Gym Tales

Last week I documented my first steps in the Land of the Dairy-free and described the differences I’d noticed in my own health after what was a very short space of time.

Since then there have been more developments, surprising and welcome, such as less joint pain and an increase in energy. So far so good. I’ve continued to become accustomed to dairy-free milk and yoghurt, [opting for unsweetened almond milk and soya yoghurt] but I admit to failure on the cheese front.

In a parallel improvement I’ve returned to the gym, partly due to less painful joints. [I am now able to bend my right foot] and partly due to winter weather [walking in a deluge is not always a pleasant activity].

In my absence of about 18 months there are changes at the gym. Julia, the previous Friday morning yoga teacher has left and in her place is Michelle, a kind, enthusiastic mentor but one whose moves and poses are beyond me, both in difficulty and in pace. After one session of attempting to keep up with the downward facing dogs and sun salutations I spend the following few days crippled and feeling advanced in years by around 20 [taking me to 85, reader-not an uplifting experience]. The second session, while no easier, rendered me less incapacitated.

Encouraged, I reserved myself a place at ‘Easy Aero’ [in other words, aerobics for the ancient, the crippled and exercise virgins]. Ten years ago I was still leaping about in the exercise studio with gay abandon. Surely ‘Easy Aero’ wasn’t about to trouble me?

How wrong can you be? In the pre-class throng of the changing room there was a crush of greying, primped, powdered and blue-rinsed ladies clad in pastel lycra, chattering animatedly in front of the lockers. I stood back to wait for a space. They continued to chit-chat as they queued for the water machine and filtered into the exercise studio and I headed for the back in a bid to lurk unnoticed. In came Carla, a wisp of a girl with a broad smile, whose classes I’ve attended in the past.

Music on [a heady mix of 70s disco classics], Carla proceeded with the warm-up, when I realised this was not to be the gentle easing back into gym activity I’d expected. Ten minutes later, having undertaken a couple of routines I was not just warm, but perspiring. Hmm…

The dance routines were followed by some step-aerobic work and some core exercises, culminating in a ‘plank’ to finish off. I felt a glimmer of hope in still being able to hold a plank position for one minute, but overall this was a hefty enough workout for now.

Here’s a thing though; aerobics, like bike-riding is an activity that lingers in the mind. With the instruction ‘grape-vine’ I went instantly into that step side, step behind step. With ‘box-step’ I knew what to do. It’s heartening that even when you’re out of condition and struggling the brain cells can cope.

And the ladies? They are amazing! All power to them…

Advertisements

Slip Sliding Away

I’ve never been much of a sports spectator. Other than a brief phase of tennis watching in the 70s [I happened to live in a flat a few minutes’ walk away from Wimbledon’s famous club]. I’ve positively avoided watching the sporting activities of others. Exceptions include international rugby games [I’m currently enjoying the six nations championship] and winter sports.
There is something magical about the winter Olympics. The settings are beautiful; other-worldly and mountainous landscapes providing a background for breath-taking races and stunts. Watching daring ski jumpers hurtling down a slope and flinging themselves skywards before landing the right way up and sliding away is enough to make your stomach lurch, as is the downhill skiing or the crazy free-for-all of the speed-skating.
Most of all the new [since 2014], tricksy snow-boarding contests are spectacular and a compelling watch.
It is more than twenty years since I had my own, brief taste of snow-related activity, when I took myself off for a week of beginner skiing in the much-poopooed [by seasoned skiers] resort of Borovets, Bulgaria. I’m sure it wouldn’t do for those who take to the slopes on a regular basis or those for whom a fashionable resort matters most. But for someone who was new to skiing-and approaching middle age, Borovets was just cheap, cheerful and more than demanding enough.
To this intrepid week of discovery I’d added an extra anxiety-inducing element. I was travelling solo. I did have the advantage of being physically fit, having undertaken running and aerobics in the preceding years but I was also reeling in the aftermath of a relationship breakdown, which meant that solo travel would be a risky business for my battered emotions. Would I be able to forge friendships, find some kind of transitory support network, have any conversations, bond with fellow novices? Friends counselled for and against but in the end the ‘for’ camp won for advising me to see it as learning a new skill-just like going on a course, which of course, I was!
There is an art to lone travel. When I boarded the transfer bus at the airport I was asked which ‘party’ I was travelling with, a difficult question. When a couple, faced with no spare seats at the hotel’s evening meal, were forced to share my table I thanked them for joining me, shifting my novel [a prop] across to make room. Next morning’s breakfast was a solitary affair.
Then I had to find my ski class. I headed down to the boot room, where we virgin skiers were to be parcelled up into groups, get our lift passes and our boots and skis. Once I was in a group everything changed. We were united in anticipation, endeavour and terror! We laughed, clutched each other, fell over, encouraged one another, made progress. At the end of that first, exhausting, exhilarating day I had a group of friends. We ate together, went out together, drank together, shared our stories.
I loved skiing, but I never did it again. It was not long before he who was to become Husband came along and lone holidays became a thing of the past. There is no doubt that, like most sports, skiing needs to be taken up when young. But that holiday holds fond memories for me, as does skiing, so for anyone who is wavering about skiing-or indeed about holidaying as a singleton I’d say go for it! What can go wrong?

