x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Getting old is no fun, but neither is Body Sculpt or Pilates

To be agile you must exercise, but to exercise you must be agile. There's no easy way out of this pardoxical challenge to the ¿ more mature.

Putting on socks is not the unconscious act that it used to be. For instance I noticed on holiday recently that my strange bed didn't have a little ledge to rest my feet on, so I had to lasso my toes with a deft twitch of a furled sock.

I had purchased a thick pair of expensive Mephisto walking shoes, with glossy laces which were so silky smooth that they came undone every 10 minutes. I realised I couldn't just stop and re-tie them because I couldn't get down to the shoe unassisted. But I had a solution: to find a friendly object at just the right height, like a rail, waste bin or bollard to rest my shoe on, reach the recalcitrant laces and tie yet another bow, with an extra tug to make sure it stayed tied.

Which, of course, it didn't.

If getting old meant simply loosing the ability to tie my shoes, I could live with that. But dexterity isn't the only thing to go.

One evening a black grape fell onto the old fashioned mottled tiles of my villa. I looked, but as is the way with all small things, it immediately and superbly blended in with the background and smugly disappeared. No grape to be seen.

The tiles were grape-less. This immediately became a matter of honour. The grape will be found, and no chair unmoved, no carpet unturned till it gives itself up. I checked each tile but no grape.

Undaunted, I remembered my Italian friend Ugo Maggiore's advice, when his wife lost a stone from her wedding ring: "You must", he said, as he sprawled on the floor at a dinner party to his English wife's embarrassment, "put the eye on the floor . Then it is easy." He was right.

So, the grape detecting technique was clear. But getting down there required unexpected thought and planning. Kind of like tying my shoes.

Gone were the days when one shimmied down to the carpet in a single, lithe movement. I needed something firm and dependable to lean on. After an inelegant struggle I semi-tumbled onto the carpet and found the grape, skulking near the table leg.

Getting up was another matter. I had to work out a strategy of little steps to get there, hand to table leg, other hand to chair, check for firmness, with the lurking fear of a minor heart attack or snapped bone.

Something had to be done. I wandered down to my nearby hotel and gym centre and, while I was trying to decide whether I wanted yoga, light stretches or Pilates, a young woman named Anastasia glided up.

She was rapier slim, and frighteningly fit looking. She looked as if she was born in a tracksuit. The exercise schedule notes that she does everything from Abs Blaster, Body Scuplt, Latino Dance and Yoga to Pilates. Can she get down to my level?

Grey haired winter of 65 faces slim, tattooed spring of 22.

She looked me over. "I have a Pilates class at 6.00pm, with two other people. Would you like to join us?" Meekly, I nodded. It was 5.00pm. I had time to go and get whatever one wears for Pilates, which I assumed was a non-strenuous gentle exercise for middle-aged, middle-class post-menopausal ladies. No sweat.

One menopausal woman was about sixteen. The other was an ultra-slim 20 something, who effortlessly flowed through yoga poses and could probably have wrapped her ankles round her ears if requested. And me.

Fortunately, the two women hadn't been expecting me, so they had put their mats in front of the instructor. I was able to slink to their blind side and flounder unobserved.

"Express your spine!" Anastasia bellowed. Surreptitiously I glance at the other two and tried to copy them. "Eight more times. Eight, seven ... three, two, one. Again!" "Now hold your ankle and rest your head on your knee." With a fluid motion she demonstrated. All limbs are straight. "Again!"

I can't possibly get to the ankle, so end up pretending my knee is my foot, and as for my head getting anywhere near the twitching leg it was a lost cause. In the meantime the instep of the opposite foot has got a cramp.

"Relax!" she screamed.

Blessed relief, except that the other instep instantly goes into a sympathy cramp, to show solidarity with the other leg.

I am belatedly realising that Pilates is not the gentle muscle massage I had expected, but extremely difficult, nearly impossible. And I'm still sore.

No word yet if my new-found dexterity will help me tie my shoes.


Mark Fisher teaches English at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi.