The inevitable calling of physical improvement came towards the close of last summer. It had been brewing for a number of years, but, like passing my driving test it was brought on by necessity. And, as much as Mrs Pause’s pregnancy with our first son was the, ahem, driving force behind the acquisition of said license, such was his natural accumulation of height and weight, – ‘growth’ apparently – hastened the review of one’s physical attributes and ability. The conclusion was as visibly apparent to all and sundry, as it was mentally predictable.
I needed to start putting some work in, particularly if I didn’t want to fail in essential, future, paternal tasks: being able to pick him up when he fell and hurt himself; carry his bike (and helmet for all you health and safety law-abiders) in one hand, whilst holding his gloved hand with the other, when he got too tired or grumpy to ride it; illegally passing him over tall fences at festivals to obtain cheap entry and so on. To not be able to do these small things would have been a monumental parenting failure, and I was determined to ensure it wouldn’t happen.
So, I joined a gym. There. I said it. Sorry. ‘So what?’ I hear you say, amongst the guffawing and sniggering. What’s the big deal? Well, I have always shied away from the places, as the thought of spending money to recreate the lung-burning discomfort of secondary school cross-country running, whilst surrounded by more wankers than a line-up at a porn audition, seemed a ridiculous waste of money – especially when there was much needed budget to be spent on booze, sneakers and vinyl.
Growing up – and during my youth I only grew upwards, as dinner money was spent on nicotine rather than protein – I was a skinny kid. I wore baggy clothes to disguise the fact that I had the physical threat of a Moroccan long-distance runner, with the lung capacity and heart-rate of a baby starling. Then, when living in Glasgow, immersing myself in the culture and particularly the local diet, predominantly sponsored by Miller and Marlboro, caught up with my 30’s, and I left there needing to wear baggy clothes because they were the only ones that fit. Fortunately, I had been wearing skate or streetwear that leant itself to the looser fit for many years, but at some point I missed the bit in between these two uncomfortable extremes, when the clothes I wanted to wear were the correct sizes that actually fitted. It was time to reclaim that time.
To the uninitiated, your first time in a gym can be an intimidating experience. Fortunately, the rash-red face of the instructor was as kind as E45 cream would allow, and he was somewhat aghast that any man had not been in a gym before his spots burst. I had some questions, mainly around how this or that machine works, whether it would hurt me, and what on Earth is a ‘spinning’ class. And, more importantly, why does everyone coming out of that one look as fucked as the exit gates of Dreamscape in 1992? After an hour, I had my personal plan, and I was off on my own.
It appeared to me that there are three types of male gym frequenter. Firstly, the hardened athlete, resplendent in ‘Market Harborough First XV Tour of Eastbourne 2004’ rugby top, terribly old Asics shoes and focused on strength and fitness. Grrrr. He probably ran here, jumped the canal in one stride and ate a mountain bike on the way. The second is the it’s-not-too-lates – fast approaching or deep in the middle of middle age, and either trying to put some muscle on, or take some fat off. Survival of the workout program is regarded as a victory, followed by a calorific reward, potentially involving chips. I was in this cluster, if not the chief flag-bearer. The last was the most hateful: the posing vanity merchants. This particular strain of protein-shaking, prancing fuckwomble is to be regarded with utter disdain. They preen themselves at every opportunity, wandering between machinery with their baggy jogpants hanging off (or below) their arsebelts, like grey fleece-clad, penguins from the island of Twat. If there is a King Bellend then he may well have a hat on indoors too, to protect his swirly hair and floppy fringe. Wow. You. Look. Goooooood. I have yet to see them actually put any work in, just look at some weights, give each other hi fives (not in a gay way at all, no, not all) as a greeting, then look at some more weights. This, apparently, gives you the magic ability to carry a roll of invisible carpet under each arm. I bet the girls love kissing you, if they can get between your lips and the mirror.
Having navigated stage one of the discomfort, I forgot to ask Rasher Redface what the etiquette was with regards to other parts of the facility, in case there were any unspoken no-no’s that I was unaware of. I decided to hit the sauna, and the 8-man, double-decker silence spoke volumes. It made the 7.32am commuter train from Chorleywood to Marylebone sound like the studio audience of the X-Factor final. Apparently we were there to sweat. In sizzling silence. Do not speak, or we will all burn in hell.
After opening my pores, I slipped and waved my way into the steam room like a scene from The Fog. I think the ‘tut’ from the mist was aimed at me for opening the door to enter the room. Ooh, maybe if I go to the gym enough, I can get a prescription to the special tablets that mean I can enter a room in spirit form, thus negating the need for a door, and retaining the steam in the room. How the fuck else, exactly, are you supposed to enter a room? I would have aksed, had I not been scared silent from the sauna. Right, soggy sods. I’m outta here. Whoooosh. Take THAT, steam bastards. I am opening it again!
Now, I’m not sure about shower manners, but when it comes to drying, I do not have the balls, literally or figuratively, to stand in front of a mirror drying my pubic hair with a hair dryer. Nor would I want the end result to look like a 70’s television microphone…but if it did, Jimmy Saville would hang a square medal over it and make my wish for avoiding paternal failure come true.
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