Have baby, will run (for brunch)

One invaluable lesson I have learned over the past decade or so masquerading as an adult, is that you cannot do this life shit on your own. Finding your tribe is, at different stages of your life, is imperative to staying sane. This goes for moving countries, learning a new skill, or entering motherhood. There are many many ways to skin a cat, and many many people who probably do it just the way you’d like to and can show you how.

There have been a few pivotal periods in my life where this has come to bear, the first when I quit drinking (finding mates that are awake on a Sunday morning is a good place to start), the second when I took up running and found the inimitable Run Dem Crew and the third when I became a Mother. Thankfully there were a few awesome people in both sets of previous tribes that by the time mamadom hit, I had a pretty great collection of babes and their bubs to add to my village.

But as with all good things, you have to keep at it, your priorities and abilities change, you may find yourself in a different place, your kids get bigger, your circumstances change (for better, for worse) and as such the tribe needs to evolve to include more people, maybe a few drop by the wayside, some grow with you some grow out of you (and you them).

I find myself at one of these crossroads, with a three month old son, creaking hips and a desperate need to let off steam. As mentioned, any hitting of any bottles (even tiny ones) is a no-go, there’s only so much Netflix any one mushy brain can take, and the lethal combination of caffeine and sugar, while it got me through the first foggy months, is a sure fire cocktail to whip up my anxiety levels, screw with my sleep and my waistline. So I need something else, and Baby Yoga ain’t going to cut it.

My go-to quick fix for the past 5 years or so has been a run. A quick one, a long one, a run with mates, the solo run, the ‘I’m just taking the dog around the park’ run, the training in the rain run, the run that has random obstacles in it, the ‘why-the-fuck-am-I-doing-this’ run and the ‘thank god I went for a run’ run.

I am no speedster, my race times are not enviable, but that was never the point. I run to keep sane. I have met some of the best people through running, it’s opened doors in other areas of my life creatively – I started writing again,  took up photography – it’s taken me travelling to run in mad cities with mad people, got me fit, made me brave, and ultimately saved my ass on more occasions that I can count. It’s the thing I do on a Sunday morning when I would have been nursing a hangover in bed. It’s built my confidence and shown me the heroic in others. Putting on a pair of running shoes for me was as transformative as alchemy.

But my pregnancy and running didn’t really get on, with the aforementioned creaking hips, and a core that is still recovering from accommodating a baby, I have not run more than 3 miles in the best part of a year.

I’m basically back to being a newbie. No fitness to speak of, and a deep seated fear that I won’t bounce back, given walking a mile has me wishing I was being pushed in the pram.

Now I know that’s unfounded. I will bounce back. In what form is still yet to be seen. But in the spirit of reaching out, if I have any hope of reclaiming my nikes, and my beating my 10K PB, I’ll need help. I’ll need a new tribe. Or a patchwork venn diagram of the tribes that have gone before. Mates that run and happen to have kids. Or freelance mates who don’t run but would like to give it a bash and don’t mind a few babies tagging along

So I have downloaded my trusty Couch to 5K app from days of yore, dug out the lycra and I’ll be hitting the parks of London, building up the all important base line, with pram and changing bag to boot.

Here’s the ask, I’d love company, its motivating and makes schlepping a sleep deprived body and niggly baby around all that much easier to manage.  If you’re new to running, haven’t run for ages and you’re free on a week day morning, or just fancy a (slow) jaunt around some of the best parks in the world, drop me a line here. I don’t bite, I won’t (can’t!) run fast so please don’t be intimidated and it should be a great way of getting out and about, blowing off the cobwebs and seeing more of the brilliant city. Hopefully getting the babies to sleep too.

