There’s a road I used to run along almost daily.
One morning, a massive crack had appeared in the tarmac. I blogged about it – though I have no idea where that writing has gone now. It’s probably lost in the dusty attic space of an old wordpress site.
Anyways, a few days later I ran down that road again and there were some council workers in illuminous jackets, scratching their heads and hugging their clipboards as they touched the crack with the tips of their dusty boots.
“I think the land is going to slip on the Undercliff,” I said to Ads when I got home. “Those cracks are spreading like lines on a cartoon earthquake.”
Within several weeks or months – I can’t quite remember how long now – the whole road had slipped. The council then attempted an emergency recovery by drilling huge metal rods into the spine of the ground. They didn’t predict the prolonged period of rain that followed. The holes filled with water, the land was weakened further and then there was a massive landslide.
Residents were evacuated from their homes, walkers were warned to stay clear and the bind weed and buddleia took on a Triffid style reclaim of the land.
During that time I stopped running.
I then experienced my own private landslide. I won’t go into that, because it’s kind’a boring. I will say, however, that during life landslides, many secret gems get unearthed (as well as old bottle banks of emotion and ridged dinosaur patterns of the prehistory revealed).
In that raw, unearthing a certain level of wild, natural, feral growth occurred.
It wasn’t clinical and prescribed and controlled like ten steps in a personal development manual. It was rough and scary and Mad Max and cut knees and sandstone dust under your finger nails as you cling on for dear life, sort of growth.
In January this year, the final rumblings settled.
I stood around for a bit.
Waiting for any aftershocks.
All was quiet.
It seemed I was back on good ground.
In May I began jogging down the slipped road again.
The part that fell is now only accessible via a narrow wooden path. The rest of the dry earth is hairy with scratchy plants and little yellow flowers.
Past the track and the higgeldy-piggeldy, fairy-tale cottages, and the empty ones that balance on the edge of the cliff with “Do Not Enter” and “Danger” signs, the road is shaded in a jungle of the old Undercliff trees.
It’s shady and cool.
The undergrowth clicks and shakes above and around you as you run through the canopy tunnel. Sometimes when I run I meet horses on the road. Sometimes walkers. Sometimes runners or cyclists or cars who have ignored the signs and are shortly destined for a tight U turn.
Two days ago, in a little leafy alcove, an older man with a beard and a tambourine and a guitar and drum, was playing this beautiful old Dylan style song.
I nodded and waved when I ran past him.
He nodded and waved back.
A few days later I ran there again and the musician was there again. This time in full swing of his song. I used his beautiful voice and tambourine as an excuse to stop just out of sight, catch my breath and listen to him playing. He didn’t know I was there, but I was and I loved hearing his music. It was like some unexpected magic; a present from Life on a day when I didn’t even know it was my birthday.
One week later I ran back again and promised myself that if the music man was there, this time I’d stop and talk with him. Sure enough, he was. As I padded down the fresh tarmac stretch, past the wild buddleia and clouds of butterflies, I heard the thump of a drum.
“Hi,” I called and jogged over. “I’ve been listening to your music each time I’ve come running lately. It’s beautiful.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ve just made this set up and I am practicing some new songs.” He nodded at the tambourine attached to his foot, the drum that was activated by another lever by his toe. Finally he looked at the guitar, leaning against a tree to the left.
I paused, wondering how to ask him his story without sounding like the nosiest person ever.
In the end I asked, “Why do you choose to come here to play?”
The man smiled. “I’ve spent most of my life busking around Europe. My flat here is too small to practise – and anyway, the neighbours would complain.” He smiled, his face lit up and he gestured to the canopy with one hand. “And what better studio than this?”
“Agreed,” I grinned. “The trees and the butterflies get to be your audience.”
He gave me a sideways look, as if that was taking it a bit too far.
“Well, actually, I’ve been your audience and you didn’t even know I was listening,” I added quickly. “And I used to write a lot and haven’t so much lately … but meeting you today has made me want to write something.”
“Good,” said the man. He reached over and picked up his guitar, adding “I guess we never know whose listening.”
“That’s very true.” I waited for a moment. I could feel my brow begin to cool and knowing that I’d stopped too long and that I needed to get jogging again. I stuck out my hand. “I’m Bethan.”
He shook my hand. “I’m Bobby. Nice to meet you.”
We said goodbye. I ran on and then I ran back again and he was gone.