Fitness: we’re always being urged to take it seriously.
In a cool climate one answer is walking, but of course in hotter parts of the world, where I am currently, no one walks anywhere because if you do you’re likely to get at best sweaty and at worst run over.
So what are the alternatives? On islands and at the extreme of any land mass there exist what are known to enthusiasts as ‘beaches’. You can’t miss them: they’re the soft bits around the edges where someone ran out of tarmac, and they are wet further out due to the fluid known as ‘sea’. This is an excellent medium for exercise (‘swimming’) because it enables you to move your arms and legs and flex your spine in a smooth, non-stressful way. The trouble with swimming is that what starts out as vaguely aerobic exercise can easily turn into effort-free lolling around.
Living in a country that has mangrove swamps where you might expect to find sand, the gym, then, raises its purpose-built head. And that is where I find myself, having forgotten that such places are full of fit young men flirting with slightly less fit young women. What these people don’t want is decrepit physical specimens coming in and spoiling the illusion.
Thus, the ‘trainer’ (a person who knows how to use the machines) will condescendingly show me how the treadmill works, until I explain that I walked here, am already sweating like a racehorse with flu and the last thing I need is a warm-up.
Okay, wise guy, I can see him thinking as he asks me what I do want to do. ‘Upper body and stomach,’ I say. His unspoken thoughts , betrayed by his world-weary expression, are along the lines of ‘It’s a bit late for that, don’t you think?’ He puts me on a machine that will work my calves, which the last time I looked were not part of my upper body, but what would I know about it?
While I do this he wanders over to an area where someone is teaching kick-boxing to some girls, and although I have to admit I can see the attraction, I have paid money for this and feel I deserve some attention, so I go and stand next to him in an attempt to shame him into continuing my induction.
Go away and have your heart attack somewhere else, he stops himself from saying, before very briefly showing me the ab crunch machine. Ab crunches, for the uninitiated, are exercises for the abdomen, and nothing goes ‘crunch’ unless you’ve forgotten to take the Doritos out of your pocket.
Mr Cool is drawn inexorably back to the kick-boxing females and as I walk past him he smirks and says ‘Had enough?’
Guess again, Slick. Just getting my towel. I head back into the clanging mechanical jungle and, tired of waiting for him, use my initiative to work a machine on which you pull down a bar to exercise arms and, err, probably neck.
He wanders over again, tries to disguise a rolling of the eyes and tells me I’m doing it wrong, before demonstrating a way of using it behind your head that I have specifically been advised against in the past. Clearly this is dangerous in some gyms but not in others.
‘Anything else?’ he asks. Yes, I say, I’d like to use a Swiss ball (a big, soft, inflatable plastic ball on which you can do all sorts from sit-ups to something I devised myself and which is good for the back).
‘We haven’t got any Swiss balls, just those,’ he says, pointing at the Swiss balls. But at least he has got me amusing myself, like a toddler with some building bricks, so he can rejoin the thinly disguised sexual antics in his favourite corner.
Having done enough for a first session, I ask where the showers are.
There are not showers. There is one shower and it’s next to the broom cupboard that serves as a changing room. The shower room door is marked ‘Ladies’, but I have been authorized to enter, so I do, and sure enough there is a cubicle in the corner, albeit with a mop propped up in it.
There is a suspicion of tittering as I exit and they don’t expect to see me again. I have dared to enter the world of finely-honed youth and should now hobble away to my settee, to stiffen up and watch TV with a cup of hot chocolate.
But I’ll be back, muscle fiends. Yes, I do feel a bit stiff in certain areas, but I will rise like a phoenix and return to make your gym look untidy. I will live to sweat and grunt another day. And you will be past your prime sooner than you think.