21 August 2018
Today was my penultimate Running School session and it was yet another very hot, humid day. Luckily, as it was a later appointment, Commando was picking me up so I’d only have to walk one way. Due to Paul being on holiday it had been two weeks since my last session but I’d been practicing like mad trying to keep my fitness up. So far, it seemed to be working. The pain in my leg has been much diminished and walking feels much less of a chore and more of a pleasure. This didn’t mean I was looking forward to a work out with Paul though.
After the recent showers Riverside park looks a great deal greener than it did and, it might be my imagination, but the swans looked a little happier today too. There were a few hanging around by the jetty and more by the bend before the reedbeds but the lack of cygnets this year still made me a little sad. The trees still looked as if they were suffering. Some were filled with crusty looking brown leaves that spoke of autumn come too soon. Hopefully the damage will not be permanent, although I think we will have more than our share of fallen trees once the winter winds set in.
It was far too hot to dawdle and I kept up a good pace, dodging from one patch of shade to the next. At Woodmill I paused briefly to watch some kayakers and to note, with some dismay, a large clump of Himalayan balsam flowering on the bank. Sadly this seems to be one plant that hasn’t suffered in the long, dry summer.
After my last, rather unwise, detour via Mansbridge, I decided to stick to the tried and tested route, through the mill and across the green bridge today. While I’d allowed myself plenty of time for the walk and I was making good progress so far, I didn’t want a repeat of the mad dash I’d had last time, or the lack of shade along the riverbank.
For once, there were no cars queueing to get through the mill so I took the opportunity to take a photograph of the top of the sluice where the water begins to run through the mill. It isn’t a view it’s easy to appreciate most of the time because the road is usually so busy here.
It was a relief to get off Wessex Lane and back to the shade beside the churchyard. The ground here was littered with enough fallen leaves to make it feel a little like autumn but at least the grass looked green rather than brown.
Soon enough I’d crossed the green bridge and passed the blue bridge. The transformation since my last walk was astounding. The dried out, brown looking path edges, where the wildflowers were mown back, were now sprouting with new green life overspilling into the path. What a difference a little rain can make.
As I walked towards the gate I was congratulating myself on making good time and thinking about the Chocolate Salty Balls in my bag, planning a little rest in Monks Brook Meadows. Then it all began to unravel. As I reached out to unlatch the gate I saw two people laying on the grass beside the road. For a split second I thought they might have been hit by a car. The position of the railings and their bodies soon made me realise this was unlikely but, at this stage it looked very much as if I’d stumbled over a couple of corpses.
My first instinct was to rush forwards and check their vital signs but, as I walked towards them, something made me uneasy. The path I’d just come along was secluded and lonely. There was no one else about. If this was a trick of some kind I could easily find myself in deep trouble. Unsure what to do I stood and observed for a few moments. Both were laying on their backs with their possessions strewn about them. The body nearest to me was a man, next to him was a large carrier bag filled with something. The other body was a woman and next to her was a crutch. Their chests were rising and falling and their skin tone was normal, so they were both alive. My mind was racing through all the possibilities, asleep, sick, drunk, drugged? It settled firmly on the latter. No one in their right mind would take a nap beside a busy road, sudden illness in both was implausible, there were no empty bottles and cans and no smell of alcohol, that only left drugs.
Much as I hated to jump to conclusions, I couldn’t help thinking these two were probably Spice addicts. The synthetic cannabis substitute is becoming more and more common. Its users wander our streets with dead eyes like zombies, often barely able to stand, or turn our parks into strange battlefields littered with lifeless corpses. Most of us have seen them and know they are best given a wide berth. When challenged, they can become aggressive, so, much as I felt I should try to rouse them to make sure they weren’t in any real danger, I was too afraid for my own safety.
My phone was in my hand and I wondered whether I should call an ambulance? If I did though, neither the Spice heads or the ambulance service would be likely to thank me for it and I’d be obliged to stay until it arrived. By now, I’d been standing watching them for several minutes. If I didn’t move soon, I’d be late. If I called an ambulance I could kiss my Running School session goodbye, along with the money I’d paid for it.
