A new thing I do since I last blogged frequently is running.
Hitting your early forties, having kids, realising you're overweight and on a collision course with people adding the precursor 'jolly' to your name brings home certain inescapable conclusions.
You gonna die buddy.
Well, obviously. It's irritating to me that death looks pretty much unavoidable, and that the best one can do is prolong the good bit in between the eternities of oblivion. Other than giving up now and reaching for the head-blender, this means taking care of the soggy protein-based machine that houses what I like to think of as me.
I'm not talking about going vegan, tee-total and existing on seventeen mushroom-based calories a day though, because that would in itself be a type of living death, but a sort of sensible, achievable level of exercise which I could maintain and, hopefully, come to enjoy.
Believe it or not I have actually come to that place, and now run a few times a week, just small distances usually, and not very fast, but enough for me to think of myself as someone who runs.
The school run finished, both my spawn are now somebody else's responsibility for a few hours, and I have no excuse not to exercise. I put on my man tights and top, then my running shorts over the lycra because no-one wants to see that, or at least I don't want to meet the sort of person that does want to see that, and out I go.
Today, a cheeky 5 kilometre trot along the canal should be enough to soothe the inner turmoil of modern living, and I soon get into my stride. I like the transition from the first couple of hundred metres when you think "why is this so hard" to suddenly breathing easily and finding you can now enjoy the scenery without wanting to spit, as the body wakes up to the fact that it is being required to run and activates various processes and abilities to achieve that. It feels natural. I am natural. I am at one with nature.
I smile benevolently at my fellow natural creatures, dragonflies a-swoop, birds on the wing and beasts on the . . . leg. A female duck swims quickly out from some reeds, honking with sheer joie de vivre. I watch for a moment, her wake a gentle rippling arrow fanning out behind like the cloak of a fantasy water princess with access to great CGI. We are both taken by surprise a moment later when she is pounced upon by three drakes, all pecking her head and half-drowning her in a brutal attempt at copulation.
"Oi! Leave it out!" I yell, lobbing the head of a bullrush at the anatidaen rape scene, suddenly feeling less than at one with ducks as they scatter noisily and she escapes into the reeds.
I continue, breathing in the scent of . . . a large, quivering Labrador cross, pushing out something that looks like a seal foetus, it's owner standing by with a small plastic bag that I feel will be tested to its limits, should the dog survive this bowel movement.
Eyes watering, I go under a bridge to the picturesque locks, recently refurbished, that mark the half way point of my run and turn round for the return journey. A heron, bolder than most, stands it's place and watches me for a moment before snapping its head into the water, emerging a fraction of a second later with a wriggling thing which it wolfs down. Or maybe herons down.
I don't feel I am at one with eating stuff whilst it's still moving. Even live oysters have the decency to keep still. As if on cue, I inhale a midge, proving me wrong.
Coughing, but eventually succumbing to the inevitable and swallowing, I move on.
Two swans, both enormous cobs, are blocking the footpath, one on land the other on water. They have their wings curved back like ornate ceramic sails, chests puffed out and they both raise their bodies to display their own mass to the other.
A neat solution, I think, where two wild creatures assess one another and judge who might win a physical battle, and so can decide not to partake if the odds are too stacked against one, thus avoiding actual fighting and harm whilst achieving the same results. Nature often shows this excellent methodology; the parallel walking of red deer, for instance, or the chest thumping of silverback gorillas. Humans should do the same, I conclude in admiration.
Suddenly the two swans, both equal in size, start trying to tear lumps out of each other, hissing and gasping as they inelegantly but enthusiastically attempt to batter one other senseless, using tiny-brained heads like coshes and metre long wings like the worlds most exquisite bitch slappers.
I do not feel at one with swans as I detour around the splashy madness.
Nearly home now, and I am treated to the unusual sight of a grass snake swimming longitudinally along the canal. I slow down to a walk and watch for a good two minutes, a long time for such a shy creature. The snake, not me. Here is one of the benefits of running outside of a gym. Here I can see the way a creature like this beautiful reptile can exploit different substrates, using the same motion in water as on land, and I am inordinately pleased to be able to witness it for such a long while.
A coot leaves the pile of bent leaves it thinks of as a house and does that half-run, half-swim thing they do to stay along side it, and then proceeds to peck the snake's head over and over again. The snake, repeatedly dunked and possibly concussed, makes its way wearily into the reeds, only refraining from staggering because it hasn't got any legs.
I make it home, grab a drink and cogitate on the violence of the last half hour. There are probably many conclusions a behavioural ecologist could draw from these encounters, but I am not running to collect quantitative data or scientific evidence, I am simply running to develop myself. To that end, I realised that all species everywhere can be just as bad a bunch of dicks as humans.
And now I feel at one with nature again.