Wednesday 19 June 2019

R D Robinson for God (unquote)

I've just finished reading When Running Made History by Roger Robinson. I'm not a runner. I was pretty fast as a kid, but that was very long ago, and now I rarely do even the downhill jogs that were an integral part of my morning routine until Tom Cruise ruined that for me (if you want to hear that story, you'll have to ask, regular 😃 reader).

No, the initial reason I read the book was purely because RDR was one of my lecturers at Canterbury University back in 1974, and the one who made the greatest impression on me during the whole four years I was at varsity. He was different from the others: English, droll, effortlessly learned, but also lean and fit. He made academia seem glamorous. It also helped that the subject was English III - The Novel, and he was lecturing us on Vanity Fair, Wuthering Heights, Middlemarch, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Our Mutual Friend and North & South, amongst others. That sort of brilliance would reflect well on anyone. But Dr Robinson was so comfortable in those writers' company, so familiar with them, so clear-eyed about their failings, and also so honestly admiring of their achievements, that they all merged together, members of some enviable club of literary greatness which we mere students just peered in at through the windows. 

I wasn't the only one smitten. I know of others who worked tenuous references to The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner into their essays about the narrative role of Nelly Dean, or didacticism in nineteenth-century literature, in the hope of ingratiating themselves with a man we all knew ran marathons. I never stooped so low. So I've never forgotten going to his office to pick up my marked (handwritten!) essay and getting a grin and a "Super-good!" as he handed it over. And I kept the essay, warmed to the core by the margin comment about my style, and the final one about my cogent argument and fluent writing. The sliding off-topic criticism, not so much; though it was, and still is, accurate, I'm perfectly comfortable with admitting. I've made it my thing, actually.

Anyway, the book. I'm not going to review it properly, because that would be stretching the remit of this blog - but it is entertaining, and interesting, and very readable, and much more relevant to non-runners than you might expect. RDR (can't call him Roger. Or Robinson) traces the growth of running as, originally, an eccentric past-time/obsession mostly through his own lifetime but with historical references, right up to the present where it's both an unremarkable everyday habit and an important sport. He shows how running links with, demonstrates, even drives, some important social changes during that time. What really makes the story riveting, though, is his fortuitously - or possibly not - being on the spot for a number of major events - not just world record-breaks, but internationally pivotal things like the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings.

So that's interesting whoever you are - but, for me, there's the extra enjoyment of so many of the places he mentions where he's run, or reported on running, being part of my life experience, too. From Wellington to Ross-on-Wye, Central Park to Hyde Park, Rome to Sydney, Kenya to Christchurch - every couple of pages, there was a ping! of recognition, and instant mental transportation. And that, of course, is what this blog is about, eh: connections.


the queen said...

Um - you were forced to run past a Scientology center? Why Tom Cruise? OH! I know! The way he runs with his hands karate chopping the air.

TravelSkite said...

He does run funny, that's true. But no, it was getting all hyped up by the exciting action in the last Mission: Impossible movie. However easy
TC is to criticise in other respects, no-one can say he doesn't give 100% to his stunts, so I was buzzing when I came out of the cinema and saw I had 10 minutes to get to my ferry, about 1200m down Queen Street. So I ran, ducking and diving through the crowds on the footpath, even beating off some kid who thought he could race me, and triumphantly made it on to the ferry.

And in the morning? Could hardly move for the pain in one hip. Which has continued to complain intermittently ever since, and always after running. So, yes, it's Tom Cruise's fault entirely that I'm now more sedentary than I was before seeing his movie.


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