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?

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This is it!

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

IT BLOODY SNOWED 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.

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You Only Ride Twice

Finding it hard to sleep? Imagine being back on your bike…

Original image: Rudy and Peter Skitterians/Pixabay

SINCE I TURNED 40, and started getting up at least once a night to visit the bathroom, I’ve found it increasingly tough to get back to sleep in the small hours.

As well as my glitchy personal plumbing, work and life stresses gradually helped me to perfect the art of waking up at about 4am, and then failing to drop off again.

Typically, I’d spend a couple of hours a night lying awake with my worst, most useless, thoughts – about someone horrible at work, for example, or being mean to an ex-girlfriend 20 years before.

And then, when I finally gave up on the prospect of sleep at around 6.30, I’d get up to start another day – gloomy and totally keyed up, as well as just fucking tired.

Lately, however, I’ve stumbled upon an unexpected solution to my insomnia. 

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Give Us Hills, Not Pills

If you’re feeling blue, you could do worse than get on a bike

Original image: Keith Johnson/Pixabay

I FELT that I had to cycle yesterday morning: even though I was tired from riding the day before, and my bad knee was sore. Even though it was 9.30am on Monday and I ought to be working.

I was feeling moderately bad, mentally. The excitement of my birthday week and the weekend that followed it had dissipated and left me with a bad case of the Monday blues.

There’s something about the mess of a Monday – Sunday’s unwashed dishes, the pile of washing in the basket, unread emails piling up in my inbox all weekend – that unmans me, and makes me want to run away from my life.

I caught myself ruminating that maybe now that I’d reached 55, I should stop there and end it all because I’d reached the end of my usefulness. I thought about how my brother and I don’t talk and how it was probably my fault…

Then, just after I set off, I saw a pensioner and told myself: “You live like a pensioner. You don’t have the energy or the discipline to live a full life. All you’re fit for is staying at home and pottering around until you die.”

As I said, I wasn’t having a great day. But the longer I cycled, the more forgiving of myself I became.

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Biking Saves The Big Day

I spent my birthday cycling across London in the rain, so I could cycle up a hill in the rain

IN THIS CORONAVIRUS year, I’m particularly ticked off with my parents for giving me a November birthday.

Trying to party in November is as daunting as entertaining young children in the dreaded February half term: for starters, the days are short and dark, and everybody’s mildly depressed from lack of Vitamin D.

It’s cold and wet, the leaves are off the trees and slushing up the pavements, and no-one can bear it outside for long. So, unless you want to hunker down for hours in a pricey café, or brave the insane crowds at the free museums and art galleries, you’re fucked. 

But at least in February, we have the option of paying through the nose for our fun. This lockdown November – with no pubs or restaurants, cinemas or museums, shops or art galleries to celebrate in – I began to worry that it might be my worst birthday ever. 

Back in the day, we would have got by very nicely on smoked salmon, bagels, fizzy wine and a day spent entirely in bed. But I’m 55 now, not 25 and – anyway – the kids are here, working from home.

So I threw my leg over the bike, instead. I spent my birthday riding across London in the rain, so I could ride up a hill in the rain.

And it was brilliant.

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Riding It Out

As I approach a dreaded birthday in lockdown, my bike has become my only solace

I’m turning 55 this week, which seems like a terrible birthday.

In marketing terms, I’ll no longer belong in the company of anyone who’s still in their early 50s, and I’m dead to hip young 45-year-olds. 

Also according to the people who sell us things, I’m now likely to think, buy and do the same stuff as someone who’s 64.

By my own reckoning, turning 55 means that I truly am moving from middle age to old age – but without the wisdom and perspective to appreciate getting older.

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Full Of Sap, Short Of Maps

I prepared badly for my first big cycle ride of the year – but as I get older, I’ve learned to grit my teeth and improvise

A map with possible cycle routes to East Anglia
Original map image: NordNordWest/Lukasb1992/Ottobdn via Wikimedia Commons

AS THE SONG so eloquently puts it, it’s been a long cold lonely winter, little darling.

But, lately, the Springtime has got to work on this old-enough-to-know-better body.

Outside, The Sap was beginning to rise and it was pleasant, at my age, to realise that I was still capable of stirring in response.

It was March already, and the wind and the rain had stopped for a bit: time to dust off my bike gear and get out there.

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I Want To Ride My Bicycle; I Want To Ride It Where I Like

The Government is eyeing up my beloved cycling as the cure to London’s traffic gridlock – let’s hope they don’t suck all the joy out of riding a bike.  

Hundreds of city cyclists
Will we still able to have fun on a bike when everybody is on two wheels?

ALL OF A SUDDEN, it seems we can’t get enough of cycling…

Yesterday, for example, The Government announced a £5 billion fund to improve UK bus and bike infrastructure over the next five years.

The day before, our local council released a plan to improve the hairy A-road passing through our bit of London – including high quality segregated cycle lanes and prioritised signals for bikes.

The Guardian also wrote about London grinding to a halt despite a big drop in car journeys since the Congestion Charge – and wondered whether bikes could be the answer.

As someone who’s been cycling for years, it’s nice to be on the right side of change, for a change.

But, at the same time, I’m a bit worried that the powers-that-be might bugger cycling up – or at least spoil it for those of us who’ve been doing it for years.

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I’m An Old Dog, But I’ve Got Some New Tricks

If I can learn to fix two busted tyres in one morning, I’m not too old to fix my life

A bike wheel and inner tube

I’VE BEEN FEELING LOW over the last week or two.
 
In my sessions with the psychologist, I’ve spent a lot of time crying, going on (Boo hoo!) about how washed up and useless I am and how I don’t contribute anything.
 
Although – if I can manage to look at my situation objectively – things are actually slightly better than they were this time last year, I still spend a lot of my time beating myself up.
 
Despite making better decisions these days, and making some progress towards the things I want to do, I find that I’m still derailed very easily by any setback, no matter how small.
 
Yesterday, I had technical problems with launching this blog and, after a brief period of angry struggle, gave up trying to fix them.
 
I knocked off work early and stewed, decided that I needed a couple of beers to cheer myself up and – inevitably, since this is me we’re talking about – woke up this morning feeling there was no point in doing anything whatsoever. 

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The Long Road To Forgiving My Father

I took a long, hard bike ride at the weekend, hoping to learn something about my dead father. In the end, I found out something unexpected about me and my own children.

A path through countryside

MY DAD committed suicide almost a quarter of a century ago, and yet I am still in a relationship with him. 

He still makes me angry, because – before he asphyxiated himself with his car exhaust – he left my brother a loving note and chose not to write to me.

He still makes me insecure, because he obviously didn’t like me much.

And this rage and self-doubt he left me with combine – still – to put me in preposterous competition with a man who has been in the ground almost 25 years. 

I want to beat him by living longer (tick); by being a better Dad (tick?) and by beating my own depression (tick, sort of). 

And at the weekend, I was going to be better than him on the bike. 

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