One of the disadvantages of always being near the back of the cross country pack, other than never winning anything, is that when it’s rainy, which is pretty much all the time, the hundreds of pairs of feet that go before me mash up the ground and create a rivers, lakes and oceans of mud. Just as well I love it, then.
The whole dirt fixation must have come from those long school holidays spent at my grandparents where I was given free run of the garden, it kept me ‘out from under the feet’, I was told – and didn’t mind as it got me into the Great Outdoors. The black soil glistened, probably thanks to the passing slugs, and the texture was gritty and strangely inviting. Why not scoop up a handful and taste it? Why not indeed? This was before the days of nasty bacteria with unpronounceable names, hand-washing gels and toilets with automatic flushing. A bit o’muck never did anyone any harm – hell we didn’t even have a bath, so it was a good rub down with a flannel standing in the kitchen sink.
So what was wrong with a good handful of Yorkshire soil with a bit of slug slime? My eight-year-old palate was a few years away from maturity, but even it could recognise the high notes of saltiness and texture of grit. I honestly can’t remember whether I chewed and swallowed or spat it out, I’d like to think it was returned pretty quickly to the flower bed in a stream of saliva, but I suspect it followed by egg and chips down into my belly where it hung around for quite a while.
I didn’t try it again for a few decades, though I enjoyed making mud pies and was fascinated by all the different colours, textures and smells. It had a quality all of its own and I became fond of mud, though as a teenager I wouldn’t go anywhere near it unless it was a face pack made with fullers earth, a greeny-coloured clay said to smooth away impurities. So entering into the world of cross country running was like a return to my roots, or at least the roots of anything that grew along the path.
Sunday’s Yorkshire Veterans Athletics Association’s five mile traipse through mud in all its forms from near liquid through sucky to hard and sticky saw me slipping, sliding, doing comedy windmill imitations and making farty noises with my shoes. It was mud, mud, glorious mud, I loved it. When’s the next one?