exercise

”I’m too old for this sh*t”

The above phrase, or variations on it, is probably the worst line of film dialogue ever, but more on that later.

Many moons ago, before the millennium even (yikes!), I found myself working alongside a fellow freelancing engineer called Dave. He was at that time, shall we say, mature in years but not old in mind. We got on very well. I remember this one time he told me how he still felt in spirit that he could run onto a football pitch and chase the ball around for forty-five minutes though, in reality, he knew this couldn’t be done. Being a lot younger, I didn’t really understand the feeling he was describing but I’m beginning to now.

The trouble in our job is that we spend our best years driving a desk, and worse now, working at a fixed gadget which holds everything you’re likely to need to do your job effectively without ever moving 97% of your muscles. Every day, nine hours back to back. Looking back, this is a cause of much regret to me. If I was in the business of offering careers advice to young people I would say, steer clear of office based work! We’re not made for it. (I have other reasons for advising this but that would be for another post.)

Since deciding to give up regular work last autumn, I find myself being a lot more physical. Naturally, I’m on my feet a lot more and only this past month I’ve dug over the vegetable plot, man-handled eight-foot six by eight railway sleepers into a raised border and, a couple of days ago, installed a new rotary clothes dryer. The dryer required the holding tube to be embedded in concrete to a depth of two feet, and I guessed the hole needed to be at least eighteen inches square. Surprisingly, this took five and a half loads of hand mixed concrete, in quick succession. Where it all disappeared to in that gluttonous void I can’t imagine but, together with it being an exceptionally hot day, it took its toll on the old bod, wasted by years of sedentary work.

One of my pleasures is cycling. I have a road bike but I’m mindful, if not slightly anxious, about my health and ability to ride up the many hills around us. I’ve read of a few cases here of cyclists found collapsed by the roadside in remoter places – it’s no joke. Fortunately, I think, I’m biased towards optimism though this may easily be my undoing, but I’m not ready to utter that most overused line in Hollywood quite yet.

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We Grow Accustomed To The Darkness

a writing prompt challenge

In the school where I go to learn yoga, the men’s changing room is just off the entrance hall. It’s a small room, not much more than six feet by eight. There is a low bench along the wall on which to put your clothes and the arrangement of its sparse furniture has been the same for more than fifteen years.

I arrive early: to bag a good spot and get into the right frame of mind for the session. I’m usually the first in and, entering the changing room, there is enough light spilling in from the bright hall to see by so I won’t turn on the light. How much do you need to see to remove one’s trousers and top, fold them and place them on the bench which has always been there? An act most could do with their eyes closed, and besides, it all takes no more than ten seconds.

If another student comes in while I’m changing, usually his hand goes automatically to the light switch; he may give me an odd look and may question me about getting changed in the dark. But the question surely is; why do something habitually, without any thought?


When I was a boy scout, one of my favourite exercises was the night hike. There were six patrols in our group, about five to six boys in each, and we’d be driven in a minibus and several volunteers’ cars to six different places in the countryside. Having been deposited in the strange gloom, the patrol leader was handed a map and compass, shown where we were on the map and a destination to arrive at before dawn.

I don’t remember it ever being frightening. When you’re the youngest, you look up to the older members, even though the oldest is only sixteen, four years older than yourself. When you are the oldest, you are their patrol leader. If you’re the mindful sort, you feel the responsibility for the others, especially the new boy, but you’ve been there before, and several times. Not the same place, exactly, nor the same destination sought but the nighttime, in very unfamiliar surroundings, can appear as a homogeneity: the habit we form of seeing it instinctively. It’s not a place you want to give in to.

When the grownups leave, it’s better we face our situation squarely and piece together the clues that eventually reveal themselves, as we grow accustomed to the darkness.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge writing prompt #81 – “as we grow accustomed to the darkness”

Reena’s prompt this week is also provided by the poem, “We Grow Accustomed To The Dark” by Emily Dickinson, in this animation by Hannah Jacobs

image: “Full moon over Greece” by Jason Blackeye via Unsplash.com

Little and Often: a life principle

I believe that most people are contradictions. Take me and work: I am a lazy sod, just won’t touch work; until I get going, then I’m a workaholic; I don’t know when to quit. Possibly the built in laziness is a defence against my inclination to work for too long, or maybe I just forget how satisfying a day’s work can be.

Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be as fit as I used to be. For stamina, I mean. My strength seems to be okay. I’ve managed to dig out and lift a couple of rhubarb plants, and the girth of mud attached which was not much smaller than I could hug, and put them one at a time into the barrow, and manage to steady the barrow one time as it was in danger of toppling over. But now the plants have been relocated, mulched and watered, I am proverbially “cream crackered*”, and it’s only lunchtime. I’ve had a couple of bits of toast and marmite, and sat down with a cup of tea, and now I feel lazy again.

I can’t remember who it was that told me their life principle, “little and often”, but I need to adopt that myself.


Quite right, it’s the wrong time to be digging up rhubarb but those plants were where I want to put my shed, so they had to move.

* cream crackered – cockney rhyming slang for extremely tired.

Old Fart Lek Redux

After what I posted previously about joggers, I’m going to eat my words. With time on my hands now, I thought I might try running again. This idea came after reading an article aimed at runners in different age groups and advice on running shoes.

The last pair of running shoes I bought weren’t that brilliant, since relegated to gardening shoes, but the pair before those were a dream, so I’ve been a bit cagey about shelling out for new ones, and I don’t like wearing trainers as everyday shoes. The article recommended a company called Brook’s which allows a 30 day trial with a full refund if not satisfied. So I did something which I wouldn’t do normally with shoes – I bought them unseen, online.

Well, I did see an online picture, for what it was worth. There’s a funny little questionnaire to go through before they recommend one of their products. This involves peculiarities like balancing on one foot, putting a hand between your knees and squatting down, and watching your toes whilst walking to notice whether they point out, or in, or move straight ahead. Then it basically asks you in seven further questions,

What are you trying to achieve?

I like these guys! As you can see from the photo, the shoes for me are the Cascadia 13. Just two days shipping from Germany, I’m already impressed. Trying them on, I was worried they felt a bit snug – I have wide feet – but, hey, 30 days satisfaction guaranteed, what’s to lose? On and out the door.

On the track, the snugness didn’t seem obvious. Not as obvious as my out-of-condition body. It was tough going. Wheeze. Then I remembered that the joys of running come at the end, when the feelgood hormones rise within you and you’re having a refreshing shower. It’s probably called the smug factor. Me, run? Yes, of course. Don’t you?

Anyway, I guess they’re not getting their shoes back now, or for a while at least. I don’t usually do endorsements and so I won’t be providing a link.

Hand me down my running shoes

Despite what I said some posts back about runners and joggers looking miserable, I have a strange urge to start running. I may eat those words but there’s an even chance I’ll vindicate myself in the process.

It might be due to the current weather patterns here being too unpredictable for long walks and cycle rides. Though it is, in part, encouraged by the news that running is no longer considered to wreck the knee joints of older participants, and a great deal of expert advice directed at older participants is run short and quick.

Though I did cross-country at school, mainly to get out of playing rugby – team efforts not being my thing – my real talent, what little I had, lay in sprinting; I was a quick little perisher on the track. This was brought to the attention of a P.E. teacher one lesson, and I found myself strong-armed into the school athletics team for a season. It was easy to convince them of their mistake; I hated training and running events, always out of hours, were a chore. There is a huge difference between competitive running and running for the sheer love of speed.

So I’m looking at new running shoes and tracking down some local retailers, hoping I’ll have better luck than tracking down a simple pair of brown shoes. And then the fun/pain will begin. At least out here in the sticks, few people will see me cry.


I vaguely remember at one time, the running technique of short and fast was called fart-lek, from a Swedish method, so I guess it’ll be old fart-lekking I’ll be doing.

Bicycle

I walk down to the art shop in town hoping I could buy a carbon pencil. They didn’t stock them. This doesn’t dampen my mood as the day is still and full of rare sunshine. I think I’ll make the most of it and walk home by way of Cirencester Park, reversing the head clearing stroll.

Once I pass the dogs prohibited sign, the tree lined path grows extremely peaceful, just the occasional huff and slap of joggers. A woman on a short horse passes, giving authoritative instruction to a tall man on a tall horse. He looks sheepish.

These inspire me to think of the activities I could, maybe should, get up to. I used to run but haven’t done for a long time. The urge is there but I worry about the old knees; what would become of them in later years through careless punishment? I also used to skip, not very well, and still have the rope in my bedside drawer. A good leather rope, will last a lifetime, will see me out. Skipping comes to mind as I read an article last weekend on how it is the latest fitness trend. How little do they know. Where did the horse riders come from? Should I pop down for a humiliating taster lesson? Every time I’ve got astride a horse, I couldn’t work out the controls. And they talk excitedly about self-driving cars now? Just test ride a hired horse.

