I mastered the hula hoop at about the age of 10. There was always one lying around back then, and even boys got round to learning the skill out of sheer boredom.
Where do you put your hands on a hula hoop these days? Argos does not appear to stock them, and the local toy shop seems to have been turned into a cafe since the last time I left the house. On the internet, however, the hula hoop is now promoted as a fitness tool. Could this pointless pastime actually be a low-impact, high-energy cardio workout? I ordered a DVD, borrowed a hoop from my kids' school (they didn't ask what it was for), went home and drew the curtains.
The DVD workout is led by a woman called Betty Hoops, which is either an extraordinary coincidence or an indication that she may have once been in the circus. We begin with a simple How to Hoop lesson. Ms Hoops says, "If you feel the hoop start to slow down ..." but by this time my hoop is lying on the floor. She has a few tips for keeping the hoop going, but they don't help. Frankly, I don't think my lower spine is up to this.
Inevitably, I get left behind. The routines get more complex and yoga-like, but I am still jerking my hips furiously from side to side and then watching helplessly as the hoop makes a few lazy turns around my knees before clattering to a halt at my feet. Perhaps there is something wrong with my hoop. Betty Hoops' hoop looks as if she spent a hundred quid on it.
"Use your arms and the space around you," she says, hooping away. "Find fluidity in your breath." She is starting to annoy me. It occurs to me that I could just do what she is doing without the hoop - it amounts to the same thing - but I'm not going to.
Then, during the "fire" section of the DVD, I copy her pose - one foot forward, knees bent - and spin my hoop. It stays up. I keep going. The hoop actually speeds up a little. The carpet is rucking up beneath my feet, but I don't care. I have, after a gap of some 30 years, remastered the hula hoop. I feel like I could do it forever, if only I didn't have to stop after two minutes and lie down on the floor.