7 Apr 2011

Down to the gym

I know, there is something more than faintly ridiculous about going to the gym, but I do it regularly and enjoy it a lot, so here goes with a short article, as these things are far better kept short: action, not words, is of the essence, naturally.

Winston Churchill, when asked how he came to live to 90 whilst drinking and smoking heavily for much of his life, famously answered "No sport!" Maybe this story is apocryphal, and maybe, as often, he somewhat re-arranged the truth to suit himself and the image he wanted to project of his behaviour. But since he, like myself, went to a British public school (not the same one and obviously not at the same time), I very much doubt whether the great man managed to escape from sport altogether throughout his lifetime. And he was for a some time an accomplished horseman, so maybe the proper response to his comment would be "horseshit!"

English private and public school education (the same system, but different ages of the children for those who wonder about this curious denomination for what is an almost totally private and elistist system) puts sports very much at stage centre. In fact at the schools that I attended, and at the time I was there, it was considerably better for image amongst one's peer group to be good at sports than to be good at studies! I know, the old saying "the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" is a bit hoary, but maybe it had some truth in it. Then again, there was also Blücher and the Prussians, which certainly counted for much more!

Cricket, rugby, the "Field game" (a strange mixture between soccer and rugby), fives (the Basques will recognize this game, on the right above), rackets (this one too perhaps), squash, boxing and long-distance running were part of my regular menu when a schoolboy. I then quit most of that in order to have time to draw and paint, just going to the gym and boxing to keep fit. I later worked physically as a joiner-cabinet-maker and stone mason for quite a while, which I suppose helped to kept me in shape, and played a little amateur rugby. A long time later I realised that if I didn't want to let myself decay too fast, I had better take some regular exercise again, and started running a bit and going to the gym regularly.

So just what is it that makes one feel good after and taking some fairly strenuous physical exercise? Part of it is psychological, due to the feeling that you have manged to push yourself into making an effort that you were not that keen to make in the first place. Part of it is chemical, as the body secretes stuff during effort to reduce the pain, and this seems to have a conducive effect on body and mind, making you want more of this activity. Masochism in action maybe? And then there is the sheer physical and mental pleasure of actually feeling better, somehow more in balance and in harmony with the world, in your own small way. Mens san in corpore sano, I suppose, even if this quotation from Juvenal may be a little off its intended track.

Get down to the gym, or something


  1. About time to restore the truth in this silly Waterloo business, David. It has to do with ”pot de vin” again. This established company, 1815.com, wanted to get rid of a general, whose name I forget (de Lencquesaing or something similar). Therefore, they tried to bribe a Grouchy, of Napoleon fame, in order to make sure he would not arrive on the famous “Chemin Creux d’Ohain”. But his answer sounded: “Ney!”. Fortunately, there came this most glorious amongst all officers, Vaslin-Blücher, to win the day. Finally, the eternal Victor Hugo exhibited an as yet unrecognized talent, bilingualism, and ejaculated: “Oh, Waterloo, mourn plain!”.

  2. Interesting theory Luc! I like the idea of Hugo ejaculating in franglais.