And nothing beats a banging brunch post run. I need brunch back in my life






Remembering Madiba

A week ago today the world reeled from the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away. I was sitting on this very sofa, catching up with social media nonsense when a tweet popped up with the news. Quickly verified by BBC, Al Jazeera, and every other major news player on the globe the news spread instantly. I was suddenly acutely aware that at 10:30pm here in London, I was probably finding out the news ahead of my family in South Africa, who would be in bed asleep, only to find out on the Friday morning. I had no idea how I would feel. Being far away from home both physically (and also emotionally it has to be said), having been in London for 10 years, the news hit me with an immediacy I had not anticipated. In that moment, phone in hand watching the world send tweets and posts and images and platitudes through the ether I was back in Johannesburg, trying to remember the first time I heard his name or saw a picture of his face.
I have often shied away from writing about my childhood in South Africa. I don’t know why. Possibly because there have been so very many coming of age stories based in the New South Africa. We bore the ‘born frees’ senseless with our tales of transition through the 80s and early 90s. They’re often told by children of the struggle movement who, having lived through the oral history of our parents who actually did the work, toyi toying through the streets, and getting arrested, we felt we were close enough to it. And a fair number of these prodigal children are often now living abroad looking back at their ‘pastoral’ youth with great nostalgia and naivety. In the US they call these children the Cold War Kids, so in South Africa being born around State of Emergency being declared – we have a similar backdrop to our ABCs.
But that day last week I was confronted with my 8yr old self, grief stricken by the news of the death of a great man.
I don’t remember exactly when I first learned about this man, Madiba, who was in prison on an island off the coast of Cape Town where we were lucky enough to have idyllic holidays every year with our extended family. Growing up as a white child in South Africa in the 1980s, I have memories of a happy childhood. We lived in a bubble secured by military law, government legislation and an entire infrastructure designed to keep us separate and apart from the reality of the country we were born into regardless, to a certain extent, of our parent’s political leanings. A white washed illusion perpetuated by the Apartheid government, at great expense, the toll for which we will pay for many years to come. As Denis Hirson so beautifully described it, we lived in The House Next Door to Africa. And if you’ll permit me to extend the metaphor, our house happened to have just enough of a back door left open for the 8 year old me to peer through and see that things were perhaps not what they seemed. 
My parents were both anti-apartheid supporters and activists, and I knew this as a child as I knew what a feminist was or a catholic or an economist. These were all esoteric terms in my head and I had no deeper understanding of what they actually meant. We had pictures of people like Joe Slovo and Helen Joseph in the study, my mother had a poster that proclaimed ‘A House Does Not Need A WIFE any more than it does a HUSBAND’. There were Johnny Clegg cassette tapes and history books galore.
In the 1980’s my mother worked for an organisation called Sached (South African Committee for Higher Education), a committee that worked to open up distance learning at university to level to all races, after the apartheid government closed university applications to non-whites in the late 50s.  So at social gatherings there were interesting people, who wore their hair in brightly beaded braids and wore t-shirts that said things like ‘AMANDLA!’ (Power!), or in my mother’s case ‘WOMANDLA!’ There were often discussions about The Struggle. As kids, we rolled our eyes and went off to watch Thunder Cats and play Dungeons & Dragons. Adults were boring always talking talking.
My first memory of realising that perhaps my parent’s worldview was radically different to that of my peer group was a school concert circa 1988. My mother, as usual, was running very late and barely made the assembly. I was furious that she was late and had made a bit of an entrance with the door slamming to the hall, and everyone looking while she found a seat. I was even more mortified when I realised she was wearing THAT ‘nkosi sikelel iafrika T-shirt, covered in flour (she had been making cheese muffins). But the final straw was watching her SIT DOWN through the entire singing of the national anthem, while all the other parents stood, belting out the words to Die Stem at volume. Looking back I want to high five my brave, stubborn, wonderfully unmanageable mother, but in 1988, I was red faced with the embarrassment of having a mother with ‘politics’.
But it wasn’t until 1989 that it really hit home. On the 1st of May, an anti-apartheid activist by the name of David Webster was assassinated outside his home by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a covert organisation of the Apartheid government. Being 8 years old I had no memory of meeting him, although I am told I met family at some point. But I do remember, clear as day, my mother unravelling with anger and grief, sobbing in front of the TV the night the news broke, my father speechless at her side. And I was now old enough to figure out that something was well and truly fucked up here in Sunny South Africa.
Alongside the ‘House Husband’ postcard came the back page of the Mail & Guardian featuring an image of David Webster, his back to the camera looking out a window ahead of speaking at an event. Head bowed, alone with the dates 1945 – 1989 in bold below. And perhaps this is why, 25 years later, I went back to that year as the watershed moment, a full year before Mandela was released. Not long after that I learned about what went before; Sharpeville, Biko, the 1976 riots, Sophiatown. 
Heading into the 90’s we went through Model C schooling (a brand of government and private school hybridisation that facilitated racial integration), Zulu being introduced as a language option (very badly at first, by teachers who knew less than us, to the hysterical amusement of the new black kids in our classes, hooting with laughter at the ill-timed clicks and awful grammar – school prank gold) and navigating the mind field that was being a young teen in a rapidly changing society. I was 10 when the schools started integrating, and 13 by the time the first general elections rolled around in 1994.I remember being furious we weren’t allowed to vote, but slightly relieved when we saw the queues going round the block. I remember watching with fascination as some of our peer’s parents prepared for civil war, and many left to live in New Zealand, Australia and the UK. We watched Madiba’s inauguration – the dancing and joy – and yet people were leaving, all in the face of amazing optimism it seemed crazy
Kurt Cobain also died that year so between the general elections and the loss of my first true love, it was a pretty epic time. Hormones aside.
By 1995, the year we won the World Cup Rugby and Madiba donned the springbok jersey and danced with the nation, this man had come to symbolise a calming force of nature that could fan flames of national pride across the deeply entrenched racial divides and yet cool tempers when change wasn’t as quickly affected as the people needed and unrest was sparked. By the time I started university in 1999 we were 5 years into democracy with one of the most forward thinking constitutions in the world. And Johannesburg felt like the most cosmopolitan place on the globe, with every possibility in reach. We were starting companies, discovering our own brands of deep house, garage and electro, writing controversial articles, making our new voices heard. The party had just begun.
I was even lucky enough to meet The Man himself while waitressing at the 70th birthday party of yet another anti-apartheid activity, Amina Cachalia. I was so nervous I very nearly spilt spaghetti into his lap. Thankfully I was a better waitress than I thought and I managed to avert disaster, with a quick swivel on my heel. I also got to hear Graca Machel sing happy birthday which is a pretty special gem of a memory too.
So how am I here in London, paying my respects to a man who featured so prominently throughout my life, at Trafalgar Square rather than in Jozi? 

