You don’t need to be much of a Joycean (and I’m certainly not much of one) toknow that James Joyce was a good and enthusiastic walker, and yet it still took me by surprise, dipping again into Ellmann’s biography to read the following: “He brought home from Clongowes, Stanislaus attests, a variety of cups for his prowess in hurdling and walking.”
Well, I’ve never claimed to have a photographic memory, but even so I thought I might have remembered that.
Stanislaus is, of course, Joyce’s brother, and the information comes from his memoir My Brother’s Keeper, where there’s just a little more detail: “When after four years or so he left Clongowes, we had at home a sideboard full of cups and a “silver” (electro-plate) teapot and coffee pot that he had won in the school hurdles and walking events.”
I assume this was race walking but I’m not altogether sure. And we all know that times have changed, but even so I find it hard to imagine a world in which young schoolboys – Joyce was ten years old when he left Clongowes - won silver teapots for walking, even if only electro-plated.
Trying to find out more I have discovered two other surprising, if not wholly relevant, things. First, there’s an annual event called The James Joyce Ramble, a 10-kilometer race held in Dedham, Massachusetts, an event for runners and walkers alike.
It was created in 1984, by Martin Casimir Hanley who was reading Finnegans Wake and found the book as arduous as running a road race. Well, you can pay your money and take your choice on that one. Apparently actors are positioned along the course and recite the works of Joyce as runners and walkers pass by.
The other thing: did you know there’s a street in London called James Joyce Walk? I didn’t, and I really feel I should have. It’s in Brixton, just off Shakespeare Road, but it really doesn’t look all that Joycean.