My wife was racing in Surrey. I found myself on Box Hill. Just me, a baby and a running buggy.
Ordinarily, the baby (my daughter, I hasten to add) goes to sleep the instant the buggy begins to move. She can cry hysterically during the insertion process, but move the thing a millimetre and it is like she has been drugged. That is ordinarily. Today, the hysterical process continued into movement. I jogged a couple of laps of the car park. The crying got worse. I ran down to the trig point overlooking Dorking. She was now weeping uncontrollably. Big tears. Hungry, cold, tired, fed-up? Who knows? I extricated her from the buggy and we hugged. I hugged; she wasn’t interested in hugging. She scowled, howled and pushed her little arms into my chest. Oh, the rejection.
‘What is wrong with you?’ I asked as Perfectly Behaved Family walked past.
‘Why the £&@! are you crying?’ I demanded when they were out of earshot.
Back in the buggy, she continued to cry. Two more laps of the car park. Silence. I dared look. Her eyes were closed. I lifted her left hand to place it out of the cold. Her eyes flashed open. She fixed me with a stare of unearthly hatred. She roared. She visibly shuddered.
‘Have a cold hand. Get frostbite. See if I care.’
Another lap. Silent again. Both of us.
I took my chance and started the watch. I had gone a quarter of a mile at a pathetic pace when she erupted. I relented this time, passing her an Ella’s Yum Yummy Cookie. I’ve tried them. They are not yum yummy. The cookie had the effect of a sleeping pill though. Two minutes of clumsy chewing, then she was gone.
I continued towards Box Hill village. It was not very exciting. I was on a pavement next to a road that could have been anywhere.
There was always the zigzags. I instantly dismissed the idea, then began to rationalise the prospect. This road wasn’t busy with traffic; the zigzags wouldn’t be either. If cyclists can ride two or three abreast, why can’t I irritate motorists too? That is something I would positively relish.
I made my way back towards to the car park, passed the cafe and began the descent. We fizzed down, running an almost seven-minute mile as the gradient eased. At the roundabout on the A23, we turned to begin the ascent. There is only so fast you can run with a buggy. The reasons are obvious: wind resistance, weight, altered running style, and so forth. The biggest barrier to speed is the fact that there is a limit to how reckless you can be when pushing a 10-month-old along a road without social services getting a call. Because of that, it’s safer to be going uphill than down when the variables can be more easily controlled.
There is a variable greater than anything I’ve noted above, however. A great fear. A great inevitability. She will wake. And when she wakes, she will want out of that buggy. I’d been going close to 40 minutes when I began the ascent; I was already pushing my luck. I didn’t hang about. We didn’t catch a cyclist. We were close. One overtook us on the first zigzag, then slowed. We were gaining metre by metre, only for the rider to glance over his shoulder and – in recognising the potential ignominy of being passed by a baby being pushed up Box Hill in a buggy – got off his saddle and tried a bit harder. Bottom to top in 15 minutes: a good effort even without a buggy. The baby hadn’t even opened her eyes.
She was still sleeping as I joined the queue in the cafe. As I paid, I tried to wake the baby. She wouldn’t stir. She was cold. She’s dead, I decided. I’ve killed her – somehow – by running up Box Hill. What will my wife say? She won’t like this much. What will the Daily Mail say?
‘Here is your change.’
I prodded her cheek again. An eye lazily opened.
‘You’ve just run up Box Hill,’ I told her when we were sitting down. Or when I was sitting down. She’d been sitting down the whole time.
She seemed to shrug. Her eyes said all I needed to know: just give me the yoghurt!