‘This is not a work­ing method for any­one who suf­fers from mo­tion sick­ness...’

Friday - - HEALTH -

Of one thing I am now con­fi­dent. When Os­car Wilde wrote The Bal­lad of Read­ing Gaol he got off the tread­mill first. I un­der­stand the case for a tread­mill desk. I can write the ad­vert: Lose weight as you work! Put an end to those my-of­fice-life-is-too-seden­tary blues! Add hours to your work­ing day and years to your life!

The case is par­tic­u­larly strong for me; I like the of­fice chair. Yet I know all this sit­ting down is not good for me. So, as I say, I see the case. Al­low me to put for­ward the counter-case. The first and most im­por­tant part of it is this: It’s im­pos­si­ble to con­cen­trate on what you are do­ing. You will look great and feel great as you are dis­missed for in­com­pe­tence.

Try­ing to get started on my foot­ball sta­tis­tics col­umn, ‘The Fink Tank’, while walk­ing on the tread­mill proved in­or­di­nately dif­fi­cult. The urge to stop the thing or get off while I thought of an open­ing line was al­most ir­re­sistible.

Lyn­don John­son once said of Ger­ald Ford that the lat­ter was so stupid that “he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time”. Af­ter an af­ter­noon on the desk tread­mill, my sym­pa­thies are en­tirely with Ford. It was very hard to do any­thing – open mail, con­sult a book, even con­sume a soft drink – while si­mul­ta­ne­ously walk­ing at the same speed as the tread­mill. The tread­mill made ev­ery­thing al­most im­pos­si­ble.

When I’d fin­ished writ­ing, I started to pre­pare for the com­ing week. I called an ad­viser to the Bri­tish prime min­is­ter to get his view on some polling. I don’t think he no­ticed what I was do­ing. I can’t, how­ever, be sure, be­cause I can’t re­mem­ber any­thing he said. Nor did I write it down, be­cause it was hard to take notes and keep go­ing. I’m go­ing to have to phone him again.

So al­though the idea is that you can do two im­por­tant things at once, I think the se­cret is that you do both badly.

Along with the dis­trac­tion of tread­milling is the dan­ger. Tread­milling? Yes. Walk­ing, you see, isn’t an ad­e­quate verb. When you are walk­ing you can vary your pace, stop, take in your sur­round­ings. With a tread­mill you have to keep go­ing or fall off. It only takes a mo­ment of hes­i­ta­tion, and you start to slide back alarm­ingly. I hadn’t been on the thing long when I de­cided to slow it down. This was to avoid an ac­ci­dent rather than be­cause I couldn’t stand the pace. It struck me that sta­tion­ary was the op­ti­mal speed.

I had taken off my shoes, be­cause some­one told me that was the thing to do, and I kept on catch­ing my toes against the side of the con­veyer belt. Yet my toes were the least of it. The big prob­lem was my back. Af­ter about 10 min­utes of try­ing to write and tread­mill, I be­gan to get quite a bad back­ache. I soon de­cided that the best pos­ture was to lean over the desk, rest­ing both el­bows on it, while mov­ing my legs like the Road Run­ner be­ing chased by Wile E Coy­ote.

The only thing that made me feel more com­fort­able on the tread­mill was get­ting off it. This is not a work­ing method for any­one who suf­fers from mo­tion sick­ness.

I shouldn’t be too un­fair. I sus­pect you could get used to it and would then be able to take ad­van­tage of the health ben­e­fits with­out suf­fer­ing the prob­lems I en­coun­tered.

I couldn’t stand my var­i­fo­cals when I first got them and now I can’t imag­ine be­ing with­out them. Yet in or­der to ad­just to the tread­mill desk, I’d have to use it for a long time. And that, my friends, is not go­ing to hap­pen.

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