I run the Selsdon half marathon because the entire route takes in my childhood. Just getting to the starting point travelling down Addington Road I pass the house where my best friend at Primary School, Samantha Larkin, lived. I remember we would meet in our roller-boots, mine blue with a red and white stripe, and other times I would take my ‘Girls World’ to her house, a large plastic head-and-shoulder doll that you could make-up and style the hair.
The runners parking is at Selsdon Primary School, which was my school. It’s funny how playgrounds always seem smaller when you go back as an adult. The canteen block looked tiny, yet I ate my school dinners there every day, and even had a stint where I would get to school early to be the dinner money monitor and collect everyone’s payment for their dinners in exchange for a coloured wrist band. I remember the day when everyone came in excited because Britain had won the Eurovision song context with Buck’s Fizz’s song: ‘Making Your Mind Up’, and how a group of friends re-enacted the dance routine in the playground.
And there was the school field, where many a lazy summer lunch time was spent, sitting under the shade of the one tree at the top, making daisy chains and watching the girls that did gymnastics back-flipping across the grass.
The race itself starts from Selsdon Chapel, on the corner of Addington Road and Ashen Vale. This was the church I attended growing up. There is a black and white photo of me aged around 3 picking up a piece of wood when the chapel was a building site. The fabric of my life is woven into the walls of that building. From photographs of me outside aged 8, in a white dress and posing with a red rose on the day of my baptism, to having my birthday disco there age 14. There are countless photos of me and my friends sitting on the wall outside. Many memories of youth activities (the famous car-washes using the fire hose), roadshow practices, my friends and I helping out as waitresses at weddings.
Pictured inside – my 14th birthday disco dancing with Charlie Humphreys.
The race starts heading down towards Gravel Hill, the route my bus used to take when I attended college at the split John Newnham/Ruskin site. (Funny to think I am now running a route I used to need the bus for!). We pass the bottom of Gravel Hill and run straight on to Spout Hill, and head up into Shirley.
Eventually the route takes me up Upper Shirley Road, pass a housing development that has a windmill sited in the middle of it. I smile to myself as this was the site of my college. I attended what was then John Ruskin 6th form (pic below). My 6th form days were fabulous, and I remember being part of the ‘tuck-shop tribe’ labelled by other students, as we hung out in the tuck shop during lunch and break. Memories of John Ruskin include how we would go ‘all out’ for Comic Relief, going to school in fancy dress (my friends and I dressed up as schoolgirls one year) and spending the day taking part in hilarious challenges, such as a lemon eating contest, or eating baked beans with a tooth-pick. Then there was the infamous Slave Auction, for which my friend and I got into trouble, for ‘bidding’ for slaves with tuck shop money. (We were just trying to raise the price of the bids). The slave auction consisted of a few of the stronger personalities strutting on a stage in roman toga-esque outfits, including one chap in leopard-skin print underpants, while we bid for them. The slaves we ‘won’ in the auction we just spent the afternoon hanging out on the field with…
Of course there was the annual review, a feast of musical delights featuring many of the talented people at college. There was a guy called Yurick, who I had a crush on through all of college (and never told anyone) – who sang ‘Kiss’ by Prince, a string of beads swinging across his bare chest. I got to sing with my friend Jenny, we were backing vocalists for her boyfriend’s band, and got to harmonise along to ‘Fade to Grey’ (Visage) and ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ (Depeche Mode). I also got to have a star turn taking the lead female vocals to ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ by the Human League – things will never be the same when I hear those opening lines…’you were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar…’. On the night we wore short black skirts and had our hair big. One friend said we looked like the ladies in Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ video. Thank goodness there is no video footage of that evening. That would make prime you-tube content in today’s world.
I keep on running – down through South Croydon, route of the 64 bus that would take me from home into Croydon for my Saturday jobs, or shopping trips, or to East Croydon Station for trips further afield. Then head up towards Riddlesdown – home of my secondary school. Coming in along Mitchley Road, I pass the small row of shops that students would sometimes visit at lunchtimes. The chip shop is still there. I pass the corn-field on the right – sloping up the hill. Now no crop is planted, but I remember distinctly how this would be our short-cut to the bus stops at the bottom. We were always fearful when cutting across the corn-field in case some farmer appeared and shouted at us for trampling through his crop. The bus stops at the bottom were the site where students would ‘bundle’ onto the cramped red double decker buses that would take us home. Further along on the right is the entrance to the ‘white path’. No longer a bumpy track over the chalk hill, it has now been tarmacked. But this was the path we walked every day through the woods to reach the school at the top. I have a memory of coming down the path in the snow, on my own after a drama meeting which kept me late at school, laden down with gym kit and my catering, and glancing to my right. My first and only encounter with a flasher was bizarre as I was so young I did not have the vocabulary to describe what he was doing.
This is the 8 mile mark on my run, and I am tired now, and very grateful for the enthusiastic marshall who is cheering me on at this point.
I run up into Hamsey Green, near the bakery my friend Jenny worked at. I remember her telling me about the day she was asked out over the counter by ‘Andy’.
Coming into Old Farleigh Road I remember how my brother and I would play tennis at the courts off there for a time. This hill is very steep and it doesn’t seem fair to have this so close to the end! The final turn is onto Sundale Avenue. Many of my friends lived in this area when I was at Primary school, so this is familiar territory to me. As I approach the end of Sundale Avenue I am looking for number 88, where my grandmother lived for many years, firstly on her own and then with her husband Lucas. When I ran this half-marathon for the first time in 2014 she was in a home and very frail, and the combination of the end of the race and all the emotion of thinking about her caught me as I lumbered past with my last few steps, exhausted and exhilarated, and feeling like I had truly taken a journey down memory lane.