Racing the Reaper Man Introduction: Beginnings

This book is aimed at those of us who are in our 50s and 60s. At the time of writing, with serendipitous synchronisation, it means we came into the world in the 1950s and 1960s. However, with luck and a following breeze, these words may survive and be read by those born later. I hope they have relevance to anyone who wants to get into better shape. Ultimately it is about walking, jogging and running; honesty, desire and application. Thus, after my initial Introduction, this part is a little bit about me. If you don’t know my background, you may think I’m an especially gifted athlete, giving the immediate view that what I show you is beyond any ‘normal’ person’s aspirations. I am just an ordinary fellow with the same frailties of anyone of you. My weaknesses are the same. My desires are the same. My self-justification of injurious habits is the same. Right now I am in my mid-sixties, so I’m also creaking a bit.

I arrived in the world at 29 Woolavington Road, Puriton, Somerset in 1956. The house was demolished back in the 80s, and now that site is a raddled field with a luxurious lacing of briar. Home was an Airey House, a post-war prefab, built on the MoD property of Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Bridgwater. After the Second World War several of the ROFs were set up to manufacture these Airey Houses so returning soldiers and their families, had somewhere to live. This set the scene of the most coincidental of conceptions.

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Me aged three years

My mother worked at the ROF, either in the canteen or stores, and was a war widow. Her first husband, an Irish airman, was killed when his Wellington bomber was shot down. My father, born in 1905, was a career soldier from 1921, serving across the Empire, then had the misfortune to be posted to Singapore a short time before it fell to the Imperial Japanese Army. 3 years and 8 months later, having survived the whole of the Death Railway construction, he was lucky enough to be liberated, then returned home to recuperate in Cornwall, with his Anglo-Irish relatives. Once well enough, he joined the War Department Constabulary and was posted to ROF Bridgwater. There, he met my mother who had a continuing penchant for the Irish, so they fell in love and got married. Married quarters were provided in the form of the flat-topped Airey Houses made in the Factory. I was conceived in that house and was born there. So, I was conceived and born in a house, that was conceived and created in the factory, that provided munitions to win the war, because of which my parents met on the same site. My father died in the house in 1961. That I worked in the same place for 29 years adds to the tale. I wrote a book about the ROF, and after its closure, have become involved in preserving its history, as well as the conception of its new guise as a zero carbon Eco-Park, the Gravity Project. In February 2020 I was in the mind-boggling position of being photographed in building 7/1, in which I often worked, but was also where all the Airey House parts were set and sorted into packs. I had great fun explaining to the people of the Somerset Heritage Trust that they were creating historic pictures of a man who was effectively conceived in what was conceived in that building! 7/1 is to be a heritage building with offices, the walls of which will have the occasional picture of me. How discombobulating is that?

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My father Michael Comerford (sitting, smiling, pith helmet at a jaunty angle) in the Shimla Hills in northern India

After my father died my, mother and her four children were given a council house in nearby West Huntspill. After her death, when I was but 17, I found I had no idea how to be an adult. She had been sucked in by a cult of religious morons, and my upbringing was very isolationist and dominated by god-bothering mental and physical abusers telling me how awful I was. Thus, as all good teenagers, I rebelled, became a rather grubby looking biker and stumbled into smoking, drinking and various other unheroic pastimes. Although the bikers, including a regular group of Hell’s Angels, were my friends and effectively saved my life, I was not happy. ‘Lost’ is the only word that fits. As I tried to raise myself, being child, parent and mentor, with only a basic binary biker view of the world, attractive though it was, I rebelled again and got married, ending up working at the ROF from 1978 and living, what I thought, was a ‘normal’ life.

By 1981 I was still smoking, getting chubby and was thoroughly miserable with myself. I was fighting conformity, the cultural concept of normality and accepted mores, due to the chaotic authoritarian drivel that had been fed into my developing mind. This I didn’t know at the time, so there I was existing without thinking, living without any idea of how to become myself. At 20 I had children, a delight I never doubted, yet I was but a child myself. And then, in 1981 I bought a bike, my brother started running, the first London Marathon took place and in February 1982, at the end of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon at Kona, Julie Moss collapsed 10 yards from the finish and was overtaken by Kathleen McCartney to lose the race. By May 1982 my life changed forever as I will explain next time.