Man Multiplied by Machine

In the first of a mini-series about cycling, theshit50s talks bikes and better mental health

Original images: Richard Reid and Clker Free Vector Images/Pixabay

RIDING MY BIKE is keeping me sane at the moment.

We’ve been going out several times a week lately – my bike and I. Usually early in the morning, before the winds get up, and in gaps between the rain showers that are making this second lockdown Spring tooth-grindingly disappointing.

Often, when we start off, I’m not feeling very strong – either mentally, or physically.

I’ll be anxious, or hungover, or both. But I go, anyway, because I know that 30 or 40 kilometres of riding will reset me in a way that a night’s sleep often can’t. I’ve learned that simply focusing on the road, and climbing a few stiff-ish hills, will settle me down enough to handle the day.

What also helps is that the bike feels kind. Cycling is much more forgiving exercise than running, which was always my go-to anxiety cure until recently. 

But, now I’m struggling with injury and my overall fitness, running doesn’t flow for me like it used to.

The broadcaster Max Rushden wrote a column about jogging recently that described exactly how jerky and laboured my own running style has become: “less fluid movement, more a set of individual competed actions. Land. Stop. Lift leg. Stop. Repeat.”

But I don’t have this problem when I’m cycling: instead of having to fight my body when I run, the bike co-operates with me.

When I’m not strong, the efficiency of my bike is sweet relief”

Continue reading “Man Multiplied by Machine”


I think I’m lazy and useless – but my Fitbit says I’m not

I’VE BEEN STRUGGLING to like myself of late.

The pandemic is putting its tightest-ever squeeze on my mental health right now, even though most of the newspaper talk is about the good times supposedly just around the corner.

My current wobble is because the world has slowed down so much, particularly in the economic sphere.

In hindsight, March 2020 probably wasn’t the ideal time to launch a freelance career in the UK and – though I muddled along for the first six months – work seems to have ground to a halt recently.

But I just don’t know where the blame lies: is it the pandemic, or is it me?

This uncertainty, and the loss of role and income, are all difficult for me to cope with. I find myself snapping more, fretting more, and telling myself what a failure I am more.

I say to myself that I’m floundering because I’m lazy and useless, and then my self-flagellation spills out into other areas of my life.

Suddenly, I’m not happy with the way I look, or behave. Or the way I eat and drink, and skimp on exercise.  

But then I stumbled upon the truth – on my Fitbit, of all places.

Continue reading “Hyperactive”

My Sobriety Mini-Break

Just eight days of not drinking reset my life and thinking

I WAS GOING TO WRITE about having a month off alcohol but, in the end, I only managed eight days.

Eight days! Most of us have had longer holidays than that, so it wasn’t exactly a life-altering change, was it?

Perhaps I’ll call it a holiday from drinking, instead? A sobriety mini-break? 

Continue reading “My Sobriety Mini-Break”

Make Room for the ‘shrooms!

Just when I was about to give up on Happy, along comes a radical new treatment for depression

Original image: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

I COULD BE A POSTER BOY for the term Treatment Resistant Depression.

When I was 21, and first saw a psychotherapist, I had the rather sweet and naïve belief that I would get ‘better’ soon.

And by ‘better’, I guess I meant happier – with myself, with my relationships, with my past, present and future.  

Now I’m 55, I’m content with many aspects of life – I married a woman with a heart of gold, and have got just a bit wiser over the years – but I haven’t left my depression behind.

Just the other week, I was trying to get to grips with feeling down again, and decided to do some journaling.

I found myself drawing a bubble with the words ‘Hate Myself’ in the middle of the page, and 11 – eleven! – arrows radiating around it, detailing exactly what I disliked about me.

So, no, I wouldn’t say I was as happy as I’d hoped to be at 21.  

Continue reading “Make Room for the ‘shrooms!”

Working (out) for The Man

Why should we exercise? Because we want to, or because we’re told to?

WHEN I SET OFF on my last run, I got an instant reminder of why I exercise.

I’d been feeling stressed but, once I’d gone a hundred metres, I just couldn’t hold the tensions in any more.

The work my arms and legs were doing forced my lungs to take in deep, long, breaths – instead of the jittery little swallows of air I’d been subsisting on all day.

Once I gave in, and stopped fighting to control my breathing, I felt my worries float away.

I felt free – but am I, really?

Continue reading “Working (out) for The Man”

This is it!

From feeling like a Baked Alaska to touching crisp, sun-warmed towels, this is the time of year I love most

SNOW STOPPED PLAY in our supposed summer game here on Monday. But, overall, the signs are that Spring is getting 2021 in a headlock at last.

Yesterday, I was out running in warm sunshine, wearing my shorts – alternately horrifying and dazzling passers-by as bright light bounced back off my veiny old white legs.*

Afterwards, I walked up to our allotment and watered for the first time this year.

My wife’s been working on the plot for months as an escape from lockdown, and it’s looking in particularly fine fettle as a result.

We look like getting a bumper crop of strawberries, while the patches containing onions, garlic and raspberries are all weeded, composted and ready to grow. Purple Sprouting Broccoli is already… um, sprouting. Wildly.

