Public inconveniences

I work out at the gym about five times a week with cycling and some standard aerobics. Whatever the advantages, they are not preparation enough for two real life challenges. Both are ungainly and require contortions, call upon muscles normally untested and are proving increasingly difficult. The first involves getting to (and from) the driver’s seat from the wrong side of the car. The second involves climbing over the barrier in pay loos.

With regard to the car antics, I have had to climb in and out through the passenger door twice in the last few weeks and on both occasions it was a matter of necessity. The outward climb, perhaps better described as a crawl, occurred when I had parked too closely to a wall – my host had demanded I tuck the car in against the wall to leave more space for others. The inward climb arose when a car (a 4×4) parked inches from my off-side and scuppered any chance of access through the driver’s door.

In either direction, the key questions are – when to bend double, whether to swivel or not and whether I should even try. Neither procedure is simple in one of my age (nearly 70), of my length (over 6 feet), with my shape (now with a bit of a tum) and my lack of suppleness. The manoeuvre is made worse if there is a central floor-sited gear lever or handbrake (as in my case), and I imagine that if I were wearing a dress rather than trousers there would be added complications.

On my last exit I leant over to the left, brought my feet up round the right of the steering wheel onto the driver’s seat, twisted round and knelt on the seat. Next, I crawled over the handbrake to the passenger seat, uncurled enough to put my feet on the floor inside the car, then got out feet first. In the past I have sometimes exited on all fours head first but this is not exactly dignified. In reverse, it is a matter of sitting on the passenger seat, swinging my legs onto the driver’s seat, crawling on my backside over the handbrake and then slipping my legs down to the floor under the steering wheel.  At every stage there is a risk of getting stuck and/or developing a stitch. It seemed all so much easier in the cars of yesteryear.

The toilet antics were all much easier. But this was a matter of choice, very public, and illegal. At Eastbourne Station, as on many other British Rail forecourts, there is a coin-operated turnstile at the entrance to the ‘gents’. As a matter of principle I do not believe that I should have to pay when simply using a urinal and, since the introduction of barriers some 30 years ago, I have done my utmost to circumvent the charge. Once I would simply leap over but now I have to be a little more circumspect. After a quick inspection of the entrance (there are several types with different solutions), I stood on tiptoe, lifted one leg high over the arm of the turnstile, arched my back and then, in high-jump fashion, brought over the trailing leg, twisting my back as I went. The twisting is the most stressful physically and thinking about the damage that slipping might have caused, the most stressful psychologically. But it worked.

In rising to these challenges I am able to re-live a little boyhood fun. When I can no longer do so, I will have to assume I am old.

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