Two things struck me during my first week in London (it was nearly three, but I avoided the taxi just in the nick of time). The first striking thing is the number of unfeasibly good-looking people you see wandering about – like refugees from adverts and Littlewoods catalogues, handsome ladies and gentlemen can be seen stalking every cracked pavement in the city.
Only this morning I saw a woman trip over a kerb – for most people, a buttock-clenching source of embarrassment – only to regain her stride, shake her long hair to the right and left, and smile at nobody in particular as though she were in a shampoo commercial. I half expected her to say, “Because I’m worth it”.
And then there’s me, shuffling around the place looking like Alan Partridge after an earthquake. The good-looking people of London serve to throw my scuffiness into even greater relief. In a village, you can just about get away with walking around with frayed trousers and a piece of straw in your hair, but in London? I look about as congruent as a scarecrow in a John Lewis window display.
The second thing that struck me about London is its residents’ huge level of fitness. Everybody walks as if pulled along by electromagnets, or as though they’re sprinting, while maintaining the relaxed, upright air of a casual stroll. Walking from the train station to my place of work is like unexpectedly entering into an illegal street race where everyone’s propelling themselves, blank-faced, to some unspecified finish line.
In no other species do we see such behaviour. Squirrels don’t hunt for acorns while attempting to adopt a casual air. Salmon don’t swim frenziedly against a rapid current with a nonchalant expression.
I’ve given up attempting to keep pace with London’s kamikaze walkers, largely because I’m not fit enough to walk at 20 miles per hour without turning an unattractive shade of crimson. The possible reason for my lack of fitness, I’ve learned today, is because I play videogames.
According to a new study reported by Yahoo, pro-level gamers have “the mental agility and psychological fortitude of professional athletes,” and the reactions of a fighter pilot. The price they pay for this Jedi-like prowess? The physique of a sixty-year-old chain smoker.
The research, carried out by Essex University’s Dr Dominic Mickelwright, was carried out at a gathering of professional gamers at Birmingham’s NEC. Mickelwright warned of the “occupational” dangers of spending ten hours per day in front of a videogame, and the twin spectres of obesity and heart disease that could arise from such a sedentary lifestyle.
The salutary message to be gleaned from this research is, of course, obvious: sitting around for long periods of time with no exercise is neither natural nor good for your health. But what I find significant about the study is that it has specifically targeted people who play videogames.
If you turned up at the Hay Festival – or any convention where a significant concentration of readers or writers may be present – with a heart monitor and a treadmill, and I’d wager the results would come back roughly the same. But this would never happen, because the reading and writing of literature is seen as a noble art, and no parent has ever kicked a child out of a chair for poring over a book.
Playing videogames, meanwhile, is considered to be a pastime only a little more respectable than bear bating or smoking crack, and any evidence that games can be linked to ill health, psychotic behaviour or the collapse of Iceland’s banks.
I may not be a pro gamer – in fact, my recent attempts to race online in Blur have proved that I have all the gaming prowess of an ocelot – but I personally take comfort in Essex Uni’s research. I may be unfit, but with the hours I spend playing games, I probably have the reaction times of a newly recruited bus driver.
It’s comforting to think of this as I walk through London, and another sixty-year-old man sprints past me while smoking a pair of cigarettes.