Home Page Enjoy the countryside around us while it's still here 20/11/09

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

When Haverhill’s business exhibition was on last month, as well as showing the wide variety of products which the town has a hand in creating or manufacturing, it was also an opportunity for people like me to take their first look at the new-look leisure centre.

The refurbishment looks very good, but I am the last person to ask about whether it has improved the facilities because, in the normal course of events, I would not be using them. That is why I say ‘people like me’, because, believe it or not, there are still those of us around who are so unregenerate as not to go out of their way to indulge in sporting activities.

I am from the generation when ‘going down to the gym’ was seen as a fix for those weirdos who hankered after the smell of sweaty shirts and embrocation. Nowadays it seems to have become as essential as eating and sleeping, judging by the vast array of exercise machines which now reside in the leisure centre (incongruous term), and the fitness centres which continue to spring up all over the place like their hyperactive clients.

Now I have no objection to people wanting to keep fit – it’s natural enough, because it helps you live longer and do more. And for those with a particular sporting ability it is vital to make the most of it.

What I find puzzling is those who force themselves into the gym for an hour before and/or after work when they clearly don’t enjoy the experience at all. It is as if this is the only way which life provides for human beings to maintain their fitness, and it makes you wonder what they did before rowing machines and running machines were invented – oh, of course, they rowed and ran.

The bizarre extent to which this blinkered attitude has now extended is demonstrated when you see someone come out of the gym after their dreary hour of sweat and drive down a supposedly pedestrianised street to park right outside a fast food outlet to get their tea.

People maintain that everyday life now for many is sedentary – bed, car, desk, car, armchair, bed makes up a day of dangerous inactivity. But this inactivity has come about because people are now so lazy and take advantage of every labour-saving device that technology offers. What is the point of that, if you then have to drag yourself to the gym and torture yourself for an hour a day?

All this rant is by way of preface to the revelation that I went for a walk on Sunday afternoon. Townies tend to make fun of people who like long country walks. The truth is that even when you live in the country, you rarely seem to have time to go out and appreciate what is all around you.

I would put walking down as one of my interests, but by that I would mean fell-walking, or any amount and variety of walking in the many delightful parts of Britain where I have spent holidays.

Actually going out for a walk at the weekend when at home seems to be something which gets crushed out of busy lives. When I was little I used to be dragged out for a walk on a Sunday afternoon by my parents, and generally hated it, unless I found something interesting – and even then the idea of picking it up and bringing it home, or, if it was bigger, climbing it and swinging from it for any length of time, was not popular, as not being part of the basic activity of walking.

Now I appreciate walking a lot more, and, on the rare occasions when I have been able to make time, have enjoyed some exceptionally fine walks in the countryside around Haverhill. There are lots of very attractive little footpaths which can give you anything from two to 20 miles of invigorating exercise, keeping you fit and healthy out in the sunshine and fresh air. And before you condemn that as sounding like an advert from the 1950s, try it.

But there was a cloud on the horizon, even on such a beautiful day as last Sunday. We were just heading back along delightful paths from Great Wratting water tower towards Boyton Hall when my wife said to me: “We’d better enjoy this while we can.”

At first I thought this was just a depressing statement about advancing age, but it came as a slight shock to remember the issue was (hopefully) more pressing. We were walking through that large blank area in what is now termed, with almost Soviet colourlessness, North-West Haverhill. It is surrounded by a big borderline denoting it is the site for development under the latest plans now being considered.

If the countryside gets much further away, perhaps you’ll even see me down the gym.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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