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Life is what happens to you when you’re busy doing other things

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of my vintage – over 65 – desirous of undertaking a physical fitness campaign [to begin by borrowing a quotation from Jane Austen, but then making it relevant to the 21st Century] will be beset, not only by literal and metaphorical obstacles, but also by incessant calls (including by phone) upon his precious time that prevent him from achieving his goals.

I honestly believe that when I – an alien from planet Zog in a universe far, far away from your solar system – touched down upon the Earth, I was sold a pup.

For it was represented to me that if I lived a clean and honest life, obeyed the human laws, worked hard and treated others as I would wish to be treated by them, I would be rewarded by learning and experiencing many wondrous things … and then grow up to meet a perfect wife, have children and enjoy all the benefits of family togetherness (along with the trials and tribulations thereof, of course) and then one day, after said offspring had fled the nest … go on to spend my remaining years relaxing and doing exactly what I wished.

Dear reader, it does not quite work out like that.

When you reach that final, golden, stage – when you had fondly imagined you could forget about the rest of the world and concentrate at last and for the first time upon your own interests – suddenly you are bombarded with unwanted attention and issues.

Ironically, I suspect the very fact you have reached a certain age has something to do with it.

The fact that you no longer work leads other people to suppose that you are sitting at home all day, vegetating and doing nothing, and therefore ripe (even desperate) to be offered the opportunity to undertake potential tasks, projects, even conversations to join and problems to help solve that can occupy your otherwise vacuous existence.

Since I ‘retired’, had I received a £5 note for every occasion upon which, because they are at work and it would be very convenient for them, I have been rung up by someone asking if I could go and collect their clothes from the dry cleaning shop; or buy some food; or check out the timings of a new movie that is currently playing at a local cinema … you can add your own examples from personal experience here ad infinitum … then I reckon I’d be running Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg very close indeed as one of the world’s richest men.

And because I live in a block of flats and don’t go to work I am pestered daily by fellow residents who, whether they work or not, know I am ordinarily in residence 24 hours per day and therefore – if they are at a loose end and in want of human company, assuming I am suffering from a similar affliction which, of course I am not – feel it is perfectly acceptable to ring me, or simply begin knocking at my door, at any time of the day between 0800 and 2000 hours in order to discuss with me the latest community gossip, drains problems, the politics involved in forthcoming official residents’ meetings, the car park, the communal gardens, Brexit, the weather, the time of day … (you get the kind of thing).

And then, after you have then factored in the obligatory trips to visit aged relatives, your kids and their families (if they have them), other friends, people who are just acquaintances but, for some reason completely unclear to you, seem to crave your company – you find that the remaining time that you have to yourself (in other words ignoring for this survey such time as you spend having meals, food shopping for yourself, trips to the lavatory, ablutions and sleeping) is just about restricted to the time you spend between 0030 and 0700 hours every day awake and at the computer.

Which brings me back to my subject of the day – my ongoing fitness campaign, upon which I have blogged irregularly in the past but not much recently.

At this point, before I get to the meat of today’s sandwich, I feel the need to recap on the background as to why I even bothered to embark upon such a campaign at all at my age (67).

From as early as I can remember I was sports-mad. By inheritance being fortunate enough to possess enough ball-playing skills to be proficient to a certain (but never outstanding or an elite) degree, I also had – or was it developed? – enough grit, determination and drive to make the most of what I had and thereby achieve a modest amount of sporting recognition at school and beyond.

This allowed me to imagine – and indeed tell others – that, had I been gifted with a potential world class talent at any sport “I coulda been a contender …” (to quote Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, the classic 1954 movie).

Had I been a soccer player, for example, I would never have been a squander of my talent – like George Best, Stan Bowles or Paul Gascoigne, to mention, perhaps unfairly, just three – because I would have ‘lived clean’ and worked diligently day and night to improve and maintain my abilities.

In short, instead I would have become the Roger Federer of football.

But that was, and is, a fantasy.

When you get past your prime – and your reflexes and inclination to exercise dim, yet your appetite remains as it was when you were burning 5,000 calories and more per day – middle-age spread suddenly makes an appearance and digs relentlessly in.

And thus you are faced with the dilemma of whether – instead of your previous life-long practice of keeping fit purely and exclusively the better to partake in your chosen sports – you are going to begin a phase of doing so either in the cause of self-preservation or vanity, or possibly both.

This might seem a no-brainer to younger generations, but it’s more complicated than that when you are middle-aged and beyond.

To begin a fitness campaign on the former (self-preservation) basis, you are effectively accepting the fact that you are on the downward slope of life and that for the rest of your existence you will be striving to maintain “quality of life” over the likelihood that – if you go on eating, drinking and doing other unhealthy things to excess as you have done all your life to date – you are probably going to live for fewer years and perhaps, towards the end, some of them containing little life-quality at all.

But then again, to commence a fitness campaign on the latter (vanity) basis is also not without its issues.

To start with, if you have never considered yourself a vain person, you have to come to terms with the realisation that you are now going to be doing physical jerks no longer to play sport better as hithero, but simply in the rather inappropriate and unworthy cause of feeling – and also perhaps (far worse) hoping to gain approving comments from others that you are – “looking good for your age”.

As I said or hinted, not easy matters to resolve in your own mind.

However. I’ve been on my current ‘fitness campaign’ (if you could call it that) for a couple of years. I keep a diary of what I eat and drink and an Excel spreadsheet of how many steps I have done each day, having given myself a target of 10,000 which I understand is advised by those who deal in such things as a good standard for anyone over 50 to aim at.

As a result I have been able to lose – and keep off – about 10 pounds in weight but (and this is the big plus) – I have regained (I think it is) the “endorphin rush” that (my version of) the brain gets after a bout of exercise, whether it is walking or working out in the gym. In other words, I feel infinitely better in myself afterwards – and, if I have to miss a day of exercise – my body feels ‘cheated’ of its session. Which I reckon must be a good thing.

And yet there is no planning for random outside events, such as those which have affected my health club recently.

Firstly, about two years ago, it embarked upon a major refurbishment programme that involved successively closing areas/departments in order to undertake the work – thus denying them to its members for the duration.

Then ten days ago – literally, as mentioned by a staff member, just two before final completion of this enormous project, after which the establishment would be perfect in every respect until further notice – it burned to the ground one evening.

I am not joking. It was a major incident that briefly made the national news, involving tens of fire engines and closures of all roads in the vicinity. My inquiries yesterday revealed that it is now effectively a pile of dust and that – as things stand – there is no prospect of it being rebuilt and reopening as the health club that I formerly belonged to and remain a member of.

As I said, sometimes people and things get in the way of even so simple an item as an old man’s fitness campaign.

About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts