Thursday 22 July 2010

Toil and Trouble

“Exercise!” quoth the Doc.

“Nevermore!” quoth the bookseller, but only to himself - it would have almost certainly been wasted on the good medic, who hails from Whereveristan and who had probably never even heard of Poe, let alone read him.

“Exercise – that’s what you are needing, Mr James – regular exercise. Two or three times a day. Nothing too strenuous to start with – stop if you start to feel breathless.

I forbore from telling him that I feel breathless just getting out of bed of a morning. I need half-an-hours rest before I can climb into the shower.

I omitted to remind him that my eroded lower lumbar is unravelling, almost on a daily basis, and that serious exercise in any form is a non-starter.

I thought it imprudent to mention that I can barely walk up to the shops without an oxygen pack. And as for running for a bus (whatever that is) – dream on!

I didn’t bother to inform him that I am an alumnus, graduate summa cum laude, of the “IfGodHadMeantUsToWalkHeWouldn’tHaveGivenUsTaxis” School of Locomotion.

“But OK, ” I reasoned. “The man may have a point. Indulge him. Let’s give it a go. “

My mind harked back sixty-odd years to when I was a spindly lad, untimely ripped from the family bosom and thrust unwilling into the harsh surrealism that is an English prep school of the boarding variety. Whose headmaster had the notion that since the young Prince Philip had done fairly well for himself, what was good for him had to be good for us, so the whole place was modelled on HRH’s alma mater, Gordonstoun School, an establishment whose Spartan ethos made HMP Dartmoor resemble a sissy version of Butlins. And as far as I know, none of us got to wed a Windsor.

We had to start off each morning (after the statutory plunge into a cold bath, that is) with a ten minute PT (that’s PE in old money – or as my dad would have said ‘physical jerks’) session (followed by a 3 mile run, but let’s not go into shudder mode.) Held in the school car park, perched half way up the Malvern Hills, it consisted of running-on-the-spot, stretching and bending ,jumping up and down into and out of a simulacrum of Leonardo’s “The Man” with legs apart and arms raised, and similar such pointless exercises. And woe betide any slackers. Slacking was a crime punishable by being named and shamed in front of the whole school, and losing house points, which made one seriously unpopular with the large lads in the Sixth Form, usually to one’s physical discomfort. Worse, the weekly chocolate fix (we were allowed a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk apiece - price sixpence) went out of the window.

In our Aertex shirts and shorts (standard garb, all year round , although they did issue us a thin sweater apiece during blizzards) we must have looked like one of those old Leni Riefenstahl films of the Hitlerjugend doing its calisthenics. Except that Leni only ever filmed in bright sunlight, but in early-morning Malvern it was usually misty or raining, when it wasn’t snowing. Or, as it was half the year, dark. Or most of these at once.

In retrospect, I did inherit a dual legacy from this worthy regime. I ended up impervious to cold; and with a tendency to run a (metaphorical) mile in the opposite direction to any suggestion of unnecessary exercise. Or indeed, and by extension, anything else that was deemed to be ‘good for me’.

Anyway - I knew the drill. It had been drilled into me every morning for six cold, wet, hungry (breakfast was still an hour away) years.

So the following morning I creaked out of bed, took on a strong intravenous coffee to prime the pump, and set to.

I thought I’d start with a bit of stretching and bending. The stretching part I’m good at.. It’s all those years pulling books from tops of bookcases as does it. I can reach a fresh bottle of Laphraoig down from the highest shelf in the kitchen, no probs. So far so good.

The next bit is supposed to consist of standing on tiptoe, putting the hands on the hips, and slowly bending the knees until the posterior touches the heels

The descent was OK, if a bit wobbly; at which point the idea is to slowly straighten up again, back into stretch mode. But my sense of balance isn’t as good as it used to be. And the joints aren’t as supple as they once were, either. With the result that just as my left knee gave out, with an audible crack, I lost my balance and fell over, hitting my head on the corner of the bedside table on my way down.

So that was that, for a week or so. If at first you don’t succeed, give up, and pour yourself a stiff brandy.

Nevertheless, I had a stab at various exercises over the next few weeks, with, frankly, limited success, although the attempts didn’t involve any further painful contact with either the floor or the furniture. And I only put my back out twice.

But we’ll keep trying. Things are looking up. I managed to do most of a press-up this morning.