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Pól Ó Lorcáin
Paul Larkin

Chroniclers are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time and place.
Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge, Chapter The Ninth

A Male Soldier’s Song.* Or - the blog as self flagellation


I went for a run (not a jog - a serious, eventually lung bursting run) around the Phoenix Park yesterday. It was not supposed to be lung bursting. The idea was for it to be walk - run - sprint combo as I ease back into the swing of things after a calf strain. Then a soldier turned up. Well, a soldier running at a fairly brisk pace, across the main road in the park and on the opposite footpath to me, so it became a race of sorts. He was in full battle uniform.

Shooting occasional sniper glances at him, I wasn’t going to let him get past me and he for his part obviously stepped up a gear in response to my acceleration. How to appear nonchalant whilst lengthening your stride and moving your arms more vigorously for traction?

For the next roughly four kilometres I had this green bobbing smudge in the corner of my right eye, then the smudge moved past me on his side of the road so I had to put the foot down again to overtake him. And so it went. I just knew it would end in, at the very least, metaphorical tears.

For those who are not aware of it, the Phoenix Park is not only the largest urban park in Europe, it also houses McKee Barracks; so soldiers are very often to be seen emerging from the sentry gate inside the park at the start of their run. Most of them are not in full battle gear but my “opponent” yesterday was in full kit and he may have been a champion runner for all I know but no way was he going to surpass my testosterone. Not without a fight anyway.

Yes I know the whole thing is ridiculous. I don’t see women competing in this way. It’s a bit shaming really and I suppose my attempt this morning at public self excoriation illustrates one of the reasons why blogging has become the worldwide phenomenon that it has. It's a somewhat desperate plea for forgiveness and understanding. It is the new confessional or psychiatrist’s couch, where you dear readers, sipping your Sunday morning coffee are the analyst - head cocked to one side and resting gently in your hand, in a perfectly sympathetic and sharing way, to help me get through one more day. Although, as a slight digression, not every response to my blog (usually via private email) is so simpático. Look at these three responses from the last few months for example:

“Trust you Larkin to get up on your online soapbox - you always were a superior, arrogant, and self opinionated fucker.”
“I want your babies - when can we meet? Mail me back as soon as you get this – Martin, New York.”
Hi Offworld, we love your big blog and its big ideas and would like to propose a link up with our site. Linking with us at (link deleted - ed.) will give you great exposure to all our thousands of clients looking for Viagra, Cialis and general sex aids. It’s a no brainer. Right?

The Naked Ape

Meanwhile back at the race, the finish line was at the Zoo and, still on the opposite side of the road, the soldier edged past me at the roundabout that skirts the Phoenix Park monument. So at a point where I normally ease off to do side steps, a few pathetic attempts at star jumps and knee raises, I had to accelerate again. As I sped off, my right calf muscle began talking to me rather urgently. Common sense said stop but it was no use. More basic instincts had taken over.

Just as I passed the spot where Áras an Uachtaráin (home of our president) looks out over the Dublin hills, the soldier passed me again and there was nothing for it but to do my pretence at a sprint all the way down to the zoo. Shit or bust.

Of course, the soldier was completely unaware that I had set the zoo as the finish line but, as you all understand, I was really racing myself. All right - my own conflicting selves. Yes, I admit it and want to share this.

At the end, scattering tourists, blind people with dogs and zoo visitors to every side, I landed with a crash at the railings that guard the zoo (appropriately at the tiger end) and then quickly looked back over the road with relish towards the soldier who if anything had slowed up. YES!

I collapsed onto a bench beneath a tree and didn’t even need to look at my lower leg to know that I had set my recovery programme back weeks, possibly months. But still and all....It had been worth it. I felt vindicated and totally alive. I know. I know. There are issues here.

I stood up and began to hobble towards the café on the other side of the zoo where I could get water. On reaching the path near the main road (effectively my running track), I looked back and across the road to savour my triumph, but to my consternation and horror, I saw another soldier running down exactly the same route as my opponent. Worse, there were two other soldiers, also in battle dress, running behind him. They were running in relays, passing each other ever now and again at agreed distances. Slow, slow, quick quick, slow.

The whole thing clicked, I hadn’t been racing just one soldier but a whole battalion. So concerned was I at not being overtaken, I had not actually bothered to look around to see whom or what it was that I was actually racing against.

The Online Psychiatric Denouement – the patient sums up what he has achieved in this session:

My right leg is in rag order but having expiated the race again in script and now, with my macho male side laid bare and shriven - I feel better.

Thank you readers. Thank you. I’ll be back next week.

@Paul Larkin
Baile Átha Cliath
Mí Meán Fómhair 2011

*(The Irish national anthem Amhrán na bhFiann is called “The Soldier’s Song” in English)
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Title: A Male Soldier’s Song.* Or - the blog as self flagellation
Date posted: 11 Sep '11 - 12:01
Filed under: General
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