At home, Her Indoors is already potting and hardening off** the next tranche of plants – summery crops, ready to go into the ground when it warms up a bit more. Greedily, I gaze at these infant leeks, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and artichokes, and their promise of eagerly-anticipated High Summer.

Gardening is a show of faith that there will be something to look forward to”

One of the great psychological benefits of gardening, of growing things, is that it’s a kind of pact with the future. What I mean is, planning a garden – leaving stuff in the ground, and trusting it to grow – is a show of faith that there will be something to look forward to further down the line, which in turn makes you want to be there to see and taste it.

Continue reading “This is it!”

A New Complexion On 50-Something

Why is an outbreak of spots threatening to ruin my whole life?

George Washington on Mount Rushmore with added red spots
Original images by: no longer here and 3282700/Pixabay

MY FACE HAS BEEN A MESS for a year now.

For a long time, I’ve been getting what I call ‘sweat spots’, which seem to flare up every time I exercise.

I’m the world’s sweatiest man, and having a face regularly covered in dirt and salt for hours is probably not the world’s greatest skincare regimen.

But the spots got much worse around the time of Lockdown 1: nowadays, the left-hand side of my Boat Race is in a state of almost constant eruption, and I’m sporting the sort of crags and scabs that went out of fashion when they finished Mount Rushmore. 

I don’t think it’s lockdown-related, but being in lockdown means I haven’t wanted to bother my doctor too much. Not with – you know – everything else that’s going on.

About six months ago, I did get fed up enough to send the surgery a picture of the damage, from which my GP diagnosed shingles, and prescribed me antibiotics.

These worked for about a week, but then the red, rashy, sore-y, scabby stuff roared back with a vengeance, and took up almost permanent residence on my upper left cheek and nose.  

And so, I’m back to Square One. I had terrible spots when I was a teenager, and I thought I’d more than done my fair share of wearing a Pizza Face.

But what makes it worse is that, at the age of 55, I don’t even have nice hair and a flat stomach to make up for it. Fucked off is not the word(s).

Continue reading “A New Complexion On 50-Something”

One Year, One Place, Two Minds

We’ve been at home, oscillating between hope and fear, for a year. But we still don’t know if the world will emerge from Covid-19 a better place.

Image: Victoria Borodinova/Pixabay

THERE’S A GUY I KNOW, once sort of a friend, who then grew really to dislike me.

It wasn’t as if I loved him, either: he was a call-a-spade-a-spade sort of person, and could be blunt and insensitive. But it still hurt me when – abruptly – he decided that I was a wrong ’un.   

A few years ago, I heard that the same bloke had suffered a serious – and surprising – bout of depression. Word had it that he’d been signed off work for weeks after telling his doctor: “I just can’t get out of bed.”   

Having suffered with the condition for much of my life, I’d never have wished depression upon him, however much we disliked one another.

But, at the same time, I wanted him to learn something from it.

Now he knew what depression was like, maybe he’d be a bit humbler? Perhaps a little more understanding about what people like me went through?

In other words, I hoped he’d come out of his dark place somehow better.

But it never happened: this bloke recovered, he went back to work and normal life, and the next time I bumped into him, he was spectacularly hurtful and rude. In other words, just the same boorish prick he’d always been.

So why am I telling this story? Because, when I think about the post-Covid world, I worry that it’ll be like my former friend after his ordeal: just the same…

Continue reading “One Year, One Place, Two Minds”

Hard Times, Soft Fascinations

After a year ruined by Covid, nature can restore my faith in better times

THIS WEEK, THE UK marked a year of living with Covid-19, and I marked it by having a wobble.

I mean, it’s hardly an anniversary to celebrate, is it? One hundred and twenty-six thousand dead. Fear and uncertainty still rife, and the prospect of spending still more months in limbo, home alone.

Back in the day, the four of us went out to Clap For Carers every Thursday, but on Tuesday no-one felt much like standing on our doorstep, ‘reflecting’ on a terrible year and shining a frigging light.

To be frank, we don’t want any more gestures: we just want it all to be over.

Continue reading “Hard Times, Soft Fascinations”

Life After Covid – Like Adding Just A Pinch Of Spice

Are you stressed out about going back to normal, post lockdown? Let’s think of some positives…

“Chill, Kieron, we’ll do you a song after lockdown.”


By the time I woke up, the kids were just starting to trickle into the school down our road, and I felt guilty that the teachers were already at work while I was still in my PJs.

But then I told myself that I shouldn’t be feeling that way, because being able to sleep more has been one of the major pluses of my pandemic.

If you’re a currently-working-from-home type, not having to get up in the dark and commute, and having more control of your life and routines, has been a real boon – even if there’s a worrying lack of actual work for me out there, due to the same pandemic.

As a writer, it’s been pleasant to think up interview questions in bed, have ideas while you do your stretching exercises – although you tend to lose count of how many you’ve done – and write articles in your Piggy Jimjams, as I’m doing right now.*

And, anyway, we’ll all have to get our heads around returning to normal soon, so we might as well enjoy it while we can.  

Continue reading “Life After Covid – Like Adding Just A Pinch Of Spice”