Decamot of the month

30 Nov 2020-Mind Games

Decamot inspired by the following items: Train; Pirate; vegan; a foreign land; running machine; Bow bells; hide; Atlantic; poodle; shrub

It was so out of character for Kathy to take a risk. She couldn’t understand what possessed her to pick up the discarded Nokia in the first place.

Elite athletes can give the impression that they are chancers, but the truth is more prosaic. Nothing is left to chance in the pursuit of peak performance. Kathy had turned herself into a running machine.

Every step of her punishing training schedule was geared to Olympic triathlon qualification, from scientific study of her body to her eating regime; even though the distances required for Olympic competition were relatively modest compared with official Ironman races, Kathy’s preferred triathlon event, which concludes with a 26.22 mile marathon after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bicycle ride!

Like her fellow triathletes, Kathy was led by the science. Every athlete has a unique heart rate profile, due to factors such as age, body size, gender, fitness and genetics. Every individual has his or her own resting heart rate, maximum heart rate, lactate threshold heart rate and so on. Kathy wore a fashionable heart rate monitor strapped to her wrist to help her calculate her own unique heart rate profile, but she was not alone in this; most elite athletes did the same.

She loved the way science could ascertain cause and effect and so calculate the exact moment to speed up or slow down for optimum performance. She always trained within her own customised heart rate zones and intensities. It was a serious business.

Her vegan diet had also been fine tuned to maximise her intake of nutrients. It lowered her blood sugar levels to improve her kidney function; it also helped lose excess weight; so important for triathletes whose arduous event had no real Olympic equivalent in terms of the dedication needed to succeed. Total concentration on the human body’s reaction to stress was essential if the combination of a one-mile sea swim, a 25-mile cycle ride plus a concluding 6.2 mile ‘mini marathon’ was to be achieved.

Training was a self-imposed discipline without equal in any other Olympic sport. It involved hours of solo monotonous drudgery which nobody ever witnessed. Apart from the odd eccentric pensioner taking her miniature poodle for its regular walk, Kathy’s daily ten-mile circuit was spectator free. Fan adulation was not a motivating factor in her ambition to become the world’s number one age related female triathlete.

It was only in the stadium in the final mile with nowhere to hide, watched trackside by thousands plus millions on television, that the crowd’s sheer energy added that extra ingredient to the winning formula. Kathy calculated once that she had run the equivalent of crossing the Atlantic and back in pursuit of qualification. Failure was definitely a foreign land which she had no intention of visiting.

So why, oh why, did she step out of character one Thursday afternoon when running around one of her regular 10-mile circular routes in the Surrey hills during the Coronavirus lockdown?

She tried to rationalise her actions on the basis that her genetic inheritance included Cockney’s on her mother’s side. After all, they seemed to exude a somewhat spurious bonhomie which could be interpreted as a cover for excessive risk taking. She had never identified with them nor even been close to the sound of Bow Bells during her own idyllic upbringing which had included two family swimming pools as well as owning her own horse in a six acre paddock which she had ridden with some success at local pony club gymkhanas.

Equally, she quickly dismissed her father’s possible genetic influence. He wouldn’t recognise risk if he were captain of a ship confronted by a pirate vessel flying the skull and cross bones. His whole life seemed to consist of working to achieve what he thought he ought to achieve with his inherited abilities.

He never compared his actual achievements to anyone else – only to his own perception of himself! As far as Kathy could deduce, at the age of 75, he was still trying to achieve something worthwhile that satisfied these criteria; risk and reward didn’t come into the calculation. Naïve optimism coupled with a short attention span was the best that Kathy could come up with to describe his basic character.

In any event, this was purely academic as she had cut off all contact with either of them ten years ago, much to their continuing dismay.

On this fateful Thursday, she had stopped briefly to check her latest readings when she heard the unmistakeable ring tone of a mobile phone coming from under a nearby wild holly shrub.

She ought to have ignored it or put it in her bag so that she could hand it over to the police, but something persuaded her to pick it up and answer it. She looked around nervously but there was no one in sight. Ranmore Common in mid-week during a pandemic was like that.

“Hello” she said cautiously pushing the green phone symbol on the Nokia.

“This is your Vodafone alert; you have a message, to listen dial 121”

Curiosity is said to have killed the cat, but Kathy somehow convinced herself she was not a natural cat lover. What harm could there be in just hearing the message? It might even help identify the owner and save the police a job. They could do with concentrating on real crimes with real criminals if the latest statistics from the Home Office were to be believed.

She looked around but could see no one at all. She had no idea how long the phone had been there. Did the owner even know he (or she) had lost it?

She looked down at her watch. She was behind on her schedule. She knew the next five miles would take her down past Denbies’ vineyard then up the demandingly steep contours of Box Hill, using part of the route taken by the Road Cyclists in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

She took a reading from her heart rate monitor. She was approaching her lactate threshold and put it down to an unexpected spike in adrenaline, the body’s way of preparing for ‘fight or flight’ syndrome.

