I’d cancelled twice already, claiming a busy schedule. Now the insurers were insistent: my policy was up for renewal, and they needed me in London for a medical, presumably to check I wasn’t going to die on them.
“Bring a towel and loose clothes, and don’t eat for two hours beforehand,” the letter said.
That meant one thing: the dreaded treadmill. They fix electrodes to your chest, switch the machine to racing mode, and you run till you drop.
When I found out about it two months ago, I resolved to immediately get slim – which for me is quite ludicrous. A bit like putting a pint of oil in the car just before its annual service. You can’t disguise years of excess with a few bottles of Activia and a jog.
What didn’t help was that everyone around me was getting fitter. My wife Jo went on a spa week and came back full of tofu and good intentions. She now goes to a weekly boot camp where a sadist makes her do press-ups. She comes back cursing him. I offer her a slice of nice buttered toast to cheer her up and she throws a sweaty towel at me. She’s living her life on rice crackers and hummus.
The other Joanna in my life, my assistant, ran the Great North Run, along with almost everyone I meet. Friends brag about doing it in less than two hours.
That’s how long it takes me to bake a loaf of bread. Why did I go on that wretched bread-making course last year? I’m now hooked on my own wholewheat loaves. My stomach has turned into a giant bap.
|Portrait of My Stomach
The day of the medical started well: they weren’t offering a full breakfast on the train so I made do with a bacon sandwich (see picture, above). When I’d pulled my trainers out of the wardrobe there was mould growing out of the soles, so Jo instructed me to buy a pair of cross trainers at the Nike store in Oxford Circus. I thought a cross trainer was the sadist who made her do the press-ups: turns out they are £70 running shoes. In my case, that’s £70 for one treadmill run.
The building in Harley Street was ancient, tall and thin. So was the receptionist. “It’s on the 4th floor – do you want the stairs or the lift?” she asked, looking disapprovingly at my waistline. I pulled in my stomach until it hurt, and strode uncomfortably towards the stairwell. By the time I reached the top I could hardly speak with exhaustion.
The doctor, thin as a rake, was looking forward to next London marathon. As he measured and weighed me, I mumbled an apology. He smiled. Sure, I was slightly obese, but nothing to be concerned about.
“Your weight is stable, which is all that matters,” he said. I breathed out with relief and nearly knocked over his scales.
The guardian of the treadmill was about 24, and wore a very tight skirt. She needed my resting heart rate first and told me to take my shirt off. It’s hard to keep your heart rate down while a 24-year-old in a tight skirt sticks electrodes on your chest. I was glad she wasn't doing a prostate examination.
My stomach muscles, such as they are, strained with the effort of being held in for so long. I so regretted that bacon sandwich.
“I now need to get your heart rate up to 220, minus your age. How old are you?”
I wanted to lie, to say 50, but in truth I needed to make this as easy as possible.
“60,” I said honestly, waiting for the “You don’t look your age” response.
Sadly, it never came.