“You haven’t come this far to stop.”

Over 50,000 runners took part in the New York Marathon in November 2018. And I was one of them. I had decided to participate the year before, selling myself the event as a sightseeing opportunity: “You’ll see parts of New York you haven’t yet seen!”  That was good enough motivation for me, because to me New York is the greatest city in our modern world and – well, I just have to see it.

The most intense months of training were September and October and I flew to New York in November determined to finish the race.  

Everyone says that running a marathon is physical and mental. It became apparent as I was running how important it was to manage and control the little voice in my head to keep it on my side and help me get the race done.

I began the event on an emotional high, jumping out of my friend’s car and walking to the check-in point. I ran into other marathoners who were walking there and I resonated with their buzz and excitement.

The starting gun went off and I started running down the bridge looking across the water at the city skyline. I saw the Empire State Building in the very, very far distance and thought: “Hm, I need to run all the way up there – and then some.”

The Brooklyn leg of the race was all novel and exciting. Still emotionally high, I ran at my usual pace and took in what was around me. People were lining up the streets and cheering the runners. I thought: “Wow, how nice of everyone to come out on a Sunday morning and support runners they don’t even know!”

I spent a good part of the race reading up the signs that they were holding up – some of the funniest reading that “Toenails are for losers!” and “If Britney made it through 2007, you can make it through 26.2 miles!”

And so I ran happily all the way up to Km 20 in the hipster part of Brooklyn. Past that point, I started to feel tired and my initial excitement turned into doubt. The voice in my head began muttering:  “What have you got yourself into?”, “Maybe you should go home”, “I think I would like to stop for brunch.”

I hit the notorious runner’s wall crossing the bridge from Queens into Manhattan. I had so much lactic acid in my legs that my calf muscles felt like exploding and I wondered whether or not I would be able to use my legs or keep any toenails post-event. I was pissed off for signing up and I wanted to throw a full-blown tantrum – in the middle of a bridge! – but I said to myself: “Keep going you idiot, you haven’t come this far to stop.”

I suffered all the way to the Bronx (roughly Km 32). Gatorade gels, frequent pit stops, several songs on my iPod and the signs that the crowd were holding up kept me through phase. The one that cracked me up the most was held by this guy who had a pint in one hand and the sign in the other – it read: “I’ve turned up because they said there would be beer.”

Finally, I got to the final 7 Km. I most likely ran the way Elaine in Seinfeld used to dance by this point, if you remember her moves. This lady on the sidewalk handed me a fist-full of salt, which I gulped and which saved my life. “God is a marathon runner”, I thought.  

The final 5 Km were the most emotional. No matter how much I ran, I still could not see the finish line and there was always another left or right to take. Finally, I saw the end stretch and dragged myself past the finish line.

I learned a lot from this experience. The most important thing being that if you prioritise your final goal and coach yourself through highs and lows, you can get there!

*Delivered as Speech 6 at Toastmasters London Business School, 13th March 2019.

Too gentle to live amongst wolves.

This is born in my heart, born in the pain of ending one life and beginning another, born in the excitement of continuing the search for life’s meaning. Some people do not have to search – they find their niche early in life and rest there, seemingly contented and resigned. They do not ask much of life and sometimes they do not seem to take life seriously. At times, I envy them but usually do not understand them. Seldom do they understand me.

I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy but neither are we content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach. We are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motions, its mystery and its unspeakable beauty. We like the forests, mountains and deserts, and hidden rivers – even the lonely cities. Our sadness is much part of our life as is our laughter.

We searchers are ambitious only for life itself for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we want to live and be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor lock us in prison walls that will take us for that little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or to compete for love.

This is for wanderers, dreamers and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life’s everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live amongst wolves.

James Kavanagh

San Diego, 1970

The Caravan.

I must have been born to a gipsy father and a fair lady who would not be allowed to marry the love of her life and collapsed in sorrow. Together my birth parents decided to entrust me to the parents who actually brought me up as they knew this union would be safe by societal standards, my father a cheeky bugger who would only have it his way and my mother – well, the best mom in the world.

Otherwise I cannot explain the desire I have always had to get lost in the world and travel and travel and always go away. The drive I have to burn and demolish everything at the moment either and start from scratch again – in London or in another part of the world altogether, sell everything I have got and live off everything that remains. I should have spent less time with The Minimalists.

My souls is pretty much gipsy. My manners have always been 100% so.

South of the River.

I ventured South of the river.

En route to White Cube in Bermondsey, I discovered little quaint corners that shone brightly in the autumn light, underneath the brown and yellow leaves.

