a squirrel3.  Now, those of you who have met me will happily tell you that my brain is (to use the fancy science term) an awkward, spiteful little shit. I’m very quick to reach saturation point, and then it starts to operate a “one in, one out” policy on thoughts. I was loving the run, I was loving the surroundings, and I was loving the delightfully stupid ideas buzzing around in my head, but I knew that by the time I got home and the endorphins had scarpered, my brain would once again be as empty as my bank account the day after they opened up that gin’n’cheese cafe on the corner of my street.

I decided to slow to a walk for a minute or two; just long enough to tap a few notes into my phone and clear out my thoughts so that I could get back to focusing on the run.

And that’s when we crossed paths.

My soon-to-be nemesis. The Skeletor to my Orco4. Striding purposefully towards me, draped in weatherproof fabrics and wearing the stoutest of stout walking boots, hands clutching onto those weird little hiking pole things. This wasn’t just a nan. It was an action-nan.

I glanced up from my tappity-tapping and was just about to exchange a cheerful pleasantry, but she beat me to it.

“I hope you’re enjoying the countryside”.

Aw, what a lovely thing to… wait a bloody minute! It was a warm enough greeting, especially when read back as words on a screen. But those words had an edge to them, a note of frosty disdain. I was confused. Okay, I’m always confused, but now moreso. By the time I managed to fumble a quick reply of “um… yes?” she was already past me, my words bouncing off her silvery helmet of tightly permed hair.

It quickly dawned on me. This was clearly a lady who spent a considerable portion of her time in the great outdoors (and I imagine the rest of her time penning angry letters about skateboard ramps to her local newspaper). I, on the other hand, must have looked like the antithesis of everything she held dear. I’m not a young man, oh Christ no; but I was younger than her (and the fact that I’m about 4 foot tall and was wearing shorts probably shaved another 30 years off). I was, for all intents and purposes, a shabby little delinquent; eyes glued to the screen of my phone, seemingly oblivious to the wonders of nature all around me. So when she said “I hope you’re enjoying the countryside” what she wanted to say (and what was betrayed by the tone of her voice) was: “I’m enjoying the countryside. You’re not.  Too busy snapchatting your googles and trying to get to the tenth level of Bukkake Warrior. You People have no appreciation for these glorious surroundings. If only you’d look up from your ruddy telephones once in a while, this country might not be in such a sorry state”.

It was the passive-aggressive condescension of it all that really got under my skin. I’d have preferred it if she’d tutted at me through a loudhailer. I’d have been happy with a nice honest punch to the unmentionables. But “I hope you’re enjoying the countryside” had been her weapon of choice, and it utterly destroyed me.

…well, it didn’t really. It just left me standing befuddled for a moment, silently mouthing the words “but I was enjoying it too much. That’s why I had to write stuff down”. But I had to add a dash of hyperbole, so as to justify the fact that I’ve just written a thousand words about what could have been (i.e. definitely was) a completely innocent non-event, cheerfully misinterpreted by my stupid monkey brain.

Anyway, after that, I just got on with my run, while deliberately not enjoying the countryside quite as much as I could have, just to spite her.

It’s occurred to me that a lot of the more popular mainstream blogs end with a question, inviting the readers to relate to the post and share their own views and experiences. So then…

Have you ever been stealth-shamed by a little old lady during a run? Or maybe someone once made a polite comment that you then twisted and agonised over for several weeks until it bore no resemblance to the original probably-quite-charming encounter? Have you ever seen an owl? Is all the lint that’s left behind in my tumble-drier the reason my clothes seem to be getting smaller? Should I try a bit harder to end with a proper grown-up question?

1 I put this footnote number in when I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, and now I have no idea what I meant to put here. Whatever it was, let’s just pretend that it would have been hilarious and/or insightful. Feel free to make up your own thing and send it in on a postcard.
2 Bullying.
3 Who remembers which of those was an actual real blog post?
4 I think it says a lot about that, limited only by my imagination, I still opt for the role of “super-annoying side character”.
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