If anything the upbringing I was so lucky to have encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, try new things, go to new places. Not get complacent with my thinking. There is nothing like travelling to make you  feel immensely knowledgeable and hugely humbled by your own ignorance. London has done both. I also happened to be in love and that will take you everywhere, although ironically enough that wasn’t to be the love that kept me here. I fell in love with London, and then married a cabbie. What else?
So I paid my respects in two ways. I went to South Africa House and signed the Remembrance book with my London born and bred husband. We queued with a myriad of people from all over London, many of whom had taken time off work to do so, many of whom have never even been to South Africa. It’s been amazing to see how our collective feeling has been truly global and how this one life touched so many people.
And then I went running through my adoptive city with 100 RDC members under the cover of night, the Christmas lights shining, and bridges lit up, all the way from St Pauls past Waterloo Bridge to the Madiba statue on the Southbank. It was so beautiful and I am no longer ashamed to admit I sobbed like that 8 year old all over again.
Rest in peace Tata. You were our inspiration as we grew up from children, taught us patience, courage and forgiveness as unruly teens, and left us as adults with a sense of pride and purpose. Hamba kahle (Go Well)
100+ Run Dem Crew with the Madiba Statue (photo credit Glenn Hanock)

Ten Years On – The Great London Experiment

View East headed over the Thames to the Southbank Summer 2012

I should qualify this post by saying its not strictly about running. It should possibly be classified as a Ludicrous Pastime – because that’s what my trip to London was supposed to be. Not a fully committed life choice. Which of course it now is, the Summer Fling that turned into the Real Thing.

