Not so long ago, the summer holidays were considered a form of exercise; a chance to get up out of your office chair and stretch your legs and have an ice-cream. Thanks to the gym, however, exercise is now incorporated into the working week's schedule, and the holidays tend to represent a fortnight's break from one's fitness regime.
A year of regular exercise ought to be enough to carry you through two weeks of enforced sloth, but I find that three days in I'm already feeling restless and out of shape. My spine is like a question mark after hours in the car. I'm twitchy and irritable. My muscles feel as if they are wasting. I find even the smallest bit of exertion fatiguing. I used to hear joggers say that they experienced withdrawal symptoms whenever they stopped running for any length of time, and I used to think: "Addicted to exercise? How stupid do you have to be to get like that?" Now I think: could this be what they meant?
Some folks, I know, take active holidays - whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, tennis camp - in order to make some use of the fitness they have acquired over the preceding 12 months, but my fitness regime is principally designed to enable me to sit in front of a computer for hours at a time, and my summer vacations have always been the traditional sort: staring at the rain out of the window of a cottage and wondering if it's too early to open a bottle of wine. This is the part of the year when I do all my ageing. I could, I suppose, run up to the sheep and back, or do a few press-ups where I stand, but all of that seems so far away.
There are reminders, of course: the flash of a togged-up cyclist flying down a French road, an old medicine ball at a Cornish car boot sale. And I know that all too soon I will be back at the gym at some preposterous hour, sweating and punching the heavy bag with arms like month-old courgettes. Every year it gets a little harder to go back, especially after a fortnight cooped up with the realisation that all this exercise is but a futile attempt to stave off death. I wonder if it's too early to open another bottle.