Two Mondays ago I had a mid-afternoon nap, which is very unusual. I never nap in the afternoon unless I’m sick; even as a little child, I thought of the household’s daily siesta as merely a good opportunity to eat sugar straight out of the sugar bowl for an hour without having to listen to a lot of annoying value judgements. The papers keep saying that naps are good for you, but they bore me, and leave me even groggier and crabbier than usual, which is no good for anyone else.
When I woke from my surprise nap two Mondays ago, therefore, I was at best puzzled, and at worst worried about coming down with the Bubonic plague. Little did I know how bad it really was. “Don’t fret, it’s perfectly normal for portly, middle-aged people to need naps,” said a certain person, whom I will identify only as someone who once gave birth to me.
This torpedo of a statement found its mark straight and true; and so, two Tuesdays ago, I started playing badminton with a friend who, like me, last played when Pluto was still a planet, and Angelina Jolie only had one kid, and Facebook was just a gleam in some college kid’s eye. We pledged to meet on the court at 7am, a time we judged would involve the fewest possible eyewitnesses, and sweat ourselves back into some other shape.
The first thing that happened, twenty minutes into play on day two, was that I twisted my portly, middle-aged ankle and suffered an ungainly collapse upon my portly, middle-aged bum in the middle of the court (though I’m proud to say that I returned the shot from a sitting position even though the shuttlecock was hard to see amid all the little dancing green spots before my eyes).
We naturally couldn’t play the next day, but I bought an ankle brace and learned my lesson. The rule is now that we have to arrive at 6.45am and warm up properly, which allows us to get in not half an hour, but forty-five minutes of play before the sun rises above the trees. (Of course, the sun is just a great big fiery ball-shaped peg upon which I hang my frequent inability to connect with the shuttlecock, which is the most evocatively and disturbingly named piece of sporting equipment in the world; but it works for us.)
Although we have discovered a constant presence in the shape of a guard atop a watchtower overlooking the outdoor court, he appears to be trying to shield his eyes with his hands from the sight of us, so we’ve stopped worrying about him. The court is in a lovely green setting so it is crawling with centipedes, ants, and other bugs; I blithely squash them under my heel, but my partner, who is an altogether nicer person, often pauses play to remove them to safer ground, which is truly wonderful because it gives me time to breathe.
For a few days both she and I suffered the most excruciating muscle pain, but now that we’ve played every day for ten days, interrupted only by ankle-healing and the sports club’s weekly off day, I can tell you things are much better. I’m far better tempered; I go to bed early so that I can feel human when the alarm goes off at 6.20; I don’t drink as much or as often as I would; and I can feel a tiny, tiny little give in my jeans again. I think I’ve finally eased back from the brink of portly and middle-aged to just fat and thirty-something. Phew, that was close.