I’ve done dinghy sailing, shooting, archery, and fly-fishing. There’s a lot of equipment though. I like walking (a pair of boots) and cycling (a bike). Well, I’m walking now – it’s about 5 miles, in ordinary shoes, so I’m thinking I should be getting the bike out soon. Yes, biking. Get on it. Soon.

Be careful what you wish for. Once home, I have a call from my wife; my car won’t start. She’s borrowed it while hers is at the garage for a suspected petrol leak. I’m going to meet her and see if anything obvious is wrong, otherwise wait for the recovery services. I’ll go on my bike! The all-terrain one, not the road bike. Surprisingly, only the front tyre needed pumping. Brushing away the cobwebs and sawdust, I get the bike out, pump up the tyre and head off. It’s not too bad riding in January, in the sun, but I’ve got my beanie hat pulled tight over my ears. I could use gloves. They’re in my pockets but I don’t stop to put them on; men, like white knights, don’t do that.

It’s a flat battery. We call the recovery, it’s a three hour wait. We call the garage where my wife’s car sits, ready. Collecting it, she picks up a new set of jump leads. This works! I pack the bike in the back; I’ve forgotten how damn heavy and awkward it is to lift and man-handle into a tight space. It’s an old steel framed job I’ve had for years but I like the way it functions, the brakes, the shifters, everything, and better than any recent model I’ve seen. I’m forever in two minds whether to upgrade it. It’s just an old runabout; I’m in love with a younger racier road model.

I say, never be without a bike. Actually, the more the merrier. It’s one of the essential skills of life, learning to ride a bike. I can still remember the day I asked my Dad to remove the stabilisers from my secondhand 20-inch wheeler, and I was off, away like the wind and never looked back. Well, perhaps when turning right in traffic.

Thinking about…

Running.

Running seems to be the only participatory sport in which enjoyment comes after the event.

Sometimes whilst out walking, and being in an exuberant frame of mind, I fancy breaking into a run. Often in these moments, I do.

I used to run: at school, during winter terms, I’d opt for cross-country in compulsory “games”. This was in preference to rugby when that ceased to be compulsory for my year (I’ve never been much of a team player, much more an individualist). During the summer term, it was athletics, likewise in opposition to the alternative team activity, cricket. In contrast to the cross-country, my warm weather running was the sprint, either 100m or 200m because these suited my natural physique, strength and power. Long distance was, and is, an endurance. Sprinting is over in seconds, a brief burst and its rewards come quicker.

In later life, like a lot of adults, I took up running purely for health and fitness. It was referred to as “jogging” though that term seems to have fallen out of fashion. Basically, long, long minutes of moderately paced running. Slog and boredom. If you’re fortunate you can run in nice, distracting surroundings – a city park, wooded tracks or open spaces – but so many contend with suburban streets and along busy roads. I know beggars can’t be choosers but this would be a disincentive too great.

Running in open spaces can be more enjoyable.

Still, regardless of where we run, it’s a rare thing to see a runner looking as if they’re loving the moment. Most look like they can’t wait for it to be over. For me, this is more than an impression, I know the feeling. When I ran, I’d welcome the sight of the finishing point, whatever was decided and for that final 50 to 100m, I’d sprint like mad, no matter how whacked I’d be feeling – just to get it done and to get some excitement out of it. It always worked. Later, in the shower, I’d be thinking with satisfaction and some pride about the last seconds dash and forget the rest.

My thoughts are turned to running by a magazine article claiming a scientific study has concluded that an hour’s running a day increases your lifespan by seven hours. It’s the article doing the claiming rather than the study. The study, being scientific, would be more careful about such claims, else they’d be unscientific. The media nearly always misrepresent scientific studies. Why? Do most journalists come via literature, the arts and humanities, perhaps? Possibly it’s simply a cynical means to sell media. As often is the case, the article is big on headline and thin on detail. I like to read them just to follow with the readers’ comments.

One that I like quotes Emerson, (Ralph Waldo, preumably),

“It’s not the length of life, but the depth”.

An Hour Of Running May Add 7 Hours To Your Life (Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times)