The Beauty of the Bike.

Thank heavens for cycling.

Since most foot-dependent activities are currently out of the question, cycling is the option that remains. [Regular readers will know of my aversion to water submersion-hence swimming is off the menu].

So cycling is becoming vital to maintaining an amoebic level of physical activity and to this end Husband has been rising to the challenge of hauling me around various routes and tracks in pursuit of improving my corporeal condition.

Of course the bikes are always on board when we are out and about in the van and were transported all around Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica despite being rarely employed. This was mostly due to the terrifying nature of the Italian roads, although in Sardinia there was a modicum of driverly care un-encountered anywhere else in Italy.

On the subsequent [most recent] trip to Brittany there was more cycling. Travelling by ‘velo’ in France is a whole different experience surpassed only by bicycle use in The Netherlands or Belgium. So we undertook some pedal routes-quiet lanes and tarmac tracks, not all of which were totally flat. As I’m aware that Husband is not over-fond of complaints during cycle rides I took pains not to comment that my knees were creaking, my wrists numb and I was becoming generally knackered.

Such are the nuances of marriage however that once returned he announced that I’d been ‘complaining silently’.

On another afternoon I opted to stay behind, not so much as to spare him my silent complaints as to get down to revising poor, neglected Novel Two. Thus I was heavily engaged in the task and oblivious to anything else when Husband reappeared after what seemed an unusually brief spell. ‘I came off’ he said.

He’d come off in spectacular style, judging by the holes in his elbow and his knee. In the customary manner of husbands he was eager to minimise the event, the effects of which were not a pretty sight. Novel Two went back on the back burner while I delved into the eclectic mix of items I call the First Aid Box.

Back home now, I’ve managed to cycle without complaint, silent or otherwise, ascended some hills without dismounting to push and achieved staying within sight of Husband’s bike most of the time.

I’ve also come to realise that the bike has other uses besides the exercise factor. If I need to nip up the road for a loaf of bread I can do so without needing to suffer the excruciating attentions of Neighbour, a man who speaks to me as if I am a miniature toy poodle and who I tend to avoid at all cost.

So bike is the way except for when it’s raining-which it is-a lot-at the moment…

 

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‘When You’re Sixty Four’…dum-de-dum…

I’m about to be 64. ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, the song was written by Paul McCartney when he was sixteen-an age at which you could never imagine becoming sixty four and at which you would think it to be a very old age to be.

Like everyone says, most days my body does feel ancient, but inside my head I don’t feel much different, or old. Every day some part of me aches or feels stiff. I forget things. Words escape me. I’m not au fé with some of the more contemporary aspects of technology [I can’t tell my mega-bytes from my giga-bytes]. Some of the ‘classic’ acts at Glastonbury seem newbies to me.

But I keep abreast of current affairs, I like to try new things and I know it’s best to keep moving regardless of what hurts.

I’ve just reached another age threshold by officially becoming a state pensioner. I’m one of those women whose birthday falls between two dates that have been used to equalise the genders so that men’s and women’s retirement ages are the same. Fair enough. I’ve no quibbles with it. But most delayed pension age women are upset not to have been informed sooner [not until a year before the previous state pension age [60]]. I’ve been fortunate to have paid into an occupational pension scheme, but for many of those who have not there was no time to plan for a later retirement date and many have suffered huge financial losses [with the loss of their home for some] due to the lack of warning.

I’m also about to apply for that Holy Grail of retirement benefits- a bus pass. For the last few years I’ve been trailing behind Husband as he hops on to the bus, flicks his pass on to the scanner and slides into a seat while I scrabble for change or apologise for presenting a note. There have been times when I’ve been the only fully-paid-up passenger on a bus.

I’m also being offered a winter fuel payment and have received a [so far] small amount of state pension payment-at the same time as the announcement that due to a tax adjustment my occupational pension is reduced.

We are constantly being reminded that we have an obligation to keep ourselves healthy; to eat a sensible diet, not over-indulge, not imbibe an excess of alcohol, count steps, not have sugar, do this, don’t do that. Nobody can argue that we should not over-burden our already beleaguered and precious health service.

What a pity, then that three appointments I’ve had to have a scan on a relatively minor problem in my foot have been cancelled because I ‘don’t meet the criteria’ for help. Were the problem to be sorted I could get back to doing my thousands of steps, exercising and doing my bit to keep out of hospital wards and GP surgeries.

