Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Support Guide Dog Training at this Weekend's London Marathon

Roy Keane is not the only Irish celebrity with a grá for the guide dogs. In a synchronous moment, as the Sunderland manager was here in Dublin last week, An Spailpín’s friend and heroine Orpha Phelan was yet again stomping out the hard training yards to raise money for guide dog training.

Orpha is running the London marathon on Sunday to raise money for the Guide Dogs Association. I can think of no more noble charity, as I can think of few things more terrifying than being blind. John Milton said that eyesight was “the one talent which is death to hide,” and he found out the hard way. Milton himself went blind in 1652, at the age of forty-four, having seen the light fade for many years before that. That’s what writing by candle-light will do to you.

There were no guide-dogs in Milton’s day. These extra-ordinary animals are a twentieth century invention, and it’s horrifying to think of what life could be like without them. Consider making your way home from the office today without being able to see – how do you turn off the computer? Get out the door? Navigate the streets?

The idea is beyond terror, and yet people do it, every day, thanks to these extraordinary animals. In a civilised society, guide dog training would be part of social services, and would not be reliant on big hearted people like Orpha running marathons; perhaps we have a few steps of evolution to go yet.

But we haven’t evolved that much yet, unfortunately, and so Orpha will assemble early on Sunday morning with the other competitors at Greenwich, south of the Thames, with the twenty-six mile course stretching out before them. The course follows the great river itself, as in the lovely Ewan McColl song covered so beautifully on teh first Planxty album, Sweet Thames Flow Softly. First, the runners must face to Woolwich, turn, then back to Greenwich, and then cross the river after the half-way stage at Whitechapel and Limehouse, where Holmes and Watson found the game afoot so many times. Into Millwall then, where the congregation at Cold Blow Lane used to delight chanting “where’s your handbag, Dunphy?” at Roy Keane’s erstwhile biographer every Saturday in the 1970s.

Down and around by the Isle of Dogs then, before turning back east, smashing through the Wall at twenty miles and charging on back into Whitechapel, Holmes and Watson having successfully solved mysteries concerning specked bands, red-headed leagues and smashes statues of Bonaparte, before finally staggering into the great City of Westminster and collapsing, exhausted, at the gates of Buckingham Palace. Mrs Windsor should come out with a tray of tea and cakes; it would be the least she could do.

Reader, close you eyes, and imagine never opening them again. Then feel relieved and grateful, and click here to donate now to Orpha Phelan’s campaign to raise money for Guide Dogs. Best of luck M.

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