(From The Human Race) Chapter 4. ‘The Great North Run’

‘The Great North Run’ is an excerpt from a new prose piece I’m working on.


From the train window, in the distance, I spy the Angel of the North. It is Man’s creation. Man magnified. It has nothing to do with infinity (though no doubt it ruffles Heaven’s feathers). Yet it is no less a messenger, a reflection of our age, a symbol of technology, not theology, no less aspirant with wings in perfect symmetry, wings outspread in welcome. Weather-resistant, laced with copper, it is bound to oxidise, to mellow with age. It is into the bosom of this corroding angel that Humanity pins its hopes.

As you face me, it seems to say. You face your fears.


At the seven-mile mark I meet an octogenarian as buoyant as a baby’s laugh. Before he bounces passed, I ask him about the silver angel attached to his vest.

‘I remember the ones about my bed,’ he says. ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, keeping me safe.’

I see him again at the finish line. His fine features, cloud-grey eyes and god-white hair look fresh, as if he’s been out for a Sunday stroll, and not that thirteen miles have rolled beneath his splendid feet. He is with a child, peach-pale and with the sharpest eyes, as though a slice of sky has touched them. The man’s race medal takes up most of her chest, and she holds tightly onto his hand.

‘Come on, Granddad,’ she says. ‘You promised me an ice cream.’

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