I joined a gym last year, that might not seem like hold-the-front-page news to you but it was a big deal for me. I’ve never considered myself a “gym” person — more the “record shop” and “pub” type — and always thought working out was a faintly ridiculous modern habit for the narcissistic, self-absorbed, and neurotic. I didn’t even like running for a bus, it just wasn’t me. To my mind grown ups should be sitting around having erudite conversations over a glass of scotch, not getting sweaty in a room full of strangers.
But the horror of a 50th birthday coming rapidly down the road (just a few weeks away now) and having to keep up with two turbo-charged young kids made even me think that my body needed a tune-up — and probably jumper cables. It can be hard to accept (after the anger and denial) that you aren’t the youth you once were — I liked that guy! — and that your body isn’t the indestructible vessel it once was. Also, I’d found it easy to ignore the fact that I was getting on a bit because I’m still thin and have all my hair in (mostly) its original colour, but that didn’t mean things weren’t falling apart under the hood.
Boozing and late nights are the two most obvious casualties of aging, becoming nostalgic exhibits in The Museum of Youth that you can only look at wistfully from the other side of the glass. I still like a tipple or three but the days when I could sink a skinful and still function the next day are long gone. Staying up late is a thing of the past too, by 11pm I’m wiped out and nodding off on the couch, the only time I see 2am now is if one of the kids wakes up — my dirty little secret is that I’d rather have a quiet night in anyway. On top of all that my knees hurt and my already-poor eyesight is deteriorating so much that I now need reading glasses. When I catch a glimpse of myself with those things perched on the end of my nose it’s like looking at a picture of my dad — not the young, groovy version of my dad either, the old guy.
Visits to the doctor have become more significant too. Thankfully my ticker is in good shape and my blood pressure is low, but my yearly check-ups (another new thing) now end with him sticking his finger up my bum and poking my prostate — a sign that I’m the age now where certain things need to be kept an eye on. The worst thing is the paranoia that sets in about your health, when every cough, every ache and pain, can become a worrying sign of potentially serious trouble — especially for someone like me who smoked ciggies for nearly 30 years. A few months ago I had some symptoms I was almost convinced were cancer (handy hint: never, ever, look up your symptoms on the internet) but when I got to the doctor it just turned out that my ears needed syringing. He had a good laugh about that, I felt like giving him a tearful hug of gratitude.
So I’m pounding the treadmill and pumping the weights about three times a week now, fighting against the dying of the light and trying to make up for past sins — though I would rather have my past sins than not. To my surprise I actually quite enjoy it (oh no, I’ve become one of those people) and, though I’ll probably always look less like Charles Atlas and more like the guy who got sand kicked in his face, it is nice to have a little more muscle on my reedy arms and be able to lift the kids up in the air without my back protesting. Maybe years from now I’ll be one of those spry, tracksuited pensioners running marathons and bungee jumping. Hopefully not, that really isn’t me.
Download: Musclebound (12″ Mix) – Spandau Ballet (mp3)