Being old in the world of old is an eye opener. I’ve joined one of those gyms they advertise on telly – you know the ones associated with ‘LifeStyle’ villages that are filled with happy couples ‘gamboling’ (yep, first time I’ve ever used it), over the manicured lawns, drink in hand and a well-behaved little dog (also gamboling), at their heels. The thing about this gym, is that I actually like it. The supervisors are young, lithe and educated beyond all reason. I was only there a few minutes before I worked out why. They had to use an iPad to set up the computer operated gym equipment.
My first gym was Soho gym in Earls Court and it had, how can I say this, not many female clients. I chose it because I had to walk past the door to get the tube home. To get to the actual gym you had to climb something like 30 vertical stairs which was a warmup all of it’s own, but they were trying to recruit women so I was welcomed by the other dozen or so who fought with the boys for the machines. That’s where I listened and fell in love with the irreverence of Sandi Toksvig on LBC radio as I huffed and puffed on those machines and stared at the cream concrete walls of the neighbouring building. We never had an issue with the weights because the little light ones were always on the stack though getting a space to look at yourself on the mirrored wall was a bit of an ask. Luckily I didn’t want to do that. I had discovered the stretch qualities of Lycra shorts and knew I hadn’t chosen well. Someone told me this was the gym used by Princess Diana but if it was she hadn’t scribbled anything rude on the change room walls though there was a little hole drilled in the wall…(kidding).
When I stopped working in Redcliffe I went suburban. Brentford Leisure Centre https://lamptonleisure.co.uk/centres/brentford-fountain-leisure-centre/ had a gym plus a pool I used once. I also took a pilates course from a woman with a very turbulent love life who had never cut her hair. She wore it in a long, golden braid and it reached down past her tiny, little bum which would’ve been intimidating if, as I said, she hadn’t been dumped by so many men. The first significant thing that happened at that gym was I came out one day and discovered someone had stolen my bike. I stood there looking at my helmet trying to convince myself that I had actually biked then spent ages walking home because I didn’t have my oyster card. The other thing will live with me forever and I’m sure it’s only because it didn’t happen to me. I was running, well maybe not quite running, lets say fast walking, on the machine and a rotund, middle-aged woman took a machine one over from mine. She looked new but seemed confident and our exchanged of glances confirmed it. She soon started looking a bit puffed and using my excellent peripheral vision, I noticed she was playing with the controls. It remains a mystery how she did this, but instead of slowing down, she sped up. She was like a cartoon character running and running while her face got more red with each step. I tried to tell her about the emergency stop button but she was deep in the zone. The next thing I knew she was trying to step off it which if you know those machines, takes a degree of surefootedness that this woman did not possess. Before I could help she was belly down, spread-eagled on the circulating rubber mat holding on for dear life to the supports. I reached over to cut the machine at about the same time she let go and was spat out halfway across the room. You can’t laugh when someone has just had the most mortifying experience of their life but with my weak bladder control it damned near broke me. When they hustled her away to another space (where they were no doubt offering her free gym membership for her entire family for life if she didn’t sue), I went to the change room and roared with laughter. How often do you see something like that IRL (in real life. I’m just being super cool).
So I am not without experience. But with the new gym I think I’ve finally cracked it. I can go for a swim in the pool and round off my seven laps with a 30 min soak in the hot tub. No-one bar me and the trainers, wears trainers or stretchy pants to exercise because not much gets stretched. You sit, you click in on a screen and hey presto! you’re adjusted and free to pull this thing towards you 20 times. It’s like travelling first class when you’ve spent several-round-the-worlds down the back. Today I did Tai Chi. They’re turning them away and it’s not because everyone’s in love with the slow mental combat (learned that day 1) of balanced exercise, it’s because it’s easy and you really can’t get it wrong. And that is the takeaway from all this. No-one likes to sweat at a gym. We like to sit back with our eyes closed listening to the Eagles and wondering why we didn’t go to their concert. We like a chat before Tai Chi and we especially like the dolcet tones of the Scotsman who does the relaxation at the end of it. And maybe this is what this gym is. A reward for all the cold showers, smelly men and dodgy equipment I’ve met in other gyms. Or maybe you just get what you pay for.