I Sink, Therefore I Am
For many years, I’ve been aware that Other People did a thing called ‘exercise’. They went for ‘runs’, they visited a ‘gym’, or they did ‘yoga’. Furthermore, they often talked about this stuff with the particular degree of enthusiasm that I generally reserve for my duvet or a nice Sauvignon Blanc. Uncomprehending, I would listen to their tales of running ten miles in the snow, of entering marathons, of how much better they feel since doing twelve hours of Pilates every week, and I would smile sadly and wonder how they could bear to waste their lives like that when there were so many great books to read.
And then I had a Big Birthday, and did some running myself. Specifically, I ran smack into the wall of Middle Aged Spread. Not headfirst, obviously, because I was cushioned by a protruding layer of abdominal fat that enabled me comfortably to avoid a broken nose. But still. I couldn’t walk up the two flights of steep Victorian stairs to work any more without needing a lie down and a punkawallah when I got to the top. I told myself I would definitely need to get around to addressing my woeful lack of fitness, just as soon as I finished this birthday cake.
At the same time, Mr SB, being of a similarly indolent disposition and with the same fondness for carbohydrates, was becoming increasingly troubled by aching joints and a spreading waistline. We had a lot of conversations that went like this:
“We really should do some exercise.”
“And go on a diet.”
“We’d feel a lot better for it.”
“Yes. We should do that, then.”
“Do you want some more wine?”
And then we carried on watching the TV.
But one day a couple of months ago, Mr SB took the plunge, and went swimming. Swimming, let’s be honest, was the absolute last thing on my mental list of ‘Things I Could Do To Be Fitter And Smaller’. I come from a family of non-swimmers. When I was a kid, my family’s liking for swimming as a leisure activity was on a par with its liking for do-it-yourself appendectomies and getting arrested. Which is to say, for clarity’s sake, that we never did it. Granted, I had some lessons, but only to the point where I could just about manage a doggy-paddle without armbands. From the age of seven to the age of never-you-mind, I developed a phobia of any body of water deeper than I am tall. My deficiencies in the vertical growth department meant that this effectively excluded me from anything deeper than a medium-sized puddle.
When Mr SB returned, triumphant, from his first visit to the pool, he announced that it Did Not Have A Deep End. Furthermore, it had Two Jacuzzis. I was forced to look up, startled, from my bag of doughnuts, and to consider the possibility that maybe I should give it a try after all. So, the next time, I went with him. And I put a swimsuit on. And I got in the water.
And I instantly became one of those women. You know the ones. The ones who only get wet from their shoulders down, and swim around in pairs at the speed of evolution, holding their heads up like periscopes and getting in everyone’s way. And I hated it. Not because I was scared – after all, I could put my feet on the bottom wherever I was! – but because it caused me actual, physical pain. My neck felt like someone was tenderising it.
Now, you may not know this about me, but some people say I’m stubborn, and this, I have to concede, was a case in point. I decided that, rather than give up the swimming, I would have to get better at it. (If there’s one thing I absolutely hate, it’s that feeling of not being able to do something as well as somebody else can*.) So I bought some goggles, and persevered. It may not seem like much of an achievement, but I am now swimming with my face properly under the water, and not feeling like quite such a hindrance to everyone else. The last time I went, I swam a quarter of a mile. Esther Williams I ain’t, but it’s genuinely nice to feel that I’ve conquered a fear.
Now, about these spiders…
*I gave up writing this blog for a year. You may draw your own conclusions.