On Pontiuses

Pontiuses is the name given to the healthful and invigorating physical exercise system devised by Joseph Pontius in the early twentieth century in Germany. It is broadly similar to the rival system known as Pilates. Well, actually, it is completely dissimilar, but I am all of a dither what with one thing and another. Only a person in the throes of a dither could possibly confuse their Pontiuses with their Pilates, for they have nothing whatsoever in common save for being physical exercise systems developed in the early twentieth century in Germany by men called Joseph whose surnames began with the letter P. I will try to stabilise my dither so I can continue this essay in prose of glistening clarity.

If you were to stumble upon a grouplet of Pontiuses-practising persons in a field, or in a municipal leisure facility, the first thing that would strike you would be their “gear”. Not for the Pontiusesist the leotards favoured by Pilatesists. No indeed. Here is a first-hand description of the outfit commonly worn when getting into the Pontiuses groove:

I had my feather in my cap as big as a flag in the fore-top; my French dublet gelte in the bellie as though (like a pig readie to be spitted) all my guts had bin pluckt out; a paire of side paned hose that hung downe like two scales filled with Holland cheeses; my longe stock that sate close to my docke, and smoothered not a scab or a leacherous hairie sinew on the calfe of the legge; my rapier pendant like a round sticke fastned in the tacklings for skippers the better to climbe by; my cape cloake of blacke cloth, overspreading my backe like a thorne-backe, or an Elephantes eare, that hanges on his shoulders like a countrie huswives banskin which she thirles hir spindle on; & in consummation of my curiositie, my hands without glooves, all a more French, and a blacke budge edging of a beard on the upper lip, & the like sable auglet of excrements in the rising of the anckle of my chin.

Readers of a Tudor bent may recognise that dandyish apparel as being broadly similar to the costume worn by young Jack Wilton, the narrator of Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller (1594). What am I saying, “broadly similar”? It is identical. Clearly I have yet to subjugate my dither. I must marshal my forces. Perhaps I ought to go and do some Pontiuses myself.

Now you might think it would be difficult, or at least inconvenient, to perform invigorating exercises when dressed up to the nines like a foppish Elizabethan roister doister. As indeed it is. But therein lies the key to the magnificent efficacy of Pontiuses. Or at least, one of the keys. Apparently, there are several, if we are to credit the title of the “guidance” published by Joseph Pontius, The Several Keys To The Magnificent Efficacy Of The Pontiuses Physical Exercise System Devised By Myself On A Thursday Afternoon In Düsseldorf During A Downpour (1929). I give it in English, though the book, all nine hundred pages of it, was written in Solresol, the artificial language devised by François Sudre and expounded in Boleslas Gajewski’s Grammaire du Solresol (1902), a signed copy of which Pontius had committed to memory. Not being able to speak or read Solresol myself, I have no idea what Pontius has to say in his “guidance”, but I am not going to let that stop me. I am manfully overcoming my dither and shall press on.

I said that the first thing that would strike you were you to come upon a grouplet of Pontiusesists would be their clothing. Hard upon the heels of that sensation would come a second, as you were made dizzy by the sight of what at first glance would look like people engaged in haphazard jumping about while having spasmodic fits. You might even cast your eyes about to spot a rabid dog, foaming at the mouth, assuming all the people had been bitten by it. But gradually you would begin to discern a pattern, indeed a profound order, in what seemed to be mere frantic cavorting. If it turned out there was a rabid dog in the vicinity, that would be mere coincidence, though you would be advised to report its presence to a public health official on doggy duty in his booth or kiosk, if you could find it. Sometimes these officials hide themselves away so they can spend their days uninterrupted by hound-troubled citizens. It is quite scandalous.

Scandal was something that dogged Joseph Pontius too. But then, the Weimar Republic was riddled with scandal, from top to bottom, so when the inventor of Pontiuses was arrested and charged and convicted and imprisoned in a case of unseemliness, it barely made the headlines. He did not waste his time in gaol, however, adapting his physical exercise system for the confined space of a cell. Rather than seemingly haphazard jumping about, the incarcerated Pontiusesist throws himself repeatedly at the walls in a strictly regulated sequence of spasmodic lurching movements. Reluctantly, Pontius had to discard the preening Tudor gallant’s apparel and approve the practice of Pontiuses while wearing the harsh grey sackcloth of Weimar prison uniform.

What this means is that there is a deal of difference between Pontiuses In Prison and plain old Pontiuses. Even I can tell them apart, even when my senses are muffled by dither. Which, I am pleased to say, they are not, any more, today, for I have smashed the dither to bits, simply through willpower, and I did not even need to perform any Pontiuses to get me this far, which makes me wonder if the exercises are actually worth doing. Probably not, I would aver. I think I shall put my feet up and have a cup of tea instead.

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