|Not my picture, sorry.|
It is a Saturday afternoon in June. Greenwich Park is usually rammed on such a day, but it was peculiarly, almost eerily empty today. Although there had been some bright sunshine (I even asked my partner if I should take my sunglasses! Ha!), from the moment I stepped out on my LSD (that’s Long, Slow, Distance – to be done once a week and it makes up to a third of one’s weekly mileage). By the time I hit Greenwich Park I was in mile 4 or 5 and the clouds were hanging so heavy it felt like the were just above the tree canopy. It was about one in the afternoon and there were no people at all for the first few hundred yards. Instead, nature seemed to have repossessed the park. There were a pair of squirrels skitting about. A pair of pigeons doing that slightly comic Max Wall amble of theirs. A single crow stared blankly at the eight-foot brick-wall of the park’s border, like a worn-out inmate too institutionalised to attempt escape. A robin looked questioningly, don’t they always, as it stood with its tiny feet on the curve of a bench. Then, deluge.
I have never run in such fierce rain before. The skies became even blacker and the blades of rain fell so hard against me that they stung through my running shirt. In seconds I was sodden, between my toes, under my arms, it was everywhere. I suppose this might be what tenacity is because I thought, not in a terribly aggressive way, but I was not going to let it stop me doing what I had planned to do: 8 miles at 10 mins pace. I continued round the park but the rain was falling with such ferocity that the trees could not get rid of it fast enough. Beeches, chestnuts, oaks, sycamores would all usually provide ample shelter. Especially given the age of some of them, there are numerous pollarded oaks in the park that go back to the reign of Elizabeth I. The canopy of the trees bowed so much that I couldn’t even run under them. Some of them are 60 feet high but their branches drooped so near the ground that I couldn’t even duck under them for shelter.
Crack. Lightning. This was a proper storm. One that reminds you who’s boss. I’m not usually frightened of such spectacular weather, but I must confess to a momentary ‘I hope my iPod doesn’t attract the current.’ In a park with several hundred tall trees to choose from, I didn’t really have anything to worry about.
So I didn’t. I just ran, ignoring the rain as best I could. My shirt drooped with the weight of the water while the upper part of it clung to me. By the time I had looped round to the rose garden, my water-sodden clothing provided some protection against the sharp rain. All I had to worry about now was feeling slightly cold. The Rose Garden! In fact, Everything! We had had rain the day before, too, so no doubt the Technicolor hyper-saturation of natural life in the park was due in part to that. As I was circling the cricket pitch I gradually changed my heading. Looking north I was suddenly struck with a view of London, luminescent green fields with a backdrop of bright blue skies peppered with heavy rain in the foreground. “Ohhhhhh! Amazing!” I said, used now to having the whole park to myself. As I looked round, I saw thirty or so faces, only a few feet away, gazing at me in disbelief that I could find such weather “amazing”. They had all ran for the cricket pavilion as soon as the rain had started. It was another ‘ecstasy’ moment that I’ve written about before, but this one wasn’t created wholly by my psychology, not really.
The pathetic fallacy (a literary term) is a bit of a fallacy itself. The term is used in a variety of ways, one of which is to use the weather to depict the inner-turmoil (think Wuthering Heights) or contentment (Howards End ‘…and it’ll be such a crop of hay as never’!), or the fug of confusion in Bleak House. Like many a literary term it is incredibly anthropocentric. It employs all of the world, and all of nature and reduces it to the human experience of it. The weather becomes merely a representation of the inside played out in the proscenium of nature.
|Not quite the ‘sea of violets’ of the book|
But thunder and lightning shake and stir the emotions from the outside in, too. That tremendous crack of lightning is all it takes to remind us that no matter how in charge we may feel, we are not running the show. We are subject to powers far beyond our comprehension and control. Nature and its sublime power forces us to rethink our relationship with the world outside our bodies, not the other way round. When George first takes Lucy in his arms in Forster’s A Room with a View, she is sort of intoxicated by the view of Florence in the distance. ‘Before she could speak, almost before she could feel, a voice called, “Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!” The silence of life had been broken by Miss Bartlett who stood brown against the view.’ The world intervenes in the shape of Lucy’s maiden aunt – she is the ‘brown’ deadwood in the lustrous landscape, and she calls Lucy back to her ‘civilised’ life. This scene in the novel is followed by a most violent storm, one which shakes Lucy out of her senses. George on the other hand, gives himself up to it and walks through the rain back to Florence. The storm releases Lucy from her civilised sensibility, but it is a sensibility that has such a momentum that it takes her the entire rest of the novel to fully shake herself free from it.
The real beauty of storms is that they are not about us at all. We are about them.
(This is the run I did, today.)