So, it’s April, and the escalera to fiesta is collapsing faster and faster and there are only three months to go. I always get the big rush starting in April, as it means that the end of the long wait is nearly over. These scribblings for April are longer than usual, it’s just the way it panned out, but thanks to everyone who helped. Hope you like this month’s mixed bag of bull.
Hang on a minute, that isn’t right (or is it)…ah…I mean I hope you like this month’s mixed bag of bull runnings.
RETARDED RUNNERS. Sorry, RETIRED RUNNERS
(And a “Bullclips” update, and an R.I.P.) by Tim Pinks
Although, let’s face it, perhaps I was right the first time…maybe you have to have a bit of the nutcase in you to run with the bulls. Or some of us do. Or did… Anyway, having said that, the extraordinary photo on the left is of one of the great runners, and I can bandy around words like “great” and “nut” quite safely from my jail cell up here in my stone suite in the Tower of London, and he all nice and distant thousands of miles away in Texas.
It is a wonderful photo though, isn’t it? It shows a man not just running in front of the horns, or even on them, but in between them…and that is some trick. The man in the photo is Rex Freriks, and he really was some runner. I have been thinking for a while now of writing about a couple of the runners who so impressed me when I first went, but who have since for whatever reason retired. And by pure coincidence Rex got in touch just a few weeks ago. Regarding the above photo, I did ask him if he managed to stay on his feet or did he go somersaulting “a over t” and…well, here’s what he wrote:
“Glad you enjoyed the picture. He did send me flying. As you can see we are going up the left side of Estafeta and I was launched toward the side and not directly in front. I don’t know if you have ever noticed but there is a lot of old piping that runs down the outside of the front of the buildings on that street. I was able to grab one of those on my way down and landed on my feet. I remember the eyes of the group I landed among were as big as plates. I bet mine probably were as well.”
He then ends the letter with the words “una ciudad sin igual”. A town without equal. Ain’t that the truth.
The run from the day of the photo above. Bulls from El Pilar. July 14th 1997. Amazingly, you can see nothing of the incident described above. Less cameras in those days…
There are many reasons why some people have to stop running. Old age, sickness and of course death, sadly. Some may stop running after their first injury, some because their wives forbade them and some perhaps because they found they just couldn’t run properly anymore. And yet others still hit the streets despite knowing they can’t really run as well as they used to, and heck, some can’t even walk too good either. But they just can’t give it up, so there they are, smiling, buzzing, adding to that fantastic otherworld atmosphere and chatting to not just old friends, but no doubt new ones too. I think they have earned the right to be there for forever and a day, however they run now. I wonder if they are perhaps hoping that this is the day a miracle might happen and they’ll take off like in the old days, and be flying again.
Others I’ve heard gave up due to bum clenching, bone shaking, skin tingling fear. I’m not going to mention any names or give any clues here, but god it’s difficult to hold a pre-run drink when you feel like that. Or so I’ve heard…Anyway, all sorts of reasons and all perfect and bona fide ones to call it a day.
This was Rex’s reason. Where you or I might cycle, drive or get public transport to work, Rex took the parachute, and it was after one such outing at a place known as The Farm, where things went a little wrong, not helped subsequently by various medical muck ups that forced his hand and meant he could no longer run. I hear now one of his hips sets off car alarms for miles around and makes dogs bark.
For Rex though, the encierro was the thing, and he says it would be just too painful to come back and not be able to run. There are many others like him. But he has written to me with real emotion and feeling about what it was like for him back in the day, and the friendships he made. I’ll come back to him a little later, but there is just one more thing I’d like to say. I’ve always thought (apart from being one of the best), that he was the most modest, unassuming runner out there, and whenever anyone gathered post run at whatever bar they might go to, joder, there was some bull spoken. But not by Rex. As he said:
“Never thought about how good a run, never bought pictures. Just enjoyed it along with everything else and everyone else.”, and that’s amazing. The photo of him above is the only one he has, and that was sent to him by someone else straight to his computer. Modest to the extreme…Though if he had forked out on buying up all the photos he was in, he’d probably be pretty poor in the extreme by now, too.
Now, Julen Madina. I have to mention him, as he also was an all time great. The trouble is, I can’t really add very much to something I have already mentioned before on this site, an article and interview with Madina by the runner Bill Hillman. It really is something else, an excellent piece, and I make no apologies for mentioning it once more. I re-read it again recently, and from the simple but precise questions Bill asks (I don’t know him too well, but he does not grab me as a man who stuffs around), to the haunting honesty of Madina’s answers, well, it left me shaking…he could have died, for goodness sake.
But Madina’s words are chilling, so once again, you can find Bill’s posting here: thebutchersblog.wordpress.com. But as I say…it’s pretty well as definitive an article about running, the adrenaline, getting hurt…and having to give it up that you could ever read. Julen recovered from his horrific injuries and returned to run for the next several years. He only decided to retire due to becoming a father. He gave up for the very best of reasons…his daughter. Top man.
