View from the Bridge: 56
by John Morrison
56: On the Treadmill
Prince Charles has ascribed his level of fitness to "a thousand years of breeding". It's the sort of statement that asks more questions than it answers. OK, once they've had some discreet tuition 'below stairs', most of our royals become quite adept at breeding, if little else. But is the physique and stamina of our future king really such a great example of what can be achieved by a millennium of royal eugenics?
Royal dynasties have passed many characteristics down through the generations. Centuries of unselective in-breeding have perpetuated a wide selection of physical defects, such as the Hapsburg Lip and the Simpson Overbite. Mental equilibrium can't be taken for granted either. Consider poor, deluded Edward VIII. It's hard to imagine giving up your throne for Mrs Simpson. Most men would think twice before giving up a bus-seat for her. The Mrs Simpson Book of Make-up Hints would make a pretty slim volume (Step 1: buy a tub of white face paint. Step 2: slap it on). What is it about ugly women that sets royal pulses racing?
Perhaps Prince Charles is thinking of jumping on the fitness bandwagon (or, rather, being lifted onto it by obsequious man-servants) and making an exercise video. However, a lengthy breeding programme has many practical drawbacks as a fitness regime. The video's slogan - something like 'Feel younger, fitter and slimmer in just a thousand years... or your money back' - is unlikely to send many couch potatoes waddling down to the video store.
Milltown has its own fitness suite, where unfeasably slim young things cavort to music, pose in leotards and fly to their personal fitness trainers if they put on as much as an ounce in weight. Access to this haven of narcissism is denied to the flabby and unfit - Town Drunk amply fits the bill - by the simple means of fitting a ferociously strong spring to the entrance door.
Exercise? Our Town Drunk finds it hard enough just to roll out of bed each afternoon. A sedentary lifestyle of daytime TV and binge drinking, lost in a masturbatory miasma, is wreaking predictable havoc on his metabolism. Though still young - technically - his beer belly, matching set of chins and ruddy 'Fray Bentos' features give him the unhealthy look of a professional darts player.
He's tried the traditional methods of looking slimmer - such as hanging around with obese people - but to no avail. Thanks to the deodorant he was given for Christmas, by the grateful manager of his local off-license, at least he doesn't have to smell of piss all the time. But in those occasional, scary moments of relative sobriety, he's depressingly aware that life is passing him by. There's a limit, after all, to how many times you can wank in a day. And once he's reached that upper limit he knows there'll be some difficult decisions to make.
Indolence is almost an art-form here in Milltown. It drives Mr Smallholder wild to see so many people wandering aimlessly about, enjoying the Spring sunshine. His diary is full: he's got places to see and people to do. He can't dress like a cockatoo. He hasn't got the time to stand on the old packhorse bridge and watch the world go by. He can't afford to sit around in the square, waiting for an experimental cocktail of recreational drugs to kick in. It drives him wild because he's stuck in a traffic jam. Workmen erect a palisade of cones around yet another hole they've dug in the road, before knocking off for an early lunch. The only thing that keeps an impatient financier sane at such moments of stress is repeating, through gritted teeth, a restorative mantra of FT100 share prices.
Owners of 4x4 vehicles can look down - literally - on other drivers, and enjoy the kudos of owning a vehicle with the aerodynamic qualities of a housebrick. So it's particularly galling to be stuck in a traffic queue, instead of being parked up on a mountain top. Having just forked out twenty-five grand to enjoy the car's renowned off-road capabilities, Mr Smallholder feels able to tackle the roughest and least hospitable terrain that the valley can offer - such as the speed-bumps in Tesco's car-park.
Those intimidating 'bull-bars' on the front aren't there just for decoration. OK, the chances of running into a bull - or being charged by a rhino - are pretty slim, even in Milltown. But pedestrians can get aggressive too. Especially if they've just been knocked over by a 4x4 driver who's preoccupied by taking a call on his car-phone. And a little old lady, once roused to anger, can do a lot of damage to expensive paintwork with a shopping trolley and a bone-handed umbrella.
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