Wensum: April arrives and memories are stirred on faces and places of the past

The mass start gets underway at Blackheath during the 31st Virgin London Marathon in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday April 17, 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire. ENGEMN00120110418132854
The mass start gets underway at Blackheath during the 31st Virgin London Marathon in London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday April 17, 2011. Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire. ENGEMN00120110418132854
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The mass start of the London Marathon will bring back memories for our columnist Wensum later this month.

Two in particular. April always casts my thoughts back to the London Marathon, which thousands of people out there have been training for over the long winter months.

My personal experience was in 1992 which, incidentally, since we’re in this sort of territory, also witnessed the birth of our third son Jack. I was in my 50th year and having failed to be accepted for the run a couple of times previously was delighted to have finally made it.

The preparations spanned some nine months with gentle meanders around the town outskirts in the early weeks and then more serious poundings in the general direction of Walsingham.

I took part in a couple of local half-marathons prior to the big day and felt confident, if nervous, jostling with the crowds out at the start in Greenwich.

The weather was kind, the support tremendous and the feeling of ‘ownership’ when striding over Tower Bridge very emotional.

The last miles were more endurance than enjoyment but a time under four hours made it all worthwhile. I had been sponsored on behalf of Fakenham surgery and when all the money had come in, I presented a cheque for £310 to Dr John Braithwaite.

This was earmarked for specialist resuscitation equipment, commonly known to the doctors as ‘suckers’, and invaluable in emergencies to support patients who had swallowed fluids.

Come this year’s marathon on April 26, the vast majority of participants will once again be raising thousands of pounds for good causes. The

chief executive of North Norfolk District Council will be one of them. Sheila Oxtoby.

My second remembrance marks the unexpected death four years ago of a friend with whom I had shared some of the most adventurous periods of my life.

I met Jim Gronsand, quite by chance, in the Guatemalan embassy in Mexico City just after the Olympic Games in 1968. We were both rucksack travellers and had in mind to hitch-hike through all the countries of Central America as far south as Panama.

We discovered that we both had a love of literature and history and from that point onwards shared each other’s company in exploring these amazing cultures.

At what was supposed to be journey’s end a decision was taken to continue to South America from Colombia in the north right down the Andean chain to Chile and Argentina and then up the east coast to Brazil. Ultimately I hitched a ride on a cargo boat bound for North America with Jim sailing across the Atlantic to Germany.

We kept in touch by letter – those were the days of constant scribbling – with our close friendship continuing for over 40 years.

I hardly knew his home territory of Portland in Oregon but he visited Fakenham a number of times, including Christmas. We shared beers in various pubs and walked for miles along the North Norfolk Coast Path, reviving a host of memories from the time of our youthful exuberance.

As gaps go, his sudden departure on that April day in 2011, remains a yawning one.