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Mark Andrews: Why I'm displaying al the signs of madness

When I was about 13 or 14, my music teacher spotted one of my classmates talking during a lesson.

Mr Motivator
Mr Motivator

"Pendlebury!" he shouted. "Who are you talking to?"

"Er, myself, Sir," said Pendlebury, going all slack-jawed.

"Talking to yourself is the second sign of madness," retorted Mr Wilson.

At which point Pendlebury looked genuinely interested in what Mr Wilson had to say, and inquired: "What is the first sign, Sir?"

"Admitting it!" At which point Pendlebury decided he had probably dug himself in enough of a hole, and decided it best to shut up.

Ok, I have changed the names slightly to protect the guilty, although probably not enough to prevent them from recognising themselves. But I always thought that was a rather good put down, which has stayed with me for several decades. And particularly over the past six months, when I have begun talking to myself quite a lot.

Indeed, I probably began sometime before that, during the long hours working from home during the lockdown. Nothing serious, just the odd bit of chuntering, the occasional expletive when the remote phone system failed to work properly. But following my heart attack in April, I have actually had good reason to talk to myself – as part of my rehabilitation regime.

It began the week after my discharge from hospital, when I was advised to begin by walking short distances. According to the British Heart Foundation, the general rule of thumb is to exercise to a level "where you're still able to hold a conversation, but feel warm and slightly breathless."

And during the first couple of weeks, getting to the "slightly breathless" stage proved remarkably easy, and I regularly ended up holding with a conversation with myself, just to prove I was up to the job. Living in an area surrounded by hills also proved a challenge, as did the predictably unpredictable British weather. So I spent my Easter Monday doing circuits of the recreation ground during moderate rainfall, audibly reassuring myself that I was still able to conduct a conversation.

Fortunately, the aforementioned wet weather meant that hopefully not many witnessed this unusual behaviour. But as I grew stronger, and started doing timed walks along canal towpaths, I may have raised one or two eyebrows. Particularly when I reached the halfway stage of my walk, and then, for apparently no reason, turn on my heel and start walking back. This proved especially awkward during the summer months, when somebody would be walking towards me in the opposite direction, would greet me with a cheery ''hello", and then watch me do a reverse ferret and start walking away from them.

Since then, I have been lucky enough to take part in the excellent Action Heart programme, attending a free gym at my local hospital provided by a wonderful charity which does so much to improve people's heart health.

The problem is, of course, is that being me, I am always dashing back from work to get to the sessions before the centre shuts at 7pm. And to make the most of my time, I try to do some of the crucial warm-up exercises during the short walk to the hospital. So this means I walk up the road swivelling my shoulders, which looks like I am doing an impression of a train. And then a few side stretches while waiting for the pelican crossing. Or if the traffic is particularly heavy, I will try to fit a bit of marching on the spot.

So that is my life today. Mr Motivator impressions at the traffic lights. Turning my back on people I meet along the towpath, and chuntering to myself while riding an exercise bike. Not just the second sign of madness, but the whole shebang.

My heart health seems to be just fine. But a lot of people are probably questioning my state of mind.

One of the problems I face is trying to fit in the weekly visits to the gym with all the other things that take up my time.

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