She dialled 121

“This is Jack again. If you don’t respond by Friday at noon, Maisie will be killed.”

Kathy gulped. She hadn’t expected to hear an angry gruff male voice.

On instinct she again surveyed the narrow public footpath from whence she had come through the woods. She put the phone in a spare belt pouch and set off in the opposite direction towards Ranmore Church along an open country road with clear views all around. At the end of the public road, she veered right on to a wide concrete public footpath which ran down beside rows of Denbies’ vines.

Within ten minutes she was back running along her usual training route but mulling over what to do next for the best and when. Friday at noon might well be tomorrow. It’s possible the owner of the mobile phone had already been in touch with Gruff Jack. Maisie might be safe.

On the other hand, she really ought to hand over the Nokia to the police before Maisie comes to a horrible end. But would they have enough time to take action? If they couldn’t prioritise the case for shortage of manpower or a plethora of more urgent issues, Maisie might remain at severe risk.

As she approached the pedestrian tunnel which would take her under the A24 en route for Box Hill, she decided to stop and look at the Nokia again. She took the device out of her pouch and sat on a sawn-off tree trunk bordering the River Mole. Once again, she looked about but saw no one on foot, although the traffic along the A24 dual carriageway was building. It was beginning to rain.

She looked through the personal contact section. There were thirty entries in all, many of them clearly nick names of friends but two stood out: One marked Mum, the other Jack.

She rang Mum and waited nervously for someone to answer when she heard it ringing at the other end. After what seemed an eternity a breathless female voice with a distinctive Northumbrian accent burst into life.

“Sharon! Thank god! Where the hell are you? Jack’s been tearing his hair out!”

“This isn’t Sharon” said Kathy quickly but cautiously “but I am using Sharon’s mobile. I found it up on Ranmore Common about twenty minutes ago. She must have dropped it there”

“Ranmore Common!” exclaimed Sharon’s Mum. “Where the hell is that?”

“It’s near Dorking in Surrey” said Kathy quickly “Where are you?”

“Gateshead, Tyne & Wear pet” said Sharon’s Mum “Not far from the athletic stadium on Neilson Road. Do you know it, pet?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, I do” replied Kathy, caught slightly off guard and mildly affronted to be referred to like a cherished chihuahua “I believe many world records have been set there”

“That’s right Pet, my late Dah worked there with Brendan Foster in the old days; you’ll have heard of him no doubt pet!”

“Of course,” replied Kathy “But we need to get this mobile back to Sharon. She might not know she’s lost it. There might even be important messages on it which need her immediate attention!”

“You’re right, pet” replied Sharon’s Mum. “I could talk the hind legs off a donkey as my Freddie used to say, but Jack will know what to do. Can I give him your number Miss?”

Kathy passed up the opportunity of asking who Freddie might be but was curious about Jack who might even be holding Maisie hostage.

“Yes of course you can - its 07831 638227 – but who is Jack?”

“Her ‘personal trainer’ is what Sharon calls him, pet” she replied. “She’s gone all ‘lah di dah’ since she went south bless her pet, but they tell me everybody whose anybody has one these days!”

Kathy laughed and added “OK, I will switch Sharon’s mobile off now. I will look forward to hearing from someone as soon as you have located her”

“Thanks a lot pet, you’re a star! Oh, by the way I nearly forgot. Who am I speaking to?”

“My name is Kathy Shrimpton”

“Not THE Kathy Shrimpton, the triathlete pet!” she exclaimed “Sharon is one of your greatest fans.”

“I’m flattered” she said as she finished the call, anxious to revert to her training mindset.

Kathy put the mobile phone back in her pouch and headed for the Running Horses Pub in Mickleham where her husband had left her racing bike ready for her transition. The famous zig zag climbs up Box Hill had been part of London 2012. It was always the highlight of Kathy’s training routine which would end at her house overlooking Epsom Downs.

It was there that evening she took the call she had been hoping for

“Hi Kathy, this is Sharon Forster calling. Mum tells me you have my mobile phone?”

Kathy was relieved it wasn’t Jack calling. There was no trace of her mother’s accent in the voice. On the contrary, Sharon sounded more like one of her old school friends from her days at Roedean School. They quickly arranged to meet at the Rubbing House pub near the finishing line on Epsom Racecourse which they both knew well.

“I’ve a patched up but battered old Citroen Dolly, courtesy of my brother Derek” explained Sharon “It’s all a student can afford these days I’m afraid!”

“Mine is a 10-year-old Volvo Estate” replied Kathy “Hardly fashionable but, in my view, the ultimate vehicle for carrying bikes and general clobber!”

“I know” responded Sharon “I am an avid reader of your blog!”

Sharon Forster turned out to be a tall slim long-haired brunette with a dazzling smile. She was a real head turner with a very cheery disposition. Kathy noted the many admiring glances that they both received as they sat down at a socially distanced spare table to swap stories and the infamous mobile phone.