Whereabouts on the Podium do you Stand?

It is Olympics time. I was watching the women’s cycling road event, sucked in by the thrilling build-up as the competitors battled over the last few kilometres. There was a tortuous climb up a long, winding hill followed by a hurtling, nail-biting descent on a slippery road with more perilous bends, the roadside precipices looming at every turn. The leader, a Dutch woman had pulled ahead of the pack, shrugged off her nearest rival and was rocketing down in an exhilarating abandonment of caution. Then catastrophe struck as she hit the side, catapulting herself over the handlebars and on to her head to lie inert as the riders cannoned downwards past her and towards the finish.

My heart leapt into my throat. I remembered what a coward I was, whimpering my way down the mountain in Thailand and having to be nursed down over the ruts and chasms by a kindly Thai guide as the rest of the group swooshed down in a cloud of confidence. The camera continued to follow the Olympic cyclists, one of the commentators insisting we should follow the race, the other less sure, feeling much like I did that the catastrophic crash eclipsed any result that would ensue.

An American had taken the lead now, hotly pursued by a small group who closed the gap then at the very last they overtook her and the gold medal was won by another Dutch woman in an ironic turn of events. How must the American have felt to have the medal torn from her grasp in the last few metres? These are the stories you see less of during the coverage of the games. We see the triumphs, the excitement, the interviews and the joy. We don’t see the heartbreak and the disappointment.

Until I grew old-ish the only interest I took in anything Olympic Games related was to rail at the lack of proper telly. During the weeks that the games is on everything else-dramas, murder mysteries, historical documentaries, talk shows, music programmes, political debate or David Attenborough cavorting with primates-they all must make way for the ceaseless round of prattle that is the Games.

Nowadays I have an ambivalent attitude to watching sport. Sometimes it can suck me in [as in the cycle race]. Other times I’ll sit down to watch an event only to have my mind wander off on an event of its own-to the supermarket perhaps to ponder groceries or to the fridge to peruse the contents. My fingers may stray to the keyboard to play a round of Scrabble [I am engaged in a gladiatorial battle of almost Olympic proportions with a friend]. I might feel inclined to check emails or read a news website.

And where is the coverage of The Edinburgh Fringe event? At the very least it could be shown on a different channel!

The Dutch cyclist survived, albeit with spinal fractures and some other injuries-not least the disappointment of having crashed out at a pivotal moment. Since then there has been diving, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, shooting; some GB successes. The results, yes they are of some interest. The events themselves must take their chances and compete with emails and Scrabble.

A Tumult of Testosterone

We are undertaking our second Rugby World Cup tour. This is not quite as momentous as you might think, given that a] the Rugby World Cup is being held in the UK this year and b] we do not have tickets for all the matches.

Our first RWC tour, in 2011 was in New Zealand. In contrast to this year’s campaign it was an extraordinary expedition for a variety of reasons, the greatest of which is that it was in New Zealand! New Zealand remains the single most wonderful country I have ever visited. Enough said.

Nevertheless, the UK’s contribution to international rugby competition is not to be snorted at and is providing logistical nightmares that were not present last time on the opposite side of the planet. As before we are using a campervan to get to some of the venues [our own rather than rented]. We eschewed the first game at Twickenham, due to the prohibitive ticket price. We began with Georgia versus Tonga at Kingsholm, Gloucester. Easy! Husband hails from there, hence handy relatives with guest room and car to provide lifts.

