Christina Patterson : Don't get into the water...

Share

I am allergic to exercise. I've never liked it, but now it's official. For weeks, I've had a nasty, itchy rash. At first, the doctor thought it was scabies.

I am allergic to exercise. I've never liked it, but now it's official. For weeks, I've had a nasty, itchy rash. At first, the doctor thought it was scabies. You can, she said, get it standing next to someone on the bus. I should coat myself in this evil-smelling poison and keep it on for 24 hours. I can't, in all honesty, recommend it.

Last weekend, the mystery was solved. After a rare trip to my gym - four doors from where I live, but still not close enough to warrant a relationship that's much more than financial - the red welts rose up again. The cause? A gentle dip in the pool - the one form of exercise I don't actively dislike. As I slathered on the paraffin jelly my doctor had prescribed, the terrible truth dawned. Swimming had, for me, become a dangerous sport.

Our interest in dangerous sports, according to new research for Sport England, is growing by the day. (I say "our" in the general sense, because my own interest in any kind of sport has always been non-existent. And now, rather gratifyingly, my absence from the gym is practically doctor's orders.) More and more of us, apparently, are skateboarding down volcanoes, jumping off tall buildings and crawling up cliffs. The bigger the danger, the bigger the thrill. Just think of Mark Currie, the British holidaymaker who described his recent brush with a white shark as "the biggest thrill of my life".

Surely when thrill turns to calamity, that's where the love affair ends? Once bitten, you'd have thought, twice shy. You'd be wrong. My friend, Rob, has broken his spine in motorbike accidents not once, but twice. After the second major accident, he spent three days in a coma and six months in hospital. He still couldn't wait to get back on his bike. He also had a habit of leaping on trains. Not from the platform, but from the footbridge. He would land on the roof and climb in through the window.

He may be mad, but he's not alone. Scottish mountaineer Jamie Andrew lost both hands and feet in a storm in the French Alps. He wrote a book about his adventures, Life and Limb. A cautionary tale, perhaps, on the folly of high-risk hobbies? Well, not exactly. In three months, Andrew learnt to walk on prosthetic legs, not in order to stroll around town and meet his mates for a pint, but to get back on that mountain. His current hobbies, according to his website, include paragliding, caving and snowboarding.

They're a strange species, these creatures who can't feel fully alive unless they're dicing with death. And guess what? They're mostly men. Boys, it seems, still like toys that might, at any moment, explode in their face. It stops them feeling bored. It stops them feeling old. It stops them feeling inadequate. Who cares, when you're teetering on the edge of a cliff if you forgot to pick up some Persil or didn't load the dishwasher? This is the real McCoy: you and what the late Dave Allen would have called your God - up on a mountain peak or soaring through the air, staring fate in the face and vowing to outwit it.

According to the Sport England research, we're beginning to eschew traditional sports - football, rugby and cricket - in favour of more complicated options: kite-surfing, for example, where you balance on a board attached to something called a power-kite; or "free running", which involves leaping from one building to another. We're going off team games, with their boring rules and regulations, and going for Awfully Big Adventures instead. Awfully elaborate ones, too.

So, is this the fruit of a crisis in masculinity? Or of a post-Thatcherite culture which has never quite recovered its notion of society? Or of action movies and computer games? Or is it the X factor? Literally? The latest genetic research indicates that the male Y chromosome is weaker and less complex than the X, of which women have a double dose. "We can see", says Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, "what a degenerate mess the Y is. Now it's a shagged out version of the X." All of which makes men, apparently, more vulnerable to mental disorders.

Poor darlings. No wonder their little amoeba brains can't cope with multi-tasking. Jones doesn't specify whether the deterioration of the Y is only across the generations, or whether it's something that can also take a sudden dive with the onset of middle age. If the latter, it would explain so much. A sudden penchant for Lycra, for example, or an urgent need to ski barefoot on snow.

The other day, I chaired a discussion with two middle-aged male writers. One of them had written a novel (a good novel) inspired by his mid-life love affair with a dangerous sport. So, I asked him brightly, was this fiction as male mid-life crisis? There was a pregnant pause. "I don't think so," he replied, a touch frostily. "It's the challenge of the technique; the challenge of mastering a new craft." Of course it is.

Reality finally bites for Woody

Woody Allen's new film, Melinda and Melinda, is, if not a full return to form, a treat for anyone who enjoys watching middle-youth neurotics negotiating the dangerous rapids of their love affairs. In both the intertwining strands, comic and tragic, there are some of those vintage Allen ingredients: gorgeous book-lined interiors, middle-class dinner parties interrupted by a crisis and the usual panoply of failed actors and artists agonising about life, love and burnt sea bass.

But there is one new development. This portrayal of middle-class Manhattan mores includes somebody who's black. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Ellis, a musician and composer who embarks on an affair with one of the Melindas. He is sexy, bright, charming and seductive. He's also a bit of a bastard - one of those men whose addiction to falling in love leaves a trail of broken hearts. Not a super-action hero. Not a faithful retainer, driver or gardener. Not a trusty side-kick. No, Ellis is something like a real human being. Well, it's a start.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas