Do I go to the gym? Well, thanks for asking. People rarely ask me that, I don’t know why. Even the staff of Fitness First round the corner from work never ask me, as they patrol the streets giving away free passes and enticing the ladies, gentlemen, circus freaks, tourists and the infirm of the Soho area into their gym. Never once have they thought that I, clearly working nearby, would be interested in joining up. Which is strange because usually people seem to find me very approachable; beggars, scam artists, charity fundraisers, armed police, they’re queuing up for my attention.
What they probably don’t realise though, is I once was a member of their gym. In fact, I was a member of their gym for a year. But they are unlikely to recognise me.
My friend Gypsy had the idea, we would join together. It would be a new thing for us to do as friends and we would motivate each other. Gypsy didn’t really need to go to the gym, unless it was to maintain what she already had. In my case, I didn’t have a gym body; in fact, I had what I would call a pre-gym body, in that I really needed to go to a gym in order to get in decent enough shape to join a gym without being laughed at. I considered buying some gym equipment for home so that I could go through this pre-gym regime but when I thought about the rarely-touched punchbag I hastily impulse-bought and installed in the lounge while my flatmates were in Thailand, I figured investing in more dust-gathering home fitness gear was probably not such a good idea.
Mere days after first mentioning it and getting an unenthusiastic “yeah we could do” from me, Gypsy decided it was time for us to pop around the corner and sign up one day after work. I thought if I was ever going to do it, this would be the time, and after all it would surely be easier if I was doing it with a friend. We went to Fitness First and a guy who seemed like he had a second job as an estate agent or recruitment consultant gobshat his way through the small print, the contract and our various options. I went for the more expensive one, because it included use of Fitness Firsts with a pool. In fact I think I went for the most expensive option there was. Yes, I went from being a member of no gym to being a member of all the gyms in one go.
Who knows, maybe I’d be stuck in Teddington one night with nothing to do and have an overwhelming never-before-experienced desire to work out. Had to make sure I was a member of all the clubs, just in case. I was sure it would come in handy to be able to pop into any Fitness First, anywhere, anytime, because now I was a member, I was bound to be extremely excited about doing as much gymming as I possibly could, and definitely wouldn’t try and think of any excuse at all not to go, ever.
I signed the papers, gave them money, and the promise of more money every month, and also extra money for some personal trainer sessions I was definitely going to use. In return, they gave me a gym bag I didn’t need, a book or something about the gym I never read, a fitness diary I didn’t fill out, a pair of headphones I didn’t want, and a water bottle I wouldn’t use.
It turned out there was a fundamental flaw in me and Gypsy’s tandem gymming plans. We didn’t want to go at the same time. So she started going when it suited her, and I started planning to go when it suited me. But first, I needed some new gym gear. I needed to mask my pre-gym body with some totally post-gym clothing. So I went to the Nike shop nearby and spent what remained of my money on ludicrously overpriced gym kit. I knew, having spent so much money on this endeavour already, I was definitely going to make the most of it.
I had to work my gym times around several key neuroses. Principally, that I could never go when other people from work were there. A difficult one, since the gym was about 15 seconds walk from work. Under no circumstances could anyone from work see me struggle at the gym. After canvassing colleagues and discovering most people go at lunchtime (a time when I am usually eating chicken or sausages), I took the drastic step of deciding to go before work, pretty much when the gym opened. If I saw anyone from work, I would pretend to have a heart attack, and the ambulance usually parked outside the gay gym along the road would come and take me away.
I turned up about a week later – the morning-aversion that causes me to be late for work bizarrely also applying to my planned 7am start at the gym – but I made it, kitted out in brand new training gear, with both the outfit and the physique of someone who has never been in a gym in his life. First I needed a pass to get through, so I spoke to the woman at the desk, explaining I had signed up some weeks ago, never received a membership card or pass, and had been on a long business trip hence why it had taken me so long to come along.
