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SALLEY VICKERS on why she'll never give in to the exercise bullies

Recently, as I was walking gently through the park toward an Americano and a donut, I was brutally pushed aside by a troop of zealots, many of them elderly, in various states of sporty undressing.

They passed me, leaving a slipstream of sweat and, on my part, a mixture of guilt and resentment.

The friend I met, to whom I complained, told me that if I looked a little further than the donut stand, I could see a lesson outside of Pilates. I haven’t looked.

I wanted to eat my donut in peace and quiet and discuss important things like last night’s TV and whether it’s really okay now that I’m in my 70s to go braless. “Better not if you’re going for a jog,” my friend yelled.

No Sweat: Novelist Salley Vickers.  She writes: 'I hate sports.  Or, to put it another way, I abhor any form of compulsory or formal exercise...'

No Sweat: Novelist Salley Vickers. She writes: ‘I hate sports. Or, to put it another way, I abhor any form of compulsory or formal exercise…’

As I strolled home again, full of donuts, I passed a poster announcing sternly, as if aimed specifically at me, This Girl Can. I understand it’s the work of a lottery-funded campaign that encourages women to exercise.

But you’ll never get me off the couch to 5K. I’m with David Hockney who wrote not long ago about the unparalleled pleasures of champagne drinking and smoking – despite all the current restrictions against it. As Hockney said, ‘Love life. Not the bossy boots.’

Some time ago I read on the website of my esteemed colleague Philip Pullman that he ‘approves sports, for other people’. I admire Philip for many things, not least for this courageous manifesto.

For surely he is guilty of the grossest modern blasphemy, and should be dragged before the chief priests and priestesses (if we may make such a distinction today?) and put on the bars.

I’m with Philip. I hate sports. Or, to put it another way, I abhor any form of compulsory or formal exercise. I have always, in spite of, and here’s the oddity, been blessed by parental genes with a naturally athletic physique.

Salley says: 'During the close of writing my latest novel, I rented a small cottage in the countryside and it was bliss, but for the platoons of Lycra-clad cyclists who rode the small roads and narrowly missed me as I ambled through wild to pick flowers'

Salley says: 'During the close of writing my latest novel, I rented a small cottage in the countryside and it was bliss, but for the platoons of Lycra-clad cyclists who rode the small roads and narrowly missed me as I ambled through wild to pick flowers'

Salley says: ‘During the close of writing my latest novel, I rented a small cottage in the countryside and it was bliss, but for the platoons of Lycra-clad cyclists who rode the small roads and narrowly missed me as I ambled through wild to pick flowers’

It wasn’t always like that. My childhood ambition was to become a ballet dancer and indeed, I showed promise in that direction. I like to think that the only reason I never became another Darcey Bussell was because my second toe grew longer than the big one, a phenomenon that makes point work a hazard.

In elementary school, I was a star on the netball team, and when I moved to my rather large high school on a state grant, I won, as no one had done before me so young, ‘a white belt’ – a wonderful medieval-sounding tribute to those who excelled in gym.

Plus, I famously won, like no one before me, in my very first term.

Readers, from then on it went downhill!

The miserable white belt meant I was more or less forced into the gym team, run by a tartar with a red face, a mustache and knobby knees.

I wriggled my way out of this by working so hard on my classes that I jumped up a year and was able to offer the impeccable excuse that after skipping a year I had to throw up my O levels so, horribly sorry, no time for fun and games.

Lacrosse, a game without limits, found me running, with my lacrosse stick, so far from the field that by the time I walked back lazily, the game lesson was over.

Fortunately, as far as tennis, coming from a modest public elementary school, I had never played the game and had to deal with peers who had been members of posh clubs from birth. I was considered so crazy that no one wanted to play with me.

And then for a swim, oh my, well, I had those shockingly “unreliable” periods.

In college I got my practice of climbing out of college windows, over rooftops and down drainpipes, and over high railings, to get into the male colleges (which were still single in those distant days).

And I did quite a bit of punting too, but more reclined, gracefully dressed, hand dragging languidly in the water variant.

In adult life, I’ve made feeble attempts to join the fitness converts and even signed up for a gym membership.

The first time, I went for an expensive one (“cheaper in the long run,” I was assured) and there’s something about paying more that somehow promises to knock you off the hook. Look, I paid through the nose, so that’s enough, right?

'Always give me a fork and a pair of sturdy gardening gloves,' explains Salley, after the lockdown

'Always give me a fork and a pair of sturdy gardening gloves,' explains Salley, after the lockdown

‘Always give me a fork and a pair of sturdy gardening gloves,’ explains Salley, after the lockdown

For the record, I bought a large amount of temptingly packaged vitamin pills and never went back. I think the pills are still in my kitchen cupboard unless my youngest son, who takes the burden of sorting me out, has thrown them away.

The second time I approached a gym, a well-muscled man with rings in his nose tested my body mass index (BMI).

The BMI news wasn’t good, he was happy to tell me, and as far as I’m concerned it was – I didn’t go there to be humiliated.

On my third attempt at joining the gym, I banjaxed my back on the very first session, leading to an expensive treatment at the osteopath. He was also part of my growing rebellion.

When I proudly announced that no matter how old I am, I could still touch my toes, he firmly let me know that this was not a congratulation, it meant that I was being ‘overflexible’, a seemingly dangerous condition, not something to worry about. to create.

He prescribed weights and after paying his hefty bill I made for the hills.

During the lockdown I rented a small cottage in the countryside to write my latest novel and it was a bliss, except for the platoons of Lycra-clad cyclists who owned the small roads and narrowly missed me as I ambled picking wildflowers.

The garden of the cottage was unkempt and extensive, the lawn a hay field. I spent many happy hours digging rampant dandelions or mowing the knee-high grass.

Goodbye gym, goodbye Pilates, goodbye salsa and Zumba classes—always hand me a fork and a pair of sturdy gardening gloves. And so, finally, I found the perfect excuse to ditch every other form of fitness.

The Gardener by Salley Vickers (£8.99, Penguin) is out now

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