Birthdays are a funny thing. They are supposed to be meaningful, monumental even. But I’ve always found them to be rather like New Year’s Eve, overhyped and ultimately disappointing. And as we get older, depressing. A few days ago I turned 49. “Oh, its the beginning of the end,” people told me. “The big 50 next year…it’s all downhill from here.” and other such ridiculous nonsense. “But why?” has been my consistent answer. Why should it be depressing and downhill and the end? I am so looking forward to turning 50. I have long thought that my 5th decade is going to be my best yet. 50 and fabulous. 50 and fighting fit. 50 and fearless. And technically this is my 50th year, so why not start celebrating now. I don’t generally do much birthday celebrating. Instead I use it as an excuse to do more Londony things, as if I ever need an excuse for Londony things. Last year I stretched it out and did a full week of Londony things with different people, including breakfast in the Sky Garden with Sara, sculpture walk with Milly and drinks in the London Eye with my husband, Craig. But this year I wanted something a bit more. Not expensive, fancy more. Not exclusive London more. Not once in a lifetime more…just me more. As in how I see the future. And would remember forever. A tall order, perhaps, but my passions are widespread and I know clever people. One of the cleverest is Vanessa, the woman behind the amazing Secret London Runs running tours. “I might like to run on my birthday,” I said to her back in June. Almost without hesitation came the response, “why don’t I write a Famous Annes of London tour.” Why not indeed.
But this wasn’t just a super fun run in honour of my famous London namesakes, with Philippa and Alice and Vanessa, it was a flamboyant start to my year long pre-50th celebration. Yes, year long. If I want to celebrate for a year, why not. It’s my beginning of the beginning. (Most certainly not the start of the end!)
So at 6:10 pm on the 7th of September, 2017, my 49th birthday, Alice, Philippa and I met Vanessa at the Duke of Wellington statue outside of Bank station for an adventure through the City, the West End, Soho and Camden. Along the way Vanessa introduced us to the most wonderfully colourful and interesting Annes. Naughty, powerful, rich, talented and sainted. We saw where Anne Bronte met her publisher, who was of course expecting a man, not a provincial young lady. We admired a statue of Shakespeare and agreed that being left his second best bed in the will didn’t mean he didn’t care for his wife, Anne Hathaway…she got the money too. Poor Anne Askew was racked so badly for her religious beliefs she had to be carried in a chair to the stake, to be burned alive for heresy. Anne Redshawe ran The House of Intrigue in the 18th century, a lesbian brothel frequented by ladies of the upper classes. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Queen Anne, and her mother Anne Hyde all have great stories. St. Anne, Jesus’s granny, got two stops. The second included an extraordinary mural. Art! Plus a few more Annes (I can’t give all the secrets away!).
By the time we arrived in Camden, tired but full of happy history, Craig, Ange and Paul had a table waiting and wine cooling. The evening rolled on. The laughter rang out. It was the BEST birthday ever!!
But that was just the start. Shortly after we came up with the plan for the Anne run, I decided it would just be the first of….well….50. To prove that I am not afraid of turning 50 by literally running into it…..50 times. That is the challenge I have set myself, to run 50 races or events (of course Secret London Runs will feature often in this experience!) in the year. So after each one I will have either a medal (I do love a bit of bling) or some fab photos of London (can you ever have too many?).
As I started to look at the options, and there are so many running options in London, I quickly realized that the challenge isn’t really going to be the running so much as one of logistics. Stephen, 3rd child, age 13, has so many rugby matches this Autumn I need to figure out how to be in two places at once. But I am a mother, I can do it! In fact, as I type I already have 3 runs under my belt. Two days before the Anne run, I went on the Street Art run with Secret London Runs (same week counts, I need all the events I can get!). Not only was it great to run through East London and find some incredible street art, we were filmed by a young, local woman who couldn’t believe we were doing such a crazy thing. Running! To see art! Later, one of the men in my group stopped to help a collapsed homeless man, “I am a first aider,” he explained. With impressive efficiency he established the man was breathing but unconscious and helped arrange for an ambulance, and then we carried on. London life.
Yesterday morning I ran the Clapham Common 10k with Run Through UK. No watch, no earphones, nothing but London sunshine. And the peace of mind to enjoy it. A terrific medal too. It was then that I realized this isn‘t really a challenge at all. It is a privilege. More than a privilege, a gift. I have the health, the time and perhaps most importantly, the freedom in which to make this happen. Suddenly a silly, self-indulgent idea becomes a feminist statement. Maya Angelou rings in my ears. “I am a woman PHENOMENALLY.” Now I do love that. Passionate about that. My London Passion. xxx