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My attempt at running disintegrates into a war of words with Madonna

Christ, it hurts.

Don’t laugh at me, but I’m trying to learn how to run. I blame that recent BBC programme, Mind Over Marathon, where a group of people, all living with mental health issues, trained to run the London Marathon.

It was good TV, warm and engaging, all of the participants showing impressive degrees of mental and physical courage – battling their anxiety and their knees, bonding with each other and with the viewer. And it sparked in me a little flicker of curiosity. I wonder if I could run? I’ve always shied away from it, but what if? What if?

Cautious advice-heeder that I am in middle age, I go to the NHS website and, sure enough, it offers encouragement to the terrified via an app called Couch to 5K. This teaches you how to start running in short bursts, egged on by the celebrity voice of your choice. I download the app, choose Jo Whiley, and brace myself.

Week one. Monday. A minute of running, followed by 90 seconds walking, for a total of 20 minutes. Christ, it hurts.

Wednesday. Run 2. Realise halfway through that I have made a complete balls-up of these first two runs by setting out in the hilly part of north London where I live, the gradient nearly killing me. I’ve also learned a lesson about gravity, and how strong is the pull of the Earth. A lightness of step is advised, yet I seem to hit the ground with an unexpected thud. I picture a glass of water somewhere, trembling. Also realise I need music.

Friday. I have a new plan, which involves taking a short bus ride to the nearest flat length of road and running up and down it. I’ve also made a Madonna playlist, aiming for a tone of can-do, dance-tempo positivity. First track up is “Vogue”, which begins with her slightly accusatory “What are you looking at?”, reminding me that when I told the kids I’d been running, the youngest replied, “What, in public? Where people can see you?” Am now convinced that everyone is looking at me.

Week two. Monday. Still with the bus ride and the playlist. It’s quite empowering, and I’m playacting at being Madonna-like, although after a while I wonder if she’s actually taunting me.

“Quicker than a ray of light,” she sings in my ear.

“Heavier than a sack of potatoes,” I mutter.

“Don’t stop me now, don’t need to catch my breath.”

Actually, you know what, Madge . . . hah . . . gimme a sec . . . hah . . . just need to . . .

“And when the lights go down and there’s no one left/
I can go on and on and on.”

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

Wednesday. Meanwhile Jo Whiley is being encouraging: “Try to say to yourself, ‘I LOVE RUNNING!’” Banal, but it actually helps. After every 90 seconds of running she interrupts with, “OK, now you can slow down and walk for two minutes.” I go back to walking, not entirely sure that that means I’m slowing down. Her other tip is to distract yourself by looking around. I look up at the trees, all springy and bursting, and think of the lovely Dennis Potter quote about “the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be”, and it starts to rain, a fine drizzle mingling with the sweat, and I’m momentarily enjoying myself.

Saturday. I’ve finished run three and I’m walking back home, when a woman coming in the other direction in full running gear and headphones stops me. She gets out her phone and shows me that the last song she’d been listening to, as she did a 5K run, was “Come Hell or High Water”, from a mid-Eighties Everything But the Girl album. It’s a kind of torchy ballad, so I ask her whether or not it was helpful. “Oh yes,” she says, “it reminded me of being at college and singing along with it, tears streaming down my face.”

Well, whatever gets you through, I suppose.

Week three. Monday. My knee hurts. I mean really hurts. I’m in the studio today, standing up to do lead vocals, and am distracted by a throbbing just below the kneecap.

Wednesday. Resting. Have made an appointment with the physio. You know when you laughed at me for taking up running? Mmm. 

Next week: Kate Mossman

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear