Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Making a friend

Back in the old days when I smoked, I used to tear off the end of the cigarettes in order to get my full-scale nicotine hit faster. It was no use dragging in a breath when they were full-length – the smoke would dissipate to almost nothing by the time it reached my lips.

Although I laboriously pointed out the perfectly acceptable explanation for me doing so every time I was asked, people around me (usually also smoking) still used to give me funny looks. Of course, I could have fallen into step and smoked the damn things whole, but I’m stubborn and I would also miss out on the enormous dizzy relaxation of the first puff after long hours of abstention. Mm. Those are the memories that almost get me lighting up again.

One year, I decided to give up smoking and unlike every other time I’d made that decision, something tipped the balance. I’d noticed on hot days that breathing didn’t come as easily as it used to. Sometimes I’d draw in a deep breath and feel the same as I did when I exhaled.

At the time, the government had just introduced foul pictures onto every packet of cigarettes and every sachet of rolling tobacco. You probably know the ones: diseased lungs, lumpen hearts, mouths teeming with cancer where teeth used to grow.

It was all rather disgusting to look at but it didn’t scare me at all. As for dying of lung cancer, well. You gotta die of something, right?

What finally tipped the balance for me was the realisation that I mightn’t die of those things at all. Instead, I might have to live alongside them, fostering a disease that sapped away the last of my pleasure but offered no respite in return.

Dying of lung disease didn’t cut it. Spending my life living in and out of the respiratory ward of the hospital did.

Anyhow, a few years after I quit cold turkey and tried not to look back, I stumbled into a colleague who snapped the ends of her cigarettes off before she smoked them. Every single time. When she saw me looking at them, stunned, she began to enlighten me as to the reason. A reason I recited along with her, almost word for word.

Years too late for it to matter, I’d found a friend who understood one of my bizarre habits and had independently adopted it as their own. If I’d discovered her companionship earlier, I might have held out through a few more seasons of struggling breathing before finally giving in and giving up.

I was reminded of this the other day, after my darling had ordered his dessert at a restaurant. I haven’t noticed it for years, but whenever he orders pudding he always stresses (sometimes more emphatically than might strictly be required) that his slice of chocolate brownie (or mousse, or ice-cream, or creme brulee) is to arrive in front of him HAVING NEVER TOUCHED ANY FRUIT, EVER!!! The menu might be foolish enough to wave the words berry and compote under his nose, but he’s not to be swayed by such depravity. My darling orders dessert for the cream and sugar rush, not for “nature’s candy.”

As I said, I barely notice these exchanges anymore. Certainly, they don’t stand out as much as the ones where he orders a bottled beer and then waits until the hapless server is standing beside the table before mentioning that he’d like it in a glass.

The habit, though, is one that has solely belonged to him and no one else. I might gather up my courage occasionally to say, “don’t worry about the salad.” More often, I’ll just poke it with a fork to make it look like I tried to eat the foliage that some madman tipped onto my plate. Other than that, I order what is on the menu and don’t quibble about the presentation or the contents. Some people have even been known to roll their eyes when my darling begins his anti-fruit tirade.

But the other night, close to his birthday which makes it all seem more fitting, he ordered his usual dessert sans compote. A few minutes later, dessert delivered and mostly eaten, the woman sitting at the table beside us ordered her pudding exactly the same.

Nothing red on my plate, you hear me. Nothing!

If I hadn’t been sitting there, and her husband hadn’t been holding her hand, then it’s possibly my darling and this strange woman may have ridden off into the sunset. At least, until he ordered a bottle of beer.

Monday, 8 May 2017

A plea to my body to do something fun.

Today my left elbow started to send shooting pains up toward my wrist, followed shortly afterward by numbness and tingling. I shook it back to life, got back to work, then half an hour later it did the same thing again.

This got me to thinking, partly because I've got a word count to reach today, so obviously I follow up any possible excuse for procrastination, but also because it seems there was a tipping point back in my early thirties when my body turned on me.

I'm not saying that up until that point, everything was plain sailing. There were headaches, hangovers, shortsightedness, along with a myriad of colds.

But they were insults to my general health that were short-lived. Wait a few days or a week and I'd be back to normal (well, apart from my eyesight). Nowadays, every time I get even the smallest twinge, it's an indicator of chronic pain.

There's nothing overtly bad or wrong, and I'm well aware there are screeds of people with horrible things going on who would be envious of my situation, but all these little aches and pains do wear away at my ease of living. And, when all's said and done, that's my prime objective in life. Ease. Comfort. Maybe a brilliantly angry outburst followed by a peaceful spell of happiness. A nice ray of sunshine that I can bask in for a minute before I close the curtain because it's shining right on my computer screen.

