While few of my friends would call me a Panglossian, I must admit to an extremely welcome benefit from COVID lockdown. Since February, my wife and I have been mostly house and garden bound. Shopping centres, railway stations and tourist attractions have been off limits. Have we missed them? Of course. But here comes the benefit. We have shut down entirely the charity donations from my hip pocket.
Over rather too many years, I have been aiding the underprivileged of the Western world through that unlikely source. The poor (or maybe not so poor) of Edinburgh, Paris twice, Rome twice, Torremolinos, Angouleme, and the overnight ferry to St Malo have enjoyed my assistance. The circumstances have varied.
In Edinburgh, it was a taxi driver (or subsequent passenger) who enjoyed a man bag of cash, credit cards, passport and airline tickets. In Paris, it was a small weasel of a man who pressed too close as I climbed aboard a Metro. And possibly one of his friends who came impressively, and silently, near as we set off to watch Bradley Wiggins win his Tour de France.
In Rome, I had the full experience. Borsaiolo at Rome's Termini Station and a thorough cleansing on the Metro. They did my wife on the Metro as well, helpfully leaving a 10 lire note in her otherwise emptied shorts pocket. Those two benefactors I could recognise were they to come searching again. Pretty girl who blocked me as I tried to leave the train and quietly dressed man who helped the missus out of the carriage.
Torremolinos was different. A man rose from a cafe table and followed me into a local supermarket. In effect, I made my donation to his cause by thrusting my change filled wallet into his hand instead of my hip pocket. In Angouleme, they have a round the houses car race called the Circuit des Remparts. In the town square, I spotted an old Ecurie Ecosse Jaguar on display. I did not spot the charitable cause lurking nearby.
The Brittany Ferry is one to be forgotten. In the days of limitations on foreign currency purchase and limited use of credit cards, cash was king. An envelope full of francs destined for a French builder who was restoring a ruined barn in the Dordogne (originality is not one of my strong points) was efficiently diverted by a steward who helped us stow our baggage. It may not have transformed his life but it certainly shortened mine because the thousand notes did not belong to me. They came from my oldest friend and partner in the renovation. Lockdown has changed many lives in many ways. Shutting down my inadvertent charity donations has been a real bonus – though one misses the international flavour... I suppose.
So another week passes as another set of uncertainties awaits us. Not for me though, I am back literally stepping up my exercise regime, pedometer in hand (well iPhone in pocket to be more precise), walking morning, noon and night, counting my strides and miles. I have rediscovered my enthusiasm, previously shared with Daisy (my wee labradoodle) though I am certain she was oblivious as I trailed her around the streets, thoroughfares and parks of the capital in the days before COVID.
My 'road to Damascus' was triggered by the boss at work, who suggested in a recent team video conference call that we might think about some form of joint activity, perhaps combining physical and mental health wellbeing. Something like counting the mileage we amass day-to-day and measuring this over a time period, to see what geographical distance we had travelled. However, it was also stressed that this should be approached from the fun angle and not taken too seriously, mainly to avoid any sense of competition and the sometimes negative baggage which can come with that. With our team, all I can say is good luck with that one! We don't compete per se with other teams – we tend to keep it among ourselves. In our office, a simple 'good morning' is (or was in times past) usually met by a grunted 'are you sure about that' or 'aye we'll see how that one pans out'. I suppose you could call it friendly rivalry, though you would be wrong. It is really more fierce, out and out, verging on cold blooded war, competition. Imagine pass the parcel, but involving weaponry.
Bearing all of this in mind, I have decided to change at least my outlook and approach the exercise/challenge in an introverted way, avoiding any of the potential for petty point scoring and one-upmanship which I will leave to the others to do as they will. I cannot speak for anyone else but stress in the strongest terms possible that my competition will be with myself. I will be setting personal targets and chasing day-to-day, week-to-week and monthly thresholds. Stretching myself alone to achieve better and better results as the time passes. My own personal physical and mental wellbeing along with building up and increasing stamina will be my sole and continuous focus and target, pursued with the utmost vigour.
So far, I have completed in excess of 103,000 steps since starting the regime on 1 October – a five-day average of circa 20,000. Don't worry, it has not become an obsession. I have only interrupted the writing of this piece three times while I clocked up another couple of hundred steps, and who doesn't walk backward and forward constantly across the living room right up till the stroke of midnight to maximise their steps?
Interestingly, the nearest rival, I mean colleague, to me on the shared app leader board has clocked up a little under half of what may be described (by others) as my Herculean effort. In fact, my numbers dwarf all three colleagues' combined total by some distance. But, as I say, my competition is with myself, despite the evidence showing who is clearly winning...
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