Terry Prone: Standing on one leg has become a tedious part of my daily routine

Like everything to do with what we’ll laughingly call 'ageing well,' the flamingo test has rules.

8th Apr 2024
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Originally published in the Irish Examiner.

My colleague is a serious man. Grave, on occasion. Not saying he has no sense of humour — his is in fine fettle — but I wasn’t expecting the flamingoes on his socks. Not a flamboyance of flamingoes, that being the gorgeous collective term for the improbably pink birds. Single flamingoes, he had. Flamingoes progressing single file and single foot.

I have to confess to being a small bit paranoid about the socks of male colleagues. That’s been a reality since the occasion a few years back, when half a dozen of us were pitching for business to a highly respected public body. Halfway through, it looked to me as if one of the panel who was going to decide on the winning company was looking fixedly at the feet of one of our side.

I figured his shoes were highly polished good British formal wear, that being his pattern, but when I dropped a pen so to have a quick under-the-table look, I found frogs copulating on his socks.

If you want to convey wisdom and authority, green frogs having it off around your ankles might be a bit counterintuitive, and so we were quite surprised afterwards, to be told we had won the gig.

You can’t go to a new client, seeking feedback on how our wider brilliance outweighed the sexy frogs, so we forgot about it until that client, no longer new, confided, out of the blue, that my colleague had got a bit dull, at foot level.

I went back to check. My colleague shrugged. The Single Sock Syndrome had worn him out, he said.

When he had amassed more than a dozen funny/profane single socks, he had called it a day. From then on, he said, he always bought the same black socks, on the basis that the surviving singletons could be forced to marry and nobody would ever know they didn’t really belong to each other.

Last week, it was a different colleague who was wearing wildlife. I had to pretend not to be looking at the flamingo socks, (you don’t want to end up in the WRC) but they spoke to me, those socks, in a very particular way.

Identifying with the flamingoes on a colleague’s clothing is something to which you cannot safely confess, but it was the truth. I spend portions of every day standing on one leg like one of them, the reason being age.

My algorithm depresses me at dawn, telling me about new and better tests for dementia and offering tips on avoiding the 10 Worst Hazards of Ageing.

My algorithm, frankly, is a pain in the arse. It says the bleeding obvious.

It nags the way I’ve been nagged and self-nagged all my life: Stop eating crap. Start eating coloured stuff like peppers. Don’t drink coffee, Diet Coke or anything else worth drinking. Exercise. Socialise. Learn new skills. Stand on one leg.

That last is like one of those tests they give you to check how many of your marbles you’ve lost. Like the poor woman who was asked, back in Obama time, to name the American president, and who couldn’t. She did, however, remember that his dog’s name was Bo, which I thought was nearly as good, but I’m not one of the medical clipboard Nazis who makes the decisions based on these tests.

The one-legged test isn’t about your marbles, missing or present. It’s about your survival.

If you can’t stand for 20 seconds on one foot, flamingo-style, you’re goosed. You’re going to pop your clogs immediately if not sooner, presumably because your balance is shot so you’re going to fall down a step or steps to some arbitrary deadline and cut short your natural.

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