A few years ago, encouraged by my GP to lose a bit of flab, I entered a charity 10K race. Having, in the distant past, worked for a major running magazine, I had access to training plans for events of all distances, and sedulously applied myself to the mix of speed days, endurance days and rest days prescribed by the experts.
It was deviating from the plan that brought about my abject humiliation. One day I was scheduled to go for a bit of endurance, which usually involved walk/jogging to a grassy expanse round the back of the Purley Way, almost under the shadow of the mighty IKEA chimneys. Once there, I would do two circuits of the common at medium pace, then jog back slowly to warm down.
Possessed by an excess of enthusiasm, I decided to do three circuits, and then run back at the same pace. I realised something was wrong as I was crossing a road halfway home, when I became afflicted with stitches on both sides. I made it to the pavement, and did the most dangerous thing possible - I stopped. It was only then that I realised I hadn't really been breathing for the last couple of minutes. I stood, gasping for air, feeling the veins in my head and neck throbbing as if they wanted to escape. My legs started shaking and hurting. I felt sick, but nothing wanted to come up. I bent over, just in case.
"I must look a bloody mess," I thought. Having occasionally caught sight of myself in the mirror during my rare excursions to the gym, I knew that excessive activity usually turned my face a vibrant shade of raspberry. Sweat splashed onto the pavement as I retched saliva and tried to acquire some oxygen from somewhere, anywhere. And then I heard the tapping sound.
I'd pulled up by the left-hand fork of a T-junction, and a minibus had stopped there, waiting for a gap in the traffic. With some difficulty I got myself into a vaguely upright position and turned to look at the vehicle, to see whether it was the source of the noise. And then I realised it wasn't just any old minibus.
It was the blue bus.
It was the blue bus that belonged to the school for children with learning difficulties.
The special school.
And they were in the blue bus, tapping on the window and pointing. And they were laughing hysterically. They were pointing and laughing. At me.
And as I stood there, damp, hot, bedraggled, aching, gasping, I felt that maybe this was some sort of karmic payback for all the times I'd thoughtlessly mocked someone with words like "spaz" or "mong" or "flid" or "joey". And I was suddenly thankful that my face had already gone red.
"Did you have a good run?" asked Small Boo when I got home. I told her what had happened, hoping for a little sympathy.
Three hours later, she'd almost stopped laughing.