Trainers or Louboutins...


We all have to write a bio at some point in our lives, let people know a little about ourselves, perhaps selecting the bits that we hope will communicate, amuse, (impress) … With Twitter it’s quite a relief really to know you only have 160 characters available.  Not too demanding of detail, but enough to express who (you think) you are.  I put on my twitter profile: “Freelance Illustrator of  edibles (mostly) Cyclist, Forest Scamperer, Sheller, Louboutin Wearer. Just a little obsessed with figs…”

The one I suspect that gets the most attention might be ‘Louboutin Wearer’, but the one that perhaps defines me most succinctly (outside of illustrator) would be forest runner.

I started running (scampering would be more apt) in the forest for several reasons. 1) it’s kinder to the body than road running, 2) it’s free 3) it’s easy to fit in around work and family life because, 4) it’s on my doorstep…

However, there was a 5th reason that only became clear much later on, and now supersedes all the other reasons in significance and impact. The 5th one is “Oh wow, I didn’t know that.”

I didn’t know that I could run that far and not get bored

I didn’t know that it was so noisy in the forest…

I didn’t know my heart could pump that fast, and not burst

I didn’t know that the air smelt so differently, depending on the weather, the season…

I didn’t know that my head needed emptying so badly.

I have rediscovered something utterly amazing that I thought I’d lost forever in my old school satchel.  I have become reacquainted with a desire to know, to learn, to question. As each foot falls on deer carved pathway, my mind begins to loosen from the ties that bind it to the usual rhythms of work/home life.. and with this uncorking of my stuffed, distracted and chattering head, there appears a space.  It flows with the air, the bird song, the whoosh of a breeze through tall pine trees, and there, there with the flow, is a tweak of a curtain then a full graceful drawing back, to reveal questions and need-to-knows, dreams and plans, long forgotten (unvoiced?) hopes. They become clear, the canopy of sky, no matter blue or grey,  giving them an almost palpable aura of dewy freshness, a readiness to be looked at and considered with full attention. Without distraction.

It doesn’t really seem to matter what my feet are doing, how my ankles are adjusting to rock, mud and shale, whether my quads are aching or whether I’m picking an errant gnat out of my eye. The head space remains accessible, available.

And amongst all this cerebral stuff that’s going on, my eyes are drinking in this extraordinary, visual and ever changing theatre of the forest. The colours range for Monet to Van Gogh, depending on season and light.  This light can play tricks on the lower canopy, transforming it into the biblical burning bush. Shadow can create a moving form that seems to race one pace behind me … or was that a deer … There are bat boxes  secured high up in the creaking pines. I have been lucky enough to run with those bats as they loop within inches of my nose, glancing my shoulder.  One late winter afternoon, the light dipped so quickly that I became disorientated.  Flicking on my head torch I suddenly became aware that I was moving parallel with silent-running deer. 14 or more sets of eyes blinked back at me.  My heart leapt with shock, and then burst with the sheer thrill.

Running in the forest, and through its seasons, is perhaps the most extraordinatry and innervating aspect of all. If I was just to talk about the changes of the scent and quality of the air (if I could write with a “scratch n sniff” app it would help): the dry bite of icy air sucked into lungs in the winter; the first whiff of pig manure, pulled across on a northeasterly breeze from a farmer’s field as winter subsides; the punchy honeyed smell of warmed bluebells; the damp earthiness of the freshly watered forest floor; the drying pine needles underfoot as we slip seamlessly (hopefully) into Summer.

I’m sure that this state of mind could be priced beyond any gym membership (or any pair of Louboutins come to that), but no-one’s managed to make it an exclusive ‘members only’ club yet. This is a relief. It means that we can all join, for free!



A few days ago a friend posted a photo of windfall apples gathered from his orchard.

They looked dewy, lush. They must have smelt wonderfully perfumed…

I’d been picking, and enjoying our own crop, but there was something about the timing of this photo married with the sparsity of words used to annotate it, that triggered the strongest wave of a mislaid memory. It flooded my head and heart with such force, that I actually had to put down my pencil and involuntarily close my eyes.

It placed me right there, back in the moment. And the moment was this:

I’m lying on slightly dampened ground in my grandfather’s orchard. I’m wearing a tiered skirt my mother has sewn for me. My feet are bare, heels touching the grass.  I’m stretched out on an old, slightly moth-chewed blanket I’ve taken from the sitting room. The ground is littered with primroses of every hue, the colour wheel randomly scattered. In fact I’m actually lying on primroses; I can pick out the subtle sweet smell of bruised petals.

I’m looking up though, because above me is blue. Someone has rolled out a  mediterranean sky on this Spring day.

It is cloudless!

But, seared into this blue, in laser-precise outline, is blossom. Clouds of pinky white flowers are stuck on to the leathery barked arms of ancient, stooping apple trees, such as a child might glue scrunched white tissue paper onto a card to depict a blizzard scene. As I look, right arm shielding the sun, small handfuls occasionally take flight from a tree, to be lifted then gently released from a tiny dizzy thermal popping up from the warmed ground.

I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by young goslings who’ve decided that I’m their ‘other’ mother this day. They’ve been grazing for a while and have settled around me, cheeping and wittering; a chatter that is as comforting for me as it is for them. Any slight movement from me evokes a wave of renewed peeps, a slight shift and a rearrangement of folded limbs and stubby wings. We all settle once more. Eyes close, breathing slows. Blossom continues to drift.

I’m writing this because, now I’ve stumbled upon this precious cache, I don’t want to lose it again.