Saturday, January 29, 2005

Links to the past

The news that Allders is going into administration fills me with a nostalgic sadness. I have no link to the shop, am not a current customer and cannot remember the last time I even thought of them. Yet I feel gently sad.

The reason is that my mother’s family came from Croydon and memories from the first half of my life are full of my grandmother and visits to the town. Allders was somehow part of Croydon’s identity. It was large, dominated one side of North End (the main shopping street) and seemed to have been there forever. It had been on the same site for longer than my grandmother could remember and for me, as a child, that certainly made it ancient.

Some of the large department stores in other towns seemed also to have a social role. My first wife had two elderly maiden aunts who, everyday, used to put on their fox fur stoles and take afternoon tea at Bobby’s in Eastbourne. Allders was never like that; it was just there. But being there is important because it gives a sense of continuity. Now it may or may not survive, it may or may not be sold off, but whatever happens a link has been broken.

I am doing more and more of this type of reminiscing - thinking of the past, sifting it and making patterns. Partly it is a function of my age, feeling how remote that time now is and wanting to recover it, but mostly it is a search for continuity. Internally I look at what happened and how I reacted, the ways that my sinews of character pulled my behaviour. Externally I compare the differing textures of the times.

Running is a big stimulus to this. Physically it shows you what you can now do, which gives an easy comparison with what you could do when younger. You notice the loss of flexibility and the need for more recovery. The body heals more slowly (one of the many frustrations). However I was never in peak condition - I do not have the history of a good athlete - so I can look back quite dispassionately and just try to make sense of what is happening. I do not regret lost form.

Aside from the direct physical experience there are other reminders. Sometimes when I am really exhausted I will flash back to an all day off-road cycling trek, when we had to walk the last ten miles because it was pitch black, the trail was treacherous and we had no lights. That you survived means that you know you can carry on when all your systems want to shut down and stop.

Sometimes it is the route itself. I run along the Grand Union Canal. Could there be a more resonant location -the major artery of the country during the industrial revolution? You can think of the horse plodding where I plod or of all the people who had walked the path. Then there are the remnants of manufacturing, the John Dickinson paper mill and the Ovaltine factory. Canals show you how the country grew.

Sometimes the act of running just opens the mind up and you can make connections.

Reason No. 10 for running: It gives you a sense of continuity


bz said...

Ever thought of doing the great Union Canal race?????

Im treating myself for my 41st birthday in 2006

Highway Kind said...


Ruth isn't that like miles and miles and MILES??

bz said...

145 of them

Highway Kind said...

Ruth that looks seriously mad

I will however keep you company on my stretch of the canal - seeing as I own it!

bz said...

be brave be bold

DO IT in 2006