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calm lost hours walk

United Through the Night

What it’s like to do CALM’s Lost Hours Walk

Mental Health

In short, the pain in your legs is overwhelmed by the solidarity on the streets and the love in your heart. Until mile 18...

We were somewhere around Rotherhithe on the edge of an industrial estate when the pain kicked in. Now, we’re not saying that The Book of Man team is unfit, more that The Book of Man team are entirely unfit for any kind of physical activity. Come Rotherhithe, we had walked 18 miles along the Thames, from Greenwich to Oval and then back towards Greenwich for the full 20 miles. Mile 18 though was a fucker. A massive fucker. Oh, but we didn’t even know about mile 19 at that point, no. Compared to mile 19, mile 18 was a gentle roll down a hillock made of candy floss, but we didn’t know that then, all we knew was excruciating pain and that we hated Rotherhithe.

We’d set off from Greenwich at 10.30 on a Saturday night in October and it was now approaching 4.20am. Why? We weren’t drunk. Ok, one of The Book of Man team was drunk when he turned up at the start, but he’d been sobering up for hours now, that manic look in his eye long replaced by a hollow stare, so it wasn’t like we were stumbling around looking for a night bus to take us to a home.

No we were out as part of CALM’ Lost Hours Walk, which ran during the night when the clocks went back with the idea of using that ‘lost hour’ to think about the people who had been lost to suicide and the time lost with them.

This was an inspired idea, and an event which sold out and led to 1,000 people taking the streets for the walk. It was testament to the inspired work CALM does in capturing the public imagination, and also a reminder of the number of lives affected when a person takes their own.

We were privileged to be there amongst them, even if we were under-exercised and ill-suited to such ‘real’ experiences. This stuff is what documentaries are for, right?

The crush was on at the starting line as an announcer advised us to follow the arrows pinned along the route and to “stick together, safety in numbers”. It was, after all, karaoke time for many of the capital’s sophisticated drinking holes, and did indeed become a strange thing to be walking en masse past gaggles of girls in Playboy bunny outfits (we swear this was happening in 2019, we weren’t hallucinating at that point), friendly bears smoking outside corner pubs, and solo drunkards on weaving walks home busy losing their own hours via synapse damage.

What was strange, or perhaps not so strange, was the encouragement received once these passers-by cottoned on to the reason why all these sober people with flashing armbands were walking by. People got it. The word on suicide is out – that we can’t just shrug the issue off anymore, but need to find ways to reduce the frightening statistics, including that it’s the biggest killer of men under 45 in this country.

Simon Gunning, CALM’s CEO walked with us for a while (until we simply outpaced the poor chap), and told us, “This has all been easy to put on. Easy. People have made it happen. And the simple fact is we want to bring people together. People often say it must be depressing working for a suicide prevention charity, but it’s not, it’s a joy. Because we’re about uniting people and celebrating life as we tackle these issues.”

Indeed, the other walkers we talked to along the route held both personal stories of pain in their hearts, and a warmth about this opportunity to reflect upon it. These were people whose fathers and sons and brothers and friends had died, but who wanted to celebrate their lives and try to do something to prevent more people from suffering the same fate. The Lost Hours Walk was about life.

Until mile 18 that is. For The Book of Man team, from mile 18 it was about living death, as we became shuffling zombies being eyed by foxes as we grunted and groaned through Rotherhithe estates, past the Surrey Quays farm where we smelt pig shit but could only fantasise about hay beds, longing for the Cutty Sark to appear as the signifier that Greenwich was here.

After what seemed like, and was, hours, we finally hit the lighted up route back into the Maritime Museum to the finish line, where cheers were delivered, medals were placed around our necks and a few tears were spilt. Could have been drool too, it was hard to say. We’d started at 10.30pm, it was now 5am on the dot. What an epic night it had been.

A lot of money had been raised, many memories made, and a lot of good people were remembered. Lost, but not forgotten.

For more on the work of CALM and for support on any issues, including a helpline, visit The CalmZone

Photos by Harvey Aspell.

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