Why I never want to go back there………
It was one day in May 2012 – I looked up at the studio clock and saw the time was almost 10am. I barely had the energy to sign off to my breakfast show listeners. Just had to play the news jingle at exactly the right time, so it ended with the 6 BBC “pips” time signal, the last one coinciding with 10.00.00 hours – an operation I had done thousands of times, but now could barely manage what seemed like an impossible task.
My all-speech show had featured about 20 items that day, and I couldn’t remember one of them. Had no idea whether I had been good, average, or downright rubbish. I just remember praying for time to get to 10am as quickly as possible.
I picked up my few bits of paper, and walked out of my studio, which had been my working home for some 20 years, for the very last time.
Straight into my station manager’s office: “I can’t do this anymore.” So off to the doctor. That was huge, for me. Actually go see my doctor, over this “thing” I’m feeling. I explained that I’d been fighting to stay in control of everything. But now, it was my body and mind that were controlling me. I simply had nothing left with which to fight. A hopeless mess of a human being.
He was smart – he asked me to come and see him again the next morning, and deliberately at a time at which I would normally be on-air. Another words, if you really want and need help, you won’t go back to work tomorrow.
I didn’t, ever, go back to work – though I didn’t know it at the time.
I felt broken, like every fibre of me was unbelievably fragile. Sat there in front of my doctor, I felt several emotions. Shame, for allowing myself to succumb to whatever it was. Guilt, at letting people down at work, letting my family down, and having to stop my charity work with my choir of alcoholic and totally needy people. I also felt totally undignified. Yes, I’d always been able to hold my head up high during my working life, yet now I didn’t even have the energy to hold my head up at all. Anyway, it was easier staring into the floor, so I didn’t have to face anyone ever again.
Over the next few days and weeks, I felt a complete loss of confidence – I did not want to see or talk to anybody outside my family. Thank God for Mrs B – without her unconditional support, and that of my family, and indeed my employers, I know I would not have survived.
The official diagnosis was “Emotional Exhaustion”. It is a good description, but basically, it was a nervous breakdown.
Eventually, out of the misery and despair came some enlightenment. With both a brilliant doctor and equally wonderful therapist, I discovered that it had probably taken 20 years to get to the stage I was now at – 20 years of increasing stress, first as a musician and then as a broadcaster, and it would probably take the same amount of time to get back to how I was feeling 20 years ago! So what was the point of getting better, only to go back to work, and end up as this heap of mess again in a year or two?
So in a nutshell, early retirement, getting back with my choir for one last big sell-out concert, and then leaving with Mrs B to start a new, mostly stress-free life in our new home of North Cyprus. Off the wacky tablets within six months.
A new man, a lucky, lucky man. So you will understand why I never want to go back there, to that time…………
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional
It was ‘just’ the 30km mark at the 2018 White Nights Saint Petersburg Marathon and I felt like I had hit that famous ‘marathon wall’. Too early, I thought. Yep, it was humid and hot but this is why I was training in Cyprus, too. From my two previous marathon experiences, in Moscow in September 2014 and here at Saint Petersburg in June 2015, I knew what to expect when you run out of your fuel, which is glycogen. But this time it happened unexpectedly early. My pace was already slowing down, but the worst thing was that I lost belief in myself that I could somehow make it. When the sun came out of the clouds – it did it several times – I was immediately slowing down, even if I didn’t want to see my pace dropping behind my plan.
Previously, at the 30km mark, I’ve felt OK. There was even an illusion that I could do it in a comparatively good time. This is what Haruki Murakami, famous Japanese author and a devoted marathon runner (more than 30 by now plus one 100km ultramarathon) has once said: ‘I feel great at 30km and I am hopeful. Then I am dying at 35km’. So, from my own experience, if you die at 35km you have a hope that it will be over pretty soon, just 7km to go which is less than your usual training. But when you’re starting to die at 30K you understand that something is going wrong.
Yes, my first marathon in Moscow in 2014 was pain. I had an aching muscle in my left leg and the final 34-42km interval was probably the worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. The following year in Saint Petersburg I ran it much better. So this time, the third time, after five months of constant training I was really hopeful: it is not the first time so you know what it might feel like. You’ve covered hundreds of kilometers in Moscow, Cyprus and on the banks of Volga executing your run plan. You’ve run this race here before, you know what to expect here. You ran it positively, too. So, let’s do it and enjoy! Just do it, man!
I’ve tried, yeah, though even before the race my morale was low; I was expecting something bad to pop up. No excitement at all. Even before the run I was thinking that in several hours it would be over and I could then switch to a normal life. Not a winner’s mood. Probably it was because I over-trained, both physically and psychologically. I remember I did my long run, 30K on July 8. I covered the distance in 2 hours 51 minutes and 43 seconds at a 5.43 minutes per kilometer pace. I felt great, felt really fit and now I understand it was my peak form; I should have run the marathon on that day!
So, I ran it and made it to the finish line. I got my finisher’s medal. I even managed to get my personal best though it is pretty mediocre in general: 4:23:57, but great to me. But I feel fed up now. Don’t want to die anymore because I don’t understand why I should.
If I ever run a long race again it will be a half-marathon: it is fun, it is much faster and you don’t even need to drink on your way. You can run it as fast as you can without fearing you would stop somewhere on the way, hit by the marathon wall, or just getting injured.
So that is why I don’t want to go back there now: no more marathons!
Man, I never want to come back here (yet again!)
When the subject of someplace I don’t ever want to go back to came up, one spot jumped to mind. But of course I’ve been back. I don’t care, it’s still the worst.
I am informed that Ciro is the dirtiest city on the planet but that isn’t what came to mind. Nope, the train station in Naples (Napoli, IT) did. Now I love Italy, if you haven’t been and ever get the chance to go, grab it: NOW!
But that train station is the absolute worst. It’s not the building or facilities. Everything is nice enough; its the Gawd-awful people who haunt the place.
They work the lobby… The first woman came up and shoved her daughter, who was perhaps five, at me and exclaimed that she HAD to have money or her child would not eat. Ummm… no, sorry. Every metre or two I was accosted again.
Outside the front of the building is even worse, you go from simply being accosted for money to feeling a real sense of danger. Mind you, I wasn’t ever actually mugged but it was clear that I could be at any moment. I suppose my first clue should have been when the taxi driver dropped us of at the alley behind the building because he didn’t want to drive around to the front.
I remember riding in that taxi thinking to myself how much garbage was simply laying along the street. I had no idea that it was about to get worse.
Now, this is just the one place. Rome is magnificent, stunning, beautiful… ok you get the idea. Oh, and so is Southern Italy, with high mountains that drop straight into azure seas. The Mediterranean is simply bewitching with blues and greens that cannot actually exist.
Southern Italy is what brought me back to that train station. Italy has an efficient, inexpensive rail system that would make Roger gush. You have a choice from the local commuter train all the way up to EuroStar with its elegant, yellow boxes.
Because most of the stuff you think of as “Italy” is in the North, I don’t guess I will go back. Too bad, I would pay the price to see the South again.