Next game: Cardiff [Australia versus Fiji]. Cardiff boasts a splendid city centre camp site. Hooray! Cardiff was crammed with rugby fans in a way that Gloucester was not. This is both a joy [the meeting up, the chats, the sights, the atmosphere] and a chore [the jobsworths, the queues, the bag searches, the squashing, the getting trodden on, the corporate pushing of brands, the pushing and the endless standing about].

Notice-I have not ventured into the tangled scrummage of rugby analysis, the dodgy ruck of commentary. Why not? Because, reader I am a complete and total ignoramus on the subject. I do not know my ruck from my maul, my penalty from my knock-on and remain stubbornly resistant to understanding off-side. ‘What was wrong with that?’ I quiz Husband as the penalties pile up. But in spite of detailed explanation I continue to watch in a mystified fog of ignorance.

Despite all of this and the fact that for many years, in the previous life I rejected any kind of sport outright as a source of entertainment, I have come to enjoy watching rugby matches. I like the thrill of the build-up, the party atmosphere, the banter of the pub-goers, the outrageous costumery of the fans, the ridiculous items for sale, the gladiatorial nature of the conflict as fifteen enormous honed sportsmen pitch up against fifteen of the same, the shattering collisions, the heaving, grunting drive of the scrum and the soaring voices of the crowd as they chant, sing or stomp. And who could fail to be excited when a player breaks away to weave and dodge to the line and score a try?

So with two RWCs under my belt I begin to feel like a seasoned supporter. All the more so, perhaps when you consider that the next Rugby World Cup is to be held in Japan. Now THAT is what I call food for thought…

T-shirts. Casual or Culture?

If you were looking for a barometer of trends in politics, culture, fashion or social status you could do worse than study T-shirts.

Few garments have stood the test of time better. You might say jeans have lasted as long, but apart from altering in shape [from straight to flared and back, for instance], getting a few strategic rips and patches or sequins they don’t vary much.

The previous generation to my own [ie pre-babyboomers] were not T-shirt wearers. My father got up and put on a proper, ironed shirt-collar and all-and unless he was going outside to dig the garden he would add a tie, considering that he was not suitably attired without one. He continued to adhere to this dress code until poor health condemned him to pyjamas.

The T-shirt, according to Wikipedia originated in the 19th century from undergarments worn by factory workers then became a staple for US military personnel before becoming glamorous in its plain, white form pasted on to the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando in the 1950s. Who could not fail to admire the rippling white fabric stretched across young Brando’s chest as he reared over Blanche Dubois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’?

These days T-shirts fall into various categories, sometimes getting adopted as high fashion on a designer’s whim, proclaiming which side of the stadium a fan shows allegiance to, which rock band is beloved by the wearer and which festival tour they’ve attended, being used as a vehicle for showing off a ponsy holiday destination-as in a map of The Galapagos-, or to inform company that the wearer is up for it [eg inscribed with ‘Angel’ or ‘Hot’]. This last is as alluring as driving around with a personalised number-plate such as the ‘I5EXY’ I spotted once and it is tempting to add ‘not’ to it somehow.

There are also the ones that climb on to a droll slogan or idea and overstay so long as to become wearisome, such as ‘Keep Calm and …..’ or pictures depicting the ‘evolution’ of pursuits like cycling.

The best T-shirts are ones that are laugh-out-loud funny, although they only have this capability for the first sighting, like hearing a joke. Husband, whilst holidaying in Tenerife once was much taken by one that read on the front ‘The Older I Get’ and on the back ‘The Better I Was’. A recent favourite of mine was worn by a male passenger climbing on to the bus to Bridgetown, Barbados and read: ‘Six Pack-Coming Soon’.

My own T-shirt wearing is limited to plain colours except that I am guilty of wearing a New Zealand [black with a white tree-fern leaf of course] only when temperatures plummet at night and something extra is needed under the duvet [no-I am not a nightwear fan either!]

World Cup Football-the Agony, the Ecstasy and the Indifference

                There are people who are obsessed by sport. Some spend every moment either playing it or watching it. Then there are those who only want to watch, and many of these are in the champions’ league for slobbing on the couch with takeaway pizza, tubes of Pringles and cans of beer. Myself, I fall into a sort of twilight category, a section of society that flirts with both participating [in a very minor, non-competitive way] and keeping half an eye on international games whilst peeling the potatoes.

