Having begun my umpteenth and latest (rather vague) ‘fitness and dietary’ regime about two weeks ago, yesterday afternoon I forced myself to go to the gymnasium for 90 minutes at about 4.30pm.
I like to think I never shy of challenging myself when it comes to such matters so I hope you will allow me a little self-congratulatory satisfaction in the fact that once I returned home I felt both pleasantly-exhausted and proud of not only my physical efforts on the day, but the fact I went and did them at all.
I can say that because – even after I had made a ‘statement of intent’ by changing into my gym kit and tracksuit – there was a period of about 20 minutes during I wrestled inwardly back and forth with the vexed issue of whether the outstanding phone calls and email correspondence I still had to do were more important (and potentially more rewarding in the scheme of things if completed) than the anticipated benefits of going to the gym.
I finally won the battle via my usual method, i.e. (1) asking myself whether I was a mouse or a man and (2) simultaneously telling myself that, if I pushed on and completed all my sessions on the various different pieces of apparatus to the letter as planned, I would gain innumerable future personal benefits in terms of health, wealth and sexual success with the opposite gender.
Admittedly, beginning a new fitness campaign rarely becomes easier as you get older simply because, in contrast with one of the joys of being young (i.e. that if you apply yourself and get properly fit you can set new life-time ‘records’ in terms of your physical performance), when you’re beyond a certain age – as I am – the best that you can hope to achieve is stave off for a few more years, months or even perhaps just weeks, your inevitable descent into decrepitude.
And there’s one of the rubs of life – if that’s the correct phrase.
At some stage in life we all begin to wonder whether the rewards of self-denial and/or indeed positive commitment to flogging oneself in an effort to maintain one’s sense of well-being and quality of life are worth the candle.
Stop me if I’ve told you this one more than four times previously – but, when a rather ‘prosperous-looking’ Marlon Brando once arrived in Australia to make a film and was asked by a bold reporter at a Sydney airport press conference “When you look back to your magnificent physique in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Julius Caesar (1953), don’t you think it’s a bit sad the way you’ve let yourself go?”, his immortal reply was the succinct “Listen, I’m fifty-eight ****ing years old. If I cannot let myself go now, when can I?”
I suspect that any of us beyond a certain age can identify with that sentiment.
When I think about it, I had a fairly low-key time of it yesterday. Before going to the gym I had walked into town to order a new battery for one watch, get a new strap for another and buy some more of my favourite choice of after-shave [what I used to call in the good old days before it became politically-incorrect] ‘poof-juice’. As it happens I achieved neither of the said first two tasks – the jewellers’ shop on the high street that I’ve been visiting for the past twenty-five years had somehow upped sticks and disappeared since I last went there.
After that I’d watched the Daily Politics show on BBC2, made myself some lunch, nipped down to a local garage dealer’s to browse around the second-hand cars for sale (twice having to fend off polite “Can I help you?” enquiries) and lastly had a snooze before getting ready to go to the gym.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, the whirlwind modern world had been hurtling into the future without me, as per usual.
I brushed past it again briefly when, whilst waiting for my evening ‘ready meal’ shepherd’s pie (with peas) to heat up, I slipped out onto my terrace to puff on one of my illicit [certainly as regards my fitness campaign] minature cigars.
On the terrace of the adjoining apartment my new neighbour was sitting at his table, examining his smartphone over a glass of rosé wine and a fag. Once he’d looked up and noticed me, we exchange greetings.
He first asked me if I’d watched the Rugby World Cup Final on Saturday (as it happened, I had) – rugby having been established as a common interest between us on a previous conversation – and then stated that, due to the foggy conditions, he’d only just arrived home from a business trip to Venice about an hour previously.
The complication was that he was due to fly off again, this time to Milan for another business meeting, at some point ‘tomorrow’ afternoon [i.e. now today].
I countered with the obvious question “Why couldn’t you have gone directly from Venice to Milan instead?”, to which he did have a sort of answer though as I type I cannot recall exactly what it was. Suffice it to say, his original engagement schedule for this week had been turned upside-down by the blanket of fog that had been covering southern England these past three days and played havoc with air-flight schedules generally.
He added, as proof of the current chaos, that he hadn’t even yet been able to check-in for his flight to Milan because of his airline’s frantic efforts to get its already-delayed passengers ‘away’ on their journeys: “Apparently over 50 Heathrow flights have been cancelled …”
“… And the rest”, I corrected him, “… on the BBC1 lunchtime news they announced that 122 flights had already been cancelled so far today, with more to follow …”
Afterwards, as I toddled off to bed at an exaggeratedly early hour, I reflected upon the contrast between myself and my neighbour. I’d just spent another day wallowing in obscurity and under-achievement. He’d flown to Venice and back for a business meeting and was currently spending about sixteen hours in the UK (airline schedules permitting) before flying out to Milan for another one. Mind you, I suspect he hadn’t spent 20 minutes on a health club gymnasium stepping machine like I had …