My body, which used to do all sorts of marvelous things, has become an impediment rather than an asset. I don't intend to relinquish it any time soon, trust me on that, but wouldn't it be nice to wake up one morning and actually have something feel better?

I seem to recall a time in Intermediate School where my body spent an entire year growing breasts.


So, I don't think it's too much to ask. Body, would you please do something fun again, like that?

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Treadmill of Death

For the last few months, I’ve been writing like a demon as part of the Phoenix Prime group to put together a body of work to pummel PhD students into submission with. In many ways this is working, in sheer volume if not in sales volume, but it’s meant that for a very long time my arse has been in contact with my couch.

Back when I had a day job (oh, regular paycheque, I miss you so) I may not have been the fittest member of the office but I did have to walk farther to my work than five metres down the hall. During the day, the copious volume of things I printed didn’t collect themselves off the printer. No. Sometimes I had to yell at a colleague to go and fetch them and other times I’d get up off my chair and walk.

Lunch was a flight of stairs away, as were any Coke refills. Coffee was kept in the kitchenette and on occasion I’d even sacrifice my comfort to the exercise gods and walk all the way home.

During a standard day, I could expect to take anywhere between 3000 to 13000 steps. Leaning toward the former but I’m sure if I dug deep into my Samsung Gear Fit 2’s memory there’d be a few days of excess here and there.

Now, having a shower is the most exercise I get, apart from Thursday, when I wheel bins down to the gate, and Fridays, when I wheel them back again. Even hanging the washing out doesn’t take long and the extra ten metres out to the washing line probably isn’t going to strip any creamy yellow fat off the layers gathering around my heart.

Last night, as I was falling asleep in bed, I suddenly made a resolution. No more! I was going to get fit. I was going to *gasp* USE THE TREADMILL.

Before you start worrying that I’ve lost my mind, I’d like to reassure you that in no way did I intend to become a gym bunny. Not even a home gym bunny. I was, however, going to science myself into a slightly better state of wellbeing than I’ve so far enjoyed this year.

My memory ruthlessly cuts anything that it considers extraneous information these days. Things like current events, the times of my next meeting, or the names of friends and relatives. Snip. Gone.

It does still have a vested instinct for self-preservation, though, so it helpfully retained a vague outline of an exercise plan put forth by Michael Mosley in which a person only needs to exercise for three minutes or so a week to improve their health profile.

I have three minutes. I am the perfect subject.

I dusted off my treadmill, after also removing the various books, items of clothing, and aluminium bars (???) that had found their way on top of it. Once revealed, it looked in pretty good nick. Possibly because I take good care of my things. More probably because I’ve hardly ever turned it on.

Although it gave a little bit of a groan to start with, it soon got back into the routine. The routine consists of me standing on it, frowning at the instructions and pushing randomly at buttons until something starts to move.

Now, this three minutes of exercise per week isn’t just a random, freestyle, do it until it hurts type of deal. It’s science, people. I had to time things. And set things up. After a warmup of just a minute, I had to put my treadmill on the steepest incline and crank it up to the highest speed.

In theory, 20 seconds x 3 sessions = 1 minute. Perform that activity three times a week and you’re golden for only three minutes of lost time. In practice there’s more to it. The fine print, if you will. I had to warm up for 60 seconds, wait for another 5 for my treadmill to actually incline and speed up and then…


The first 20 second session was all a bit of a blur. For a start, time ceases to mean anything when you’re exercising. Like the TARDIS, it’s longer on the inside. I guess I made it through and out the other side, though. Certainly, the room came back into focus and I remembered how to breathe.

In the second session, I had no trouble remembering to breathe. Gasping for breath actually seemed to occupy me even more than the moving of my legs. I possibly should have called a halt to the whole endeavour then, but I’m not a quitter.

Or, I’m not a quitter ANYMORE, I should say.

Last time for the ramp up and I struggled through the next twenty seconds like I’d struggled through the last six months of high school. Desperate, unhappy, and grateful that it wouldn’t need to be repeated.

It’s hard to explain the satisfaction that comes after a good, thorough, one minute exercise session. It’s especially hard when you’re choking for breath in between coughing bouts and swallowing tall glasses of cold water to quench the fire burning in your lungs.

The good news is that, twelve hours later, I’ve mostly stopped coughing. The bad news? My second run through the torture chamber is only 36 hours away.

If nobody hears from me, please tell my darling to check for my corpse in the front room.