John B Keane: the trouble with trying to exercise

A friend of mine recently visited a doctor and complained that he wasn’t feeling at all well.

A friend of mine recently visited a doctor and complained that he wasn’t feeling at all well.

A thorough examination followed, during which the patient took off his shirt and vest to facilitate trial by stethoscope.

The doctor, as doctors are wont to do, hummed and hawed a good deal to himself, and finally announced that the patient should take up cycling. My friend did so, as instructed, and almost immediately his condition improved. Soon he was back into his old ways, drinking porter and smoking fags.

However, he fell from the bicycle while trying to avoid a car and is at present in hospital nursing a broken ankle. The accident has put him off cycling altogether.

He even went so far as to ask me to buy the bicycle. When I declined, he offered it to me for nothing, but I am not such a fool as to imagine I would survive for long in the saddle if I accepted his generous offer.

Now, my friend and I are faced with a serious problem in respect of exercise. Road walking is out of the question. With present mortality rates soaring, the slack wire is more attractive. Fields have grown soft and mushy and paths are ankle deep in mud.

Woodways are slimy and grummy from the disintegrating corpses of innumerable leaves, and no one knows when one will slip and fracture a hip. The dry stubble field is more is more hazardous than a No Man’s Land. The air is alive with missiles from double barrels and point twenty-twos. The pedestrian’s chances are about the same as the pheasant’s.

What is one to do to restrain the puffing paunch and improve the wind? I envy overcoated men with sticks in their hands who instruct misguided heifers into the ways of the road.

Should I behave to such a fashion there would be little speculation as to my eventual destruction.

I can hear the neighbours now clucking like hatching hens shaking their heads and whispering: “We are not at all surprised. We expected him to crack up sooner or later.”

As I said paths are muddy, and one has to move with extreme caution. For a while I used to flop my arms violently to exercise my back muscles. I would swing them right around courageous arcs and then to the left.

Once I took a square inch of skin from the back of my hand after contact with a thorn bush and another time I almost broke my wrist when it came into contact with a tree-trunk.

However, I persevered, drawing deep whistling draughts of air through my nostrils and ejecting air slowly in text book fashion.

As I say, I persevered until one day a man approached me with a cautious expression on his face. “What do you want?” he asked.

“I’m not with you,” I say. “Would you kindly explain?”

“I’ll explain,” he said. “You’ve been signalling me there for the last 10 minutes and I’ve come a mile to see what was the matter with you.”

“I wasn’t signalling you!” I protested.

“Yes, you were, “ he insisted. “I was up there ploughing away and minding my own business when you started to wave at me.”

He pointed to a distant hillock over a mile away, and there the upturned earth glinted where the plough had furrowed the green surface.

“Sorry!” I said. “I was just doing a few exercises.”

“How did I know?” he pouted, “but it was a stroke you were after getting?”

I apologised and he turned to go, but not without a parting shaft: “Did you ever hear the story of the wolf and the shepherd boy?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered, “but where is the analogy?”

”The shepherd boy,” he explained, “was always crying that the wolf would had come and when the neighbours came, there would be no wolf.

“Finally, the neighbours grew exasperated and when the wolf really came the shepherd boy roared in vain. You’ll be waving in vain some day too, and nobody will come to your aid.”

With that he turned on his heel and unhurriedly departed to resume his ploughing. I suspect he was glad of the distraction, but, on finding that nothing was the matter, grew annoyed and decided to take it out on me.

I didn’t give up the hand waving immediately, not until several cars stopped to find out why I was waving at them.

There seems at the moment to be no way out of the dilemma. At home there isn’t enough room for the type of exercise I so desperately need.

Then, one day when I thought nobody was looking, I decided to have a bit of a run on a deserted stretch of road-way. I did several short sprints and got away with them, as I thought, unnoticed.

That night I met a footballer friend in the street. “I hear you are making a comeback,” he said. “I am told you are training on the quiet.”

I was too flabbergasted to reply.

“Keep it up,” he said. “There’s a vacancy for a corner-forward in the juniors!”