Don’t go

‘You’re on track,’ the gym instructor said to me last week,
little knowing that I had dragged myself in and that from time to time I kept
telling myself, I’d like to give up on this regime of twice weekly weight
But I don’t. 
I must do this till the end of my life or at least until my
body says, no more.  I can hardly bear
the thought.  Endless hours at the gym
trying to stop my body from its inevitable decline. 
I suppose it offers borrowed time. 
It means I feel less shaky on my legs.  It means I can go longer distances, walk
further and not feel the trembles every time I get above twenty steps. 
It means I’m still in the land of the living.
Even so, I long to rid myself of this suitcase body of mine
and stretch to greater heights. 
There’s still a red scar where my wound happened over a month
ago now. It took so long to heal.  I
measured the whole of my time away in Edinburgh by the pain in my finger.  It ached more in the cold and every day I
kept applying the special plastic bandage the doctor had ordered for me.  This bandage allowed the right amount of
moisture through, air and whatever else is needed for healing.  
And now I can’t go to the gym today because it’s Anzac
day.  A reprieve and an annoyance. 
It’s hard enough to motivate myself but when the government
offers a disincentive in the form of a public holiday where everything is meant
to close down – not that it does – then I have to find the motivation tomorrow
or the next day. 
And all of this in honour of a battle that was anything but a
victory and even if it was, should we be happy about celebrating it?
Scenes from my father’s war in Europe: 

Another of my daughters is going away soon, overseas, this
time for an indefinite period, and this time to Japan. 
I have to choke back the lump in my throat that stops me from
saying, ‘Don’t go’.  I have to encourage
her at every turn. 
It’s a good thing to go away to explore new places, new
cultures, new lives, but all the time the tug of home reminds me of why I
hate to travel.  Why I hate to
stray too far from home. 
My mother once told the story of how in her first few weeks
in Melbourne when she lived with her husband and five children in a converted
chook shed, she struggled to adjust to this new place so far from Holland. 
One day as she swept the kitchen floor of the bungalow,
through the open door, she noticed the parish priest drive by in his car.  She saw him and waved, but he did not see
At that moment a rush of pain ran through her body. 
Back home in Haarlem, the parish priest knew her well.  Back home in Haarlem, he would not drive by
and ignore her.  He would stop and visit
for morning coffee after Mass. 
Back home my mother was someone.  Here in Australia she was a no one.
At times my mother shifted from this sense of not being
wanted or known into deriding the rest. 
This country, these people, these Australians, they lack culture. 
They have no art, no history, no ancient buildings.  They do not know about fine food, and they do
not discuss important ideas.  They are
ignorant and boorish and at parties the men stand at one end of the room and
drink beer together while the women huddle at the other end or in the kitchen
over cups of tea. 
I tried then to imagine what the word ‘culture’ meant. 
If Europeans possessed culture, then could culture have
something to do with the way the men on building sites – the men who to me
looked to be mainly European, Italians, Poles, foreigners – behaved?   
These men worked hard and smoked cigarettes.  They wolf whistled whenever a young woman
walked past. 
Was this culture?  Was
this what my mother longed for, to be recognised, to be wanted? 
The wolf whistles were meant to be complimentary, or were
 By the time I reached
adolescence and these workers whistled at me, I felt the conflict of pleasure
at being noticed with a wish to be hidden and left alone. 
It felt as if I was taken over in some way, but this had to
be good I told myself.  This was a sign
of approval.  This meant I was desirable.
Yet if these men actually talked to me or knew me in any way,
then they would change their minds.  They
would see how I was awkward and could not string words together.  They would see the state of my teeth and
Or in turn, I might recoil at the sight of their arm muscles,
the clumsiness of their broken English or the smell of BO that ran off their
Was this culture? 
And now when I am beyond the wolf whistles of the past, when
I see them all so differently, when I reflect on such attitudes as patronising,
objectifying and a thinly disguised sign of contempt for women, I’m troubled by
my childhood self. 
The way I saw things then. 
These old views clash with what I see around me now. 
And once when I was young I might have thought I could
continue to get away without exercise – my body, a suitcase rigid and inert, a
mere carry all. 
My mind the only thing to matter once I gave up on my
But I still despise war, not only for those of us who suffer
its consequences but most of all for those who must live through it and if
they’re lucky enough to survive must live with the consequences of what they
have seen, done, and heard.
How can we fight against that?
Going to the gym will only take a person so far. 

4 thoughts on “Don’t go”

  1. “In 1985, former actress Melina Mercouri, then Greece’s Minister of Culture, and her French counterpart Jack Lang came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.” That’s straight out of Wikipedia. In 1990 Glasgow was voted European City of Culture. The first five cities were Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris, all cities with rich cultural heritages. And then they picked Glasgow. I remember at the time the jokes. And we all thought it was a joke because when people think of Glaswegians the first thing that jumps to people’s minds is not generally our culture. Hell, we thought it was spelled with a k! By the end of the year we’d showed them though. We just don’t take our culture too seriously but then we don’t take ourselves too seriously. In general. Sometimes I take myself way too seriously.

    Not been in a gym in years. I used to work for a company that made fitness equipment and never once in all the years I was there did I try out an exercise bike or have a go on a treadmill. Never appealed to me. I did have a fitness regime at one time in my life, in the early eighties, but no more. I don’t exercise nearly enough. And I should. And I say I will. And I plan to. And then I don’t. I know all about the health benefits—depressives should get out and about—but I don’t enjoy my own company as much as I used to and a walk with Carrie is a leisurely stroll. Not what either of us needs. I do wonder, however, how many days or weeks we might add to our lives if we exercised more. I think it would be funny if we spent 1000 hours exercising and extended our lives by 990 hours which we end up spending in some grotty hospice in 2045 and Christ knows what state the NHS will be in by then.

    Carrie’s daughter went to Okinawa. Not to study but to work. She loved it apparently. Although Carrie tells me Okinawa in more akin to Shetland than mainland Scotland. I have no idea. Her daughter liked the people and really took to the culture. She’d had a pen pal at school who was Japanese so maybe that’s where the interest originated. And she was a big fan of Karate Kid too which didn’t hurt. I’ve never had much interest in Eastern culture. The Japanese seem—and I know this is a terrible generalisation—a very orderly people. That I like. I like structure and routine. But once you scratch the surface you see the negative side to all that: order becomes a form of imprisonment. And I wouldn’t like that. It was what my father hated about the navy—during WWII he looked after the big guns on the destroyers—he could never down tools and just go for a walk when the mood took him.

  2. Best of luck with the gym project. I was fit until about age 30 and tired of fitness regimes. None of it matters in the long term; we all wither away as time trudges on.

    I wish your daughter a safe and successful journey to Japan. My sis-in-law, Marjorie, went to Kobe to work as a secretary to the Japanese Evangelical Band and stayed there for some 30 years as a 'missionary'. She used to offer free language tuition to Japanese people provided they attended her bible study classes as well. She could speak fluent Japanese after a few years. She would visit some of her 'students' and witnessed hurried hiding of Buddha and other artefacts when she entered their house!

    Best wishes to you both.

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