Intriguing philosophy of infinitely deferred effort

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FOR A reason I choose not to dwell on, words spoken by a young man in a television documentary about health and fitness have lodged in my mind.

Asked about his ample gut, he patted it gently, grinned, and replied: "It's only temporary." Optimism - you have to admire that in a person.

I would be prepared to lay money that the contour in question is the same to this day, if not more pronounced. After all, its owner did not look remotely abashed.

But then why should he have done? Because he was clearly confident, like the smoker or the drinker, that he could just say "no". At any time, he could choose to deploy diet and/or exercise against the offending protuberance. It was simply that that time had not yet arrived.

For many, that time never will arrive - but with a little mental dexterity, as demonstrated by our young interviewee, the moment of truth can be postponed indefinitely. This does not mean, of course, that other persons need be viewed in the same indulgent light. At Anfield once, I heard a visiting supporter aim a torrent of abuse at Liverpool's portly Danish midfielder, Jan Molby. The phrase `you fat bastard!' formed the central plank of this critique - which came from a man of, conservatively, twice Molby's girth.

It is one of the enduring attractions of football spectating that shouting out rude remarks is not just tolerated, but expected. Where else is there such freedom to voice personal insult? But to return to the man with the gut and the hazy plan. The fact is, I feel endangered by his philosophy. Those honeyed words, with their promise of infinitely deferred effort - I can sense them drawing me in, sapping my resolve...

I mean, even the super-fit have problems with motivation, don't they? Dave Bedford, Britain's former world 10,000 metres record holder, once said that the biggest problem he faced in running was getting out of the front door.

I take some comfort from the fact that I have at least one thing in common with a world record holder. But it is not enough.

As I find myself confirming that old Bob Hope gag about middle age being the time when your age goes round your middle; as I find myself making Victor Meldrew noises while sinking into the depths of an armchair; as I find myself hesitating to lean down and pick up the wax crayon so thoughtfully wedged under the cooker by, probably, my six-year-old - at all these times, I have a sensation of slipping away from something. Youth.

That's the something.

What I could do with, increasingly, is a kind of reverse inertia reel belt - one that would precipitate me from my seat in response to prolonged inactivity.

It's not that I have an exaggerated idea of physical attainment. The increasing numbers of men's health magazines promising to shape up my pecs or get my six-pack sorted for the summer do not hold any sway over me. At an official dinner recently I discovered a fellow journalist on my table who worked for one of these periodicals and suggested that he and his ilk were trying to make us chaps feel guilty in the same way that women's magazines had been doing with women for so many years.

Not a blindingly original point of view, I grant you, but at that stage of the evening it passed for conversation. And the object of my righteous indignation was sensible enough to agree before tucking gloomily into his roast potatoes.

No. I am no seeker after six-packs. Unless they have ring pulls, you can keep them.

But, but... a mixture of vanity, suspicion and, perhaps, instinct compels me make the occasional gesture towards general fitness. So it was that I decided the other day, on impulse, to go out for a run. Yes, just like that, out the front door, wearing what I wore.

By the time I reached the end of my road, heavy drops of rain had begun to fall, splodging darkly on to the pavement. I remembered that I had worn a small hole in the trainers I was wearing. Ah, yes - there it was.

Generally speaking, I view joggers in the rain with faint disdain, reasoning that they are being showily masochistic - "look at me, aren't I dedicated?" Now, as the traffic swished by on the main road, I was the sad and sodden toiler. But there was nothing else for it - I had committed myself.

Fully quarter of an hour later I returned to my front door, the front door I should have remained inside. My heart was pounding, blood thudded in my temples. But this I knew - it was only temporary.