                At school I loathed team sports.  I was always frozen on the hockey pitch in winter [I was tiny] or frozen out on the netball court in summer [again, I was tiny]. I liked gymnastics, inside in the warmth of the cavernous gym, and was happy shinning up the ropes or somersaulting around a bar, although never brilliantly enough to catch anyone’s eye or warrant coaching.

                As a teenager I pretended a mild interest in supporting the local football team as a ruse to bump into a boy I’d earmarked for attention. Against all odds this strategy actually worked, which was exhilarating until I found I had to attend the local games on a regular, weekly basis in all kinds of weather clement or not.

                Later there came a period in my life when I and my children’s lives were dominated by football and cricket schedules to the point where outings, celebrations and holidays had to be planned around the fixtures-football in winter and cricket in summer.

                Nowadays I can get behind our national team to some extent, although not to knowing all the players’ names or who they are to play next. At the time of writing this has all become academic as England have just descended down the plughole with a resounding gurgle and the team members might well be packing their suitcases as I type were it not for one last, sad, compensatory game. Then the contest will rumble on without them.

                I suppose winning an international sporting contest does inject a ‘feelgood’ quality into the victorious nation, yet I am one of those who do not experience any strong emotions over my mother country or its sporting triumphs and cannot identify with those who weep openly when their team fails. Whether this is down to my lack of competitive spirit or nationalistic verve I don’t know.

                In my previous life as a proper working person [teacher], my team partner and I once organised a sports day based entirely on non-competitive activities and were roundly criticised for it; the doting parents preferring their little ones to be kicking one another’s shins than achieving their personal bests. The day was memorable in that one of the mums saw fit to grab me round the throat in frustration when I requested that her offspring wait her turn. It all goes to prove that you can’t win ‘em all…and England seem to win less than most…

The Metamorphosis from Hare to Tortoise, and other stories.

                If you consider the multitude of myriad, divers physical activities that can be pursued, from mountain biking to beach volleyball; from skiing to scuba diving, walking does not come across as a very sexy way to get exercise. Although I’ve listened to a riveting radio programme extolling the virtues of a ‘taught’ walking course somewhere in Yorkshire I admit I succumbed to a certain scepticism-after all, it isn’t a very difficult skill to master. Most of us manage it in the first year or two of life.

                Ten years ago I was still in thrall to running, a concept that seems as unlikely to me now as tightrope walking the Grand Canyon, but I did really come to love pounding the pavements, even though I was one of those cross country runners at school who hid behind a bush, waited until the pack returned and tagged along at the back.

                Once I’d got the hang of jogging and could stumble around the block without fainting I began to enjoy the meditative sensation I got. Husband, however pointed out that this did not lead to much progress in the way of faster speed. Apparently you are supposed to concentrate, do a mysterious thing called ‘interval training’ and various other improving activities. I was unconcerned. What I became was a long[ish], slow runner.

                I was not aware of my dependence on loping along in a trance in the evenings and at weekends until increasing decrepitude forced me to hang up my running shoes. It was a blow. I realise that during this transitional period I was about as amenable as a premenstrual rattlesnake, but eventually I came to terms and replaced running with…walking. Of course, it burns fewer calories, it is slow; it is not impressive to one’s friends. As far as I’m aware, there isn’t a ‘walk-keeper’ that you can pop  posts on to Facebook with-‘Grace Lessageing has just completed a 5k walk with Walk-keeper’ doesn’t sound like a remarkable achievement.

                But walking does have its own, modest advantages. Other than a pair of comfortable shoes and a water bottle there is little equipment needed. It can be a means to an end or the purpose itself. Weather is of no consequence. A stop for shopping, tea and cake or beer can be incorporated. A solo walk can now induce that same period of meditation that used to be brought about by a run and is perfect for sparking off loads of little ideas for stories, or working out a difficult chapter of novel, or coming up with another load of drivel for this blog.

                Walking these days is a popular activity, although most walkers are accompanied, either by other walkers or a dog, or both. I enjoy company on a walk but don’t find it indispensable, and much as I like other peoples’ dogs [sometimes] I really don’t want one of my own. So two or three times a week I stride out for the good of mind and body [even if, just once in a while. I do come home on the bus].