WEEK 49: Friendly Frog

WEEK 49: Friendly Frog


As Ronnie Barker’s Arkwright might have mused in Open All Hours while under the streetlight outside his Doncaster corner shop at the end of the programme, “It’s been a funny week…”

After last Thursday’s royally vigorous karate session, I couldn’t walk properly until Sunday because my limbs were so stiff. I then quickly came down with another cold, which is the worst run of sniffles I’ve had in my entire life. I’ve lost count now… four, five colds since November? Covid too.

I read that rather than building up resistance to colds after an illness, we can sometimes become more susceptible through a weakened immune system. There are scores of different cold viruses out there. Work stress (tick), too much heavy endurance exercise (tick – 2x karate a week, gym at the weekend with the kids, tennis when my hand wasn’t injured) and poor diet (semi-tick – I eat whatever is quickest and nearest to hand when Mrs Gale is not here – so cheese on toast or Pot Noodle) can all add to a battering of the immune defences.

Add to this commuting in London. I hate commuting. Most men in the capital under the age of 35 yawn like dogs on trains in the morning, even making animal-like “yorrrrrrrrrr” sounds and then cracking their knuckles. Travelling in sardines carriages with these binmen-dressed creative types is a recipe for disaster. It’s a germ playground. I know… I’ve barely mentioned karate yet.

This latest cold really browned me off but my right hand was still painful so, two weeks after thwanging it in the karate competition, I sorted an appointment with a doctor. To cut a long story short, when I should have been in the dojo that evening, I was having an x-ray in North Midd hospital. But I’d gone to the wrong hospital of course. With North Midd you get results weeks later. If I’d gone to Chase Farm, with my Chase Farm-headed referral letter that I’d been given by the quack, I’d have known within hours if my hand was fractured or not. So… we plod on.

The doctor had strongly suggested no sport until the hand had repaired but I went to karate on Thursday anyway. It was a one-on-one – everyone else was watching Arsenal play at Highbury… I mean the Emirates. This was a good chance to make some progress but I felt drained and flat and put in a Bruno Fernandes-at-Anfield performance.

We worked on some of my weaknesses – preparing for blocks and punches being one. This is a particular nightmare for me. In a drill, you can’t just block and punch – you have to indicate that you are about to block or punch. For an upward block you raise the left arm to the horizontal with a flat hand and then perform the upward block. Before a right punch, hold a flat left hand out in front and pretend you are balancing a lemon under your arm. I suppose any citrus fruit would suffice in this situation. Usually I dispense with the preparation – it’s too much to think about. But that has to change.

Sensei Amrit’s convinced I’m over-thinking everything and my meticulously compiled clipboard for kumite (see last week) – recognised blocks and counters – no doubt only confirms this. I was sweating way too much and kept forgetting where I was up to: the arena of the unwell. Kicking was practised and my legs were like concrete pillars, and not in a good way. To be fair to myself I think this is the remnants of Cold No.5 working its way out of my tired-out frame. Pain in the pelvis, little movement or give… this could, of course, be my final battle against old age setting in.

By the time we were painstakingly perfecting kata heian sandan, I was feeling a little more warmed up and focused. Beyond my age-inflicted shortcomings to karate, I’m just grateful to be tutored in the high discipline of Shotokan and for the utter patience of the local senseis. As for my hand – it made it through the session and as Professor Brian Cox’s D-Ream presciently put it, “Things can only get better”.

When I was home and had poured a glass of red, I drew the curtains in the conservatory where I write my blog but the material was trapped in the door. I opened the door to free the material and looked down to what I thought was a dollop of fox muck on the step; foxes are very creative defecators. But it was a frog. Perhaps it’s karate’s friendly frog, here to heal my ailments, fix my injuries and re-focus my mind.

I wished Mr Frog well and closed the door and then I saw a package marked for “Lee Gale”. It was the wobble balance board I’d ordered from Sports Direct – the board that the hospital physio said will make my arthritic knees and hips so much stronger. It’s onwards and upwards. There’s no other way.