|Socks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|English: Walls of Dubrovnik (Croatia). Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
My basic desideratum for judging whether I am still in reasonable physical shape has for some years been whether I can pull on my socks while standing unsupported in the middle of the room, or not.
I have a good reason for fixing on this strange criterion. It centres on a tale told by my late, deeply lamented brother, Sam, a farmer who, like myself, was not encumbered with intense ambition, unconcerned about accumulating money, and was therefore totally unlike other brothers who placed a high priority on such things.
One of my other brothers, who took over ownership of my dad’s construction business, and built it into a minor behemoth, was totally concentrated on his business, and in the course of time handed on this concentration to his two sons, who spent time that most children would spend playing, in following their father around construction sites.
Unsurprisingly, these two boys took over their father’s business, and in the course of time divided it in two, each in turn becoming monstrously (the judgment is mine) successful and wealthy.
One of these nephews of mine became among the richest people in New Zealand, my home country, in trucking, and in the production of ready-mixed concrete. Before he died unexpectedly at a relatively young age, he had accumulated up to 30 separate companies spread across the nation’s 1,000 mile length from top to bottom.
Now, although I am not given to praising businessmen and their outlook on life, I have to admit that this particular nephew was a sterling fellow who earned nothing but encomia from those with whom he did business, and many other people besides. He was so amiable, detached and decent that when I officiously appointed myself chief international representative of his sprawling business, and wrote him facetious letters criticising the prose of his company quarterly publication, he took the joke in good part, and even occasionally phoned me to inquire after my health, as indeed his surviving brother, now a big noise in the sawmilling business, still does.
One day my brother Sam phoned this highly successful and involved business nephew to ask him a question. “I’m really busy at the moment,” replied the nephew. “Can’t it wait?”
“I’m sorry,” rejoined my brother. “This is a really important question, and won’t take much of your time, I promise.”
“I don’t have time at the moment,” said my nephew. “But go ahead, and make it quick.”
“My question is,” said my brother, “do you pull on your socks while standing in the middle of the room, or do you lean against the wall?”
Later, my nephew rang my brother back and said, “You silly old buggar, I was in an important meeting and just on the point of deciding the distribution of ready-mixed concrete for the whole of the North Island when you phoned” (or words to that effect.)
The story established the importance in my mind of the question of socks-on dexterity, and it has been my guide ever since.
Until the last month I have been able to achieve this remarkable feat of pulling on my socks without a real problem, and have felt contented. But a month or so ago I made a grave error: I attempted to do some simple exercise, like stepping up and down on to a low coffee table, that 20 years ago I could achieve without giving it a second thought. After trying it for three days on this recent occasion I realized I had exacerbated that minor arthritic problem I have had in my right hip in recent years, and I have been doing my damnedest to fight it off ever since.
The problem has been that whatever improvement I have been able to work with ointments, ice and heat have been nullified by my habit of walking every day through the McGill campus to a favoured Lebanese coffee shop on the corner of Peel and Sherbrooke streets in Montreal (I have no hesitation in giving the people who run this shop a free plug herewith: their café is called Café Castel, their coffee is excellent, they allow you to sit forever over a coffee reading the day's newspapers, and they are the loveliest multilingual boys and girls you would ever wish to meet, most of them part-time students, or in other ways refugees from the dominant rat-race that marks our modern communities).
Now that I am once again temporarily in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I have managed to give myself five or six days without bothering the hip, and so I have once again embarked on the daily walk. Here, however, there are nothing but steps. My favourite daily walk on a previous visit required me to take 229 steps up, and then to descend again by more than 100 steps into the middle of town by a different route.
My problem with exercise is simple: I have never been able to resist competing with myself when doing it. So, in a throwback to my athletic youth, I would begin a regime of stepping up on a kitchen chair, say, with 50 step-ups on the first day, but would be unable to resist increasing it by 10 every day, until, at about the 500 mark, I would pull a muscle, and thereupon, not for the first time, have to give up exercising.
I seem to be falling into the same sort of trap at the moment. Two or three times in recent days I have contemplated taking a more normal, manageable, flat course through the town; but on arriving at the foot of the steps rising above me, I have so far been unable to resist the temptation to show myself at I can still do it. Have another go, boy, I tell myself!
This week I have succeeded in pulling my sock on to my right foot without any problem, but have miserably failed, because of the restricted movement dictated by my ailing hip, to get my left sock on without sitting down to do it.
This is one of the major turning points in my life, I guess, and the crematorium begins to loom higher in my expectations than ever before.
Such is life, eh?