I said to myself Bermondsey could be an option should I decide to buy a flat in London and settle. It’s close to the centre and retains a village-y sense, too.

I found this exact sense in East Village of Bermondsey, a coffee shop that I walked into as soon as I left White Cube. I let the decorum and the design lure me in, as the place reminded me of Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg – home of a lot of almond lattes consumed on the occasion of Saturday brunches – and Freeman’s – another coffee shop where I left a lot of money, tips, exchange rate and bank transfer fees.

I immediately felt like I wanted to sit at the bar, which I almost never do because it feels impersonal and unnecessarily lonely – but this time I went straight in, pulled out my Monocle and started leafing through it ordering an espresso and spicy grilled squid (“What a combo”, I said to the hostess) and thinking how many kilometres I would have to factor in in the month of October ahead of travelling to New York for the marathon and hopefully smashing it there.

And then my creative juices started flowing and my train of thought made me ask the bartender for a pen that I used to scribble down this post while using the White Cube press releases as my canvas.

And as I looked at the people at the bar, ordering and enjoying their food and drinks, I wondered what made transition places like bars, hotels and airports so appealing and special. It’s probably the illusion of your own space and the intimacy of being in others’ company, I said to myself.

Then as I slowly made my way home I knew I would spend some time trying to decipher my handwriting, which a colleague recently said he found beautiful, but unreadable.

That makes two of us, R.

That makes two of us.

Why you should always sip your coffee in the rain.

Saturday afternoon at a seafood restaurant in Covent Garden where I decided to go because the memory of their food as served in Portsmouth last summer, when things were still sweet, lingered in my mouth.

I look out the window and notice the people sitting outside at the brasserie across the street. There’s a lady puffing a cigarette looking bored and a couple of guys seemingly chatting to each other. A black cab crosses the street and it appears to be carrying four people at the back – I can tell and I can count. A suave mademoiselle cycles down the junction – she looks half French, half nonchalantly Brit.

Everywhere the rain is falling and I wonder if the air outside is purified and fresh. I have water on my mind.

I liked it better in Portsmouth.

The food. I mean.

To my children.

As you are conceived and born into this world, I would like to think there will still be sufficient beauty around when you arrive for you to understand this place and why it has been created to begin with.

I will make sure that as you grow up you will be able to run barefoot down country roads, unsettle the dust and make your way to me with flaming cheeks letting me know you got yourselves into trouble.

The food you eat – you will know it is the fruit of the land around you and you will see it grow, pick it, you will unpick it. You will be able to touch it with your hands and smell it and you will connect with it beyond the transparency of a barcoded cellophane which I will make sure will not be there.

You will know your feet need to touch the sand and the grass barefoot instead of asphalt and you will know that animals belong in the wild and that they are a lot smarter and intuitive than we actually like them to be.

You will live in a home of infinite simplicity and you will know it is enough. You will have a Mom and you will have Dad, far freer, wiser and wilder than I will ever actually be.

– Good luck

Mom.

“The Disconnect.”

I was walking home late on Friday evening several weeks ago when two four-legged silhouettes pouncing around the cars parked on the street caught my attention. They turned out to be foxes as I drew up closely – and I felt sorry that animals that otherwise belong in the depths of a forest were scavenging for food amidst houses, parked cars, busy streets their feet touching the modern-day cement.

News of animals in captivity or species on the brink of extinction at the back of my mind, I felt as though we were closing in on the habitat of all living creatures more than ever. And that we will continue to do so and stop only when we have placed their final specimens behind glass enclosures, admiring them as “unique” and “last ones standing” – just as we’re currently ogling at beautiful objects in window shops wanting to buy them.

A couple of days later I opened the fridge and got hit by a wall of medium, small, smaller boxes full of packaged food looking at me – and not one single item of loose greens in sight. Why does there have to be so little contact between us and the food we eat, I thought again: it’s almost like we don’t even want to see it on its way down to our stomachs.

A meme was circling the internet a couple of years ago – a visual of mankind throughout its history with Home Sapiens at the right-end of the development spectrum deciding to turn back – because “we fucked up everything”.

There is a disconnect between us, our own nature and the wider nature at the moment – how can we stop and fix this before we indeed fuck up everything and eat ourselves out of horse and home?

President Macron said it best, “There is no Planet B.”.

Lazy Saturdays.

I have come to appreciate and rather enjoy lazy Saturdays spent on my couch. A to-do list, a couple of books and magazines, a Prime subscription, a cup of coffee and my MacBook by my side are all I need to partially relax, partially connect to what is coming next.

I am one of those people who need down time to relax and recharge and paradoxically quiet time to get things done.

Some days I feel like I don’t want to move. Today has been one of those days.