Castle Pillock 12
It’s a chunky, decent bit of kit, that London Marathon medal.
The Princess laid hers beside her on the hotel bed. If she could have moved anything other than her eyes she would have been stroking it lovingly and whispering sweet nothings to it. As it was, lascivious glances over its contours had to suffice.
‘Would you like another cup of tea? I’ll hold the cup for you. Another blister plaster with that?’
The Princess did it in 6hrs 14 mins 42 seconds. She had been on target for about five and a half hours before she pulled something or strained something or did something generally unpleasant and was reduced to enthusiastic hobbling for the last six or seven miles, before gathering herself for one last trot over the finishing line. She was not going to hobble over the line.
It was, as everyone always says it is, an amazing day. Our hotel was one of the Marathon ‘partners’, so they put on early breakfasts, with extra bananas.
‘Don’t want a bloody banana.’
‘Bananas are good for you. Potassium, or something.’
‘Toast. Carbs are good for me.’
A rather good looking young man, also in running gear, chatted to her by the toaster. This was possibly the only occasion I would be sanguine on hearing a young man say to my daughter, ‘Is this your first time?’
She came back with a bit of a spring in her step. ‘I’ll have a banana. That lad says they’re good for you.’
The hotel also put on a coach to all the starting points.
‘Let’s have a photo of you by the coach.’
‘Mum, it’s just a coach. No-one takes photos of a coach.’
The good looking young man arrived and gave her a warm smile. ‘Would you like me to take a picture of you and your mum by the coach?’
‘Oooh yes, that would be lovely, thank you. Come on Mum, come and stand by the coach.’
And so we waved them off, our daughters, sons, mums, dads, brothers and sisters, and stood around in the lobby half grinning at each other and wondering what to do next. It was only quarter past seven.
Well, sod it, I wasn’t running the bloody thing, so back to the room to lie on the bed and watch telly for an hour or so.
I got to Tower Bridge about half past nine. The Epilepsy Action cheerleaders were already in position, already frozen, eager to hand out flags, T-shirts, blow-up-bang-together-stick-things, flappy-wave-in-the-air-clacker-things, and enough enthusiasm to warm even the coldest day. Those with i-phones failed to get the track-your-runner app working. Those with posh android phones logged on to the track-your-runner thing on the marathon website. Those of us with crap android phones waggled them about and resigned ourselves to just waiting until our runners turned up.
I had a call from Bugger Lugs, father of my children, who was also in the capital for the event.
He sounded fretful. ‘Where are you?’
‘I’m on Tower Bridge. Where are you?’
‘Somewhere round Shadwell. How do I get from Shadwell to Tower Bridge?’
‘No idea. Ask a sniffer dog. There’s enough of them about.’
Pause. ‘Right. See you in a bit.’
From further down the bridge, an immense cheer as the first of the wheelchairs came through.
I saw David Weir! I saw the Weirwolf! Blimey, those things don’t half go. And not long after I saw Eliud Kipchoge! And Jemima Sumgong! And the club runners thundering past. After which the first of the dinosaurs, Darth Vaders, Batmen and gorillas started to appear and the crowd did its collective nut, shouting and blow-up-stick banging and flappy-clacker-waving with all its might.
I got another call from Bugger Lugs.
‘I can see Tower Bridge.’
‘I can’t quite see how to get on it.’
‘They’re not allowing people on the steps because it’s too crowded. Do you know if there’s another way on?’
‘No idea. Ask a sniffer dog.’
Pause. ‘Right. See you in a bit.’
Before the day, I hadn’t really thought about why the charities and individuals personalise their running vests. I just assumed it was so the runner had a nice souvenir for afterwards. I was wrong. It’s because the crowd will shout for any name they can see, and if they can’t see a name, they’ll improvise. The Princess said later that when she hit The Wall, and when she was down to the hobbling stage, what really kept her going was hearing total strangers shouting her name and telling her to keep going, come on, you can do it!
On Tower Bridge I quickly got the hang of it. ‘Come on Fred! Come on Mavis! You can do it, Rachid! Come on Washing Machine! Come on Camel! Come on…purple chap in the tutu!’
Beside me, a small girl in a large Epilepsy Action t-shirt had been enthusiastically screeching at everyone who came past. Suddenly her voice rose to dog-whistle pitch: ‘MY DADDY! MY DADDY! THERE’S MY DADDY! COME ON MY DADDY!’
We all smiled, we all cheered for My Daddy, and some of us wiped away a happy tear at the sheer exuberance of it all.
Bugger Lugs arrived. ‘Is there a loo around here?’
‘Actually on Tower Bridge? Probably not.’
‘I’ll have to go and find a loo.’
‘OK. Before you do that, could you look on your posh android phone and see if you can track her?’
The Princess, it emerged, was about fifteen minutes away.
‘Do you think I’ll find a loo in fifteen minutes?’
Sometimes, in quiet moments, I do think about his current partner, and I send her my love.
He spotted her first. ‘There! There she is! Look! She looks great! She’s going really well! Go Princess!!’
And I just stood there, waving my little flag, barely managing to gurgle, ‘My Princess…’
I’d pulled myself together by the time I got to the Mall, several hours later. Bugger Lugs had gone off to pursue her round the route, and kept me up to date with progress, my crap android phone still refusing to have anything to do with any form of tracking device at all. I phoned her brother, and my mother. ‘She’s doing well, she looks OK. Call you later.’ I found myself a spot about four hundred yards from the finish, and manoeuvred my way to the front by a combination of ‘old lady coming through’ and ‘oh, young man, can you see my daughter’ schtick. To my delight, I saw some of the same people I’d seen on Tower Bridge, considerably slower, considerably more tattered, all with a look of grim and exhausted determination in their eyes.
‘Nearly there, Washing Machine! You can make it, Camel! Purple chap in the tutu – don’t give up!’ I wondered how My Daddy got on.
And then…the Princess, hobbling, grimacing, gripping a water bottle like a life belt from the Titanic.
‘COME ON PRINCESS! COME ON PRINCESS! NEARLY THERE! NEARLY, NEARLY THERE!’
And bless them, the crowd around me picked it up. ‘COME ON PRINCESS! LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER! YOU CAN DO IT!’
And she did.
So now she’s got her medal, and her certificate, and the picture of her trotting over the finishing line. She has proved to herself that, after struggling to come to terms with her epilepsy diagnosis a couple of years ago, she can turn an apparent negative into an amazing, brilliant positive. Here’s to all the people who did the same thing last Sunday, to all those who tried, even if they didn’t complete it all, and particularly to the young man who so tragically died. Heroes, the lot of you.