In late March 1757, in Paris, the failed regicide Robert-François Damiens was executed by the bloodthirsty method of drawing and quartering. His grisly death is recounted in the memoirs of Casanova: "I was several times obliged to turn away my face and to stop my ears as I heard his piercing shrieks, half of his body having been torn from him."
Poor old Damiens and his sufferings always leap to mind whenever I am lectured about stretching every morning. After all, is straining to touch your toes any less painful than having your arms and legs ripped off by four shire horses harnessed to each limb, meanwhile, with surgical precision, your torso is being tweaked with red hot pincers and razor sharp daggers? Beneficial exercise is often described with the torturous euphemism "feeling the burn" for good reason, let's not forget. Indeed, I think Casanova would be equally appalled by my grimaces and screams of agonies in the gym as he was by witnessing Damiens' ordeal. At least Damiens wasn't forced to wear polyester gym shorts and a sweaty tank top, a small mercy for which he should have been most grateful.
Supposedly, as we get older, daily stretching regimens improve the flexibility in our bones and joints, thereby reducing the risk of incurring activity-based injuries: a cracked tibia, perchance, from tripping over a partner's foot while waltzing to the golden sounds of yesteryear; or maybe just a pulled muscle from trying to reach that bottle of aspirin which some shopkeeping idiot stores on the top shelf in his pharmacy aisle. I myself often fall victim to a pinched nerve in my neck: the unhappy consequence of not sitting up properly while typing blog posts in bed. Ouch. There it goes again.
Yet even the sorts of amateur athletes who relentlessly stretch their spandex and fleece clad bodies throughout the day, those lunch break joggers and their kind, reek of powerful analgesic ointments and Cortizone cream. You have to wonder why they bother with the cult of stretching since it obviously doesn't diminish their discomfort. If you ask me, ill-considered stretching beforehand probably contributes a not inconsiderable amount of wince-worthy extra ache to their exercise-propagated pains. Stretching is another modern myth, in other words, no less preposterous than the old wives' tale that you should starve a fever and feed a cold. Following that wretched advice only results in hungry people drenched with sweat and fat folk who sneeze and cough a great deal.
The torn rotator cuff, the inflamed knee, the outraged elbow and the dislocated hip are simply afflictions we must bear with as much fortitude and dignity as we can muster, which unfortunately turns out to be very little in my case.
I wouldn't denounce myself as a baby, exactly, but my response to joint and muscle pain certainly doesn't wear long trousers or wipe its own chin and nose; it is, perhaps, best described as the tantrum of a spoiled brat: spoiled because I've rarely experienced much corporal distress until my recent heart problems; I had no permanent bruises, disfigurements or scars before. These days I often feel like a Vitruvian man who's been scrunched up into a ball of waste paper. It's a short road from muscle ache to bellyache, which is probably why I go on about my bypass so incessantly.
Meanwhile, the only statement Damiens made on the morning of his execution was a taciturn verdict that "The day will be tough." Very stoic of him, I'm sure, but he wouldn't have been an especially good blogger with grandiose reticence like that, however impressive it may appear in history books.