Derry

Everyone seemed to be up before me, yet i was in the Tower Museum, round it and back to the hostel to find several people having breakfast. The Tower has lovely informal staff-a gentle “goddammit” when the till drawer wouldn’t open, and “how are you, where you from?” once into the main hall. Exhibits are on the history of Derry and the sunken ship that was found off the coast having fled the Spanish Armada’s scattering and picked up survivors from other Spanish ships dashed against the rocks.

After a stop at the hostel I wandered the city, spotting the plaque commemorating the first stone of the Apprentice Boys Hall which was “well and truly laid”. From the height of the city the view drops away to Bogside, which declared independence from the British rule in the 70s, and where Bloody Sunday happened. The memorials are low key and beautifully done, and the Free Derry museum writes the history of the event, gently inviting you to see it as part of the general struggle against oppressive rule in the world. Throwing stones is violent, but against police with riot shields and guns it’s certainly brave.

Derry as a city is compact, with places on the map passing by so quickly you’ll wonder how you missed a turning. It’s almost as if the map is actual size, at least that’s how it felt as I turned in ever decreasing circles to find a mural outside the city gates. Slightly surreal. I strolled past the city walls looking for nothing in particular when;

“Would you do me a favour? Help me lift this chair into that van there?”
“Sure”
“Are you a tourist?..ah shit, I might be getting you into some trouble here”
But he didn’t. We also didn’t move the chair, finding the mechanism no longer held it upright, only reclining – the “ach, drunk” position. I had to convince him I wasn’t Australian, so as to make sure the friendly tourist credit went to the right place, but otherwise passed time in conversation happily. My loony alarm went off when he ended on “the problem facing the world in the next few years”, but it fortunately wasn’t the Jews, but the “third world” (and that’s a phrase that is dying only slowly, despite our swivel eyed friends’ insistence that political correctness is winning) wanting what we have. Derry is, I’m now told, a place for forensic examination of people’s brains-like the sign behind me, showing some still live in 1689.

I carried on happily round the city in occasional sunshine. The Guildhall’s organ is especially mighty, and the staff there very solicitous. I toured the building then spotted one final room, which really was the introductory one. My saying “I got in yesterday” wasn’t enough of a clue, nor was “I’ve been there” enough to stop a description of the exhibits in the Tower Museum, and so I got a full run down on the city and a second map as “for fuck’s sake I know this and I’ve seen it” might have been seen as rude. The Guildhall has had a lengthy refurbishment and had only opened the day before, so keenness is not to be trodden on, though the bit of the patter “Derry – Londonderry… ah, it’s got 100s of names” needs a bit of tightening for accuracy. I suggest slipping the word interchangeable in, rather than trying to find other names, although non native English speakers might be convinced by “Derrylondon, Donlendorry, Yondenlorry…”.

Chair on a scorched-earth car park
The chair.

Later I jogged off to find the Derry City Spartans, determined to mix some training in with my racing. They meet early here, unburdened by the travel problems that make London’s satellite clubs start after 7, so I had to be there by 6:00. 2 miles, fairly straight, left at the roundabout. I went left at the roundabout, but it looked and felt wrong, as the track they meet at is on a main road and this wasn’t. I ran in the right direction past some kids playing football then decided I wasn’t getting to the main road quickly enough so turned. They had in the meantime lost the ball down the hill and lazily shouted for me to get it. When I spotted it in he road I did, but had to run it back to avoid looking a twat by trying to kick it. Took the chance to get directions at least and so found the track 3 miles in. Everyone introduced themselves and we went off for a long warm up. Now nearly 5 miles in came the track session, luckily at 5k race pace in preparation for the Lifford 5k on Friday: 2, 4, 6, 800m we were all together, a group of 4 then 3 doing 43secs per 200. Actually about 40, but close enough. The next was 1k, together we went, I slowed at 1k, on they went for 1200. That was the last rep, so I had to do that one on my own, though is jogged over to them in between and we set off together. The pace seemed a bit quick and I was dropping off them by the end of the lap and sure enough they were just doing one lap while I went on to do 3, 3 seconds inside target time.

If only there were some stereotype for Irish people I could play to.

With a several lap cool down and a 2 mile jog back to the hostel, I ended up over 11 miles for the night. Training mission accomplished. A note on the Spartans – one of their vets just won the local marathon. He has won it before – in 1986 and 1988. Back then he ran under 2:20, but has now slowed down to 2:30. Made of Iron! Luckily their faster boys train earlier, so I was with the mortals or those returning from injury – one of my training partners has a 2:28 from this year. S’alright.

Later, Joe seemed happy that I came to the pub with him and Colin so we headed for Mason’s. It was empty so we looked in a pub up the street. Also empty, so in to Padreag O Doherty’s. Joe has been in Derry a week and been there every night, but tonight not for want of trying. We chatted when, suddenly, Colin was off. He’d spotted the mainly female group next to us were having a photo and was in to take it, and then to talk-Joe had just told me it was good to have me there as otherwise he’s left looking for an in all on his own. One of the group came to talk to us and already knew Colin was from Melbourne-he does not mess around sorting out the basics. I was on my way to join when the lady stood next to the group commented on Joe’s excellent handlebar moustache, and with her being a Northerner I was talking happily before I had thought to check for large jealous boyfriends. Luckily he was a very nice chap too, and agreed it was an excellent moustache-without it he just looks too young, which is a problem I have long since left behind. The group escaped Colin, and the three of us reconvened, with both the others slipping into dead baby joke heaven. Laughing made for a bond, and Colin even bought me a pint, which has to be rare for a travelling hostel staff member on a pittance, and Joe was twice to remind me that I wouldn’t be far away in Letterkenny the next night when they’d be out in slightly larger fashion, to celebrate their Irish regular guest’s distinction in his masters. In careers guidance, of all the ‘things that link him to me tenuously’.

Today’s guest nationalities: Australian, English, French.

Summary: a hard training, much walking, mostly dry kind of a day.

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