I wanted to explain that I was doing my best but that would have halted my serious effort at concentration. I tried to move in time to the music while swinging my arms in the vigorous way demanded. My daughter, evidently unaware of the great effort I was making, looked disapproving.
Looking back, the exercise DVD may have been a bad idea. It wasn't my idea. I was shopping in town when my daughter rang to urge me to buy an a DVD and mat so that she could compensate for her absence from the gym while I made an effort to regain such fitness as I had. I was relieved that the shop didn't stock the DVD she suggested - I had a suspicion it would be horribly difficult. I rang her back and offered a compromise: I would buy a DVD featuring someone I'd heard of as a keep-fit advisor – not an ex-celebrity advertising weight-loss and a fading career. (If they made Sunset Boulevard today, Norma Desmond would be recommending “swimmercise” and advising how to maintain the perfect figure by regular work-outs in the pool.)
“I'll get this Rosemary Conley one,” I told my daughter, once again on the phone. “She's an Older Person and she offers muscle toning as well as fat-burning.”
My daughter sounded doubtful. However she knew me well enough to realise it was Rosemary Conley or nothing, especially when I added the final persuasive point: “... and it's on special offer – only £5.”
There are often conversations like this when my daughter's around. She has a mission to reform me and takes on different projects from time to time, instructing me on fashion (advice on choosing the right underwear), cooking (fancy ingredients , lots of butter and no salad) and even dating (a long list of topics I shouldn't mention so as not to put off potential suitors - plainly she wants to get me off her hands). Her attempts to train me, with inducements and stern scoldings, are disconcertingly similar to her attempts to train Joe the cat. I think she's more successful with Joe, though of course she feels his shortcomings are really my fault – when she complains about his bad behaviour she often fixes me with an accusing stare (or is that maternal guilt at work?).
Fitness seemed a more hopeful area for her attention than fashion or dating. I certainly wanted to get fit. Lately I've been more active than for several months although my back still isn't entirely pain-free and I'm being cautious. I managed a walk of several miles on a visit to London and, when I stayed with my old friend Kate in Wales, I was capable of accompanying her on a lengthy tour of the National Botanic Gardens, where she works as a volunteer. We also climbed a tower with views and clambered round a ruined Welsh castle on a steep hill. Admittedly there were also intervals involving lunch and tea with cake which contributed more to the pleasure of the occasion than my overall fitness.
Meanwhile, although I'm mostly being defeated in fencing as usual, I'm managing more time on the piste and slightly more speed than earlier this year.
August fencing at our club is a particular pleasure. It's not part of the usual term so we pay a small sum for attendance to cover hall-hire. Sessions are mostly free fencing – although coaches may offer advice – and because of the holidays fewer fencers attend. The sessions I've managed have attracted between twenty and thirty with a good distribution between weapons. Most people who turn up get to fence as much as they wish although sometimes a holiday spirit infects the fencers: I particularly appreciated the spectacle of a sabreuse fencing a foilist at epée: her slashing attacks and hits to head were pleasantly piratical – at least from where I stood to observe – even though striking with her opponent's mask with the side of the blade didn't count as a valid hit. I don't think she was concerned with such technicalities.
Somehow my enjoyment of August fencing persuaded me that I needed to do more to enhance my fitness – and not just for fencing. I've found myself walking more slowly than I would like and although I can now carry much heavier bags, I discovered to my chagrin that I cannot do a single press-up. I'm sure I could do four or five a few years ago – although it's not an exercise I enjoy. The chef, returned to England after adventures in Paris and Australia, is now as toned and svelte as the greatest success in any fitness DVD. She can, it seems, do 135 press-ups in a row, followed by stomach crunches (whatever they are – they sound painful) and a run round the park. She has not, however, returned to fencing, which seems a serious mistake.
So I found myself in front of the television, bouncing hopelessly around while watching the beamingly energetic Rosemary Conley with her super-fit entourage. My daughter watched critically as I flapped my arms and stumbled over my feet in what was supposed to be a 10-minute work-out.
“You've got to try harder,” she urged, adding encouraging, “That woman there lost 6 stone.” (I hope my daughter doesn't think I need to lose six stone – that would make me dangerously thin.)
I cut out the exercises that involved twisting my back. “I don't want it to hurt,” I said. “It's supposed to hurt,” she responded. “Not like that. The physio said ….”
I thought that was the beginning of a good alibi but my daughter looked at me with suspicion. When the first ten minutes ended my daughter took over and restarted the DVD. She did three exercise sessions without pausing, showing admirable energy as she waved her arms and legs vigorously in time to the music. She seemed to know all the exercises as soon as they began, even though she hadn't seen the routines before.
“Look, Mother – that's how to do it,” she said in half-ironic tones. And then, as is the way of daughters, she announced that it was late, she was going to bed and her clothes needed washing after all that exercise – for tomorrow morning, please.