When I spoke to him on the phone just before completing this month’s wafflings, he was, as I expected, full of the enthusiasm and willingness to talk about something that was still so obviously close to his heart. I told him I wasn’t a professional writer or even an amateur one, just a guy who wrote some stuff for Kukuxumusu and who loved Pamplona, and was writing something about runners who ran no more, for whatever reason. He said it was a pleasure to talk, and away we went. I asked a question, he fired off in typical Spanish machine gun style the answers, while I tried to listen, write and translate at the same time as drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette. Men and multi-tasking? Of course we can.
But you’re going to have to wait for the Madina piece, I’m afraid, as there is too much good stuff in it and this posting is long enough already. But I hope when I do write it, I’ll do full justice to his words. Till then, Bill’s article is well worth another read.
Another character who seemed to be known by all and sundry was Hal “87” Jennings, and he will always be remembered for his fantastic running…amongst other things, apparently! For those of us who were new in the mid-eighties, we knew people by sight before we ever actually spoke to them, and Hal was distinctive in that he ran with the number “87” on his top. I always left these people alone and thought I’d just bide my time and earn their respect and get to know them by running as well as they did, but I never quite made the grade as a runner, (although I did have some fantastic moments), and…well, it never happened. God, how I miss it though.
When, thanks to Rex, I got in touch with Hal about this article, he didn’t send any photos at first, or write about the run, (he’s not a “this is me, me, and me” type of runner), but rather he told me more about Rex and how he was looked after. Which may or may not explain a lot, (I did mention something about “amongst other things”, above), but this is what he wrote:
“Yeah, Rex is one of the most decent human beings I have ever known. Besides being built like superman, he always had my back. I was taking so many sleeping pills to bring me down from the constant high of the Fiesta, that they started making me highly aggressive. After I punched several guys (I was a former boxer missing several teeth: clearly not a good one), Rex would always make sure not too many jumped on me. Curley kept saying to me “Don’t look at me. I don’t want to fight you”. I didn’t realize what I was doing. That said, as you can imagine, there are so many stories. Unfortunately, many lost because of my concussions”.
Hal Jennings hasn’t written anything to me about running, and I love that because of this: when I asked both Rex and Hal about their memories of running, the first thing they did was to write about the other one. But Jennings later sent me an extraordinary set of 32 photos that his girlfriend put together, and trust me when I tell you that the pictures do the talking. Which is apt really, as Rex said that Hal was one who “definitely never talked about how his run went afterwards”. So I have to use Rex’s words, as later he wrote, “One of the things Hal loved to do was position himself so as to run in front of the bulls when they ran through the tunnel. That was always too much for me, so many times I would end up behind the bulls so as to watch him take them through there. I tell you it was magic to watch and I can’t imagine the rush he must have gotten”. Always a sign of the modest runner…talking about someone else’s run.
By the way, those are my italics there, as when I made it through the tunnel or wherever, it was all I could do to concentrate on staying upright and surviving, without admiring how other runners were doing. And Rex was still running of course, he hadn’t stopped to check out the view! Also, I like his turn of phrase there, as remember earlier Hal saying that Rex was built like “superman”? Well, I don’t think you’d be able to fit a thousand pound bull and him through that tunnel…not side by side, anyway.
I know there are all sorts of ways to run and not run, but I truly believe that some people just have a natural rhythm and grace of running, however light footed or powerfully built they are, and I’m sure sometimes a bull thinks: “this guy, I’m going to run with this guy”…it doesn’t mean it made it any easier for the runner, but boy does it make it beautiful for those watching. Rex, Hal and others, I’m positive that, despite what you may have thought about “that bull, he’s mine”…there were times I think when they chose you.
There is more from Hal’s first email, but I’ll come back to it later or at another time…I’m trying to get in touch with a couple of other people that I wanted to write about and he mentions them, as does Rex…but I can’t find them. By the way Hal, (and after your comments above about Rex), while writing about his first (and subsequent) years in Pamplona, and how you helped him, Rex says, “I can never thank him enough and even today if he were to call and say he needed help I would be on the first plane to California”.
Now, sorry about the little love-in there, but I just wanted to make a point in case there is anybody out there reading this who has never been to San Fermin, but is thinking of going. As so many of us already know who have had the luck to discover and fall in love with Pamplona…that’s the way some of us feel about some of our fiesta friends. Good times always happen, and bad things come to pass too, and Pamplona during fiesta can be an extraordinarily intense experience, but as long as you keep talking and sort it out, you’ll have friends for eternity that you’ll do anything for.
It has been great writing this and reliving some of the old days, and my heartfelt thanks to all those who got in touch and told me about their experiences and memories, and as a by product also brought back for me some always remembered, and deeply treasured, bull running days. And some I’d forgotten about too…did I really do that?
