There’s no truth in the rumour that I’m entering Farmers Weekly’s competition to find the nation’s fittest farmer – although I can see how that rumour started: I’ve started trundling down to a gym on the outskirts of Southampton twice a week.
The truth is rather simpler. NFU membership entitles me to cheaper private medical insurance, and using it for the new hip at the local private hospital means I get a free six-week health MoT/fitness course at the hospital’s tiny gym.
I had to put up with a lot of stick at home, though – and deservedly so. For years I’ve teased my two boys about their gym work.
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Four or five times a week they set off, with all the kit (wrist supports, back belts, carefully formulated energy drinks), and the results are mighty chunky.
“In my day,” I say, sounding like a character from a sitcom, “gyms didn’t have wi-fi, or music videos, or full-length mirrors, or yummy mummies in shiny Lycra.
Gym fashion faux pas
“They were dusty, smelly, with PoW-camp horses and sick buckets in the corner. And ashtrays in the changing rooms.”
“Yes, Dad, we know,” the boys say, with much eye-rolling. Their revenge started when my footwear arrived. I’ve had to abandon laces because of the hip and so ordered some trainers with easy-to-use Velcro fasteners.
“Grandad trainers!” shrieked the boys as one, and howled with laughter for 10 minutes. If they weren’t such hulks, I’d have smacked them.
Ignoring their insults, I dug out some shorts and an old rugby shirt (both a bit tight) and set off for my “MoT”. BMI? Not good. Blood pressure? Bit high. Glucose and heart rate measurements all fine, though.
The lovely physio doing the MoT started compiling a programme. What sort of heavy stuff do I do on the farm on a daily basis?
I had to stop and think for a moment. We don’t throw hay bales, or lift endless hundredweight bags. In fact, neighbour Robert’s wise words apply more than ever these days: “If we can’t do it from a cab, we normally don’t do it.”
The countryside is no longer one vast free open-air gym. So the little regime she came up with probably differs little from a non-farmer’s.
Sick bucket and ashtray
The exercise bike beckons for a warm up, and it’s nice not to have to dodge the potholes and high-speed Audis, and mend punctures left by the blooming anti-social hedgetrimmers.
Then it’s on to the treadmill, when I have a long brisk “walk”. I don’t have to stop every 20 paces and throw a slobbery tennis ball for a Malinois that thinks it’s a collie, or pick up old cartridges cases, or YL42s, or avoid stepping on yet another hare.
I lift dumb-bells for a bit – facing away from the wall mirrors to avoid the frankly hideous view – and then get on the cross-trainer, where the twisting action isn’t unlike shovelling the harvest crop away from the awkward barn uprights when loading lorries but without the dust masks and itching, and the chance of beans or peas acting as lethal loose ball-bearings on the floor.
It’s becoming fun. I usually have the place to myself, and although no weight has been lost, my belt’s a bit looser now.
The test will come when the freebie runs out, and I have to pay to continue. Who knows? Another couple of weeks, and I might be hooked.
I might have to buy trainers with laces, and some proper Lycra. I bet I’ll still instinctively look for the sick bucket, though – and the ashtray.