Michael Harding: After my heart attack I needed more exercise so I went to Aldi
Self-pity afflicts me, I spent most of Christmas brooding about my illness
Supermarket workout: ‘The only problem was that a woman rummaging in a basket of sports bras noticed me’
I’ve been trying for years to make the General laugh, but he has little sense of humour. Almost nothing amuses him. The day I was leaving hospital he showed up in the reception area.
He suggested we step outside because he wanted to smoke.
“You can’t smoke here,” I declared. “It would be an outrage.”
“I can smoke outside,” he insisted.
And so he did. Flicking cigar ash into a plastic coffee cup even though there was a sign at the door declaring that the entire hospital was a smoke free zone.
“Don’t you realise that there is a coronary unit just inside the door?” I asked.
“But my dear boy,” he said, “a coronary unit is the safest place to smoke. Imagine if I had a heart attack here. All I would need to do is step inside for assistance.”
Athlone is awash with samurai warriors. But what do you need a sword for?
“By smoking openly, you are insulting every nurse and doctor that works here,” I declared, and his face melted into a jelly of self-pity like a chastised child. Although at least he dumped the remains of his cigar.
Self-pity afflicts me too. I spent most of Christmas brooding about my illness.
I lay on the sofa every day, transfixed by the unrelenting assault of Netflix on my idle mind.
I watched 24 episodes of a romantic television drama from Korea, set against a backdrop of Japan’s brutal colonisation. The hero, Mr Sunshine, would regularly gaze at his beloved, a young Korean woman, for such long periods that I often wondered if the screen had frozen or if they had forgotten their lines.
And I had dreams at night that I was walking around Leitrim in a kimono, with a samurai sword dangling from my belt.
One morning after New Year's Day, the General arrived with a bottle of brandy. He said it was a Christmas gift. I was in the kitchen in my dressing gown, holding a porridge bowl in both hands and staring at the sink.
“What are you thinking of?” he wondered.
I told him that I had found a samurai sword on DoneDeal and was wondering if it would look well over the mantelpiece.
“Someone in Athlone is selling it,” I added.
“Well in that case it must be genuine,” he said. “Athlone is awash with samurai warriors. But what do you need a sword for?”
“Taking the top off my boiled egg,” I said. It was a joke. Another attempt at amusing him. But once again he stared back at me in confusion and said, “What’s wrong with using a spoon to open your egg.”
I offered him a brandy.
“Too early in the day,” he protested, “but I’ll join you if you’re having one.”
I returned to the tills, and up the next aisle, before coming down the alcohol aisle. It took four minutes. And five times four would be equivalent to a 20 minute walk
I said I wasn’t.
“Oh very well,” he said, “seeing that it’s still Christmas, I’ll accept a thimble full.”
The conversation turned to Brexit.
“Clearly, Brexit was the cause of your heart attack,” he said. “I have seen how your blood pressure rises every time Jacob Rees-Mogg appears on the television.”
I tried to explain to him that painful as it was to watch Rees-Mogg standing on a laneway in Fermanagh, describing Cavan as a foreign country, it wouldn’t really give me heart disease.
“Heart disease is caused by smoking,” I said pointing at his cigar.
“And drinking,” I added, pointing at his brandy. “And taking no exercise.”
“Then come with me to Donegal,” he declared. “We can walk for hours.”
“Too many hills,” I said. “I need flat ground.”
“And where do you find flat ground among the drumlins of Leitrim?”
“Aldi,” I replied.
‘Not a stalker’
The previous day it had been raining, and I was in Aldi to buy batteries, when it dawned on me that the place was large enough for a respectable stroll.
I walked up the vegetable aisle, across the top where the yoghurts are, and down the aisle where the men’s toys are displayed.
Then I returned to the tills, and up the next aisle, before finally coming down the alcohol aisle. It took four minutes.
And five times four would be equivalent to a 20 minute walk.
So off I went at a brisk pace.
The only problem was that a woman rummaging in a basket of sports bras noticed me, and as I passed her for the fifth time, she became alarmed.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m not a stalker.” And when I explained what I was doing she shook with laughter.
“Why on earth did she laugh?” the General wondered.
“Because she found it amusing,” I replied.
But I knew by his bewildered face that the notion had no meaning for the General.