Monday, July 2, 2007
Straying from the righteous path
Although it's fashionable to blame your parents for everything from adult bed-wetting and rubber fetishes, to being locked out of the housing market and for there being no fresh mangoes at Waitrose - I am sitting here eating Indian sweets wondering if I can blame mine for the grande interruptus of my fitness journey.

I mean - how selfish of them - they locked themselves for two days in the fetid, pressurized cabin of an aircraft, enjoying the delights of the 'chicken option' meals, and an entertainment system that was down between Hong Kong and Heathrow - just so they could wreck my mojo.

They have insisted on restaurants and red wine and 'family time' (I haven't seen them for a year) rather than the deeply solitary activity that is the gym and semi-starvation.

They have reintroduced coffee into my house. Dad brought a bottle of wine home. The other day at Hampton Court Palace, they brought me a scone. They look me to an Italian restaurant on Saturday evening and discussed pizza in an unhysterical manner.

Yet I cannot resist their wicked ways because they are my parents, and as we all know if you go against your parents you get whacked on the backside with either:

a) a wooden spoon
b) a Mason Pearson hairbrush
c) a rolled up newspaper

I guess what I am trying to say is, that after the masochism of the detox, I have now slipped back into my bad old ways - but IT IS NOT MY FAULT. IT IS THEIRS.

Fortunately, my parents are not slipper-wearing, sherry imbibing, wizened OAPs on Zimmer frames. In fact they are probably fitter than I am. So this week when we go walking in the Lake District it could be a chance to regain some fitness ground lost in the past week.

But I'll let you know if they try to drag me from the path of righteousness.

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Good-bye cigarettes
It’s hard to be healthy and a smoker. Some sportsmen can manage it – darts champions, snooker players and Shane Warne have smoked and played sport, sometimes all at once, but for us mere mortals a commitment to being fit often involves saying farewell to the fags.

A smoking ban in pubs and clubs across England has further made dragging on a ciggie a bit trickier – not to say illegal.

There are various libertarian arguments one could make against the ban, but the heat goes out of any argument when you consider that smoking increases not only your chances of dying a miserable, grisly death in the cancer ward, but can drag your non-smoking pals to the same ward by the virtue of breathing in your second-hand smoke.

I didn’t give up the cigs because of the smoking ban, or because I am on a fitness kick, or the fact that the detox I have been on has given me a cold where my body’s production of mucus would thwart any attempt to smoke – in fact I didn’t give up at all. But it’s been ten days since my last cigarette and I don’t think I will have another one.

At a party on Saturday night, I pulled a lit one out of a friend’s paw and had a drag. It tasted terrible. I screwed up my face and handed it back. Could it be as simple as that? When cigarettes taste bad the addiction is over? I hope so – I don’t fancy standing like a pariah in the rain trying to light my soggy cig while my friends are warm and clean-lunged inside.

Increasingly smoking is becoming an unsustainable lifestyle choice.

Yet, strange as it may sound, I will miss smoking. As a mostly social smoker I associate smoking with two activities I really enjoy: being with my friends at the pub and being contemplative.

Both activities usually involve a cigarette: it’s as if the act of smoking heightens the experience and takes me out of the everyday.

Whilst no baby-Chav I did have my first cigarette aged 12, and when I was 15 or 16 I was buying my own packets before settling on Marlboro Lights when I was at university. Lately in a bid to kid myself that I am not a ‘real’ smoker, I have been buying my cigarettes in little junior packs of ten.

I have probably ‘borrowed’ more cigarettes than I have brought: to all those people I scabbed smokes off at pubs and at parties – thank-you. I can never repay you.

Being a ‘social smoker’ has also been my entre-nous of choice with the opposite sex.
If you were a male smoker, I have probably have had a fairly clumsy crack at you. Being fairly gormless when it comes to chat-up lines, I have usually opted to target male smokers using their cigarettes, matches and lighters as a ruse to start a conversation.

And so it comes to the real reason for smoking.

Smoking is never just about smoking: its about so many other things: its a crutch, or a ladder, a prop - and throwing it away reminds me of a line in Yeat’s poem The Circus Animal’s Desertion.
It’s one of Yeat’s final poems and, broadly speaking it’s about loss. He writes,

Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
Smoking has been my ladder, my companion at a thousand cruel bus shelters waiting for the bus that never comes. It’s been there for me at sunsets and sunrises, heartbreaks and coffee breaks. In the grimy little bars of Barcelona, the coffee shops of Melbourne, the pubs of Sydney, the youth hostels of Dublin, in the back-yard of my house in London. When I've been anxious or ecstatic or bored or tired. At celebrations and defeats and everything in between.

But sometimes the things you love are not particularly good for you and its time to kick the ladder away.

It’s a bittersweet good-bye to the cigs, but better that than saying goodbye to the habit in some hospital ward, years from now, when it’s too late to be nostalgic.

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Welcome to the diary of a reluctant exerciser. Having previously shunned fitness regimes in favour of bacon sandwiches, Brigid Delaney vows to finally shape up, get fit and eat more healthily. Over the next three months read how she gets on in a brave new world of gyms, exercise classes and no bacon sandwiches.
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