On the screen it appears as a smudged white halo against the blackness. It doesn’t look like anything in particular, but this X-ray represents so much of me: the lottery of parentage, combined with certain behaviour patterns – a soggy euphemism for appetite – that in turn are combined with efforts to mitigate those behaviours. I have, my consultant tells me, developed osteoarthritis in my right hip. In the next year or so it would be ideal if I had a new one, pandemic permitting. Until then, limp on.
The diagnosis is not a revelation. I have been hurting on and off, and more on than off recently, for more than a year. But I do feel hard done by. The shallowness of my hip joint made this more likely, as did my size, both a genetic inheritance, at least in part. But I’m stone cold certain that the blame also lies with my use of the stair machine at the gym.
I am not a large man because of my job. I am a large man, and will always be so, because I am me. The question is how to deal with the very me-ness of me. A while back I concluded that part of the solution was exercise. Massive amounts of sweaty, cardiovascular exercise, four or five times a week, my unruly hair imprisoned by a Bjorn Borg hairband. First it was the cross-trainer for 45 minutes until I’d maxed out the machine. So, I combined that with climbing the stair machine to nowhere, a brutal, high impact exercise that made every joint ache. The machines told me I’d burned 1,200 calories a time. Even if it wasn’t precise it was an awful lot. It hurt but, like a self-flagellatory priest, I took the pain as a marker of effort. And essentially it worked. I would never be slender as the dawn, but I might not develop my own measurable gravitational field.
Then the pain stopped subsiding. At which point the virus arrived and the gyms shut. We all drew the curtains. The phrase “comfort eating” is a pejorative; regardless, there remains an unapologetic comfort in eating. In a lockdown of structureless days unless you build the structure, one trimmed matchstick at a time, meals can become the deepest of comforts. Over the past 10 months I have written about braising pasta, making custard tarts, deep frying gefilte fish and so much more. I have found cooking and eating very comforting indeed, thank you, even as I have looked at my increasingly fuzzy reflection in the mirror and wondered whether someone has smeared the damn lens with Vaseline.
During lockdown one I devised a step-box routine, which was 40 minutes of rocky impact. In lockdown two I did sit-ups and planks and weights. Then I was told about the bastard hip that I’d damaged attempting to look after myself, and wanted nothing but a bowl of comfort. But that risked increasing the girth that I’d taken all the exercise to mitigate; exercise which had helped damage the hip. Behold, the essence of this awful past year: the realisation that life is one long soggy game of consequences.
I bought a spinning bike, a beautiful cream coloured thing that sits behind the desk in my office. I get on, and power up the iPad for a class led by an exuberant young person with rising hormone levels and glowing, peachy skin who looks like they couldn’t understand the notion of eating for comfort. I cycle to nowhere in the hope that finally I might be getting somewhere. But inevitably, like all of us, I know I must limp on, at least for now.