A gym can be a very busy place, filled with lots of people who are either also being busy, pretending to be busy or not being busy at all. A gym succeeds almost as well as a shopping centre in bringing together nearly all forms of human life, social types and groups that normally wouldn’t be seen dead with one another. I suppose shopping centres do a slightly better job because you don’t see many heroin addicts, thieves and gypsies in the gym. Well, certainly not in my gym, because if there were I wouldn’t go. You see what I mean about the social microcosm thing.
I’m at a loose end so let’s try to break down an average day at the gym. Just, as if it needed saying, for the exercise.
- The gym opens early, very early in the week. That’s because for some people the day can only start with some rigorous, punishing masochism. For early morning gym freaks a 30 minute blast on a cross trainer is their equivalent to a bowl of muesli (which they probably have stashed in Tupperware in that little rucksack that will look stupid once they’ve put on a suit) or cup of tea, cigarette, great big shit or line of coke first thing in the morning. The gym is what they get out of bed for and quite a lot of them will pop in at the end of the day too. It won’t make any difference, they’re still just as like to drop dead in Sainsbury’s five months before they retire.
- Once the first wave of dicks have cleared off, trumping past in their work clothes and looking about as happy as someone going for a prostate check, 9am sees the gym enter the most polarized phase of the day, a phase than will take it right up to lunchtime. At one end are the squat thrust, kettle bell gym mummies (gender cliché because it’s gender true) who, having dropped off the kids at school and hubby at the station, park their Range Rovers and dive into a string of annoyingly energetic classes run by annoyingly energetic instructors with names like Zane and Bridgette. These classes will all have stupid, zazzy names like ‘Energy Toss’ or ‘Bums, Tums and Fannies’ or ‘Muscle Fuck’ and are designed to trim that post baby derriere and restore the vagina to a nut cracking former glory; though this will never truly happen. At the other end are the flabby, puffy cheeked, out of breath fitness failures who attend such classes to fill the void in their lives between their second breakfast and brunch. They will stumble and stagger and pant their way through every routine with a startling lack of timing or general co-ordination (or indeed actual commitment) and might bring to mind a drunk standing on a speeding bus whilst trying to tie their shoelaces. They’ve been coming to this class for 18 months and have managed to put on 9lbs, but they say they really don’t understand how. The two groups will exchange smiles and chat inanely at the end but in their hearts they both know which is the streamlined, predatory hawk and which is the fat, doomed, flightless dodo.
- As these classes bash and smash away all that fat the rest of the gym has quietened down slightly and some of the seriously lost causes are frittering away their money on personal fitness instructors, instructors that spend the rest of their day desperately trying to look like they have anything else to do other than more exercise and chatting up other bunnies: bunnies who will have an equal or greater number of shit, deeply ill-advised tattoos. As a rule of thumb an hour PT session will cost about £50 and will achieve the square route of fuck all. The ‘personal trainers’ have names like Fernandes and Briony and, with the odd exception, are all immensely fit looking. Our gym used to have a fat personal trainer but they don’t work there anymore. Which doesn’t beggar belief in the slightest: who would want a dentist with no teeth?
- And then the gym enters the desert zone; becomes an empty, barren wasteland with only a few hardcores and the temporarily unemployed to justify keeping the place open. The odd machine rattles on but this is essentially a time for light and energy to be sapped away. It is the calm before the storm but it is a useful calm so that the cleaning team can get to work mopping up all that sweat and all those sticky palm prints and the engineers can come in and mend anything that might be broken. Only they don’t do that. The cleaners will appear just as the place fills up again and those pathetic signs that say ‘this equipment is broken, we’re working on it’ seem perpetually redundant as it is blindingly obvious that they’re not working on it because if they were then it would already be fixed and I wouldn’t have to make do with my third favourite stair climber on the quietest time of any day since 2 weeks after that asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.
- Carnival time: every bugger that’s been at work now crams into the gym to run off all that stress and pent up aggression and make up for all those hours sitting at a desk piddling their lives away. This is the high point in any gym day, at least for someone. Shifty glances are abundant as bodies move around like wildebeest at an overcrowded water hole. As days and weeks and months pass by some faces will vanish and others will replace them but you’ll always be there until you move on in one way or another and so the gym becomes the restaurant at an all inclusive hotel and over time you will learn who you like and, more often, who you detest for no rational reason other than that they use the rowing machine a bit funny. And don’t forget that this is exhibition time when every bicep and calf and tit and arse is proudly displayed; a teaming cauldron of pent up sexual thruttle but with none of the actual thrutt. Watch out for the big, strutting, empty eyed, Rambo man whores and the pony tailed, camel-toed, Gym Shark tartlets who saunter about on a cloud of their own reverence but are little more than slightly bigger, much more toned and infinitely stupider fish in a very small and meaningless pond. Bravo. And also keep your eyes open for the fitness fakers: there really are people who go to the gym and do no exercise whatsoever and they’ll either be morbidly obese or have a family of tapeworms. Oh dear.
- Unlike all the other stages in the day of the gym I have never once been any time after about 8.30pm. I’m guessing this is a strange time, a time for people who have to work late (as in much too late) or genuinely have nothing better to do with themselves. It must be like those Blue Planet episodes that plunge to the depths of the oceans and confront strange creatures hitherto unseen. I wonder what it must be like at one minute before closing; eerie I expect and I don’t know if I would be comfortable being the last person to leave. The last person to nod to the face behind the desk and say the least meaningful ‘thank you’ imaginable and then drive home in the dark and crawl into bed and wait to start it all again tomorrow.
I feel quite melancholy now I’ve written that. I know that gyms are meant to be good for you but when you rub off the briefly satisfying sheen of salt water and Lycra and pumps and lunges and spins and dips they suddenly appear to be very strange arenas. Theatres of confused dissatisfaction. Crucibles of failure; failure disguised as red faced semi-achievement. You don’t go to the gym because you want to, you go but because you need to, so that you’ve done something and deep down you know, just as everyone else there knows of themselves, you’ll never be totally satisfied with yourself and so now you’ve been sucked in you have no choice but to go back and try and fail forever and ever. And so gyms become churches, not shopping centres. They are where you go to redeem yourself but you can never really wash away all your sins or heal all your wounds. People secretly don’t want to go to church – they need to go to church, they have to. And when you find yourself having to go to church then you really are in trouble.
G B Hewitt. 17.08.2019
Yesterday – stair climber – 60 mins, 7 seconds, 1300 calories, 427 flights – and I’ll still probably go today. Because I’m a gym twat, just like all the others.