Sunday, 24 April 2016

Fit For Nothing

My daughter recently called time on living in digs.  Washing-up was a challenge due to the sink always piled with others’ mouldy dishes, nobody was interested in a bin rota, stuff went missing, food got eaten, de da de da.  When the mice moved in, Eleanor moved out. So she’s home.
          ‘At least I can get back to pole fitness,’ she declared.  Prodding my soft tummy she said, ‘Why don’t you give it a go?’
          ‘Because I have zero upper body strength.’  After a freak accident with my Dyson vacuum cleaner which landed me in hospital for two operations, upper body strength is compromised, as evidenced by flapping bingo wings.  ‘Anyway,’ I added, ‘I’m fit enough.  I have Molly Muddles to walk.’
          ‘Dog walking doesn’t firm bingo wings. What about doing a yoga class?’
          My ears pricked up.  ‘I can do yoga.  Sign me up!’
          ‘Excellent!’ Eleanor beamed.  ‘I’ll do it with you.’
          I suddenly felt a wave of enthusiasm.  ‘What else do they do?’
          ‘Well, there’s a bouncer-cise class which dove-tails with my pole fitness lesson.  We could travel together.’
          Suddenly Eleanor looked a bit sad.  ‘I was hoping to do bouncer-cise as well.  It would have been fun to do that with you, Mum.’  She looked up at me under her eyelashes.  I was so touched.  My baby!  Happy to hang out with her Mum!  Okay, there was a ploy going on, but thanks to the heart strings tugging it didn’t register.  I pondered for a moment.  ‘Is there, perhaps, a second day of bouncer-cise?’
          Eleanor looked surprised, as if the thought hadn’t occurred to her (she’s a great actress, sometimes I forget she’s a trained performer!).  ‘Yes, there’s another class on Saturday morning.  Do you fancy doing that together?’
          ‘Definitely.  Let’s book it!’
          ‘But, um, wait a minute.  That means you’ll be doing
three fitness classes in one week.  Are you sure you’re up for it?  That’s…ah…quite a lot for someone who thinks a work-out is going for a long dog walk.’
          ‘Don’t be ridiculous.  Of
course I’m up for it.  What’s so difficult about doing a few stretches and bouncing on a trampoline?’
          So the following Tuesday evening, we began yoga.
          ‘Hang on,’ I touched Eleanor’s elbow.  ‘What are those orange things everyone’s getting into?’
          ‘Hammocks,’ Eleanor replied.  ‘Yoga takes place in a hammock.  It’s an anti-gravity class.’
          ‘Oh,’ I frowned, and then shrugged. I presumed the teacher was thoughtful, and that stretching in a hammock was more comfortable than stretching on a hard floor.
          The lesson began.  It was a doddle for…ooh…five minutes.  Then we began
extending ...and far more than anticipated.  As my intestines twanged, the word “hernia” floated through my consciousness.  The instructor told us how to grasp the silk, haul ourselves up, slide backwards, flipping over and hanging upside down.  Extending backwards, my spine creaked ominously and refused to oblige.  I was just about to give up, when the instructor marched over.  Folding me up like an ironing board, I was suddenly dangling feet first from the hammock.  As the blood rushed to my head, I spotted a poster on the studio wall.        If You’re Afraid of Falling You Will Never Fly.
        Yes, I was very afraid of falling.  As my fingers clawed at the fabric, the strain on my upper arms became unbearable.  Within seconds my bingo wings were wobbling like unset jelly.  Moments later the whole hammock was vibrating.  From my upside-down world, my eyeballs flitted left to right.  Everybody else was calm, unaffected by the sound of blood roaring in their ears or feeble arm strength.  Unable to stand it for a moment longer, I disentangled my legs from the hammock and landed in a heap on the floor while everybody else spent the next ten minutes looking like bats doing ballet.  My face flamed with humiliation.  This feeling intensified when, after class, the instructor came over for a word.
          ‘For somebody of your age, you did very well.  It’s not easy starting this sort of thing at your time in life.’
          I know she meant well, but her words intensified my misery.  I had a sudden memory of an eighty-year-old on a Britain’s Got Talent audition doing crazy dancing and being flung around all over the place by her dance partner.  If an eighty-year-old could contort, I’d be damned if a fifty-something couldn’t too.  I left the studio feeling upset but determined to do better next time.  As for the class being “gentle”, my body begged to differ.  Forty-eight hours later I could hardly walk, which was a nuisance because that was the day of the next fitness class.  Bouncer-cise.
          As I hobbled into the studio and selected a trampoline, music began to blare.  I told myself this class would be easier than anti-gravity yoga.  The anticipation at the start of class was a bit like the Grand National.  One minute everybody was packed together on their trampolines, springs creaking as arms and legs jostled for aerobic space, the next we were off!  It was clear that everybody else had done this class before.  Bums out, tums in, squatting into each jump, I hadn’t a clue how to master the stance. I continually bounced high into the air, choreography completely out of sync and musically out of time. As everybody settled into dance-like routines lifting legs and punching the air, I was yo-yoing up and down desperately trying not to spring off and crash into my fitness neighbours.  I won’t lie.  I went home and cried.  My daughter caught me snivelling.
          ‘What’s up, Mum?’
          ‘What’s up?’ I shrieked, reaching for a man-size Kleenex to trumpet into.  ‘I’ll tell you what’s up!’  The dog, a sucker for toilet paper and tissues, promptly snatched the Kleenex off me and shredded it to pieces.  ‘Argh,’ I yelled, ‘I can’t even blow my chuffing nose!’
          ‘Here.’ Eleanor calmly handed me another tissue.  ‘Why are you crying?’
          ‘Do you know,’ I hissed, overcome with sudden fury, ‘In my lifetime I’ve done ballet for fifteen years, Ceroc for two, and dabbled with Salsa.  But for some reason I CAN’T BOUNCE IN TIME TO MUSIC ON A TRAMPOLINE.’ Nothing like feeling sorry for yourself, eh?
          ‘Hmm. All that dancing was rather a long time ago, Mum.’
          ‘And don’t I chuffing well know it!’ I fumed.  ‘I feel like a has-been.  A failure.  An idiot.  I can’t believe my body won’t do what I want it to do.’
          ‘It takes practice.  That’s all.  It will get better.  You’ll see.’
          At that moment, somehow our roles had reversed.  My daughter, the mother. I, the child.  But Eleanor was right.  A month later, it’s a bit better.  No, I still can’t do everything everybody else is doing in the anti-gravity yoga class, but I will eventually.  Why?  Because my upper body strength is improving.  I know this for a fact because my bingo wings have disappeared, and I’ve mastered the stance on the trampoline so can now bounce in time to the music.  I’ve even had the ego-boosting experience of keeping going whilst a sweat-drenched twenty-year-old, after just ten minutes, sulkily declared she couldn’t do another second.
          So for anybody starting out in the pursuit of ‘fitness’, my humble advice is: Do not to give up.  Keep at it, and maybe I’ll even see you there!  Which reminds me.
          Person at gym:     Can you teach me to do the splits?
          Gym instructor:    How flexible are you?
          Person at gym:     I can’t make Thursdays...

Sunday, 10 April 2016

For Duck's Sake

When we moved to our Forever Home last Christmas, I was delighted to find the surrounding countryside also had a beautiful duck pond.  It was privately owned, as were the birds paddling around on the water’s surface.  One morning, whilst walking Molly Muddles, I saw an elderly lady throwing grain at the ducks. We started chatting and it transpired she was the owner of the pond.  She’d bought the three beautiful white birds as ducklings from a County show the previous summer.
          ‘What are their names?’ I asked.
          ‘Oh, no names,’ she shook her head and smiled. ‘I don’t want to get too attached to them in case the foxes get them.  I shouldn’t have bought them really, but as ducklings I just couldn’t resist.  They were so gorgeous.  I’ve made the pond as secure as possible.’  She nodded at the mesh fencing surrounding the bank, and a duck house on stilts in the centre well away from the water’s edge and any sly prowling fox.  ‘I can only hope no harm will ever come to them.’
          Sadly, a month after that conversation, two ducks disappeared overnight.  However, village gossip was that no fox had visited, but instead a two-legged thief.
          ‘Why didn’t the thief take all three ducks?’ I asked a fellow dog walker.
          ‘Probably because he didn’t have three arms.’
          Ask a silly question and I suppose you get a silly answer!

          The sole remaining duck looked very lonely as she swam around on the pond all by herself.  Every morning I’d walk past the pond and – as nobody was around – stop and talk to her.
          ‘Hello, Jemima.’  Yes, I named her.  Jemima Puddleduck.  Couldn’t be anything else really, eh!  ‘How are you?’  Molly would plant her feet on the fence and greet the duck, who would swim over, waddle up the bank, and honk several greetings.  This became a pattern.  I raised eyebrows once when I forgot myself whilst with another dog walker and yelled out, ‘Hello, Jemima!’
          ‘Who’s Jemima?’ asked my companion, which left me feeling rather foolish.
          About a week or so later, Jemima perked up.  Two moorhens were swimming around on the pond.  Mr and Mrs Moorhen were quite happy to exchange pleasantries with Jemima as they got down to the serious business of nest building in the rushes.
          Friday morning was like no other.  I passed Jemima busily diving, her fat feathered bottom up in the air, neck well under the water line as she dived for…well, whatever ducks like to dive for.  She was so busy she didn’t stop to greet me.  Smiling, I set off across the fields.
          I’m a bit myopic.  On the horizon a flash of something moving was flitting in and out of my vision.  I paused to stare, hesitating whether to let Molly Muddles off the leash.  Was it a hare?  Yes…no…yes…not sure.  I carried on walking with my pooch firmly on the leash.  Then I spotted the streak again, this time dipping over a hill.  That was no hare – it was a fox!
          Molly was already straining at the leash and yapping excitedly.  ‘Let me chase it, please let me chase it.’
          ‘No.  Come on.  This way.’  And off we set.  Over the hills and far away in a completely different direction.
          On the route home, I walked past the pond.  And abruptly stopped.  Where was Jemima?  My eyes flicked from side to side.  Nope, she wasn’t huddled anywhere along the bank.  Or in the duck house.  Or…wait…what was that movement in the rushes?  I walked round to far side of the pond but couldn’t see anything.  There was another very small movement, and then Mrs Moorhen peered over some greenery.  She was on her nest, one beady eye anxiously watching me watching her.  And in that moment I realised Mr Fox had taken Jemima.
          To say I was upset was an understatement.  My sister wasn’t very sympathetic.  ‘You live in the countryside.  Stuff happens.  Get over it.’
          Frustrated and furious, I silently wished Mr Fox a very bad case of indigestion. However, much to my surprise and joy, Jemima was back on the pond the following morning.  Where did she go?  I haven’t a clue.  Either this was the second resurrection or Jemima managed to outwit the fox.  But one thing is for sure – I’m chuffed to bits.  Which reminds me.
          What do you call a clever duck?  A wise quacker…