How to Exercise and Like It

Or: one more reason to love your library.

You see, motivation is key. You can do very nearly anything if you have sufficient motivation. Since there hasn’t been anyone behind me with a lethal weapon for years now, motivation to move briskly has, I freely admit, been a problem.

Foster Bible Pictures 0083-1 The City of Refuge

Until now. I had an epiphany. All I needed to do was find something that I wanted enough to walk to it – something that was a reasonable distance away, i.e. not the cake tin.

For me, it was the library.
The Hutt City Libraries (may their book-budget never grow less) not only allow you to reserve books from other libraries within the city, they are also part of a scheme which allows you to reserve books from other libraries across the region. And (unless they are usually pay-for items), these reserves are free.

The libraries of the city I used to live in (which shall remain nameless), charged so much to reserve a book even from another library within the city that it was cheaper to get on a bus and go and get it yourself. Here, you just reserve the book online, and they let you know when it has been delivered to your library of choice.


Our local-est library is about 2.25 km away (1.4 miles, imperialists). It was but the work of a moment to decide to have my reserves sent in future to that library, and to walk there to collect them. Last week, I walked there and back twice, the first time for a reserve, the second to return books that were due. By my calculations, that’s 9km (5.6 miles) extra I walked, which isn’t too shabby for the first week.

The lure of the unread book draws me there, and the lure of the couch and cup of tea with book lures me home again. None of this forcing yourself to walk in circles for the sake of it. And if I eventually decide that a walk of 4.5km is a piece of cake, I can always move it up to 7km: to the central library in town and back. Or I could add weights – which is to say, borrow more books. (I’m only doing it for my health!)

That’s the other wonderful thing about the Hutt City Libraries: they don’t have a borrowing limit.

Lewis Hine, Italian woman carrying enormous dry-goods box, New York, 1912

What’s worth walking for to you? And is your local library as good as mine?

Drawing the Dream into Life

If I lived in Middle Earth, I wouldn’t be an Elf (insufficiently ethereal) or an Ent (too hasty) or even a Dwarf (I don’t like beer). I’m not wise enough to be a wizard, or big enough to be an oliphaunt.

I’d like to think I’d be a bard in the hall of some minor HorseLord (or HorseLady) of Rohan, kept to work up the deeds of my employer into suitably heroic (and alliterative) verse to be chanted over a goblet of wine after dinner.

Inside Viking House in Rosala Viking Center in Finland

I’m thinking of practising my compositional skills on the saga of Boromir’s heroic resistance to swallowing a pill. (That’s Boromir my cat, not Boromir, son of Denethor. As far as I know, Boromir of Gondor could take his medicine with the best of ’em.) I could even try my skills at flyting.

But it seems more likely that I would have been a Hobbit: a short, round homebody.

The world of Middle-Earth is one of those fictional creations which exerts a fascination over its fans so strong that they want somehow to become part of it. Of course, the best way to become part of a story you love – or more accurately, to make it part of you – is less by buying the merchandise (how many One Rings can there be?) and more by incorporating the values and culture of the story into your own life. Living the story, in other words.

Map of the Middle Earth #2

I recently read a book by the intriguingly named Noble Smith, titled The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life. (NB: if your surname is Smith, it behoves you to give your child an interesting forename. Mr Smith’s parents have clearly done their duty by him.) He draws out the threads of hobbitness from the tapestry of the novels which include them, and suggests how we might weave these threads into our own lives. “The Shire can become as real as we make it in our own lives and communities and countries.”

He speaks of the value of a good night’s sleep, suggesting that going to bed is a more sensible (and hobbity) thing to do than posting “I’m tired” on Facebook. He suggests eating locally grown food – what could be more hobbity than fresh garden produce? – and even provides a plan for growing a hobbity vegetable patch of your own. He promotes the hobbit pastime of walking, the importance of sustainability, and the value of quality craftsmanship (there’s no plastic dreck in a hobbit hole).

