I can feel a letter to my MP coming on. ‘Dear Sir, when the hell are we going to make it illegal for chavs to shout abuse at and get in the way of innocent runners…’
You’ll have to excuse me, I’m afraid. While I tend to run mainly for the feelgood factor that comes from all those free endorphins, I occasionally have a bad night thanks to close encounters with the still-smoking salad-dodging chavs who litter the streets even of sleepy little seaside towns like mine.
Naturally, we all expect the odd comment from be-hooded youngsters, from the ubiquitous ‘run, Forrest, run’ and ‘got your number’, through to good old-fashioned foul-mouthed abuse. Frankly, as a die-hard iPod wearer with a taste for heavy rock (as it was known in my day), most of this stuff goes right over my head. Even the small number of shouted personal comments about my legs which manage to get through the aural wall of Led Zep and Van Halen don’t worry me too much these days. All giraffe/stork-related queries from passers-by tend to be met with a blank stare and a mental note that if these clowns can still run 26 miles when they’re my age, then they’re welcome to come back and take the piss out of my legs. But not before.
However, mild abuse is one thing. Threatening behaviour is quite another. Last night, I actually had a crowd of teens spread out to block my path, artfully putting their Blue Peter badges in their pockets and adopting fierce expressions. Now, to say I was surprised at this would be something of an understatement. I’m 6’2″ and 14 stone, and have a face that could make Vanessa Feltz back away from an all-you-can-eat buffet. But I have to say, for a couple of seconds last night, I was pretty scared of what might happen. Because there looked to be just 2 options: a) I got kicked to death like several other middle-aged blokes in recent months, or, b) I ended up hospitalising a couple of 17-year-olds and got myself charged with GBH.
Neither option, I have to say, looked very attractive to me. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to back away from a bunch of yobs, and instead ran right through them, shouldering a couple of them out of the way in the process. Now, this post isn’t by way of being a complaint, far less a cry for help. Upon mature reflection, I’ve decided that I did exactly the right thing and would do it again.
What concerns me more is how many other people have had to put up with this kind of thing. Macho chest-beating aside, I’m a biggish bloke and I run when and where I feel like it. But I know plenty of runners whose slight build makes them far quicker runners than me, but presumably less able to handle situations like the one I faced last night. I also know plenty of women who train alone at night, albeit keeping to well-lit main roads. What are they meant to do in situations like that?
To quote Al Murray the Pub Landlord for a moment: ‘Speaking on behalf of all those people who’d have shot that burglar for a third time…’ I think it’s the right of every human being to be able to go about their business without being abused by peasants. But short of handing out a free Tazer with every pair of running shoes, I’m not really quite sure what we’re all meant to do about behaviour like this.