So to Rex and Hal and Julen, and to John Riley, who I finally found and had a cracking hours plus chat with on the phone that really brought those streets to life, and who I’m going to write about in the future, along with his brother James, (and hopefully Curly too, once he’s finished trimming his moustache), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your responses to my request for some old, precious, and not to say priceless memories of your days in during fiesta. Your words and thoughts and the sheer joy and emotions you convey really shine through about your time in a town called Pamplona. I hope to come back to these fantastic ex-runners and others in a couple of months for the last piece I hope to do pre-fiesta.
Well, from the song with the words “una fiesta sin igual”, to Rex’s “una ciudad sin igual”, for the last time, gentlemen, un grandisimo gracias to all those runners who let me write about them a little, and perhaps ruin their running reputations a little, too. For they are surely, in their own way…”gente sin igual”. And people mad as hell, in the nicest possible way too, if you look at the picture below, taken by Gary Shrewsbury.
Now I hope this doesn’t lead to an outbreak of people playing their game this year, (oh alright, I do), but the picture above shows some of the No Bullshit Monkey Peña (no relation to Graeme Galloways excellent little funzine, “No Bullshit”, the NBMP were there long before the fanzine), playing “1000 to 1” with the little bulls after the bull run. The game? While playing with the vaquillas in the ring after the run, you put your foot on the page of newspaper…and you don’t move. The chances of being hit? Well, 1000 to 1, apparently…And I’ve played it. Ow. Ow ow ow…
Gracias, señores y señoras. ¡Ya falta menos! ¡Viva San Fermin!
An update about March’s article, “Bullclippings”, and an R.I.P.
There is a famous photo shown in last month’s article from 1960 of the human traffic jam in Estafeta. I mention a man just behind the bulls, looking like he’s out for a Sunday stroll, cigarette in mouth, elegant in a suit and open-necked shirt, looking for all the world as if he’s thinking…”Oh, what’s going on here?”.
I wondered about who he was, whilst hoping in my heart it was the legendary Matt Carney. Happily, his daughter Deirdre Carney wrote and said, “Well, he’s wearing a suit, as did my dad, he looks nonchalant, which he would have been and clearly blond…I don’t know for sure but it does kind of scream Matt Carney”.
In a later message: “Hey so my mom said it really looks like him and his style of walking. She doesn’t know for sure either but both of us felt it was him immediately. I don’t know if that helps. But who else would walk up to a pile-up smoking a ciggie?”
Who else indeed…I’ll leave the last words to Dave Pierce: “It was Matt. Not only was I in that pile-up but started it to my shame”. Few words, but perfectly said.
I think we’ve gone definitive on that then. But about the pile up Dave…more please!
Rest In Peace, Joe Moskaluk. Run In Paradise, Big Joe.
Sometimes someone passes away that you hear so much about you wish you’d known them. I didn’t know Joe Moskaluk, but he died very recently, towards the end of March as I was writing this, and the messages that I have seen doing the rounds have been truly touching. Here are just a few of the thoughts (as they wrote them) of some of those who knew him. And loved him.
Amongst what Bunny Centurion wrote, I’ve chosen this: “Our Pamplona family has lost another member, always too soon. Rest in peace Papa Joe you will be in our hearts every morning this July and always”.
“Very, very sad. Joe was a man’s man, a good man, a gentleman.” Jeffrey Hare.
“A saint indeed, standing alone and one of a kind, shedding light with his humour when things seemed so dark. What I would give for one more breakfast at Tres Reyes and a couple of cigars thereafter. You I will remember always”. Leon Friedrichsen.
“God Bless you and watch over you Joe”. Junerose Conlin.
“I don’t want to imagine a world without Big Joe”. Carl Butrum.
“A wonderful man Joe. He will be missed”. Bob Smokey Clark.
“Our lives all were so much better for knowing Joe, he was one of a kind, cigar smoking will never be the same”. Steven Kendler.
“We have lost a guy who probably loved us more than we will ever know…” Rick Musica, who wrote so much more, but I love that particular quote.
“For those of you who knew him, he was a special man. He was a great lover of life, and he lived it well and heartily.
You could see it in the twinkle of his eyes, and in his smile and his laughter.
You could see it in his love for Belle.
You could see it in his love for his family.
You could see it in his love for Spain.
You could see it in his love for the bulls.
You could see it in his sense of humour.
I loved Joe for many reasons, and I will miss him very, very much.
That last one was from Yoav Spicehandler, and that says it all, about a man I didn’t even know, but wish I had.
Chinese waiter training.
And now, something I hope will put a little smile on the faces of those up in the Great Fiesta in the Sky, and those still here on beautiful Planet Earth. I’ve often wondered how the Chinese waiters cope and survive during San Fermin, having to handle some of us lot, and after much research, I have found a video of the passing out parade for those selected for Pamplona during fiesta, after no doubt a gruelling, Ghurka style training course:
This has been a long one, hasn’t it? But look on the bright side…ya falta a little bit less now…