|June 17th, somewhere in Essex: Follow those white dots in the distance, they're runners!|
SO there we were, me and a 70s glam-rock guitarist, in the middle of a remote field, earnestly searching for a wooden box attached to a telegraph pole.
Before anyone calls for the men in white coats, I am not having weird dreams after eating too much cheese of an evening. Nor is this anything to do with my having spotted 70s rocker Suzi Quatro just a few miles away from this very field a week earlier.
No, the guitarist-in-a-field incident actually happened.
It was, in fact, one of several surreal scenarios which unfolded at the latest organised trail race in mid-Essex on Sunday. Perhaps we should have expected a degree of bizarreness, for the event had been officially billed ‘A Midsummer Night’s Stream’. Don’t ask me why. I failed to spot any streams, and it took place at 10 in the morning.
The event was staged a few miles south of Great Dunmow by the inestimable Howard Jardine, he of Grange Farm/Dunmow Runners fame, who, along with Dave Game (Mid-Essex Casuals) really ought to have been on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for organising all these wonderful runs that have sprung up across our fine county in recent times.
This one featured a highly scenic eight-mile route, well away from urban civilisation – so far away, in fact, that I managed to get lost in the car merely attempting to find the start (outside a gastropub in a tiny hamlet, as it turns out). This was not a good omen for the task ahead, and it meant I started the race relatively late, and therefore spent much of it going up hill and down dale in splendid isolation.
Anyway, having slipped the sunbathing Howard his fiver on the pub’s lawn, he punched his stopwatch and I legged it into the majestic silence of Garnett’s Wood on the first part of my eight-mile trek. You have to expect the unexpected on some of these runs, and I tried not to be fazed at the sight of a large wooden statue lurking incongruously among the trees.
Apparently this was a likeness of the 12th century knight after whom the wood is named. It looked a tad sinister, to be honest, as did the monochrome Union Jack flying over a farmyard later on. A Union Jack in black and white? What was that all about?
After a mile or two I at last encountered fellow runners who’d set off earlier. They were going the other way. To great relief we soon established that none of us were going wrong as Howard had fiendishly designed a route that involved a certain amount of doubling back. Seeing people coming the other way was not necessarily a cause for concern, although it was rather disconcerting and a good test of one’s resolve and concentration. Who said running was a mindless sport?
It was around the four-mile halfway point that I encountered the above-mentioned guitarist. He loomed up from behind, travelling a good 30-seconds-per-mile-quicker than me, I would estimate, so I stepped aside at a footbridge and waved him through. At this point we both hesitated as our instructions sheet demanded we locate a wooden box attached to a telegraph pole. For a while no such construction presented itself to us, and momentarily we wobbled and stumbled with uncertainty through the long grass.
Suddenly my fellow explorer triumphantly spotted the wooden landmark. This confirmed our position and allowed us to confidently proceed. It was a moment of relief, as going off course in such a remote area would not be good news. Eight miles is quite enough for my ageing joints, without adding more due to wrong turns.
As my opponent surged off into the distance I suddenly remembered why I’d half recognised him. It was none other than Yan Stile of Mid-Essex Casuals, a stalwart of the local trail-running scene, whose CV includes a spell as lead guitarist with chart-toppers Kenny in the mid-seventies. Admit it, those of you old enough to remember 1975 loved to sing along to Kenny’s hits ‘The Bump’ and ‘Fancy Pants’ back then. Didn’t you? Are you sure?
Me, I preferred the likes of Sparks, Roxy Music and Steely Dan during that era, but my over-developed love of trivia means I was still vastly impressed to encounter a member of Kenny in a deserted field in Essex. Thirty-seven years later, there was no sign of those funny coloured trousers he used to wear on ‘Top of the Pops’.
Yan is still involved in the world of music, even though his days as a pop star were numbered after serious arm injuries sustained in a car crash. These days he’s the MD of a London company that supplies stage equipment to shows and touring bands. At weekends he retreats into Essex, swapping consoles for insoles, and microphones for mileage.
As well as all this pop trivia, I also love a good coincidence. And it struck me as quite remarkable that I should bump into the man from Kenny (excuse the pun) just a few days after my ‘sighting’ of Suzi Quatro - also during a run in the same part of the world.
As regular readers of this column may recall, Suzi was allegedly seen during last week’s Springfield Striders 5-mile race, staged just down the road. The real coincidence is that both artists were part of Mickie Most’s highly successful RAK Records stable.
Do all the former RAK stars live in Essex perhaps? Maybe my sequence will continue at next week’s run and I'll encounter another one of them? Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate perhaps? Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits? The surviving members of Mud? (The weather forecast suggests there’ll be plenty of the latter . . . )
During last weekend's run we were, of course, only a short distance from the home of Nik Kershaw, but due to my advanced age I have to confess that seventies pop stars always rate higher than eighties heart-throbs. On my trivia-monitor anyway.
Nevertheless, next weekend’s scheduled trail run near Halstead goes mighty close to the country home of Cream bassist Jack Bruce, who shot to fame in the sixties, so spotting him would surely trump even Suzi Quatro!
* Check out Rob Hadgraft’s five books about running history at: www.robhadgraft.com