Thank you to Upton House regular and frustrated author Hugh Gurney for this weeks report, which we have titled "Hughlock Holmes and the case of the Missing Marshal"
In this week’s episode of “Weekend Mysteries” we look into a happening that took place on the south coast of England. It’s a tale of runners and volunteers and it occurred on a late November’s morning. By all accounts, it’s a mystery that has left a friendly local community shocked by a disappearance.
Our story begins on November 30th at Upton House parkrun. 322 runners had turned up to complete the free weekly timed run with another 31 people volunteering. The lovely Kate Hughes was Run Directing on the day and, hiding away from the loudspeaker, she invited everyone to come join her on the barkchip. As usual there were tourists from other parkruns, runners celebrating milestone runs (Kim Durdle – 100, Teresa Graham, Henry Cox – 50) and 16 people running their first ever parkruns (big round of applause). At this point it seemed like any other parkrun and it was, only the details differed.
The runners walked round to the start then they were off. They ran past the usual landmarks, avoiding the trees, avoiding Kevin Day standing in front of a tree, down the hill, round the corner, through some mud and so on. Back up the hill, past the volunteers and into the wilds of the small lap. Until this point it was just another parkrun. A stream of runners charging along the paths of Upton House Country Park, dodging puddles as they huffed and puffed along.
Gareth Alan-Williams was first man over the finish line in 18min03 but he didn’t mention what he’d seen. He was followed a moment later by Joseph Stachowiak (18:04) and then Andre Jensen (18:47). Fern Kimber was first lady home in 21min49 followed by Jenny Walker-Leach (23min31) and Lisa Bowyer (24min04). None of them talked about the mystery and yet it had been there right in front of their eyes.
In fact no-one talked about it until much later.
Some runners didn’t even realise anything was wrong but the regulars did.
There were whispers of bad things having gone on and no-one wanted to think the unthinkable.
Slowly but surely, word spread. Where was Keith Mann?
A regular fixture with his giant foam hand, cheery disposition, silly hair and fancy dress he’d not been seen. At his regular spot stood a lovely lady and while rumours started to circulate that Keith had begun to transition these rumours were soon scotched.
The chances of him not turning up to do his spot of volunteering were a million to one they said. But still, he didn’t come.
Even on the cancelled windy day of November 2nd Keith had turned up to marshal. The man was as reliable as they come and for him not to be at parkrun suggested something was amiss.
Some believed with Advent beginning the next day, Keith had been called away to the North Pole where he’d being helping out. Obviously not with marshaling but something much more important. The glasses, the white hair, a liking for outrageous costumes – it doesn’t take much imagination.
Youtube videos sprung up with conspiracy theories. Vblogger KrustyEastoff put forward an intricate tale of how while trading his trusty 1975 Raleigh racing bike with its saddle bag and mudguards for a new carbon fibre ebike, Keith had become involved with some Poole parkrunners who missed his poems and had abducted him to try and force him to write more. But it was standard conspiracy theorist stuff.
Wherever he now was, Keith was being missed and as good a job as the lady marshal had done she couldn‘t replace his high fives. The parkrun community was in despair and desperate pleas and messages circulated hoping to see him return.
I took it upon myself to investigate the disappearance even though all leads had run dry. I did a cold case review of the facts to see if anything had been missed. I went through Results page with a fine toothcomb, checking out each runner and interviewing them about their dealings with him in the last few weeks.
One mentioned that Keith had been babbling at previous parkruns about a run report he’d read. It was the one about being Zen that had appeared after event #119. Apparently Keith had become come obsessed with the idea of enlightenment and taken to repeating his “Do you want spraying?” mantra during the week. He’d walk round Poole offering to spray people in the high street or as they came out of shops but few accepted his kind offer. Then as the colder days set in, he no longer needed the sprayer and he seemed to go quiet at parkrun.
I stared at the results a while longer and then I spotted something astounding. It was so unbelievable that I had to check twice. But it was there in black and white on the webpage - Keith Mann was named as a volunteer. How had we missed this?
It was peculiar. Somehow Keith had volunteered and yet no-one had seen him. I got hold of photos from the run but there was no sign of him. I accessed video footage from around the café area and there I saw a glimpse of what appeared to be Keith chaining up his bike. It was a brief clip and he was a little obscured but I managed to zoom in and positively identify him. I interviewed the café staff and they confirmed that he’d been in.
I did more research, accessed old emails and was eventually able to make contact with Keith. He’d gone into hiding. It turned out that when he read the article on Zen volunteering he'd been struck by the line “it is the best kept secret of parkrun that the best volunteering job is token sorting”.
Having volunteered 41 times to marshal in 2019, the cognitive dissonance had been too much for him. He couldn't believe that token sorting might be better than marshaling and kept trying to disprove this. But he couldn’t shake the thought and so he’d succumbed and quietly put himself forward for token sorting. Keith had turned up a little later than usual so that others wouldn’t believe he was abandoning them.
Having got hold of the pot of jumbled finish tokens he went to the café to learn the dark arts of token sorting. At first, it had seemed been difficult for his old eyes to pick up the small numbers, but once he wiped his glasses everything became clear. Eventually he relaxed into the task and was able to return the board of sorted tokens to the core team.
And that is where this week’s story ends. Who knows what he’ll do next week. Maybe it’ll be barcode scanning or a First Timer briefing or perhaps a return to his marshaling point. Whatever it is we all wish him the best and thank him for his steadfast contribution to our parkrun.
Everything seems to have been resolved.
Although there is one outstanding question - where was Nigel Redman?