Mid-winter is here, the days are depressingly brief and daylight itself is definitely rationed. Though it’s exciting, checking out the daily change in temperature and wind speed before we begin our trundle, some days it looks as though the sun will never rise but usually – at least by the time we get to St Aidan’s Dunes at Seahouses – there is a glimmer across the horizon, and illuminating hope returns, if only for a few, unimpressive hours. This is the time of year when our routine days begin with a run entirely in darkness and, depending on the cloud cover, this darkness that can feel quite unyielding. Getting ready takes a good bit longer: quite apart from the various layers to keep her warm and dry, Kemo Sabe now must wear a head-torch over her beanie hat so we can see her, whereas we four are decked out in dashing, high-vis jackets so she can spot us running round. Strangely though, she complains because we tend to stick beside her, threatening to trip her up, transfixed by the shadowy, flickering something in the beam of light which shines before her – our lighthouse in more ways than one. This is not a time to be especially adventurous.
Despite the defining darkness, every morning is slightly different. Some are eerily still and misty; some are windier and more hostile, initially at least; so far, few have been perishingly cold. But, whatever the prevailing atmospheric conditions, once in our stride (which means with Newman back on the lead and, indeed, back on task), it’s all rather familiar and, in its own way, unremarkable. These dark, December days are undistinguished and, for that, we are most grateful. We like these days of waiting; these ordinary days. In a world blighted by more than one kind of darkness, where all around worry and suffering supervene, we are lucky that our fireside calls us and we creatures wait for the day we can light our first candle and celebrate the turning of the year – in joy, and not because we lack warmth. How out of sorts this earthly state must be, that change is so eagerly anticipated when what is needed more, to calm and comfort so very many, is the ordinariness of which it is so easy to tire. In which regard, let us ponder the complexity of this poem by Thomas Hardy, ‘A Commonplace Day’:
The day is turning ghost,
And scuttles from the kalendar in fits and furtively,
To join the anonymous host
Of those that throng oblivion; ceding his place, maybe,
To one of like degree.
I part the fire-gnawed logs,
Rake forth the embers, spoil the busy flames, and lay the ends
Upon the shining dogs;
Further and further from the nooks the twilight’s stride extends,
And beamless black impends.
Nothing of tiniest worth
Have I wrought, pondered, planned; no one thing asking blame or praise,
Since the pale corpse-like birth
Of this diurnal unit, bearing blanks in all its rays –
Dullest of dull-hued Days!
Wanly upon the panes
The rain slides as have slid since morn my colourless thoughts; and yet
Here, while Day’s presence wanes,
And over him the sepulchre-lid is slowly lowered and set,
He wakens my regret.
Regret–though nothing dear
That I wot of, was toward in the wide world at his prime,
Or bloomed elsewhere than here,
To die with his decease, and leave a memory sweet, sublime,
Or mark him out in Time . . .
–Yet, maybe, in some soul,
In some spot undiscerned on sea or land, some impulse rose,
Or some intent upstole
Of that enkindling ardency from whose maturer glows
The world’s amendment flows;
But which, benumbed at birth
By momentary chance or wile, has missed its hope to be
Embodied on the earth;
And undervoicings of this loss to man’s futurity
May wake regret in me.