Sharon explained that she was in her second year at Girton College Cambridge doing an English Degree but had been dabbling in triathlon in her spare time. She thought she might even attempt to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games. A friend who lived in Reigate had put her on to Kathy’s blog Mind Games which she had found fascinating.

“In one of your pieces, you set out the route of one of your training runs. I was visiting my friend Fiona in Reigate; she’s doing a law degree at Cambridge. I showed it to her. She said it looked very doable from her house. It was a whim, Kathy” she explained. “It really was quite out of character for me. The chances of me dropping the mobile phone and you picking it up, must be a million to one!”

Kathy laughed. “My brother is an actuary. He would argue the odds are much less than you might think if you take all factors into account but let’s not worry about that! I’m glad it worked out well in the end. But tell me about Jack. Your Mum called him your personal trainer. I must confess I listened unwittingly to his message. Who is Maisie?”

“Ah” said Sharon slightly embarrassed. “How long have you got?”

“As long as it takes” said Kathy ordering another two dry white wine spritzers from a hovering waiter “I try to keep up with the latest thoughts when it comes to sports psychology”

“Well Jack means well but there are times when his strictures get in the way of my University work. I’m am preparing a literary analysis of the work of Henry James. I’m using his novel “What Maisie Knew?” to illustrate his ability to underscore the dynamics of living in a family. Are you familiar with the basic plot, Kathy?”

“I can’t say I am” admitted Kathy “Do tell me more. Hasn’t there been a film adaptation?”

“There have been several” said Sharon “but, in my view, they all gloss over James central theme.”

“Which is what?” said Kathy

“Well”, she began “Maisie is the only daughter of a couple who get a divorce. The court awards custody to each of them equally so she is forced to spend six months with each parent alternately which sounds great but then both start new relationships which complicates matters. Then they both start cheating on their new partners and Maisie has to choose which one to live with. Guess what? She opts for neither of her natural parents who are too narcissistic to care. She needs unconditional love which she gets from a Mrs Wix who adopts her. Bearing in mind James wrote the novel in 1897, it is an amazing take on life in the 21st century don’t you think?”

Kathy was suddenly very thoughtful which Sharon mistook for one moment as boredom with her passionate advocacy of Henry James literary talents, but she couldn’t have been further from the truth.

“I get it” said Kathy slowly, “Jack Gruff, whoops (!) I’m sorry Sharon but he sounded very gruff on the message, no offence meant …… he was using his training regime as advance payment for time taken off for your dissertation”

“You have it in one Kathy – a kind of intellectual stick and carrot philosophy but there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to motivation. Frankly, I’m getting a bit tired of being treated like a retarded donkey! But then you understand all this psychology stuff don’t you Kathy – it is what attracted me to your blog in the first place”

“I’m flattered,” replied Kathy. “But I wouldn’t claim any more insight than the next blogger. Athletes have been looking for scientific help ‘since time immemorial’, as my Dad likes to say; they don’t really need psychological help. In 1982 I watched one Julie Moss literally crawl across the finishing line on one of the early Hawaiian triathlons. She was a college student doing research for her exercise physiology thesis. I was 15 at the time but I have been hooked on the notion ever since. I like to test myself against Olympic standards every year for the sheer fun of it. Elite athletes with a modicum of talent have motivation built into their DNA”

“Can I quote you on that?” said Sharon laughing “My Dad always said ‘a nearly man’ is preferable to a ‘never was’ man”

“Can I quote you on that?” replied Kathy laughing. “Or should I credit your Dad?”

Now it was Sharon’s turn to become extremely pensive to the point when her eyes filled with tears.

Kathy offered her a handkerchief. “I ‘m so sorry Sharon. Is it something I said?”

“No no, it isn’t your fault. Dad was my mentor. I miss him terribly. He died six months ago of Covid 19 complications. He was only 46. He was a bricklayer. He was so proud of me when I won a scholarship to Cambridge. He kept telling all his mates I was going to be Prime Minister one day. I think I am the first in the Forster family to go to University”

“So, your dissertation on Henry James comes from the heart?” said Kathy quietly.

Sharon nodded her head in agreement adding “I owe it to him, and my Mum of course, to make the most of what Cambridge has to offer, so Henry James will always take precedence over Professor Erik Skollob, much to Jack’s chagrin”

“Prof Skollob?” asked Kathy.

“‘ES’ as Jack calls him” continued Sharon, “is the latest fitness guru Jack likes to quote on the psychology of competitive achievement. He’s Swedish but his degree is from some obscure American University. Apparently, he has been working with Roger Federer recently”


Kathy Shrimpton and Sharon Forster became firm friends. Kathy eventually replaced Gruff Jack as Sharon’s part time triathlon coach but neither of them took the other too seriously.

On the Sunday following their Rubbing House session, Kathy picked up her own mobile phone. She dialled the entry marked DAD and waited nervously for him to pick it up.

“Kathy, what a pleasant surprise, how lovely to hear from you!”