I have reached the age when infarct and embolism makes the sudden shift from ‘distant possibility’ to ‘imminent probability’: when every new challenge is met, not with the consideration of ‘is this possible?’ but ‘will this kill me?’ When the prospect of undertaking any new exercise is met with the same kind of dread that grips the very soul when somebody begins a conversation with the words, ‘Course, you know what’s wrong with this country, don’t you?..’
The ability to remain cool, calm and collected is the counter-balance we all need: the ability to see each impending task as a challenge, not as a sentence. Enlightenment is fine, but staying alive is the real name of the game. Broadly speaking, the assignment is not the issue: deadlines and expectations are the hypertensive triggers – the terminal, puff-cheeked blow that shreds the corpulent balloon into a million airborne shreds of latex; the final wafer-thin mint dropped onto the tongue of Mr Creosote. The domino-effect of each little undertaking resulting in two other jobs that must be completed in preparation and two further jobs that are created in consequence. Jobs are like rabbits: put two of them together and, in no time, you find yourself with twenty. Getting it right is almost impossible. It is like cooking porridge in a microwave, with just a whisker between breakfast and disaster. This is the knowledge borne by the man at the centre of Foucault’s Panopticon; that despite what everybody else might believe, he simply cannot be watching everybody else, all of the time.
So, forewarned, what can we do to forestall the kind of ballistic exit that lies in wait for we tension-filled balloons? Clearly, putting a lid on worry is a start (although I must point out here that telling a worrier not to worry is a sure-fire way of sending their stress-level through the roof). Trying is a big part. The knowledge that you have done your best does provide some sanctuary – although, perversely, the knowledge that your best is not good enough, will kick you straight back out again. Knowing that an enterprise has failed simply through your own lack of application will drive you mad if you have any level of self-esteem at all.
Of course, there is so much more to healthy longevity than mental attitude. Food, drink and exercise all have to be taken; all have to be balanced. There is a fine line to be drawn between awareness and neurosis. Consider the food we eat: the red meat, the butter, the cheese, the pizza, the chips, the curry, the sugar, the coffee, the alcohol… now, wouldn’t it be fine to cut that lot out? Wouldn’t you feel happier without them? I wonder how many ways there are to prepare kale? Whose spirits could fail to soar at the prospect of a brassica smoothie? Whose life would not be enhanced by the promise of borscht through a straw whilst aboard an exercise bike? Of course, such a regime may not actually prolong your life, but it will certainly feel like it.
We live in a vitamin D deficient world, where we all need to get a little bit more sunshine – although it will, ultimately, kill us; where a moderate intake of red wine is good for the heart – although the alcohol will kill you; where swimming is the perfect joint-friendly exercise – except, if you’re my shape, you may well die of shame in a swimming costume. I operate a kind of internal barter-system: if I walk a mile, I can have a Hobnob; if I get sufficient vitamin D, then I almost certainly deserve an ice cream; if I oil my bike, then there is really no need for me to ride it; if I spend my day drinking water, then I can almost certainly round off my evening by drinking Scotch…
As my grandma used to say, it’s all a question of moderation. Do the right thing and you will remain cool, calm and contented. Eat the right thing and you will remain healthy. There is no need to worry. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Start off every day with a smile and get it over with. W.C. Fields
N.B. I’m sorry that this post is a few minutes late – I thought it was ready, but it wasn’t. Must be a lesson in there somewhere…