Normally an early morning run is a good experience – heaven knows I need the exercise – but for a large chunk of the year it is perhaps more of a struggle in the dark, the damp and the cold. From this time of the year for a few months though it can be an altogether happier experience – it’s light early for a start, and on good spring days like today you can have the best of both world’s – glorious bright sun and blue skies but still cool enough that overheating in that glow of the great burning orb in the sky.
There are other benefits to it being ‘nice out’ (as we might say in parts of the North). The most important of these for me is that, at least while the oncoming sun is still a bit of a novelty, so many people suddenly start smiling and treating their fellow human beings just a tiny little bit better. Certainly, that was what I observed this morning. I’m a creature that likes his routine do I will run the same routes often at similar times, so you learn to expect certain things. However, this morning people went out of there way to avoid obstructing me (maybe I am really that fat now that they think I will take up all the pavement). Drivers, normally who I expect to be completely focussed on getting to their work place and/or dropping their precious ones off at school or nursery, instead waved me across the road cheerfully. This happens to the Lovely Wife a lot (to me, not surprisingly of course), but it is not at all something I am used to. But this morning, this was the standard.
The better thing is that we all know that little kindnesses, like little cruelties, spawn more of the same. I am no different to anyone else in this respect. If someone lets me into a queue of traffic, I will be much more likely to let the next driver in as I pass on the ‘good deed’. As I ran past a lady trying to back her car out of her drive onto a busy road – her view in one direction completely blocked by an illegal parked van I felt compelled this morning to stop, go back and guide her safely out. When later in the day I was picking up my lunch in a supermarket and on overburdened old lady dropped her stick, I almost fell over myself to pick it up for her and check she was OK, before cheerfully marching back to the office, only briefly waylaid by another old lady who wanted to know the time. I can only presume she saw my previous action and assumed I was safe to approach as a clear friend of little old ladies. (The Lovely Wife will tell you that I have spent significant time helping the self esteem of little old ladies mostly in churches by patiently listening to their life stories – if I am lucky, over a cup of tea. In fact, they often have very interesting life stories…)
But of course, there is a problem here. Today, I felt happy, blessed and warmed by the sun, and wanted to pass on the love. But so many days I would have just kept running and left that driver to her own devices. I would like to think I would still be there to pick up a walking stick, but maybe I would not have noticed, and would have walked away in my own little world as someone who needed help struggled on. It is something that bothers me a lot, that I often fail the standard I expect for myself. But at least today I felt a tiny bit closer to the person I want to be in those few seconds. Thank you, Mr Blue Sky.
I seem to have entered a phase of life when things are coming to an end. Usually a natural, largely expected, series of endings but endings nevertheless. Obviously some of those relate to my Father’s passing and subsequent sale of the house I grew up in; part of the upset for me on the day I finally posted the last set of keys through the door and left the place for the last time was the mind torture running up to that point, which goes along the lines of ‘this will be the last time I do/say/see [insert thing]’ which had me almost in tears a few time (much respect to the Lovely Wife for helping me keep it mostly together.
Also, I am at an age where it is unrealistic to expect everything to stay the same – it simply doesn’t and the sooner we can get our head around that fact the better we can deal with change whether that change be welcomed or hated.
But I was somewhat blind-sided last week when the hotel I was staying in announced they were closing the next morning.
I was tucking into some dinner in the hotel bar as I am wont to do on business trips to Brussels and chatting to the staff. I have been staying in this relatively small hotel off Avenue Louise for many years now. I do not remember exactly why I first stayed there – it is a good twenty-minute walk from the nearest metro station so is hardly convenient. But over the years it has grown on me and since being in Brussels is a fair chunk of my job I have stayed there enough – and the staff turnover so small – that being greeted by name and a smile when I arrive is something I have gotten used to (and I know I was not the only ‘regular’). The Lovely Wife has stayed there with me and we were delighted to find one of my favourite Brussels restaurants – in an old clock factory – was a short walk away. I have enjoyed sitting in the Bicycle themed bar (it used to show looped classic Tour De France footage) reading; and there was good running nearby at the lakes at Flagey.
Most importantly, I was staying at the hotel when the bombs went off in Brussels in March 2016. When I was turned back from the Metro station, some thirty minutes after the bomb at Maelbeck Metro station had gone off I went back to the hotel and was received with calm and allowed to return to my room. I did not leave the hotel again that day, spending most of the time listening to news updates and running on the hotel treadmill looking through the skylight of the rooftop fitness centre at perfect blue sky and wondering how that fitted really with the constant sirens of the emergency services. That evening I remember dining alone in the bar while the staff calmly carried on, despite the stress they must have been under. They were consummate professionals and any panic I may have felt was assuaged by their friendliness and care. When I could go home the next day, I took that calm with me through the enhanced security in place.
So, I admit the slightly weird feeling of being fond of the Four Points by Sheraton, Brussels. Or rather of the staff. But the chain is shutting them down, and although apparently someone has acquired the property and it will reopen in a few months it is hard not to feel that its part in my life is over, and that I should instead concentrate on the memories where a place to stay became more of a reminder of how wonderfully human a diverse group of people can be in a time of crisis.