The Forrest Gump of Primrose Hill – by Garry Mancini

The adjustment to life in Lockdown took longer than anticipated. It seemed like the whole nation was becoming addicted to carbs, 7.00pm cocktail hours and binge watching of movies and box sets. 7.00pm became 6.30pm, 6.30pm became 6.00pm until the observation was made that “It is always cocktail hour somewhere in the world!”

I watched and became inspired by Tom Hanks’ 1994 Academy Award winning movie “Forrest Gump.” Tom Hank’s good-natured character becomes unwittingly entangled in historical events and his passion for running brings him into contact with an array of interesting people and experiences.

I needed to get fitter so I too took up running and I too had some interesting experiences.

My regular route took me along the towpath of The Regents Canal and I was amazed how clear the waters had become. I could see with absolute clarity what lay beneath these beautifully calm waters.

There were the obligatory shopping trolleys, countless bicycle frames, numerous tyres, traffic cones, saucepans and beer cans. More surprising was a whole metal bedframe, an entire moped and something glinting and beckoning to me. On closer inspection it was a rose gold i-phone shining like treasure. Maybe it had been dropped from the nearby bridge or more sinisterly, stolen and discarded.

I became a socially distanced friend of one of the homeless individuals that had taken up residency by the canal. The daily cheerful “good morning!” brightened both our days. These uplifting exchanges occurred with a backdrop of the beautifully manicured gardens of the palatial villas on the south side of the canal and it reminded me of the stark differences that exist between the “haves” and “have-nots” in our area.

Wildlife had become abundant, proud ducks paraded their ducklings along the waterway much to the delight of young children with their own mothers out for an early morning walk. On one occasion there was even a lone swimmer, suitably kitted out with cap, goggles and trailing a float behind them.

I usually ran passed the Zoo and it was odd to realize that we too, at that time, were also in a form of captivity. I had been a life long friend of London Zoo and was alarmed to learn of its serious financial difficulty and threat of permanent closure. The lack of visitors over lockdown meant the zoo was having difficulty looking after it’s 20,000 residents. I felt compelled to help in some small way and started some local fund raising. I pledged to dye my grey lockdown beard pink like a flamingo, orange like a tiger and green like a parakeet to encourage donations. Thank you to all who contributed and I am particularly in debited to Jon Snow and his Channel 4 News broadcast alerting his audience to the plight of the zoo.

The latter stages of my run would take me over the top of primrose hill and one early Saturday morning I was presented with the heart-breaking scene of someone being resuscitated by paramedics on the pavement of Regents Park Road. The sight of this episode will be with me forever and what will also stay are two things. Firstly, a passer by attempting to video the event presumably to improve his “likes” on social media and second the reaction of a police officer at the scene. The officer on noticing the individual filming, very politely and firmly asked, “what are you doing? If you want to film anyone then film me, not someone dying in the street, what is wrong with you?” The individual appeared to continue filming requiring the officer to demand, “come here now!” He grudgingly complied, an exchange ensued and he left with his tail between his legs.

The actions of the officer and the emergency services were commendable. The action of the smart phone owner was contemptible. Literally in one heart beat the best and the worst was in full view. I sincerely hope that our patient lived to fight another day!

Even though we appear to be easing lockdown I am determined to keep up my routine. My eyes have been permanently re-opened to our amazing surroundings. Running has helped me physically by increasing my fitness and has eased the enormous emotional weight of this dreadful pandemic.

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