Neil Taylor wouldn’t lose sleep over being on the scrapheap
My oldest son, has just completed his first Ironman triathlon, which is the small matter of swimming 2.4 miles followed immediately by cycling 112 miles followed immediately by running a marathon. The world record for covering these 140.6 miles in this manner is 7 hours 41 minutes and 33 seconds. My son’s time was, I think, just over 11 hours, but he’s signed up for another next year and hopes ultimately to do it in under 10.
All of this is quite amazing. Amazing in itself, but even more amazing when you consider that I am his father, my genes are involved and I am therefore in some sense responsible. I who cannot run more than a few yards without having to lean against a wall or passer-by, gasping desperately for breath. I who have arm muscles so weak that I am unable to perform a single press-up. Even the physical act of typing this is likely to cause me to have to sit down on the sofa in front of re-runs of Scrapheap Challenge and Embarrassing Bodies for the rest of the day.
Admittedly my second son confessed to me only last week that he does sometimes go to the gym and my number three has been seen by quite a few people shaking the marimba quite violently. But these feats are hardly in the Ironman league. As for number 4, aged 4, well yes, he goes to school on his scooter, but he is only prepared to do so if I push him all the way (0.95 miles). After which, of course, I have to go for a long, relaxing coffee in the park on the way home. And then a little snooze.
Talking of which, if it weren’t for such exertions I wouldn’t normally need to snooze during the day — as people my age are prone (or supine) to do. Once I’m up, sleep is something I would normally run a mile from. After supper I have to sit up watching more Channel 4 re-runs till around midnight or more, whereas my wife climbs into her pyjamas the moment she is home from work and is snoring by 8.30, and even the four-year old is in his bed flicking through magazines by 10. But I’m so scared of falling asleep that I’d do anything to put it off.
On the other hand, all my life I’ve been equally averse to waking up. When I was at university I couldn’t get out of bed before midday at the earliest. Because universities fondly imagine that morning becomes a lecture, I experienced no teaching that I can recall. As a result, I only began to learn anything of the subject I was reading when I began to teach it myself many years later.
When I married and children came along and passed the age of 5, they used to stand at the bottom of the stairs calling and calling me to get up in order to drive them to school on time. Mind you, we were never late. And I’ve rarely if ever been late for work either. I remember once waking at 8.40 and still getting into the 9 o’clock committee meeting before the Chair had even thought of clearing her throat. That involved dressing in 2 minutes and 46 seconds, finding where I’d parked the car and then driving the 4.73 miles like a bat out of hell.
In a long life regularly punctuated by major achievements, I have for years regarded that as my proudest moment.
That is, until this week. Unlike his older brothers number 4 isn’t keen to go to school at the best of times, let alone in the mornings (that’s my boy). He has to be woken carefully, gently, cooingly, carried to the bathroom, dressed, persuaded to toy with his breakfast, won over painstakingly to the idea of leaving the house and setting off for what he calls that ‘rubbish’ destination. It takes about 75 minutes to get him out of the house on a good day and I have to have got myself in perfect shape before any of the above is attempted.
On Tuesday this week I woke at 8.15 instead of 7.15! Yet we were both dressed, fed, out of the house and running down the street by 8.40 – and we were at school before the bell rang at 8.55.
As I leant against the school gate, gasping and coated in sweat, I whispered to a concerned-looking father at my side, “Didn’t wake till 8.15.” “Wow!” he exclaimed, awe-struck. “Is that your PB?”
An ashen-faced woman standing next to us, with a new baby in her Bugaboo and nothing better to do than pick up fag-ends, muttered grimly to herself, “Hm. I haven’t had any sleep for three days.”
But I’m afraid my mind was elsewhere. I was simply, and proudly, thinking, “You know, I think he’s right. I think it probably is.”
Photo: Channel 4’s ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ presenters Robert Llewellyn and Lisa Rogers (Pete Dadd)