In the end, much to my shame, I left them where they were and walked on. The whole thing left me feeling guilty and uneasy. Part of me felt bad for doing nothing but another part was relieved to be away from them. Back on the trail beside Monks Brook I thought of the parable of the Good Samaritan. When tested, like the priest and the Levite, I’d walked away. It didn’t make me feel very good about myself.
So, I walked on along the shady trail feeling bad. It’s a sad fact that being a Good Samaritan is not an easy thing in this modern world. Would be Samaritans have been robbed and even killed by tricksters pretending to be in need, and getting involved in someone else’s drama can have consequences. One evening, some years ago Commando and I saw a woman thrown from a moving car as we walked down the main road. Commando vaulted over the crash barrier and rushed to her aid. All he got for his trouble, was abuse from the injured woman. The man was her boyfriend, she didn’t want the police or ambulance called and became quite violent towards us, her helpers.
None of this made me feel any better about walking away and I couldn’t stop thinking about those two people laying beside the road. Any time I’d banked by walking quickly earlier was now gone though and I had to hurry on. The trail was very overgrown and, in my rush, I got stung by nettles as I headed up towards Monks Brook Meadows. It seemed like a punishment.
Thinking to save a little time and avoid the worst of the vegetation, I crossed the centre of the meadow. The dry brown path was now green. On I went, under the road and across the second meadow, soon to become a car park. Here the barriers were back and I had to climb over them to reach the road. There was no time now to stop and rest or eat my snack.
Out on the road the workmen were busy building the new car park entrance. I hurried past with barely a glance. By the time I reached the cool of the Running School building I was hot, out of breath and still vaguely worried about the two people I’d abandoned.
Paul soon drove all thoughts of them from my mind with single leg squats, glute bridges and backwards treadmill walking. For two weeks I’d been religiously practising all these, especially the walking lunges I’d found so tough during the previous session. This time there were no walking lunges though, Paul had another, even worse trick up his sleeve. It was almost the finish of me.
After a long session of single leg squats he told me to squat and hold. Very briefly, the pause while I held the squat seemed like a rest. Holding a squat on one leg whilst clinging to a pole is tough though and this pause went on and on. Giving up was not an option so I clung and sweated and tried to breathe. Right when the edges of my vision were going black and I was sure I was going to pass out, he told me to stop. Relief was short lived. The process was repeated wth the other leg, then over and over until blood was pounding in my ears and I was sure I was going to die.
We finished with some calf raises. This was to help my Achilles issues. According to Paul there was a man who’d had Achilles trouble for so long he decided to try to completely break his Achilles by doing thousands of calf raises. The idea was that a broken Achilles tendon would be easier to heal than an inflamed one, or would, at least, be taken seriously by the doctors. The calf raises didn’t break his Achilles tendon at all though, they healed it. It was a nice story but the practice was harder than expected.
Calf raises are not new to me and, at first, I found them easy. As usual though, Paul pushed me to my limits and beyond. Oddly, I found the exercise much easier on my weak right side, where my Achilles issue is, than on my left. This, Paul explained, was because the repeated inflammation and scarring on my damaged Achilles has actually made it stronger. Who’d have thought?
Finally, it was all over and, as promised, Commando was outside in the car waiting for me. As we drove off I remembered the corpses by Monks Brook Greenway and wondered if they were still there. Commando didn’t drive that way though, so I had no chance to find out.
All evening leaving those two people played on my mind but, in a strange quirk of fate, a Facebook post finally set my it to rest. Someone else had seen the two corpses and had also let them be. Several other people commented to say they had seen them too and the general consensus was that they were on Spice and leaving them was probably the best course of action. Then someone who knew a little more added to the conversation. Apparently these two people live in the woods behind the Fleming Arms pub and are, as everyone suspected, drug addicts. They are often seen passed out, off their heads, or begging for money in the area. Knowing I was not the only one to walk away, or to feel vaguely afraid, made me feel slightly better about my actions. What a sad world we live in though.
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