It Ain’t Over Till The Fat Lady Sings! (Or Should That Be ‘Slings’-?)

It is 7am on the morning of Peebles Highland Games, my final Games of the 2012 season. I am padding around the bedroom in leggings and a Care Bears t-shirt with the words ‘Who Cares?’ blazoned across the front, assembling my Games gear.

The air coming in through the open window is cool, with a snappy autumnal edge to it that wasn’t there a week ago. In the garden, yellow is creeping into the leaves of trees and shrubs, and beyond the hedge arch, the town is a blank of pale morning mist, only vague shapes of trees and roof-lines showing here and there. I think it’s going to be a good day: we live in the bottom of a river valley here, and in the autumn and winter it often fills with creamy mist, looking like a vast bowl of milk from the hills above. The mist usually burns off as the sun gets higher, and sure enough, today the mist is turning pale gold towards the east: sunshine, or the promise of sunshine later. Good enough for me!

Image

Pretty, isn’t it?

Image

And at this time in the morning, with sound muffled by the fog, it’s easy to believe that the fog on the Tyne is all mine, all mine. ;p

Getting back to my purpose in posting today, though – partly due to circumstances beyond my control, and partly due to my own congenital lack of focus and terrible, terrible time management, I haven’t been to the gym in months – I think I last darkened their doorway sometime in June. Since then, my state of fitness has been coasting along, and my weight has gone up a couple of pounds, which is irritating but inevitable. Confession: yes, I do know that ‘coasting along’ isn’t really something fitness does. If you don’t use your muscles, they dwindle away. And in addition to not making it to the gym, I’ve done barely any proper throwing practice over the summer either. So I’m guessing that when all the scores are in, I will have managed the dubious achievement of ending the 2012 throwing season less fit than when I started!

Image

Yeah, really not there yet.

OK, confessional over. One of the many things I really love about Highland Games is that you don’t have to look like a trim, toned, tanned gym rat to take part.

Image

Ack. No thanks!

Actually, I believe the official national skin colour in Scotland is greenish off-white, so I don’t feel too bad about my lack of perma-tan. And I have been greatly heartened throughout the summer by the basic shape of many of the Highland athletes I met, which is to say… chunky. Muscular, but definitely not skinny minnies. And that was just the ladies!

Image

The guys are even more impressive. You can’t call most of these boys weedy.

Image

The mighty Jason Young and Sebastian Wenta: hardly weedy at all.

So when walking on to a Highland Games field, I don’t feel inadequate any more because of my body shape. This is a major departure for me, because organised sport has always, since childhood, tended to create a panicky dread in my stomach – remember the tiny gym skirts we were all forced to wear at school, no matter what size or shape we were?

Image

Not a problem any more, funnily enough.

Remember the sniggers of the skinny, tanned kids during PE?

Image

Yeah, that’s not a problem any more either.

My own body image has actually changed this summer. Yes, I’m fat. Not morbidly obese, but I am overweight. I carry  a bit of a bouncy buddha belly that I wish wasn’t there. If I’d kept up the gym work and training, it probably wouldn’t be there, or at least it’d be a lot smaller, but you know what? I refuse to beat myself up about it. I screwed up, and yes, I wasted time that could have been better spent. But that time has gone and the future will not be ornamented or otherwise enhanced by me moaning and groaning about what a bad person I must be to fail. The only way the future will be enhanced is if I make some attempt to learn from this failure and move on. I am actually feeling serenely confident this morning that I will lose that Michelin-woman spare tyre and improve my fitness overall as I settle in to autumn and then winter training. I have the good fortune to be loved by a man who, while occasionally teasing me about them, doesn’t revile or belittle my extra curves but simply states calmly that they’re already smaller than they were at the beginning of the summer. Which is true. The fact that he usually follows this up with an impersonation of Rik Mayall as Captain Flashheart from ‘Blackadder’…

Image

“Gives me something to hang on to! WOOF!

…well, er… that’s neither here nor there. (Draws veil of modesty over the proceedings… too late.)

Ahem.

The point is that the wonderful world of Highland Athletics isn’t sizeist. Or fattist. Or any other -ist, generally. So long as you’re willing to get out there in a kilt and throw stuff, they’re happy.

And that makes me very, very happy. See you at Peebles!

FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANY WAY I DAMN WELL LIKE

Well, this was going to be a light-hearted little number about how I scare the living Bejeezus out of tourists visiting our happy little town by driving round the place blasting unexpected genres of music and singing along with exaggerated mouth movements.

It’s quite true – I was doing it only this morning, bopping along the main street happily trilling along to ‘Go Home’ by Eliza Doolittle and causing seismic tremors in the pacemakers of several out-of-towners in the Market Square with my impassioned, not to say vehement, rendition of the finale: “I just wanna go home in my dancin’ shoes/Put my dancin’ shoes on/Gonna cha-cha-cha, I’ll cha-cha-cha my way home/I won’t stop till I’m/Goin’ through my front doo-ooo-OOORR!” …and so on. They seemed to be in fear of their lives for some reason.

And so it is by this wacky and roundabout route that we come to today’s real theme: fear. After almost a year of planning and daydreaming, the Highland Games become a really real reality of the real kind this coming Saturday. And I have to say, I am pretty scared.

Image

I just project apprehension, don’t I? But honestly, all kinds of stupid little fears are jumping at me like yappy toy dogs going for my ankles: what if I can’t even lift the stupid weights when it comes to it? I’m 47, for goodness’ sake, and I spend most of every day sitting on my arse in front of a computer screen – what if I’m kidding myself and I really am too old and saggy and wobbly to make a credible athlete? Is my throwing kilt too short? Are my kick-arse motorbike boots too extreme? Am I actually a self-deluded idiot that everyone will be glad to see the back of at the end of the season? Will I ever be able to turn a caber? I have hearing problems – what if I can’t understand what’s being said over the tannoy (seriously, can ANYBODY understand those things?) and miss my throw, how pathetic would that be? And so on… and on.

Fear eats you alive if you let it. Sometimes it does it in dramatic, bone-crunching fashion, but more usually it hollows out your resolve and character from the inside, saps your motivation and drive, paralyses you, a cancer in your spirit. You try to avoid it, flinch away from it, and it warps your path. Choice by tiny choice, you end up in a place you don’t even recognise, let alone want to be. Something I’ve learned: those toy dogs grow into Dobermans if you feed them.

In the pilot episode of ‘Lost’, the hero, Jack Shepherd, is talking to the heroine, Kate, about fear. He says he coped with it by making the decision to let the fear in, let it do its thing – but only for five seconds. That was all he’d give it. And he started to count: one. Two. Three. Four. Five. And the fear was gone. It’s a great scene, a great TV moment. It also happens to be true. This post is my five seconds, if you like – my way of dragging my fears into the light and letting them do their worst, showing them to myself for the yappy toy dogs they really are.

Image

Take that, yappy toy dogs!

Image

And that.

Counted to five. Committed my spirit to the Almighty. And oh, look.

No more fear.

Thank you and goodnight, all you Dobermans.