While booking flights for a holiday later this Spring, I noticed an old passport stamp, 23 Jan 2003, JHB International. Exit Stamp. One Year Return booked. I remember that gave us 365 days to decide if we wanted to extend the adventure. I was almost certain I’d work in a few pubs, pick a few strawberries, hit Glastonbury, the Edinburgh Fringe, maybe a few jaunts over to Europe and be straight back on a plane to beloved Jozi in 2004. I would not be a statistic. I would not be contributing to the much maligned Brain Drain. I was ‘just going to over a bit of a look’.

And why not? I had my Honours Degree licked, the luxury of an Irish passport and enough blind naivety to think it wouldn’t really phase me. That I’d enjoy Over There, but it would leave me interested but unchanged. I’d return a bit more well versed in having ‘done’ Europe, maybe have a few cool vintage finds from Camden, and of course wax lyrical about all the amazing gigs I had been to, of bands no-one had heard of back home.

Ten years on, I have not worked in a pub, picked a single solitary strawberry or hit Glastonbury. But I have managed Edinburgh, bought loads of dodgy clobber from Camden (to my shame) and am lucky enough to have seen more gigs in more weird and wonderful venues that I can remember (really, I can’t actually remember a good few of them). I have packed my bag countless times ventured on long weekends to Barcelona, Prague, Croatia, Marbella, Palma, Tunisia, a festival in Belgium, NYE in Amsterdam, a late spring trip to New York. I even fulfilled a life long dream of smoking a proper cigar in Cuba, drinking mint tea in Turkey, seeing the midnight sun in Sweden, late night swimming in Portugal, and a million other wonderful experiences my EU passport has allowed me to have. Of course, the best picture postcard moment? Getting married in St Lucia to my very own born and bred Londoner.

Mr and Mrs –  June 13th 2012 St Lucia 

Inevitably Over There became Over Here. I now say ‘yeah’ rather than ‘ya’, I know the tube backwards, and can also find my way round on most buses (having spent a lot of time in South London and having a long standing hate hate relationship with the Northern Line). I own (five) proper winter coats, get over excited when it hits 18 degrees in the summer and can hold a very dull, but fairly effectual conversation with anyone about the weather and the inability of our public transport system to cope with it.

Arriving at the tender age of 21, I have done the vast majority of my growing up here too, its been a hugely steep learning curve. The inevitable failing miserably at managing finances, relationships, and cooking. But surviving the hugely entertaining minefield that is house sharing, figuring out WHERE I actually wanted to live at all, (I have lived in NW3, E14, SW15, SW11, SW9, SW2, and finally settled in W10 with The Londoner), and once decided, who would man up and take out the bins. The first five years were a whirlwind of moving house, going out, staying up until stupid o’clock, figuring out what I actually wanted to DO, and by meeting the most magnificent people along the way, WHO I wanted to do it with.

The Girls. All as mad as they are magnificent (Notting Hill Carnival 2011)

Having figured out some of the basics, the last five years have been far less crazy, but not necessarily any easier.  London offers so much, its hard not to want more, from everyone and yourself. Anything you want to do, its available. Change your mind? Here’s a thousand other options. Want to stand out? You and a million others. I’ve had to learn to challenge myself, and push past my own expectations to see what I’m made of. Running has been a huge part of this. Something I thought I would never do, I now love. To the point where I have invested inordinate amounts of time, money and effort to get back on track and running post injury, and have been slowly, painfully learning to correct my form.

I am pleased to say I have finished my six week coaching session, my form has dramatically improved, and I just smashed 20 minutes flat out on the treadmill at a rocking pace. As a result, ten years on, I’m fitter than I was when I arrived and over ten pounds lighter (whoop! The running eating plan has meant I have shed a stone in about 12 weeks). Even with the roller-coaster ride of bitter disappointments and ecstatic highs, I feel a 100% more optimistic now then I did back then, stepping off that plane ten years ago with all the arrogance of a 21 year old grad student. And I was a royal pain in the arse know-it-all back then, so that’s saying something.