When it comes to rebellion, Alan Sillitoe knows how to do defiance. His anti-hero characters are absolute bastards, and therefore a real joy to read. In the ‘them v us’ world of postwar Britain, there’s only one person you can rely on in this life: yersen.
Two of his most belligerent anti-authority figures are Arthur Seaton from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) and Colin Smith from The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959). Both are masters of their own universe, who refuse to toe the line – no matter what the consequences.
In our Sillitoe themed comic For it was Saturday Night, we brought both of them back from the dead to protest at the closure of libraries. But Colin Smith wasn’t much use. Riga mortis had set in and so it took him ages to get anywhere. This, of course, was in stark contrast to his character in ‘Loneliness’ – an athletic seventeen-year-old who could outrun anyone because ‘running had always been made much of in our family, especially running away from the police’.
I daren’t leave me house at the moment. Not because of covid, but because our street is full of lockdown runners, or, more specifically, lumbering overweight middle-aged men who see furlough as an opportunity to finally lose a few pounds. Or have they suddenly taken up running because it’s better than being stuck in the house with the kids watching Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Kitchen Disco?
Amid a pandemic that requires us to keep a reasonable distance from each other and to be hyper conscious of our hygiene, joggers seem to think now is the time to come panting and spluttering past like a back firing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Worst still, you can’t even tell them to back off as they’re tethered to their headphones.
I am happily overweight and unfit. But I prefer a casual stroll through the streets, counting discarded facemasks rather than how many miles I’ve done on the fitbit.
It’s with these issues in mind, I’ve decided to reimagine Sillitoe’s classic story for the covid generation as The Loneliness of the Lockdown Runner. This will be published on Twitter as a series of tweets at 5pm each evening, starting on Thursday 25 Feb. This is to mark the 84th birthday of Sir Tom Courtenay, who played Colin Smith in the British New Wave film of 1962. Sir Tom also played the role of Billy Fisher in Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar (1963), the story of an office clerk who escape the boredom of his humdrum existence through elaborate daydreams. Both of these books (and films) had a profound impact on me in my youth, so I wanted to do something to celebrate this great actor who helped me feel less alone during my adolescence.
The story will incorporate text from the original story, but address issues raised by lockdown. For example, our homes have become mini-Borstals due to lockdown restrictions. And whereas Colin Smith steals out of necessity, now we find ourselves on furlough with an equally bleak future…
I’ve decided to reimagine the story on Twitter because, like Lockdown, Twitter is a medium of constraint. Similarly, the story can be told in short, sharp bursts, replicating the slow-paced trot of lockdown running. I like the idea of the form reflecting the content.
Follow @Lockdown_Runner published each day on Twitter at 5pm for the next week.
- Twitter @Lockdown_Runner (twitter.com/Lockdown_Runner)
- Twitterature: Lockdown Runner Tweets (jameskwalker.co.uk)
- Happy Birthday Sr Tom, here’s your prezzie (dawnoftheunread.wordpress.com)
- Reimagining Sillitoe during covid (leftlion.co.uk)
- Loneliness of the Lockdown Runner (nottinghamcityofliterature.com)
- Twitterature: The Loneliness of the Lockdown Runner (jameskwalker.co.uk)
- Twitterature: Reimagining Sillitoe’s class for the covid generation (jameskwalker.co.uk)