One of many unexpected benefits of life-threatening illness, that they don’t often tell you about in the brochures, is that it puts Weight Watchers to shame.
At the start of 2018 I was dragging the better part of 100kg around with me, and before we go any further, because I’ve had this conversation many times: it’s kilograms now. “But what’s that in proper money?” says everyone, thinking it makes them look like they’re upholding some wonderful British tradition, like slavery or the plague. Shut up and get used to it, because it’s what hospital scales use and one day you too will grace them with your sagging torso.
And then the fun started. On my first roll of the dice I lost 10kg, although most of that was shuddered off in horror at the prospect of a consultant named Alan gently cupping my testicles with cold if surprisingly smooth hands. Second roll it was another 10kg. At 80kg I was quite pleased, sprightly even. Another couple of goes at this and I’ll be able to see my cock.
Why am I telling you this? Because the number’s started creeping back up. And to arrest this slide back into corpulence I have to do two things.
First, fix my diet. That’s done – drink is a protected characteristic of course, but these days I cook well and eat less.
Second: exercise. Oh, fuck.
Exercise is abominable. It hurts and it makes you tired. I’m meant to volunteer for this? I’m up for waterboarding more than the idea that I’d freely punish myself, daily, for the rest of my life, with the express goal of living longer and therefore having more days of more of the same.
The only tolerable exercise is play, usually with a ball. No not you Alan. My main exercise for nearly 20 years now has been squash, and latterly racketball. I fully intend to throw myself around a sweaty box with a heavy breathing man on Monday next week for my first game in a long time, and Covid be damned. But squash once a week didn’t stop me getting fat the first time, so unless they’ve added some sort of Crystal Maze ‘physical’ challenge to it, hit four balls into an Aztec’s ringpiece before your opponent climbs a dinosaur or something, it probably won’t be enough.
So recently we got an exercise bike. Oh how I hate machines that give you the illusion of going places, but for a time last year I couldn’t walk more than 100 metres (but what’s that in proper etc) without stopping for a five-minute rest, so needs must.
Given I’ve done no exercise for the better part of 18 months, I can so far do 40 minutes on the bike but in 10-minute bursts only, which gives me three golden opportunities to get off and give up. The machine squeaks so out comes the WD40, which I then stare at as I pedal, wondering if it’s flammable so I can put an end to this fiasco. I sweat like Glitter in Phuket and the seat hurts my balls. I hate it and my life and I’m meant to do this by choice.
What else can I do? I can’t run, that’s out. At school I was an ace sprinter (lover not fighter) who’d puff and wheeze among the fat lads run-walking around the playing field, while the PE teacher yelled at me and me alone for being a lazy bastard. The logic that running fast for 13 seconds doesn’t automatically translate to running hard for 30 minutes didn’t come easy to the fiveheaded Mr Eastmond. If I’d ever gone shopping for a hit man, Mr Eastmond would have been right near the top of my list if his daughter hadn’t been fit.
In any case who wants to be one of those shambling tragedies pounding pavements to ward off the reaper? The monstrous life of the jogger, proudly sweating through wobbling Lycra in full view of the general public. Imagine jogging past a pub garden. God, sorry, I hadn’t realised how appalling that would sound before I typed it.
I could take a punt at another racket sport. I’ve always been bloody useless at tennis due to my inability to avoid serving like Charles Hawtrey. Up goes the ball, up go both my arms and my right foot, coquettishly, before I hop a little way off the ground and with a little yelp plop the ball daintily into the net. The subsequent angry second serve is nailed bang into the service box, of a different court, often at a different club some miles away.
There’s always badminton. I used to be decent at badminton as a teenager, diving around like a pro while my pension-age opponents trundled around thinking about their post-game pint. These days I am the pensioner. More to the point, say to anyone you’ve ever met “Fancy a game of badminton?” and watch as they slowly back away.
It’s fair to say my football days are behind me. I’ve never played much or well, but the occasional spin around a 5-a-side pitch kept my eye in before my calf burst and my knees started making noises like kittens screaming as they’re lowered into the canal. I’m not yet ready to succumb to ‘walking football’; it looks like its players have one leg in their wooden tracksuit already.
A mate once tried to get me into wall-climbing. Bugger me that’s harder than it looks. I used to climb trees like a marmoset, leaping from branch to branch with no thoughts of fitness or gravity. Roll on 20 years and I’m halfway up a 4 metre plastic edifice in Swiss Cottage in a bright red helmet and I’d weep if only I could breathe.
I do still love a brisk long walk, which is better exercise than you’d think. One obvious problem: when does a walk not end in a pint? Where am I walking to if not a pub? Never mind whether a tree falling in an empty forest makes a sound: if I walk alone in the woods, just for exercise, will anyone hear when I cry out how thirsty I am?
I’m doomed, that much we know, so what’s the point? And there’s the crux of it. If I honestly thought it would make any difference to staving off whatever will kill me in the coming years, I suppose I’d make more effort and not flop off the bike after 20 minutes with the feeble-but-true excuse that my knob’s gone numb. But this frantic pedalling won’t save me any more than her comical canter will save that bright green fat girl barrelling down the pavement training for a ‘5K’, whatever that is.
Sod it, one of these days I reckon a clever scientist will discover conclusively that mental health is far more important than fitness and that the key to a long, healthy life is putting your feet up. Football’s for watching. We can get back to carousing as cardio, strength sleeping, and the occasional aerobic amble. To being intensely idle, if you will.
And I’m pretty sure yawning is a type of yoga.