Fly Me to the Reverend Moon, Radio 4
The Essay: Running The World, Radio 3

Moonies were odd – until seals began running marathons

These days, if you saw a poster inviting you on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York to attend a "conference for the future leaders of the world", you'd probably assume it was a timeshare scam.

In 1973, with idealism still in the air and a New Age allegedly around the corner, the young, at least, were Looking For Something, and organisations such as Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church were busy hoovering up the lookers and the lost.

John Waite, who would later ascend radio's dizzy triple peak of presenting You and Yours, Face the Facts and Pick of the Week, was one of the 120 British students who fell for the "conference" line and found himself more or less a prisoner at the Moonies' HQ in Tarrytown, New York. In the riveting Fly Me to the Reverend Moon, he went back. Having once refused to let him out, now they wouldn't let him in, but he did meet one of his former keepers, Alan Wood, who remembered the Brits well.

"You guys were a bad lot," he told Waite. "You were not malleable." Especially the Scousers, it seems, who were truculent from the start. "I remember the Liverpool contingent were frankly hilarious at times," said another then student, Robbie Lowe. "At first I thought they were very rude, but then I thought they were doing a good job disrupting this nonsense."

Lowe was, in fact, the hero of the piece, taking charge of what became the escape committee, negotiating with the Moonies while bolstering the waverers and the weak – of which Waite was one. Now, Waite said, he feels ashamed at having been taken in. "I really came home licking my wounds," he admitted.

"We all took a battering," Lowe told him.

If you're reading this over breakfast, 35,000 pairs of feet will at this moment be taking a fairly substantial battering, pounding the streets in the London Marathon. Their owners might have gleaned some inspiration from The Essay: Running the World, in which, over five days, the runner and geographer Hayden Lorimer explored what running means to us and what it can do for body, mind and spirit.

Lorimer brought the concerns of his day job to his hobby and expressed them in faultless prose: describing how, as a student at Loughborough, he would run on "long woody rises topped by exposed, shattered ridges"; or how he experiences a medley of terrains beneath his feet, his mood governed by the surface; or how these days, he regularly halts mid-run to watch a mother seal and her cub playing in the sea. He notes "the sharp, sibilant spat that sounds when the seal surfaces, muzzle-first to snatch air, the elongated swoop of its form in motion."

If there was a lesson to be taken in preparation for today's ordeal, it would be to become at one with your surroundings, even if the medley of terrains will range only from Tarmac to paving stone, and the only seals you're likely to see be will be giant-sized, with a human being inside, running the marathon.

"So absorbed by the effort, there can come a point when it becomes effortless," Lorimer purrs, encouragingly. Then reality kicks in. "Rare moments, these ...".

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