:: Article

Runners and Risers

By James Wilkes.

runners and risers

The person I’m looking at is – running he’s part of a running group. He is wearing… bright red long sleeve running top, which is blue on the torso, with a white number pinned to the front, very short black running shorts with white stripes down the side which expose pale thighs before long black socks, bright green trainers, blue gloves, and a navy hat with red trim. The white of the legs is quite startling. There’s no shine, it’s matt, just the gleam of the skin that’s visible, the face and the legs and the white of the trainer laces.

The colour didn’t spark any particular memories but it’s a – very close to almost a colour on a springer spaniel, um, probably the association with a kind of farmer’s or hunter’s jacket, um to do with er hunting dogs or game dogs.

This kind of ethical ugliness in the use of a classical form, particularly the cruel denial of shadow or depth in proportion to the height, afflicted me to such an extent that I think it has helped me in later life to find good architecture to be a particular symbol of life.

So um I feel a little cut off because I’ve got headphones on. I don’t even know if I’m speaking into the right bit of this.

I’ve picked a concrete tower. I think it’s probably – flats, for living in. It has a flat roof.

Explosive powder stood stored in this building of grey brick. A sentry always marched outside, and for all I know, does so to this day. Potential murder and death were guarded with careful pageantry. Except for the sentry’s footfall there was a silence about the place, the seat of the greatest potential noise.

Err it’s a tall, er tower block, maybe – fifteen floors, twenty floors, er it’s partially obscured by a tree, er the tree doesn’t have any leaves but I mean you can see through it and it’s almost a, almost looks like a perfect square, probably looking at it from a 45 degree angle, onto the corner. Um, and it’s got four large, well four concrete, well column, concrete column for each corner, but it’s squared off, um… And it’s divided by maybe three, is it four, four other vertical columns in between that. Um… and then there’s maybe the top three or four floors is again it’s kind of a square shape but um, it’s slightly, slightly smaller than the rest of the building, um. Building also looks like it’s got scaffold up the whole one side, with a canvas, um, yeah sort of protective canvas over part the top of the building where some building works are being carried out.

I was to be told that the Serpentine could be drained, that everything flung into it could be brought to light.

Quality of light: English. English changing sort of from winter to spring. I don’t know what happens then, maybe it’s just that you get little buds on the trees and that somehow changes the light, but um, that’s what’s happened. And I just looked around a bit, and it’s incredibly grey on my right-hand side. Just sort of imminent… doom. Erm – it looks much bigger than most of London.

Umm, it’s very light precipitation, just spitting. Lot of cloud cover, almost complete, soft grey clouds with slightly lighter ones. Soft wind. It would be… a rather slow, old dog. It’s a friendship which is a bit… run out, or maybe just at a slight hiatus. Or…

If this weather’s an animal it might be an arctic goose. I think it would just stick with inequality as a sort of… tradition. Not really change it very much, just let things be. I mean I’m actually imagining it more of as a person. With a big grey beard. If it was a friendship… Bloody old friendship, I mean… yeah. But then, that’s just weather isn’t it, it’s… been with us for a long time.

I was forbidden to sit on the seats with complicated cast-iron sides frequented by the destitute. Nevertheless, regarding these seats as forlorn homes, I was fascinated, not only by the danger imputed to them, an infection, as it were, of poverty, but by the possibility of constant acts of restitution.

Er if this weather was an animal it would have to be a… Um… Perhaps one that works best in a kind of cold, cold environment, not too harsh the conditions, but erm, perhaps some kind of bird. Er the cloud cover – colour even – is quite a sort of light grey with blues and almost like a hint of, of, of purple within it so maybe for that reason it would be something, um, perhaps like a woodpigeon, kind of slowmoving, similar colour.

I’m looking at somebody on their mobile phone and I guess that makes them less aware of me. Um… They’ve got a brightly coloured jacket on, looks like they would have a lot of fun… Um… There’s blue and turquoise and a flat cap. They’re wearing shorts which is pretty incredible for February… um… and look like they could start running at any point. Very tanned legs… But I can’t actually see this far without my glasses.

It’s kind of womb-like I suppose, if you shut your eyes and look through your eyelids. And you just get that – sort of warm pink sometimes.

It was a red and blue coat, it wasn’t really a coat it was a top for running. Colour makes me think of… jockey silks, sport, team colours, er strong… livery associations, unsurprisingly I suppose cos it’s a runner. Umm. Yeah, red with – blue stripes.

For a time I clung to military pomp and discipline as a ‘solution’ of the park and its environs.

Oh, I missed something. Erm, the path that’s, that’s just in front of me before the goose-bitten grass is, is constantly, there’s a stream of runners erm moving, again, all in shorts, absolutely unbelievable, it’s so… I mean my hands are cold now, I’m not jogging it’s true, but um… Yeah. And they’re, they just keep running, very constantly.


This work quotes (in italics) Adrian Stokes, Inside Out: An Essay in the Psychology and Aesthetic Appeal of Space (London: Faber and Faber, 1947).

All other text is quoted verbatim from the audio reports of subjects AC, SE, SF, to questions posed remotely by the author.

Originally published, with photographs by Sally Davies, in Special Works School Preliminary Report, an investigation into Kensington Gardens’ history as the site of a former camouflage training school.


James Wilkes is a poet and writer. Recent publications include Conversations After Dark (Sideline Publications, 2010), Reviews (Veer, 2009) and Weather A System (Penned in the Margins, 2009), and as editor, Herbarium (Capsule Press, 2011), and Special Works School Preliminary Report (2011). He has performed his work at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, Liverpool Biennial and Literaktum Festival, and has collaborated with both artists and musicians to produce work for performance and installation. In 2008–10 he worked with a neuroscientist to write Interior Traces, a live radio drama exploring the effects of brain imaging on society. He is doing doctoral research at the London Consortium, and he co-produces The Thread, a discussion programme on the radio station Resonance 104.4fm.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, August 31st, 2011.