Aidan Smith: Why I never listened to Charles Atlas

1st August 1912:  Robinson getting a hold on F Pickering during the Heavyweight Sports at Windermere. Picture: Getty Images
1st August 1912: Robinson getting a hold on F Pickering during the Heavyweight Sports at Windermere. Picture: Getty Images
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A new year brings yet another splurge of new fitness fads. Aidan Smith scythes right through them

Crivvens, I hate these days – although not for the reasons you might think. It’s those stories in newspapers and magazines beginning “How to beat the January blues” which I can’t stand; all that “New year, new you” advice. What on Earth have we got to feel blue about?

The new year now begins with fireworks. Phantasmagorical displays choreographed from ramparts which light up the night sky and show off our capital city to the world, this being a place which used to be referred to as “prim” and “douce”. And the next day, picking our way through the broken glass and snapped stiletto heels, there is entertainment, conviviality, life.

Really, if you think the start of a new twelve-month is cause for gloom then you can’t have been around 40 years ago when, in dramatic contrast to the over-frothy latte that is omnipresent today, you couldn’t even stumble to the shops for a pint of milk. Everything was closed apart from a few football grounds. Edinburgh in 1972 was Deadsville (although that particular year my team were playing in Methil, which was deader still). While the menfolk were at the game, my sisters – bundled into the car with the promise of a “family outing” – were left to their own devices in a town where douceness was possibly viewed as decadence. The girls have never forgiven me for that bleak afternoon and rightly so.

Still feeling blue, though? What you need, apparently, is a spot of reinvention. Change your outlook, your lifestyle, or, more crucially, your body. Join a gym, adopt a new fitness regime, try the latest diet craze. Ah, but which one?

Yesterday, one newspaper flagged up the Scandi Diet with the promise of “a flat stomach in 12 weeks” while another invited us to “get lean in 2017 with Joe Wicks, aka the Body Coach”. Elsewhere it was reported that the paleo diet was out and the limited carbohydrate ketogenic diet – a mouthful of a name which doesn’t permit too many mouthfuls, presumably – was in. Kale, blueberries and chia seeds are so 2016. The new superfoods are maqui berries and chaga mushrooms.

If I ever mention chaga mushrooms again, feel free to shoot me. I mean, what is their purpose? Will they help me get a body like Wicksy’s? Do I want such a thing? The photographs with such articles tend to be of men with long hair and ripped torsos permanently on display. This is Joe and this, seemingly, is what we men should be aspiring towards this year.

Readers, this may surprise you, but I have never looked like this and think it’s probably safe to say now that I never will. This might come as a disappointment to my wife, as we both have significant birthdays this year and she wants us to be at our perkiest at the joint party we’re hosting come the spring. But fair’s fair: I’m not expecting her to resemble Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC.

The fitness coach du jour may in fact have nicked his look from the hunky actor du jour. Poldark’s Aidan Turner – not to be confused with The Scotsman’s Aidan Smith – seemed to be first with it in the historical TV drama when his shirt got snagged on one of Benny Hill’s old bra-catching trees and he had to scythe some long grass while bare-chested. He’s now presumably contractually obliged to strip in every series and a scene in the most recent one of him lolling around in a tin bath has just been voted the nation’s favourite telly moment of 2016, closely followed by a shot of Tom Hiddleston’s quivering buttocks in The Night Manager.

Never has there been more naked male flesh on view, more toned male muscle to make the rest of us blokes feel inadequate. What can I say? Maybe I should have signed up for one of those Charles Atlas bodybuilding courses advertised in the back of my 1960s American comic books. Truth be told, I was always more interested in acquiring toy ray-guns, although without a zipcode to append to the end of my address, both proved out of reach.

Maybe I should have been impressed by Tony Holland, the abs-twitching freak who kept winning Opportunity Knocks during that decade, but I wasn’t. Maybe in the 1970s I should have picked up the bullworker exercise kit brought home by my gadget-obsessed father. Picking it up, though, would have been all I could have managed. Perhaps during the 1980s I should have stuck in at aerobics, but the leotards gave me nipple rash and I could never find a headband to match the highlights in my hair.

I threw one more direct-debit bundle of cash at a health club, part of the empire overseen by Duncan Bannatyne, and this was where I met my wife. The grumpy, Clydebank-born business guru kind of oversaw the early days of the relationship, as a life-sized cardboard cut-out of him used to leer at us from the reception-desk before every class. Pretty soon we ditched both Dunc and the bodypump classes and have never looked back.

Narcissism won’t make you happy and I’m pretty sure ch*ga m*shr**ms won’t either. I don’t get the January blues because when you’ve begun a new year in Methil you think to yourself that things can only get better and invariably they do.

That said, there’s one fitness regime which intrigues me. It’s contained in an 1834 handbook called British Manly Exercises uncovered the other day. Vaulting and wrestling are the key disciplines; only beer and cider may be drunk. This sounds like ideal preparation for 2017. And Poldark – hand over that scythe.