Monday, 28 December 2015


On Boxing Day I drove down to Gosport (in Hampshire), to spend the afternoon and evening with my sister in law Glenda and her second husband Colin. My niece Jenny and husband Kieren were there too. We had a jolly time chatting and eating and playing a board game; and then in the early evening we settled down to watch a film. First, though, we had to decide on what to see. It had to be something we all might like. This meant something that was a bit sci-fi, a bit James Bondish, with action and lots of gadgetry. I suggested Kingsman, which I'd seen a few months before at a friend's. It was a good choice.

All the while I was in a reclining seat. It was very comfortable. The foot-rest was raised by releasing a lever on the side. The one I used at home, my 'green throne' that was once Dad's, was electronic, designed for old people, and it operated slowly and steadily. But this one must have used a very strong spring (or springs) instead. The footrest came up with a rush, rather suddenly, and you were sort of thrown back. Oooh! Well, that was a surprise! But not really much of a problem. Getting out of the recliner was another matter, though! I couldn't just press a button on a handset.

I struggled to see what to do. The lever on the side seemed to be only for releasing the mechanism, to recline you back, and not for setting you upright again. Help!

It was explained, with a demo. All I needed to do was pull my legs in sharply, and the footrest would then come down and click into position. Then I could stand up. I tried this tentatively. It didn't work for me. No, bring my legs in harder and more sharply. OK...

Oooooow! 'More force' induced sudden, devastating cramp in my right leg. The entire calf.

I won't say that it was like no pain I'd ever known, but it was severe enough to bring tears to my eyes, and force a great piercing sobbing wail of agony from me. Rubbing the calf gradually eased the problem, but I had a sore leg and a sick feeling inside. I wasn't used to hurting myself. Nor were my muscles used to sudden contractions. I limped a bit, and hobbled around until I felt confident again about moving my leg normally. I hadn't thought that I could feel such pain so easily. But cramp is always pretty awful.

By now the sick feeling had gone, and my right leg seemed all right to drive with, and so I said my late-evening goodbyes, got into Fiona, and set off back to Sussex. Fortunately the leg muscles had settled down, and pressing the accelerator pedal didn't set them off again. Nor did they cramp up again once home.

Relaxing in my own recliner, I pondered my physical state, and decided that although I might not quite look like an old age pensioner, I was nevertheless the owner of an ageing carcass, and I mustn't assume it would cope nonchalantly with unaccustomed movements - not without protest, and possible consequences. This episode wasn't a sign of mortality, but it was a sign of general bodily decrepitude. I must take heed, and not move so suddenly and unwarily in future! I had visions of pulled muscles and torn ligaments. And, who knows, snapped bones!

I'd always been afraid of cramp since childhood, particularly in connection with swimming. Not swimming in the sea - although I didn't care much for that because it was so cold - I mean swimming in public swimming baths. I associated swimming with humiliation and embarrassment. You must imagine me as a gawky and thin twelve year old, with a body I felt acutely uncomfortable with, and having to be in the same pool as lots of younger children who were already swimming like fishes, my young brother Wayne included. I'd been avoiding physical stuff for years, whenever I could get away with it, but I was still in the grip of a school regime that required me to swim. Mum and Dad were also keen to see me learn to swim and do well at it. Wayne loved swimming, in fact excelled at it, and they thought I should too.

But those visits to the evening Swimming Class at Southampton Baths terrified me. Quite apart from the misery of being forced to do something I hated, and the embarrassment of being the odd person out, I desperately didn't want anyone to stare at my body and my awkwardness. I screamed inside. Given all this, it wasn't surprising that I was in a state to get cramp. In fact, I expected to, and sure enough, I'd hardly enter the water before I'd get cramp in one leg or the other. It was agonising. And it drew attention to me, the very last thing I wanted. Nor did I get used to the swimming class and what I'd have to do. It never became a bearable routine. I felt a failure, a mockery. I also felt resentful. But I had no power to opt out. I came to loathe it all.

Thankfully, Mum and Dad realised quite soon that I wasn't going to be a swimming star. I still had to go along, because Wayne wanted to show what he could do. I sat silently, just watching, bored but clothed, and kept out of anyone's notice as much as possible. At least the cramps had magically vanished. Odd, that!

And even though I did, as an adult many years later, occasionally go to public swimming baths - not voluntarily, but as a tolerated lunchtime activity with work colleagues at Bromley - I never got cramp. But by then, I was far less sensitive about how I looked; and, as a big cheese in the office, nobody was going to say anything disrespectful.

Would I plunge into the water now, voluntarily? Not a chance! I still have no love of swimming. If my doctor insisted on my taking exercise that way, an hour twice a week say, I'd listen and probably do as she wanted me to. But unless there was the possibility of a social dimension - chatting while treading water comes to mind - the whole idea would get a big No Thank You from me. And that, for safety reasons, really debars me from all water-based activities excepts luxury cruising.

I do wonder what would now be the case, if instead of being forced to take those swimming lessons when young, I'd been allowed to discover swimming for myself, in my own good time, after perhaps realising that someone who looks confident in the water can look like Someone Well Worth Knowing. The same thinking with other things I was pushed into. The pushing put me off - permanently.

Huh. 'Compulsory games' - the phrase that blighted my childhood.


  1. Those hateful years of sports humiliation felt like prisioners in a camp when we had not committed any crime. Hard enough to fake a role without having to expose our bodies too. I made school history by being the first recorded person in 666 years to stand my ground and refuse to do sport, as a punishment I was made to spend wednesday afternoons as a slave in the physics lab, I could only have been happier if they had supplied ice-cream! Just the mention of school swimming lessons still makes me shudder and they never worked.

    Indian tonic stops cramp, I am told that it can be drunk with gin but not sure if that reduces effectiveness. Salt also stops it but since we are told to reduce our salt intake...

  2. I don't think even the offer of a sophisticated G&T (shaken, not stirred - at twelve I was already reading James Bond) would have reconciled me to coertion and getting wet. I wanted choices, and was not allowed them.

    Sounds like the story of my life, at least until 2008.



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