My heart trying it's hardest to beat it's way out of my chest and rivers of sweat coursing down my face I force myself to keep going, knowing that if I slow down now, even for a second, he'll be on me.
I pound across the car park and down the alley at the side of the centre. Risking a glance behind to make sure he hasn't turned the corner yet I leap up onto the wall, scrabble up the grass verge and reach the hedge. There's a patch, I know from past experience, where the base of the hedge is thinning. It's not really visible, certainly not to a casual glance, but if you know where it is you can slide through quite easily, no worse off than a couple of scuffed knees and a few scratches on your arms; a small price to pay in the current situation. In seconds I'm through, and off.
It's not match day, thank God, so I'm able to cut across the bowling green without upsetting too many people. The couple of old blokes in the far corner aren't happy (what's their problem, I've not gone near their balls?), and their yells follow me as I reach the end of the green and pause for breath. I know thy won't chase me, they're too old for that, but their cries will alert my pursuer, putting him back on my trail much faster than I'd hoped. This breather would have to be a short one.
I see him coming round the corner. There's nothing for it, I make to cut through the ski lodge. He doesn't know the terrain, he'll try to follow me, not realising that he could easily cut me off if he circled behind the building. That's the plan anyway. I make my move, pushing into the building past the two members of centre staff on their way out to investigate the commotion. Good; I'm past them before they can react but maybe they'll slow him down.
I pelt full speed through the lobby to the doors at the far side - earning myself a lot of disapproving glances from the stern looking customers, balls to them, this is an emergency - and straight out to the slope area. I briefly consider making a run straight across the slope but I know from bitter experience how treacherous a dry slope can be; one foot in one of the divets and your ankle's a goner. So it's down to the bottom and around past the crash barriers or up to the top and around that way. It's quicker going up, but it means braving yet more centre staff when I get to the rope pulley machine. No, down it is. I again hope that going the long way will confuse him.
The steps down are out of the question, you can't pick up a decent head of steam, so headlong plunge down the embankment it is then. Flailing my arms wildly for balance, I'm off. I've done this a hundred times before, I know what I'm doing; angle yourself just right and you can hit the crash barrier at the bottom of the slope. Don't, and you're over the drop, into the beck, and sporting wet trouser legs all the way home. Something else that will hopefully slow him down. I reach the bottom, hit the barrier - Bullseye - and skirt around it to the far side of the slope.
From here the plan is to follow the beck all the way. But which way? Downstream is back the way I came but it's fed here by two upstream flows. Which do I follow? Both lead to a similar hazard, which is the easiest to pass? I risk a look back, and up, and see him at the top of the embankment, looking down at me. He can see, but obviously isn't keen to follow me down. Have I lucked out? He's shouting something I can't quite make out - "Come back"?, "It's alright"? - but I'm not risking it. Decision made, I choose my path and am off.
I've got my breath back now - that little pause has helped - so I can pick up the pace a little. I make pretty good time along the beck bank, slowing only slightly as it starts it's pretty steep rise and then I've reached the tunnel that allows the beck to run uninterrupted under the centres top car park. There isn't much in the way of water coming through - never more than a trickle in this warm weather - but it's the height that's the difficulty; or not, if you've done it as many times as I have. I swing in, keeping a firm hold on the roots I know to be sturdiest, hang for a second, and then my feet find their accustomed perches. The brick and blockwork around the tunnel is old - there are more than enough foot and handholds if you know where to look and remember not to think about the brief moments that you're hanging over nothing - and it's not long before I'm in the mouth of the tunnel. I crouch, far enough back that I'm half couched in shadow,and wait.
Has he followed me? Or did he give up at the top of the bank. He's out of shape, put on some weight recently, maybe it seemed too much like hard work. I relax a little, allow myself to settle. I sit down - there's plenty of room, the flow is about 2" wide in the centre of the tunnel - and, thinking of the madness of the last few minutes, I start to chuckle.
Then his foot appears in the opening and I can hear swearing as he fumbles his way down to me. Shit, one of the skiers must have pointed him in the right direction. He's not as surefooted as my experience allowed me to be but he's not being overly cautious either so he'll be on me in no time. Rising to my feet with a resigned sigh, but remaining hunched,I head deeper into the tunnel. It doesn't take long before I am in complete darkness. I don't panic, I know that it won't last for long; the tunnel is straight as they come and doesn't cover a particularly large distance. The other end will be visible before I know it. As soon as the far opening becomes visible and I have enough light to see my feet - blurrily though it may be - I pick up my pace and it's not long before I'm almost out. Then I hear it.
"Bastard!", closely followed by "Fuck, Jesus!" I smile, exit the tunnel into the farmers field at the other side of the carpark, make my way up the grass to the stone wall, clamber over it and head home at a pleasant saunter.
Know your terrain, that's the key. When you've been in that tunnel as often as I have, you know that a few seconds after you hit total darkness, the roof drops by the height of a couple of bricks. Why? Who knows. Perhaps that was the original opening years ago, before the carpark was built, and the extension didn't match up exactly. Or perhaps repairs over the years have been less than uniform - I mean, who's going to see it, right - but for whatever reason, you are really going to want to crouch that little bit more when you hit that spot. I hadn't even though about it, it was just instinct now. He wasn't so lucky.
I arrive home, bruised, slightly bloodied, and with the bottom of my trousers a trifle wet, but exuberant nonetheless. He hadn't caught me. As cocky and arrogant as he had been, I'd beaten him.
He arrives home drenched in sweat, barechested because he is clutching his T-shirt to his forehead to staunch the bleeding, and with a massive grin on his face. "Alright, clever shit, but I'll get you next time."
My Uncle Darren, everyone. Cool, even when concussed.