I’ve been away for three months but now I’m back in my gym shoes, gym glasses and faithful old gym pants with the colour washed out of them and I’m presenting my membership card to the bloke behind the desk. It’s the same old unfit unfriendly fat bloke. He probably hasn’t broken into a run for 20 years, but because he works on the membership desk of a gym he dresses like an Olympic athlete. Think Gordon Brown in a shell suit. ‘Gym and swim,’ I tell him. ‘Long time, no see,’ he says, not particularly glad to see me. ‘I’ll put the cardiac unit on speed dial,’ he adds, wafting my card under his reader.
Nothing has changed at the gym since I was last there, except for a new notice headed ‘Lone Gym Usage’, which I can’t bring myself to read. The air-conditioning is turned up too high as usual and there’s no music. Overall the place is as depressing as it usually is.
One other person is using the gym — a young lad pumping weights in front of the mirror. I recognise him. We’ve spoken on occasion. He is an intense individual who changes his shape dramatically and often. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen him go from fat to thin to ripped to fat to ripped again. Steroids are expensive, so presumably his ever-changing body shape reflects fluctuations in his bank balance. Today he is ripped again, but his skin has an alarmingly waxy sheen. And he’s shaved off his eyebrows and replaced them with pencil-thin lines of make-up. He is lifting a barbell and pulling an agonised face in the mirror, which changes to a grin of recognition as he sees me come in.