|Merleau-Ponty (thinking, probably)|
Our experience of the outside world, of other bodies, of eating a bad meal, of seeing a beautiful landscape, these are all made possible, or altered, by the kinds of bodies that we have. If everything’s connected, everything’s perspective. So if you change your body, does that change the landscape?
|Downe House, Kent – as it was when someone drew it|
Over the next few months, though, your body changes. Not to look at. You might be slightly trimmer round the midriff, but otherwise you look the same. You are not the same, though. You are much stronger. The landscape that you can see and feel and sense is much, much larger, too. Do the experiment again. Think of something 11 miles away. You probably can’t, but if you can, try to imagine the route to get there on foot – the climbs and falls, the variety of camber, the changes of surface you’d need to cover. Can you honestly do that? I’m not bragging when I say that I can. If you know any runners, they will tell you the same. Without checking I can tell you that it is about 11 miles to Notting Hill from my house. A quiet route through South London would get me there in about 2 hours. I wouldn’t need any special shoes (any of the ones I run in would be fine). The weather wouldn’t matter that much, either (I even ran in a blizzard on Blackheath last winter – somewhat predictably, it was lovely). I’m pretty sure that if I headed in the opposite direction, 11 miles would take me to Darwin’s house in Kent… (freaky, I’ve just checked on Google maps and, wait for it, 10.9 miles). It’s not just this spatial relationship that has changed. I can’t look at pictures of a landscape, of almost any kind, without thinking about running through them, over them, to the side of them, beyond them. Rural, industrial, urban, desert; I always think about running on them (more on this later).
I was reading a collection of essays by John Gray, a searingly intelligent pop philosopher (he’d clock me one for that, but it is supposed to be a compliment) that was bought for me for my birthday (thanks Adam). In it is a piece about when the trains failed in London a few years ago. He writes from the perspective that although the power outage it was reported as an aberration, he sees it as a warning about the sustainability of the way we live in the West. How stupid, he believes, that we think that our super-consumption of resources (of all kinds) is one that the rest of the world ought to aspire to. He thinks, instead, that the lights will continue to go off. This is only the beginning. The trains will come to a stand still. Chip-and-pin card readers will fail. Ocado deliveries won’t show up. As E. M. Forster succintly put it in the title to one of his short stories, ‘The Machine Stops’.
Last Christmas, the trains did stop because of ‘snow’ (or maybe it was a few breadcrumbs from the stationmaster’s BLT). I was having a drink in town with a friend and we ‘stupidly’ stayed out till 7.30pm, by which time the stations had all closed. People were losing their minds. I shrugged, popped in my headphones, and spent the next few hours walking all the way home. A few months before, my body would never have stood for that.