The Sentinel 20 Years On

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Keith Evans transports us back to the Serpentine Running Club of 2000.

Are you a Serpie or a Serpy? – more on that later. By some cosmic chance, on New Year’s Day 2020 I came across some copies of THE SEYMOUR SENTINEL dated 2000. Twenty years gone in a click of the fingers! THE SENTINEL was the club’s weekly newsletter. Hard to believe, but at the start of the millennium one of the main ways the club communicated with its members was through the newsletter. For example, you wouldn’t know your handicap results until you saw them in print – nice to see I was doing it in 35 minutes. Not everybody was on email so volunteers produced a hardcopy weekly digest of newsgroup emails as a way to keep it inclusive – something always important to our club. Latterly, the newsletter was compiled by John Walker, one of our more (in)famous founder members and a mainstay of the club. In his previous life he had been a Sergeant Major in the Scots Guards and was, I believe, part of the army that famously yomped across the Falklands in the ’82 war (to yomp: a long distance loaded march carrying full kit).

After completing 22 years of service in the Army he worked with the metropolitan police preparing trials for the court with the Crown Prosecution Service. But I have heard it said that on Friday afternoons these facilities ground to a halt and were taken over to compile 100 copies of THE SENTINEL, much to the horror of some of our members. As these were pre-Parkrun days we were very much a Saturday morning club. On that day, after the run, SM Walker would appear loaded with SENTINELS which were grabbed off him like free copies of the Radio Times Christmas edition.

I didn’t know if these copies would be of interest but I passed them on to our esteemed editor Diana. As a much younger Serpie/Serpy she found them fascinating and here are her thoughts.

John Walker starting Keith Evans in the Handicap. (Photo courtesy of David Knight)

Diana’s Serpentine Sentinel Observations

  • First, I notice all the phone numbers and email addresses on the front. Obviously, not a time for data protection. Also, it must be pre-Gmail because there are no Gmail addresses. Imagine a time before Google!
  • I also see a lot of familiar names: Ros Young, Hilary Walker, Beate Vogt, Ian Hall. It’s wonderful that so many people have been active in the club for so long.
  • One other thing that jumps out at me is the spelling of Serpie. In 2000 it’s spelt Serpy. When did that change?
  • The Handicap and the Last Friday of the Month 5k were going strong. Also, members were required to wear their club colours not just for races, but also for all club sessions in Hyde Park. Now, I don’t see people wear their club shirts much outside of races.
  • The newsletter must have been early on in the development of the website and the email group. Things are so hyper-connected now. Looking at this, I do get nostalgic for a pre-social media time. It seems like not everyone was using the online board, so they have helpfully reprinted the discussions in the newsletter. Some of the debates seem a little heated! At one point Hilary Walker writes, “I’m not one to prolong these debates, but I happen to agree that what might, as a once off, be construed as harmless banter could escalate into a lot of unsavoury innuendo blocking up our intrays.”
  • Now if you meet someone at one of the club sessions you’re likely to reconnect with them on Facebook, but that wasn’t possible in 2000. One person posts a “missed connection” trying to contact a Serpie they met at the Thursday evening session who is from Hamburg, lives in Notting Hill, and studying for a PhD in weather derivatives. Did they ever meet?!
  • Forever a social club – The Meal of the Month was being held and they were going to a Russian restaurant advertising 70 vodkas! Similarly social, David Sweet was organising a trip to see “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” at the Barbican with Gary Sinise. £19.50 a ticket. Nice price!
  • Despite feeling wistful for days pre-internet, I am thankful for today’s hi-resolution, colour Serpentimes photos. This is especially true when I look at the race report for the ‘Seven Sisters Marathon’. The article starts out “Here is a picture of yours truly participating in the Seven Sisters Marathon.” I look at the photo and it looks like a blob of black on a grey background, with only the shadow of a human form visible.
  • In order to enter races, runners had to fill out forms and send them in! The Seven Sisters Marathon was only £9 to enter. How things have changed.
  • I like the Track Etiquette or “how not to get shouted at or a javelin in the ear at track and field.” Rule number 3 says “Serious athletes like peace and quiet to gather their concentration…jumpers and throwers can be disturbed if you invade their territory in an ebullient manner! (This means partying on the high-jump bed or singing to your Walkman behind the hammer cage).” The Walkman is definitely a sign of the times, though I guess now people would be singing with their ear pods in.
“Here is a picture of yours truly participating in the Seven Sisters Marathon.”

Reading Diana’s observations, some of the pieces do suggest we were a more rough and ready club than we are now, for example, rule number 5 in the Serpentine Track Etiquette cheekily declares “The steeplechase water jump does not moonlight as a swimming pool. However hot the day do not be tempted to splash about. It is deep enough to drown in (especially if you are vertically challenged). Some runners may also think you are a stepping stone.” Even Serpy with a Y seems rougher than it does with an I. Although I don’t recall us being like that, but comparing the urban charm at the start of today’s Handicap to the starting of the race in John’s day, I suppose there is a difference. Back then, it was more like going over the top. Standing at the start, stork-like, every inch a Sergeant Major, John grunts in his Scots brogue “Here YEW Evans stand here (not to attention)”, then holding the stopwatch grenade style, Three, Two, PIN out, GO GO GO! Followed by a metaphorical stray bullet ….”and don’t b*#$@%! $# hang about”. All tongue in cheek supportive of course!

The last three months I have had the pleasure of doing my dues and marshalling at the handicap. Out of my friends, I have had two wins and a sterling 4th along with a PB. I loved that, and we have joked that it was down to my marshalling. It might not be far from the truth? I was marshalling on the Dell cafe corner and some of you may know that is just downwind from where John Walker’s ashes are scattered. Maybe there was a whisper in the wind from the one-time editor of THE SEYMOUR SENTINEL telling my good friends, Fliss, Pamela and Diana that “they can do it.” As long of course they “get a b*#$@%! $# move on!” I vote we call the Dell Café the John Walker Corner!

If you would like to peruse these copies of THE SEYMOUR SENTINEL they will be held in the club room.

Keith Evans is a club fixture. He has been a Serpie for 30 years and has run over 200 handicaps. This year he was honoured to be the recipient of the John Stonham Farewell Cup. When not running he can be found skiing the Alps or catching a film at the BFI.