10 September 2017
Dull, dismal September Sunday afternoons are made for snuggling up with a good book. This is especially true if you have spent Sunday morning out on a long run, maybe another practice circuit of the Winchester Half Marathon course. Even if you’ve had the first lie in you can remember for ages wind, thick grey cloud and a forecast of rain later doesn’t exactly entice you outside. This Sunday afternoon though, despite all of the above, Commando and I were huddled on the Woolston waterfront looking up at the Itchen Bridge and we weren’t alone. A group of intrepid Spitfire explorers were slowly gathering.
When Lee came up with this year’s Spitfire summer challenge, he probably imagined a bright sunny day and leisurely drinks sipped outside the Yacht Tavern afterwards like last year’s Summer Selfie Challenge. Back then the biggest worries were overheating and dehydration. This year waterlogging, hypothermia and being blown away were more likely. Last year I half wished I could run so I could join in. This year I was more than happy to sit it out fully clothed and wrapped in a coat.
This little area of shoreline was once the Itchen Ferry Village. A circle of paving and a small garden marks the spot where the little ferry boats once left the shores of Woolston bound for Southampton Town on the other side of the Itchen. Later, when the ferrymen and their boats had been replaced by the Floating Bridge, the Supermarine factory stood on the riverbank a few yards to the south. This was where the Spitfires were built.
These days the garden is sandwiched between the industrial units of Hazel Road and the new houses under the Itchen Bridge. The little garden has a slightly neglected feel about it and the shingle is littered with flotsam, jetsam and a fair bit of discarded rubbish. Amid all the debris a pair of swans have set up home. CJ and I have seen them many times on our wanderings. Today though, I was so busy huddling behind Commando trying to shelter from the wind I didn’t spot them until John pointed them out to me. Despite the less than ideal conditions they have managed to raise seven cygnets.
While I was busy taking photos of the cygnets and wondering why they hadn’t chosen a prettier and cleaner spot to live, the last of the Spitfires were arriving. Just looking at them in their shorts and running tops was making me shiver. While Lee explained the challenge, I walked around taking photos of the teams.
The idea was for each team to run around the city collecting selfies with street signs. They had two hours to gather as many as they could, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet. Points were awarded based on the number of letters in each sign with extra points for any team who collected signs beginning with every letter, apart from X and Z as there are no street names beginning with those in Southampton.
Planning was the key to this challenge, so it was a while before the teams began to run off. Once they did though the rest of us huddled in the wooden shelter outside the pub. On a different day we might have sat in the pub garden on benches brightened by stray seedlings from the hanging baskets. We might even have sat inside in the warm but, like so many pubs in the city, the Yacht Tavern had ceased trading. By this time it had started to rain and the wind was whistling around the inside of the shelter. We amused ourselves discussing good street names for the challenge and feeling thankful we weren’t outside running.
After a while the lights inside the pub came on. We thought the staff might be inside packing up. When the pub door opened Lee went to investigate and discovered today was, in fact, the very last day the pub was open. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a great deal on offer but they did turn on the heat lamps inside the shelter which was a bonus. A warm drink would have been very welcome about then but there was no coffee so I had to settle for Diet Coke. Considering all the people out in the rain there was no room for complaint.
Now we knew the pub was open we could have gone inside but then we wouldn’t have seen the Spitfires coming back so we stayed put in the shelter. Then Rachel spotted the first runners coming down the road so I scrambled to get outside with the camera in time to capture them. They were soaked to the skin but still smiling. While they went into the shelter to show Lee their selfies I waited around for the next arrivals.
A few minutes later Commando and his team appeared around the bend. They looked equally soggy as they ran by the little garden but, instead of heading for the pub, they ran straight past. They still had another street name to collect.
Now teams or parts of teams were arriving one after the other. Every one of them was completely soaked but they were all smiling, which is probably more than could be said for me. Standing around in the rain with my camera I was slowly getting as wet as them.
Eventually everyone was crowded into the little shelter to have beer or cider provided by John and Rachel and chocolate brownies baked by Meeje while Lee and the adjudicator fairies checked all the selfies and totalled up the points. Runners are a surprisingly competitive bunch so there was a great deal of chatter about who’d run the furthest and the length of the road names they’d collected.
The highest scoring Road name turned out to be Freemantle Common Road, found by Commando’s team, but it didn’t give them enough points to win. Like all but one team, they hadn’t managed to find road names beginning with every single letter. Oddly, Y turned out to be the one most people couldn’t find. In the end only the blue team earned the bonus points for collecting the whole alphabet. Those extra points made all the difference and they were declared the winners and presented with the a prize of sweets. At this stage towels might have been more useful.
The rain, which seemed to be getting harder and harder, meant there wasn’t a lot of hanging about drinking, chatting and watching the sun go down like there was last year. It wasn’t long before everyone had gone back home to warm baths and an evening laughing at all the street name selfies popping up on Facebook.
It may have been a wet and windy afternoon better suited to watching TV and sipping cocoa, but the Spitfires proved there’s fun to be had running round in the rain. At least there is when Lee sets a challenge.
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