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  • iaindryden1

an amazing exercise

The wind whipping up my dressing gown was chilly, the Black-down Hills were blacked out, the two hills rising from this small market town looked cold. I stared up as the sky above as it filled with the loud caws of rooks twisting and turning above my head. They came from every direction and soon made a mass of weaving, dodging black wings, ten swooping together, rising just in time as five from over there shot in to the chaos of wings and noise. Eight flew high, high then fell, wings tight against their bodies, splitting the madness apart, but more flew in to the gap as the entire mass of perhaps a hundred, swirled in a seemingly uncontrolled flurry.

I imagined them shouting, “Cold a night that was!’ “This spurt of sunshine is great! ‘Hey! A tractor, let’s go see what worms are turned up!’

It felt like a celebration and I took it as such because these past few days I have actually been out and about. Nothing grand, just a little pottering to the shops. It was odd being amongst the living after so long inside. “Haven’t seen you for a while,” was the polite greeting.

Feeling socially discombobulated, I found myself searching for words, me who was never shy has a lot of catching up to do. “Ho, been surfing between hospital and sofa.”

“At least you are alive!” The person turned to go but I was glad of this abruptness. We use a lot of energy in social interactions and I’ve found visits from friends quite exhausting … until now!

Below the church, I rested for a minute, enjoying the stimulation of being in the world of people. Wow, the world really does go on without you; how exciting. The shops with their Christmas windows, so brightening, that artful clutch of tiny elves in the hardware store window, each busy doing its practical little job! Those hats in the clothing shop all decorated artfully for Yule! And to have walked so far without Camilla at my side in case I couldn’t get back home. Bolstered by my progress, I walked the three hundred metres homewards.

That was four days ago. Since then, I’ve walked similar distances in two other market towns near by. Whoopie! I’m returning to normal life. We’d gone to those trendy towns popular with Londoners to sell my books and artwork and the reception I got in the shops was encouraging, even very robust and that morning I’d had a positive meeting with a specialist art-printer who has highly accomplished artists as his clients… and he raved about my work.

Back home, I continue to climb the stairs, today managing 3 up-down trips in one go. This simple bit of kit which most of us have is doing wonders to my weakened body. Years ago, stairs conditioned me for my regular visits to the Alps or Himalayas. I’d run up without a load for a week getting used to my boots again, gradually I added weight to my backpack and by the final week I was speeding up and down bearing a 44kg load comprising of my gear, tent and dried food to last three weeks. A friend said, “Poor stair carpet.”

This regime paid dividends when I finally arrived in those amazing mountains. Without worrying about the weight I carried, I’d stride along ancient Himalayan bridle tracks. This took me through dense forests, past isolated hamlets and lonesome farmsteads, when there was a gap the old oaks the icy peaks would smile at me. I would be rewarded by a night’s camping beside small villages at which I could eat in the chai stalls.

My exercise today is not the running of yesteryear, but a steady stair-plod which is gradually regenerating a broken body by too many attacks in single year. My aim is that the four serious, but very different conditions which afflict me in their own way, will benefit. This home gym is better for you than jogging, cycling and swimming, working as it does on your legs, bottom and middle, pumping the heart as well as burning more calories than those other more popular exercises. The gravity you fight also creates denser bones. With every step you need balance and this works on your cerebellum, a part of your brain which holds over fifty percent of its neurones, so steps also brighten you - it is win, win, win!

In those distant days, the stairs in my house helped my body to become supreme and those mountain trips would revive a mind overworked from teaching in difficult conditions. Up there beyond almost all human activity (trekking wasn’t popular then), I lolled about in the rawness of nature - the wilds formed my character when I grew up in Kenya, and as an adult in those mountains, I relished every minute. Today it’s those rooks, those clouds, the fresh air….

However, with a body unused to exercise, you have to be careful with stairs. I began with too much enthusiasm and ended up straining all the ligaments strapping both my knees. Today, because my body groans after my adventurous market days, I take it gently, rising up and down our steps without pushing myself. Nothing, compared to my historic attainments, but, for me now, a mountain.

And perhaps those rooks were swirling about above our garden to loosen stiff bodies before they flew away to find breakfast.

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