Rainbow Trust Independence Day

My aim in life is to do at least one good thing a week.
Identifying what doing a ‘good thing’ is, is tricky. I’ve set the benchmark as having a noticeable beneficial impact on at least one person. What I’ve realised though is that this is actually very difficult to achieve if you’re not paying attention; life passes you by.
On a bad week I like to think that  telling bar staff that someone else had been waiting longer than me at the bar when I’m asked for my order makes the grade, but it doesn’t really. Similarly if there’s someone at the supermarket with only a few items and I have a trolley full, I will always let them go first; but again, is this enough? These things are good manners, but do they make anyone’s life any noticeably better?

The closest I come to almost achieving my aim on a regular basis, is to offer directions to anyone looking up for a street name whilst holding a map, occasionally chasing after them if I think I’ve given them poor directions, but this is just run of the mill stuff.

So in this context, when my twitter stalking revealed that the Rainbow Trust were organising a 10km race in Wapping, I thought volunteering would give me a big tick for this week’s altruism (I’m not sure if it’s actually altruism if you’ve got targets).
A week or so later I find myself leaving work early, and jumping on the Central line, dashing home to get out of my suit and into some jeans, knocking up the beginnings of a curry with some left overs for @potoft’s dinner and popping it in the oven to finish off before heading over to Wapping Gardens.

Missed photobombing opportunity. Credit: Andy Newbold

I found a row of marquees with fit folk queueing up, registering for the run, collecting t-shirts and time chips. I was directed over to Anna from the charity who was organising the event. Waiting initially to avoid photo-bombing the charity’s photocall of volunteers. On making myself known I was duly presented with my official red t-shirt and which I can exclusively reveal is, other than a rogue pair of socks and boxers, the only red clothing I own (amazing fact eh?).

Soon after I saw a stovepipe hat emerge from behind a bush and I realised that Abraham Lincoln was joining the proceedings. When working as a lawyer, travelling around the court circuit he became known as ‘Honest Abe’ for his integrity. Perhaps the stench of tabloid journalism that wafts over Wapping drew him in.

Abraham Lincoln or Captain Ahab

More sinister than a zombie president though was the slightly creepy bear posing for the photographer, in the energetic way that only someone with shattered hopes and dreams can do before reflecting on the circumstances that led to wearing a bear costume. I wasn’t quite sure what the link with the bear was – wondering if he was mean to be American wildlife or perhaps joggy bear. However, more about him later.

Credit: Andy Newbold

I popped into the John Orwell Centre to put on my tshirt to become part of the team (I was somewhat nervous that the chap who I thought was Abraham Lincoln was actually the late Gregory Peck, and wasn’t going to risk  the sight of my bloated white flesh leading him to reprise his role as Ahab and start chasing me).

As we waited for our briefing, I stood in the park listening to the other volunteers, who all seemed to know each other, chatting away. A trip to East London for these folks, was akin to the 19th century ‘Lure of the Orient’, or going on the Grand Tour, a rite of passage; for some this was very much a Byronic expedition full of danger and excitement. One lady expressed  the view that Wapping wasn’t really in the East End as it was ‘nice’, though another chap concluded that anything East of Bishopsgate was bandit country and he would readily jump in a taxi to Chelsea.

Gradually more and more runners in various club and company shirts filled the gardens, when I noticed a new flash of colour, a quartet of blue and red pleated skirts and crop tops turned up – it was cheerleaders arriving from Crystal Palace (the Overground apparantly has its uses). Despite both my sister-in-law and a cousin being keen Cheerios at points in their life, I’ve never really understood why sportspeople need women in skimpy outfits to encourage them to perform, but what do I know? What I do know is that when you see male cheerleaders they don’t have to show off their midriff or arse cheeks. But hey, I’m a grumpy old man and I’d rather be that than a dirty old man.


Abe and Joggy Bear Credit: Andy Newbold
I led two volunteers to their positions in Wapping Woods, explaining a bit about the area’s history and the creation of the woods from the in-filled dock. I’m not sure they were interested, but having dropped them off, I headed onto my marshalling point.
Getting the crowd going. Credit: Andy Newbold

 As I walked over to my position on Glamis Road I noticed a group of youths drinking at the end of the ornamental canal. I’ve never had trouble from Wapping’s secretive drinkers but I’m informed by my chum @olopoto that a steward stood near them was sufficiently worried about them becoming rowdy that they felt that they had to call the police.
Stewarding. Credit: @olopoto
An impressive outfit for the occasion. Credit: @olopoto
My position was on Glamis Road, just by the end of the Basin, directing those on the 10km to turn onto Garnet Street and the 5km runners to turn-back at a traffic cone, about 15 metres away from me. Unfortunately, this meant I had to direct two groups of runners. Depending on what distance the runner had signed up for their number was a different colour. However, as runners don’t come in a slow steady flow, I had to distinguish whether there were any 5km runners who had overshot the cone on reaching me. The biggest problem is the rise of the mp3 player – a large number of runners weren’t able to hear me shouting at them, even when they passed within two feet of me.
Trying a different approach (I assumed someone shouting 10 k and 5k sound alike when you have headphones in), I tried shouting Red or Blue. A small number of runners forgot what colour number they were wearing, so as I shouted ‘blue number turn round’ they kept coming, but stopped confused as they expected to turnaround. I had to explain that their number was blue and not red as they thought.
By the end of the evening I dealt with some very narky runners having a go at me. I also got  arsey comments about the length of the course being greater than 10km, and others who complained about the lack of water stations. Nothing to do with me, but I had a hi-viz jacket on, so they had a mandate to shout at me.
There are some aspects of the race that could have been improved, but I hope it comes back, with some slight tweaks. I’d certainly volunteer again.
My marshalling point. Cone in the middle distance
Wonder Woman on the way out
Wonder Woman on the way back

So what about the creepy bear? Well it transpires that the bear was actually meant to be Bungle from TV’s Rainbow, which explained why a bear was there. However, I only realised when I was cheering ‘Bungle’ on without his head, when he showed me he was carrying Zippy’s head. Neither Bungle or George made it to the 2.5km mark.

Zippy! Credit: Andy Newbold
The Rainbow Gang

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