Sunday, 27 June 2010


I was climbing the stairs the other day and realised, with surprise, that I could feel my backside wobbling. I haven't worried about my weight since I was sixteen (that was the point where trying to be thin began to look like a ridiculous waste of time). Clearly though, it's time to start doing some physical exercise again.

I have been into exercise before - although it had nothing to do with a desire to lose weight. It was more about combatting the effects of smoking and improving bad circulation (my feet go blue).

I have done lots of 'floor exercises' in the past - sit-ups, weight-lifting and stuff. Although these make your muscles look good, they don't do much for your lungs - and as a smoker, I feel I should worry about my lungs. Also, when an able-bodied person limits themselves to exercises that can be done while sitting down, it probably doesn't say much for their commitment to getting fit.

So for the past ten/fifteen years, I have had intermittent periods of enthusiasm for jogging. It's a great sport! You can do it on your own, without having to reveal how fat you are to other people. You don't have to learn any rules; you can get into it as gradually as you like; and - apart from the running shoes - its free.

I had forgotton though, how difficult it is to actually get started. It seems like you need to reach a certain basic level of fitness before jogging becomes something to be enjoyed. Before that, it's horrible.

I start off by walking down to the end of our road - where the houses stop and the road winds out among fields. When the pavement ends, I start jogging - very slowly.

A few minutes out, I get an almost unbearable ache in my ankles. Then my stomach begins to hurt. I have a hill to run up (I'm being pathetic now - it's a barely perceptible incline) and it's on a corner, so I cross over to the left-hand side of the road because I'm more visible to cars behind. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder and by the time I'm round the corner, one bra strap has lost all anchorage, so I'm constantly hoiking it up the rest of the way.

I run past a massive farm house, and get to a fork in the road where I usually turn round and go back.

I'm very self-conscious about turning round - if anyone sees me, I feel like I'm cheating. So if there's a car behind me, I drop the pace and jog nochalantly down the right-hand fork - waiting for it to disappear before I turn.

At this point it's always like the A133 has been re-routed through our village, and suddenly dozens of drivers are queuing up to get past me. I get quite wound up. One of these days I'm going to scare them all by leaping out into the road, banging on their bonnets, and shouting "Will you GO AWAY!!!" Woe betide anyone who stops to ask me for directions at this point.

I manage to make my turn unseen, and start jogging back. My shoulder hurts (strangely, my lungs never hurt). I'm now jogging into the sun: I get an instant headache and go from polite perspiration to soggy, sweaty mess almost as fast.

I puff down the road, and consider stopping for a rest but then another car pauses in front of me - waiting for a car behind me to go past - and I figure I'd feel more pathetic if I were walking at this point, so I keep going. I get slower and slower, until I'm practically running on the spot.

I get back to the village, and go past the row of houses that comes before ours. At the corner, there's about 100 yards to our driveway, and that's the point where I feel I should break into a sprint finish. For the past couple of days however, I've barely managed to hike up the speed at all.

If I'm really unlucky, the parent of one of my mother's students is sitting in their car outside our house, and I have to do my unimpressive finish in front of them. I round the corner into our driveway, slip on the gravel, grab the telephone pole and barely remain upright. Then I stop running abruptly, and try for a little dignity as I stagger down the driveway. I drag myself in the back door, collect my glass of water, and then go out in the back garden for some half-hearted stretching exercises and a whole-hearted cigarette.

I remember when I was about sixteen going out regularly for a five mile jog - even early in the mornings, in the dark. I wasn't particularly fit, so I've no idea how I managed it. I did the same thing with weight lifting - 100 of these and 100 of these. Nowadays I can do about 12 repetitions of any one exercise. I guess thirteen years of smoking will do that to you.

I will get fit again though. Watching the World Cup is putting me in the right frame of mind for it (or it does when we win matches). Come to think of it, my last jogging spell occurred during the Beijing Olympics. Maybe what I really need is a TV with a 24-hour sports channel(!)

Anyway, England is playing Germany at 3pm today. I am slightly dubious about our chances - but very enthusiastic all the same. If I could, I'd be out there in South Africa with my face paint, silly hat and beer belly. As it is, I can only hope my sister - currently working in Botswana - is carrying on these sacred traditions of Brits abroad.

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