The great thing about Christmas is that you can indulge your inner lazy self without any sense of guilt. Since it comes right at the end of the year, there's a built-in element of finality and reward. If you can't slob out at the end of a hard day's year, then when can you?
However... There is an inherent danger in this approach. Laziness can easily become a habit, and bad habits can quickly bring you down. That's why the Good Wife and I are on orange alert. Stand by for action! as the stentorian voice would announce at the beginning of Stingray. Indeed, anything could happen in the next half hour. Our old hometown of Sheffield has been brought to a standstill, and snow and/or seriously cold weather is expected here at any time.
In other words, one can't lounge in bed reading a pictorial history of The Beatles forever. One wouldn't want to become like Charlie's grandparents in the Roald Dahl tale. A golden ticket doesn't come to those who lie and wait, but to those who go out and seek it. So even during the Christmas break, the phone alarm has sounded soon after six. One of us then springs nimbly into action. Actually, it's currently a matter of necessity. We were slightly too late on Boxing Day and our poor indisposed dog was waiting frantically by the door, having leaked a series of puddles throughout the sitting room. Under-floor heating is a great luxury and bare feet on warm terracotta tiles can be thrilling, but slippers are de rigeur at present.
Yesterday afternoon, in spite of the elements, we defied the temptation to watch another one of our new films and went out with our beleaguered dog instead. But you cannot walk either very far or very briskly in his company. So Debs and I have been warding off seasonal atrophy with some early-morning exercise. We haven't yet invested in the kind of gymnastic equipment with which a 'young' retired couple in our last village furnished a room in their pristine modern house that hid behind a perimeter hedge of leylandii. Nor do we indulge in calisthenics with someone like Eileen Fowler, who used to help housewives keep fit when I were a lad in the early 60s and who was last seen exhorting the oldies on the sands of Clacton or Walton-on-the-Naze.
No, I've taken up yoga in recent months in an effort to bend the bar that is my body, while my sporty wife is back on the pilates (which she describes as a kind of turbo-charged yoga). So, having sprung into action to liberate the hound, we've taken to warding off Christmas indolence by exercising in parallel. That may sound sad, but it has been an interesting study in two antithetical operating systems. Whereas my wife is a natural, a perfect synchronisation of mind and body (befitting someone who studied drama and dance at college), I have never been able to get oops outside ma head, I said oops outside ma head. Whereas, by some miracle, I can move like a tiger on vaseline in time to my favourite music, if ever I try to follow prescribed steps, my body gets tangled up in blue (bruises and/or language).
In the context of our parallel exercising, let me try to give you an example. I watched with admiration as my wife executed some apparently complicated manoeuvre. It was easy, she assured me. Just a matter of letting your body follow its natural course. So she tried to teach it to me. Now bend your knees! No, bend them. Bennnd them! By the time that my brain has processed a command and passed it tardily on to my body, I'm already lagging behind what's happening further down the line. Which is very frustrating for pupil and teacher. After a couple of sessions of trying to share each other's exercises, we've come to a tacit understanding that we just get on with our own things.
It seems to be working. Our daughter has officially declared her mother's derrière as 'tight' this Christmas. And her father's recalcitrant body is slowly – and at times a little painfully – beginning to bend. If I bend my knees, for example, I can actually touch my toes now. All bodes well for a rather more flexible old age than I might once have envisaged.
In a book that I bought for my daughter as what my paternal grandmother used to label a 'tree present' (in other words, more substantial than a stocking filler, but less so than the cadeau principal), What Every Woman Should Know: Lifestyle lessons from the 1930s, there is a Daily Mail (naturally) article that urges women to sweep and dust their way to beauty. The very tasks of which women complain (namely housework) can, apparently, 'if done rhythmically and with the correct poise of the body, maintain just that slimness and grace which every woman desires'.
Certain men, too. Blessed with a super-fast metabolism, the slimness is not a problem. To acquire poise and grace, though, it's clear that I should up my housework quota. I'll make that a resolution for 2015. Nevertheless, my favourite forms of exercise remain visual and aural. I usually buy myself a clutch of new CDs in anticipation of a cheque from my father. And this year, our daughter bought her parents some films on DVD that we've managed to miss recently. We've already devoured August: Osage County – with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts on brilliant form and the tirades of a dysfunctional family reminding us of what Christmas could sometimes be all about – and Captain Phillips, with Tom Hanks splendid as the skipper of an enormous modern-day container ship kidnapped by Somalian pirates in the Red Sea. Both underlined how lucky we are to live in France.
Tonight the fourth series of Homeland concludes. My trusty spouse, however, will be recording it, since I shall be going out for some American football. Before anyone writes in to protest that a fragile aging man should not be disporting himself on a gridiron field, I should explain that I shall be watching the Green Bay Packers play their divisional rivals, the Detroit Lions, in the final game of the regular season. On TV. In the company of my friends, John and Heidi Laabs, lifetime Packers fans from Madison, Wisconsin in the frozen north of the U.S., and another Amerikanische freund, Jack, and his French wife, Martine.
Don't go thinking, though, that this will be a case of flagrant couch-potatodom. There's a lot riding on this game. If the Packers win it, they get home-field advantage for the play-offs, which is not insignificant given that Lambeau Field often turns into an icy tundra at this time of year. So I'll be chewing on my fingers and perspiring profusely under my Packers sweatshirt for three hours or so. Now that's what I call exercise!