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     Volume 6 Issue 33 | August 24, 2007 |

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Straight Talk

Something Virtuous

There is something rather satisfying about reading a book, especially a good one. When you finish the last page and close the book, it can be an extremely gratifying experience. Broadening your horizons, increasing your knowledge, expanding your vocabulary, or just reading a book for pure and simple recreational purposes --- whatever it is, it makes me feel like I have done something positive with my time. Have you ever noticed that when people are having a supposedly intellectual conversation, it seems very appropriate, almost a pre-requisite to talk about politics and the more opinionated you are about your views, the higher up you seem to get on the superiority ladder. There also seems to be a notion that discussing books is almost as worthy a topic to discuss as politics. So having a book you have recently read as a backup for some such conversation is never a bad thing.

Last night, I had an attack of insomnia so I picked up, 'A Spot of Bother' by Mark Haddon, a book I had brought with me on holiday. They say reading a book in bed makes you sleepy but in my case it always has the opposite effect. Maybe this only works if you keep a particularly boring and tedious book by your bedside. Maybe I should try reading the dictionary from cover to cover. Instead of putting me to sleep, the book I had chosen kept me awake half the night as I got well and truly immersed in the plot. So it was only with a great deal of will power that I told myself to put the book down and resort to the age old way of falling asleep --- putting my head on the pillow and closing my eyes. However, when I eventually fell asleep and then subsequently woke up, I felt the burning desire to find out what had happened to the protagonists of the story so my breakfast was eaten with the utmost haste and the children fed in record time so I could curl up on the sofa and devour the last few chapters of my book. I can tell you that apart from thoroughly enjoying it, it made me feel very virtuous. Being on holiday, with the sun shining and a view of mountains and sea wherever you happen to look, and also where you have no particular agenda can feel a little self-indulgent. So reading was a part of my virtue-building programme.

Why is it that most things that are good for you never taste good or feel good? Do injections feel good? No, but they are good for you. Is chocolate good for you? No, but it sure does taste great. I suppose reading is an anomaly as it feels good and is also food for your brain. It would be wonderful if picking up a book and reading it would help you burn calories, remove the toxins from your system, and keep you generally fit. Unfortunately, that is not the case and one is required to eat healthily and exercise regularly (the thought makes me shudder) for that to happen.

I really should put 'eating salads' on my programme as it scores highly on the virtue-o-meter. I can never fathom how people can eat just a salad for their meal and not be ravenous five minutes later. Somehow when I am asked what I would like to eat for lunch or dinner, the word 'salad' never pops into my mind. Only today, my brother made a rather spectacular salad accompanied by freshly baked baguettes and everyone seemed to find it almost a relief to be eating something so light and refreshing on such a warm and sunny day. No matter how much I tried to convince myself that it was good for me and my body would thank me later, I just could not muster up enough motivation to eat a salad for my meal. Instead I did the next best thing (or so I told myself) by eating a small portion of it with my food which I have to admit contained a large amount of mayonnaise (to the dismay of my family). Come on, mayonnaise contains eggs and olive oil so how unhealthy can it be, right? You see where there is a will there is a way of twisting facts to one's advantage. In this case I feel no remorse in my little lapse of virtuousness. Maybe if I were a caterpillar or cow I might have enjoyed the whole leaf consumption experience a little more than I do currently. Sadly my salads are drowned in some dressing or other which probably defeats the whole purpose of eating so healthy a meal in the first place.

Now we come to the 'other' activity, which, if one can take the time and the trouble to do regularly is highly commendable. Yes I am talking about exercise. And no, walking to the car does not constitute a brisk walk. I have to admit that I am guilty of oscillating between being keen to keep fit and letting nature just take its course. I have lost track of how many times I have joined the gym and then cancelled the membership! It was to be one of my main objectives while on holiday to do a bit of exercise every day. But it is strange how your brain can come up with the vaguest and most tenuous excuses when it feels the need to. Too hot, too early, too late, when the kids are asleep, when the sun the moon and the stars are all aligned etc. But admittedly when you do get around to doing a bit of exercise it can be very worthwhile. The fact that your heart is racing and your muscles are making instinctively make you feel like you have done something useful. Thankfully, I still have a few days of my holiday left to be able to tick this particular box on my virtue-building programme.

They say you should not put off today what you can do today so I should really go and do some exercise or eat a salad. Or maybe I could just go and read another book instead...

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