Bag End, Frodo and Bilbao Baggin's Home, Hobbiton

Parties are heartily encouraged, along with singing and the company of good friends – those with whom you can spend time “just hobbitting about.” Loyalty to friends is praised, as is the mending of quarrels, and the everyday devotion of what he calls “heroic monogamy.”

Reality, he notes, is superior to virtual reality. Anyone who has ever received a virtual gift knows this. Consider giving out mathom at your next party – your clutter can be another person’s gift. Greed is not good – don’t be a Sackville-Baggins.

When it comes to dealings with the Big Folk, Smith stresses the need to be true to yourself, not changing – or pretending to change – to suit the company in which you find yourself. Hobbits are never anything but themselves (even if they have been known to travel under an assumed name.)

Stamp Carousel / Stempelkarussell

Noble Smith writes strongly against the erosion of people’s rights (such as privacy) by the powers that be, adamant that such a state of things can only continue as long as people allow it – which would be a most un-hobbity submission. Bureaucracy is to be tolerated only so long as it serves the people – not vice versa. “Baffling rules made by flawed men sometimes need to be torn down and replaced with the standards of common sense.” There are few beings more commonsensical than a hobbit with his feet on the ground.

But perhaps you do not yearn for the rustic simplicity of a hobbit life. What world do you dream of – and how will you draw it into your waking life?

Fun-Filled Forms of Exercise

An oxymoron, some might say. But as C.S. Lewis wrote, “If one could run without getting tired [or stitch, or thistles in ones soles – DM], I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.”
Having a body that works well is enjoyable, and I am convinced that getting there can be fun as well.

Child Running

So here are a few potentially fun forms of exercise to consider. Note, I say potentially fun – anything can become unfun if it becomes an onerous ought of obligation, or a grim-faced goal-oriented grind.

Walking! It’s cheap, it’s easy, and if you find some nice springy grass, it’s easy on the joints. Walking on the beach is also less high-impact than pavement, and if you feel the urge to push yourself harder, you can always walk (run) in the water à la Chariots of Fire.
Walking can be done alone, with a friend or significant other, with a dog, or even with your cow. Er, bull. Definitely.

Giant bull Sohar

And while we’re at the beach, consider swimming – also very easy on the joints. Of course, beach swimming may be too cold for some or most of the year, but this is why we have indoor swimming pools.
“Swimming” can include water-based games, too – tag, water polo, or aquatic Calvinball. Just keep an eye out for bulls.

Harder on the joints, but nostalgically invigorating, is skipping. You can skip from A to B, skip in place, or even try some of the more advanced moves mentioned in the Wikipedia article, such as the Awesome Annie, the Inverse Toad, or the James Hirst. (“The jumper performs a backflip into a split and then back to a skip in the upright position.” Do not try this at home unless you have a paramedic osteopath on speed-dial.)

Skipping is a good illustration of how no matter how fun and jubilant an activity is, it can still be made into a joyless chore. Exhibit A: the U.S. military.

US Navy 070523-N-5459S-039 Lt. Steven J. Ayling, a training administrative officer assigned to guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72), jump ropes on the flight deck of Mahan during a physical fitness workout

One can’t quite imagine them chanting skipping rhymes. (Feel free to write a suitable one in the comments section.)

And speaking of activities which should not be made into joyless chores, Robert Heinlein wrote that “Sex without love is merely healthy exercise.” To which I would add that returning love to the equation by no means diminishes the healthiness of the exercise – in fact, if one considers emotional health, quite the opposite.

And then there’s the whole area of dance. This includes everything from slow stretchy interpretive dance to a riotous cinquepace to acro to those enjoyable circle dances which go faster and faster until either the dancers or the furniture all fall down.

Söndagsafton i en dalstuga utan ram

But as the saying goes, the best form of exercise is the one you actually do. The challenge now is to incorporate a few more of these forms of fun into my everyday life. For which I shall need a skipping rope, and someone who knows the cinquepace. Off we go!