Sixty-four eh? However did that manage to creep up on me?

Ten? We are all Doomed-

Smug about your diet? Getting your five-a-day in? Well don’t be, because now you are advised that this is not, has never been enough and you should be cramming ten…yes ten helpings of fruit and/or vegetables down your gullet each and every day.

Great. Actually I’ve been quite smug myself. We’ve never been ones to load the trolley with ready meals and have tended [especially since the heady, time-rich days of retirement] towards cooking from scratch-not going as far as making our own pasta or blending our own garam masala, but we don’t buy sauce mixes or shop soup and we’re fond of vegetable-rich meals and salads and we’ll snack on fruit rather than cakes or biscuits.

Now, however it transpires that we haven’t done enough on the vegetable front. What sort of time though, is this to tell us, when we’re never going to see the front of sixty again and all the damage, the degeneration and the eroding of protection has been wrought throughout our only five portioned/meat-and-two-veg/subsistence diet? Presuming that it is now too late to undo the shocking abuse of more than sixty years that neglecting to have ten veg and fruit things has done, should we continue to follow the subsistence, ‘five-a-day’ regime? Or can we mitigate the ominous, brewing health catastrophes by swallowing fifteen or twenty helpings of cabbage, kale and tomatoes each day?

And take care, reader not to simply gollup piles of fruit down or swig ten smoothies every day, because fruit, my friends is sugary and calorific, leading to an expanding girth before you can say ‘Jabotacaba’. We are advised to ration our fruit intake and turn instead to sober lettuce and sprouts.

Wait, though. A glut of helpful news columns has emerged, explaining how to insert the extra portions into our daily trough. We can add spinach to our spaghetti, have another veg on our plate [we’ll need bigger plates] and snack on fruit. It all begins to seem exhausting.

On a more serious note, all these fresh fruit and vegetables do not come cheap. Here is yet another few miles plugged into the rich-poor divide. How many fresh items are there in the food bank basket at the supermarket? For those whose main issue is how to prevent their children from going to bed hungry, plying them with ten fruits and veggies must come a long way down the list of worries. Keeping healthy, then is a preserve of the comfortably-off, as are most things.

What on earth will happen to fast food outlets? The kebab houses will be alright-there is always a lettuce leaf and some shredded cabbage in the pitta pocket; but fish and chip shops will need to double up their mushy pea portions and MacDonalds will have to sneak mustard and cress into the Big Macs-or whatever it is they serve.

Watch the space. In a few months’ time we’ll either be told that eating too much cabbage is killing us [well the noxious gases produced may well do] or that ten portions are not enough. In the meantime, I’m off to the greengrocers…

Don’t Breathe until you’ve Strapped on the Button-

We are used, now to seeing those posts that invite us to join in congratulatory admiration for friends’ achievements. You know the ones. So-and-so has just run X miles or, J Bloggs has cycled to here; there will be a map to show you exactly the route they took. These posts fall into the same category as those selfie shots, a cloud of grinning friends all having a ball or seated around a table of delicious, ‘Masterchef’ style food-or standing on The Great Wall of China or Golden Gate Bridge. It is rare to see a photo of someone grappling with a flooding washing machine or in the aftermath of open-heart surgery.

Creeping along into this melee of ‘tell-all’ comes the tiny, wearable, digital device. Of course, monitors of all descriptions have been around for ages, but these, ever-smaller, watch-like buttons are becoming more sophisticated than ever. According to devotees they will tell you how many steps you’ve taken, monitor your heart rate and inform you of how you’ve slept.

It seems to me that this is taking self-absorption to another level. Why do we need a device to tell us how we’ve slept? I am still compos mentis enough to know whether I’ve slept or not-because if I was awake I probably knew about it already. I also have a fairly good idea whether I’ve walked anywhere or if I’ve been a lazy slob slumped on a sofa with a book. I’ll let the health system deal with my heart rate, though if I’m feeling ok why worry?

Won’t these little, wearable buttons give us the same paranoia that googling symptoms does? Supposing it tells you you didn’t sleep a wink last night? What will you do? Go back to bed that minute to recoup the lost hours? Only walked eight thousand two hundred and fifty four steps? Quick-get outside in the garden and do a few circuits before ‘Eastenders’. Eaten too many calories today? Nothing to eat tomorrow!

