The Three Ages

Created on 27/3/2008

William Shakespeare wrote about the seven ages of man. I think there are the three ages of exercise. I am fairly long into the third age but maybe there’s also a fourth age beckoning, when I just think about jumping about and running, rather than doing it.

Mirrors and exercise don’t go together for me. Perhaps they would if you look great in a leotard or other sporting apparel, but you need to be blessed with the ability to perspire and glow at the same time. Most of us just sweat and melt. I was blessed with some ability in sport when I was a boy. That ability and sheer laziness meant I didn’t do or need much exercise to get into the swimming or boxing or football teams. I got into them because I was pretty good, and there were a lot of boys who must have been a bit worse.

I loved sport and still do. I enjoyed being part of a team. It was exhilarating trying to win matches for both the team and myself. Of course it helps if you are part of a good team, but your memory is a strange thing, the matches you won are well remembered, and the ones you lost are now more humorous than annoying. I remember one of the few rugby games I played at full back and seeing their biggest, fastest forward bearing down at me at what seemed like inhuman speed. I immediately realised that there was nothing I could do to halt this leviathan, so I tried to skip about, to avoid this onrushing collection of bone, muscle and gristle. I had to make it appear as if I was constantly hopping about to get in his path, but the opposite was true. However blessed he might have been in the size and strength and speed departments, he was not gifted with good steering, as I went left, he went to his right, and so on, the collision was inevitable. He ran right over me, all I could do was put my despairing hands up to protect my face, as instructed by my loving mother, and, as a consequence, I found myself holding his shorts, which somehow ripped from his body. As I looked over from my prone position on the mud all I could see was his lean and naked ass hurtling over the try line.

In the boxing team I had the good fortune to have been taught some of the noble art my grand father’s friend, Ted Kid Lewis, who was already a very old man at this point. Did I leave out the fact that he had been the World Boxing Champion? Yes, Mister Lewis knew quite a bit about what to do in the boxing ring. I learned just enough to win all but one of my fights. My technique largely rested on the fact that at a young age I was short for my weight and, as a consequence, could fight out of a crouch and was very hard to hit. Every so often I could bop up and bash my opponent in the stomach or on the nose. Ted told me that young boys were likely not to know that a bit of nose blood wasn’t going to kill them, and when hit on the stomach, they might well throw up. Both of these turned out to be accurate and it worked a treat until I had to fight a very tall fellow who simply poked my head off with a stiff and very annoying left jab. Try as I might I couldn’t get anywhere near to him. I reluctantly conceded my previously unblemished record to him always remembering my mother telling me not to let anyone hit me. It seemed like a very good idea to me.

My biggest disappointment came in the swimming pool, where I was at my best. I won all my races but one, and was capable of swimming endlessly up and down the pool at whatever speed my teachers selected for me. I was being groomed for bigger and better things when they told me about what I would need to do to progress to a national level. It involved getting up at dawn and swimming almost every waking hour except for when I attended school. I didn’t do as I was advised, and although I was a very good swimmer, I didn’t go nearly as far as I should have if I would have done the training and exercise.

Then I lived in the States and together with my friend, Dave, formed a Soccer team in the San Fernando Valley in California. We packed that team with celebrities who had in common a more than fair ability to play football. We won almost all the time in showbiz type matches in some blazing heat. For the first time I knew I had to get in some kind of shape just to be able to enjoy the game enough and to keep up with the pace. Now I was in my late twenties and this period would go on for about five years. I didn’t mind doing the exercise as it was aimed at being fit enough to play my beloved team sports.

Time passed and now I was a bit older but perhaps no wiser. I tried to participate in some friendly football matches but began to find that injuries that would have healed in a day or two were now taking a week or two to get better. In fact some of them never seemed to completely recover. My family advised me to seek more gently pursuits. In fact my son, somewhere along this time line, had become a monster sports person, and was now infinitely better than me at all ball games. In fact it was around this time that I walked past a shop window and saw my father staring back at me. I knew almost instantly that it was, in fact, me, but in my head I should have looked like my taller and more athletic son. In fact, when I don’t shave, I imagine that I am going to look like a mean, lean fighting machine, instead of which I look like middle European rabbi.

Now I was getting heavier and less fit, whatever I did to reverse, or even slow the trend. Years passed and I was forced to give up smoking at forty and anything I liked to eat at about the same time. I took up jogging and believe me it was hard, more like a punishment that a pleasure. I have, with the odd gap, managed to keep up some form of exercise most of the time since. O.K. I admit to the odd six months or so when my resolve vanished, particularly in the middle of the cold, damp British winter. But, I am proud to report, I am back at my fifty minutes per day for six days per week. I am proof that you can be both fit and not too thin. Nevertheless all the illnesses that afflicted my late father now loom on my medical horizon also. I lamented my fate with my doctor who said that it was great that I was so fit or I would probably have had a heart attack and died years ago. In a perverse way this cheered me up, but looking at my overweight and unfit doctor I did think life could sometimes be so unkind. I bet he doesn’t get up to do his exercise by the dawn’s early light but I remain determined to be the fittest person in the graveyard even if mirrors do me no favours.