Tuesday 8 January 2008

A memory of cunning lingers

The official start of the Great Weight Loss Challenge with yesterday’s columnist Tom Gutteridge places me at a significant disadvantage; I’ve already lost 8lbs since Boxing Day. Putting me in the same sort of position as a jockey whose horse has run crazily around the Grand National circuit before the race even began, and is now leaning against the starting post trying to catch its breath.

In case you are interested in my secret, it’s very simple. (1) Stuff yourself with every sort of high calorie food and drink for a fortnight. (2) Stop doing that, and watch your weight revert to where it was before you started. The real challenge starts now, as I seek to tip the scales at less than 15 stone for the first time since 1997.

Although I am perhaps the world’s least competitive male, I’m hoping that a bit of rivalry will provide an appropriate incentive. Hitherto I’ve chiefly been influenced by a faint desire to make myself less unattractive to the opposite sex; but, since I concluded more than 20 years ago that the sensual pleasures of a good dinner exceeded those of mere passion, that has not proved a particularly effective motivator.

I did wobble (at my size, it’s an occupational hazard) when I met a particularly striking beauty shortly after the start of the present century. She was a woman who set great store by her own physical perfection. To my surprise, she indicated that we might progress to something more than friendship if I did something about the amorphous mass of blubber south of my neck. I looked at her admiringly and conceded that a crash diet would probably be worth it. Then she added the impossible rider: “Of course, you’ll have to start working out, too.”

Here a red line was reached. Few actions have given me more pleasure than the ceremonial destruction of my gym kit when it ceased to be a compulsory part of my school curriculum in 1969. Nothing could induce me to set foot in one of those hell-holes ever again. So that was that.

I’ve always thought that my greatest achievement at the Royal Grammar School was to attend weekly swimming lessons for seven years, and still be unable to swim a single stroke. But, looking back, perhaps it is even more remarkable that I was never able to raise myself by as much as one foot up the ropes that hung from the roof of the gymnasium; while all my contemporaries swarmed up and down them like cartoon fakirs.

I only came into my own on the last day of each term, when gym teacher “Rocky” Forster allowed us to play a game called “Pirates”. The rules seem slightly hazy now, but two pupils were designated “catchers” and the rest of the class had to evade them by jumping between the wall bars and various items of equipment scattered around the gym. If you were caught, or your feet touched the ground, you were “dead”.

No doubt the remote possibility that a small boy might miss his footing and end up really dead will long since have added this game to the list of harmless school treats banned on the grounds of Elfin Safety.

The only prize was to become a catcher in the next game; and to achieve this you had to be one of the last two survivors of the previous one. Surprisingly, since I was undoubtedly the least fit boy in the class, I achieved that accolade quite frequently. Because instead of being chased around the vaulting horses and so on like everyone else, I’d just attach myself to the wall bars on or around the starting line and keep very quiet. Low cunning doesn’t always beat physical prowess, but it’s generally the way to bet.

I mention this because I intend to adopt very similar tactics in the weeks ahead. It could prove an interesting match.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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