Worse still, in a sinister vision of the future, supposing some popinjay in the health department of a nanny state government comes up with the brilliant idea of linking their use to the health system. You will be required to wear a monitor at all times if you wish to be entitled to health care. You will be resuscitated only if you have slept for the mandatory eight hours last night. You will qualify for a hip replacement only if you have completed your compulsory ten thousand steps per day. Goodness! A veto on surgery for smokers or the obese has already raised its ugly head. Linking healthy lifestyle to healthcare entitlement can only be around the corner.

Or why not programme the devices to issue warnings? They could jolt us with an electric shock if we sip at a second Sauvignon or munch on a MacDonald’s and sound an alarm to alert us to getting on with our ten thousand steps. Does it remind you of any famous novels? Just remember that 1984 was over thirty years ago.

Sensual, Slow and Unsupple…

At the beginning of this year, 2015, I took up an activity I never in my entire life intended or expected to dabble in; yoga. I’d always been dismissive in my fit, running and aerobics years, feeling that static activity such as Yoga or Pilates was both boring and pointless.

Nobody was more surprised than I. But there were a number of reasons for placing a tentative toe on the yoga mat, which were as follows:

1] I’d been diagnosed with a chronic disease during the latter stages of 2014, resulting in two months of exercise stagnation. I needed to make a start on some kind of return to fitness. Yoga, I thought might provide a slow way in.

2] During my enforced incarceration due to illness the gym I’d been attending closed down-an event that seemed grossly unfair. It shut when I wasn’t looking! I had to find somewhere new and something new to do.

3] I was also curious. Yoga began to develop over five thousand years ago in Northern India and since then has never gone away. Today more than thirty million people practice it, so I figured there must be a benefit to contorting your limbs into a tangle or placing your feet behind your ears.

The ideas I’d formed, as you can see were stereotypical and skewed. I’d considered that since I found it uncomfortable even to sit on the floor with my legs crossed I’d never accomplish that pose with feet on either knee-and I was correct! I haven’t.

But I have discovered benefits. For a start, it seems indulgent to lie down on the floor and think of nothing except your breathing and ‘how you feel today’. [This is how we start]. Many of the slow movements and the poses concentrate on flexibility. Others are designed to improve balance and stability-much like Pilates. Flexibility and balance are two abilities that have a tendency to deteriorate with age, so to me it makes sense to try and maintain them.

In the class we are all ages, sizes and levels of fitness. There is no element of competition. The teacher is a slim, supple sprite who is able to contort herself into any imaginable shape; but she has no expectations of her pupils. We follow as best we can and if our limbs fail us there are alternative ways we can arrange them. That very lack of rivalry, the slow, undemanding moves from one position to another is what provides the satisfaction and sense of wellbeing.

There must be something in it. At the very least, if I am walking on the beach and need to stop and empty my shoe of sand I am able to remove it, tip out the sand and replace it on to my foot while standing still unaided on the other foot. [Fit ex-footballer and rugby player and cycle-freak, Husband cannot do this!]. It is the result of practising numerous ‘tree’ poses.

‘Guler sharsener’ says the teacher, or ‘namastay’ or some such exotic sounding phrase. Who knows what it all means? And does it matter?

Ageing-The Truths you’d Rather not Know

I have kept quite well to my promise not to produce a continuous blog documenting the woes of ageing-an unceasing fountain spurting hypochondria; but I realise I may have gained some kind of watershed where age is concerned-one that may never be drawn back from.

Since I entered the grand decade that is my sixties significant and not altogether beneficial changes have begun to manifest, which I feel are relevant to Anecdotage and the Views from the Descent. For, from here it really does begin to feel like a descent.

Google ‘ageing’ and you will be bombarded with information and opinion. Often, in publications such as Sunday supplements there will be interviews with older celebrities- in any sphere. It interests me that the overwhelming majority of ageing ‘celebs’ are anxious to stress the positive aspects of growing older-how much more experienced they are, how much happier than when young, how grounded, how advantageous it all is. Reader, I am more than suspicious of these people. To me they are missing one overriding, enormous elephant of a fact. However blessed, fortunate, experienced and ecstatic they feel, the spectre of death has not only appeared on the horizon but grows larger as it approaches.

Of course as we all know-it is best to ignore the scythe-bearing one and concentrate on living life to the best of our frailties, but still-aspects of one’s demise will keep popping their heads over the balcony, such as:

Things Hurt More than they Used to

Joints hurt. Old injuries hurt. Vague unidentifiable bits hurt. In an ironic twist [the reaper having a laugh?] many of the hurty bits have been caused in younger incarnations by enthusiastic bouts of fitness.

The Hurty Bits Take Longer to Stop Hurting

Related to above; whereas a familiar, old hip/back tweak used to come and stay for a few days, now it overstays by weeks. An intermittent back injury overstays. Wrists that used to be a little sore are aggravated by carrying anything heavier than a sheet of paper. It becomes tricky finding a comfortable position to sleep, sit or be.

Knowing you are Turning into Your Parents does not Stop you Turning into Them

All the traps you have sworn not to fall into are impossible to avoid-repeating yourself, telling hackneyed stories, being curmudgeonly et al.

Those you have Known begin to Shuffle off the Mortal Coil

Once he became elderly my father began every visit with a tale of who had died that week. In his absence we smiled about it. Now that the clogs of people in my own life are popping it no longer carries the comic appeal it once did. No doubt my offspring are benefitting as I did.

The Recession of Middle Age

Remember all that ’40 is the new 30’ thing? We like to stretch our age back into youth as far as possible. I considered I was ‘middle-aged’ up until I was 60. Then it became far-fetched. Maybe someone could invent a term for between middle-aged and elderly, like ‘milderly’? Except it sounds like mildew-which is actually quite appropriate.

These are just a few aspects of ageing. Perhaps you harbour some more? Add them in the comments and I’ll compile a ‘bottom 10’-you have to laugh-what else can you do?

Journey to the Centre of the Colon-a gastric Odyssey [with apologies to Jules Verne]

I made a promise when I began this blog-the ramblings of an ageing female-that health issues would not be at the forefront of every post. Every now and then, however there is bound to be some blot on the fitness horizon and this particular blot appears to have eclipsed normal life like a blackout curtain.

In an ironic curve the disease I have eventually been diagnosed with is not at all age related, more an unfortunate plague of a far younger demographic. What is it? It is ulcerative colitis; nasty and incurable, yes, life threatening-well no, supposedly not, except that the odds of more sinister complaints are increased.

Whilst Fiction Month was running its [highly satisfactory] course the writer was undergoing many weeks of initial terror followed by exhaustion and desperation as the slow wheels of our UK health service ground along; well-meaning and efficient but over-stretched and ponderous.

During the past two months life has shrunk back within the walls of the house, where access to bathroom facilities provides a secure reassurance-for now, the only factor that matters. This disease, as all inflammatory bowel diseases [Crohn’s is another] is neither romantic nor noble, reducing us, the sufferers to the most basic of needs- a toilet and means of cleaning up. A walk, shopping trip or evening out becomes an activity to be undertaken with trepidation and vast amounts of planning, but mostly not at all.

With Christmas rearing up I fall eagerly on the reassuring presence of the internet while fantasising about strolling around Christmas markets, choosing ‘real’ items, stopping for coffees, enjoying the ambience of the ‘Alpine Bar’ that popped up in our local town [according to Facebook].

Between sojourns enclosed within the shiny, tiled cell of the lavatory I have enjoyed the luxury of unlimited research time, during which I have discovered the unfathomable ocean of misery that is undergone by those who suffer chronic illness. I am castigated by the small but dedicated carers that are my immediate family for doing this, but to me, ignorance can never be a pleasure. The more I know, the better I am prepared.

The GP [local doctor] who was my first port of call has kindly followed up with inquiries regarding diagnosis and progress but clearly is at a loss to know how to provide cheer amid the gloom. ‘You are on a journey’, she tells me and I refrain from advising her that my travel plans have reduced down to the few steps it takes to achieve the safety of the loo. She does mean well.

In all I have not failed to recognise that I am extremely lucky to have Husband-supporting without false cheer, and Offspring-resilient in her newly acquired nurse’s knowledge. Messages, however brief, from some of those who I’ve plucked up the courage to inform are more appreciated than they can know.

So far treatment cannot be described as an unmitigated success, although I recognise it is still ‘early days’ and that there are further options along what the doctor calls the ‘journey’.

I am learning to appreciate home comforts and I am catching up [via the wonder that is ‘Blinkbox’] on TV and film I missed when I was engaged in more worthy activities.

One tragic casualty has been my writing, the pursuit of which has escaped me. This may change-who knows? What a blessing we none of us know what lies ahead!