Bella and I were on our way to West Ham Park and were blamelessly employing a zebra crossing. When we were half way across a 4×4 roared up and didn’t stop. We both leapt back towards the pavement that we had recently left. Fortunately Bella, with her childhood in Chelsea, has experience in avoiding these large and unnecessary cars. During this incident two things struck me. The first was that the vehicle was a Cayenne, and I remember wondering, not for the first time, why anyone would name a car after a type of pepper – and then thinking that this might be my last thought of all. Then, when I realised that it wasn’t, I noticed the driver. She was a young, modestly dressed Moslem woman. Even after the incident she seemed not to have noticed what had happened. There were none of the obscene gestures on the part of the driver or, more commonly, cyclist, that usually follow incidents of this nature, let alone (God forbid with a modest Moslem woman) the cry of ‘Cunt!’ that generally accompanies them; she sailed serenely on. Probably, I reflected, her view of us had been restricted by the decent black cloth that covered all her face except the area immediately in front of her eyes. She had eliminated her peripheral vision and we were the victims of her doing so.
I know that in the Holy Quran, the Prophet enjoins the faithful to look out for the wayfarer, but possibly this is a requirement at a lower level of importance than that to restrict your peripheral vision with black cloth; I am not an expert and I don’t know. For the rest of the walk to West Ham Park I thought about these things and wondered if they had more general significance. Peripheral vision: importance of … the essential things being those glimpsed out of the tail of the eye: c.f. Carlos Castaneda … the importance of subtlety, of contradiction: c.f Gerard Manley Hopkins … that sort of thing. It might, I thought, make a satisfactory theme for a sermon, until I remembered that I was not a priest.
When we got there, there was organised running to avoid. Men, women and children hurried past us in various states of wheeziness. Many of them had earphones, so that a voice supplied by some app – I imagine – could tell them whether a Personal Best was out of the question. I mused, still thinking along the lines for a good sermon (I have been reading Penelope Fitzgerald’s biography of her uncles, The Knox Brothers, where people deliver sermons of one sort or another all the time) about the relationship, as regards one’s aspirations to a Personal Best, between the voice of the app in your ear (modern) and the still, small voice of conscience (eternal).
The great Tessa Sanderson, who I believe comes from our part of the world and helps to organise these communal runs, jogged up and down in a spotless track suit shouting supportive things, like ‘Hey! You can do it!’ and ‘Call that running?’
And then curiously it happened all over again. A woman hurtled towards us. She was dressed in full Islamic costume. I have a lot of respect for this: engaging with one’s traditional values and at the same time joining in with the community at large, not to mention giving credit to the secular values of personal fitness. Anyway, she too had issues around peripheral vision. She failed to anticipate Bella’s stocky form, sauntering at foot level, and tripped forwards, landing on the grass a short and fortunate distance from where Bella had just laid her morning tribute, which I had imperfectly gathered in a specially designed plastic bag.
‘Fuck me,’ she said.
That was a first.
She declined assistance, stood up and directed a look of pure hatred at Bella. Then she was off again, her heart high but her hopes of a Personal Best on this occasion shattered.
We struck off away from the runners. Soon we got to a game of cricket. Bella likes cricket without pretending to understand it and without sharing her predecessor’s desire to participate in the game by running onto the wicket and laying one’s morning tribute at precisely the point at which a good off-break bites. When he did this once, in Rye as it happens, he was lucky to escape with his life. We stopped to watch. It was boys of eleven or twelve. They were doing it properly, dressed in whites, applauding good shots and good fielding and changing ends briskly between overs. There was a tiny spin bowler with a Sikh turban like an aspiring Bishan Bedi.
Taking a wide circle we made for the exit from the park. We passed the finishing post for the communal run. Tessa Sanderson, who had been having a bit of a jog up and down, was fussing over the paraphernalia on the table by the finishing post. The leading runners, cross-eyed with lust for their Personal Best and trying to discern the siren voices of the apps in their ears above the rushing sound of their own blood, now came into view. Since I didn’t care who won, or whether any Personal Bests were achieved, we didn’t break stride: it was past the ornamental garden and the tai chiers and out into the street.
Goodness, I like it here.