She searched for my membership information as some gymgoers with their annoyingly fit bodies and worn and torn gym clothes shuffled past me, almost smudging my perfectly white brand new Nike t-shirt. She took my name again, and went away to ask someone. Fuck’s sake. More people arrived. The treadmills started to fill up.
Now, I had no fucking idea how to use anything in this place, or any clue what to do once I was in. I had received no information. The treadmill was where I was going to start, figuring it would be fairly straightforward. A few minutes passed and they filled up even more. Where the fuck was this dolled-up fitness tart, how could they have lost my details, I’d given them all my fucking money. And where was the guy who’d roped me into this scam and talked me through everything? Nowhere to be seen, probably showing some people round a two-bedroom semi in Putney.
Speaking of “semi” a bunch of incredibly hot girls arrived. Unusually, this was not a good thing. One of my other major neuroses was that there were to be no hot women, because one thing I could be certain of is, I was going to look like a clueless, exercise-shy fat prick for the first few months of this endeavour and I could not risk local honeys seeing me out of breath while trying to keep up with a treadmill set to a speed that would barely tax a tortoise.
The girls took up the few remaining treadmill places and I stood swearing under my breath as I looked around at all these fit fucks sprinting on the machines. Where were all the fat people I was assured populated gyms; all those people who told me not to be self-conscious, the gym is not full of uber-fit people, it’s got loads of normal people “just like me”. What a load of bullshit. It was like the British Athletics team were all here.
The reception woman came back to me, they’d lost my membership card and would have to get a new one. She offered to let me in anyway, I politely declined, since there was no equipment for me to use, and even if there was I wouldn’t know how to use it. I told her I’d come back another time.
I never went back. I was a member of that fucking gym for 12 months at about £50 a month and I never even got a fucking membership card.
Still… it’s not the worst experience I’ve had in a fitness establishment.
Back then, contrary to my more recent fitness exploits, I wasn’t self-conscious at all, I was skinny to the point of anorexia despite eating like a fat pig. I’d been that way all my life. I’d show you a picture of what I looked like, as I have a few topless photos from those days, however I’ve also got my cock out in all of them (long story), so I think I’ll keep them offline, wouldn’t want a pic like that going astray on the internet again…
I had wandered in to the leisure centre with my swimming gear in my bag, paid, had a look at the pool and then went to find the changing rooms. I followed the signs and walked down a hallway till I saw a door that said in big bold letters “MALE”, and in I went. The changing rooms were empty, I had gone at quite a quiet time. I checked out the scenario with the lockers, how much change was involved, how the fucking lock worked, if the band the key was on would fit around my scrawny wrist without falling off, all the usual stuff. I finished my recce, put my bag down on one of the benches, and started taking my clothes off.
A couple of old farts came in and I clocked them out of the corner of my eye; I had no desire to even catch a glimpse of their ageing sagging body parts as they stripped off so I thoroughly averted my eyes and took my shoes off. They were mumbling away to each other as they had been since coming in, but suddenly that all stopped and there was silence. I felt I was being looked at.
I looked up and these two gentlemen appeared to have quite saggy “moobs”. And one of them, having just opened his shirt, appeared to be wearing a bra. They were both staring at me.
It dawned on me that one of us, or two of us, had made a terrible mistake. Despite the fact I had walked into the room clearly marked MALE, there were two of them, and they seemed quite confident, with the “get out, sex pest” stare they were giving me, that I was in the wrong place. I buttoned up my jeans and picked up my shoes, bag and jacket, and slinked off, without saying a word – swallowing my pride, and a little vomit as I thought about what I might have saw just moments later as these women exposed their gravity-surrendering old bosoms…
I closed the changing room door and looked up at the sign:
What the fuck? How the f… what had happened here? I retraced my steps and as I moved back along the hall, the door frame meant the sign gradually said “EMALE” and then “MALE”. The “FE” had been obscured by the door frame as I walked down the hall. Fuck. I eventually found the proper male changing rooms and went in and I have to say, I’ve never felt so reassured to be greeted by the sight of a black man’s cock.