I’ve been going to my gym for about four months now, and I love it. It has lots of nice features: a pool, a punchbag, a jacuzzi, a sauna, and a lack of outbreaks of contagious fungal infections, which puts it several rungs above the bargain-basement-value establishment I was frequenting before.
It also has a different feel to it in terms of personal interactions.
In the past, I’d hear people say “Oh, we met at the gym” about friends or partners or whatever, and I’d think, what do you mean you met at the gym?! Gyms are places that make two things happen inside people’s heads: horror and shame, if you look like you shouldn’t be at a gym but you’re trying to gradually make yourself look less like a human potato (I am in this camp); or total concentration, as your feet pound the treadmill and your sheer determination makes the rest of the world fall away and seem to no longer exist.
In neither of those camps do you speak to people.
Why would you speak to people when you’re all sweaty and disgusting, when your make-up’s halfway down your face because you forgot to take it off before you arrived, and you can barely breathe because you’ve just
climbed the stairs from the changing room spent half an hour on the crosstrainer?
But then I joined this gym, and I began to understand. You see, there’s a whole other kind of gym that’s been out there all this time. The type of gym where you conceivably might hold a conversation with another person.
I know, right? Weird.
These gyms call themselves ‘Health Clubs’, and they are the preserve of the posh. Or, in my case, of people who are desperate for a swimming pool and suffering from a lack of them within walking distance of home.
When I first joined, I asked the person on reception which were the quietest times of day (it’s not exactly a matter of pride to parade yourself through the place when you look like a potato), and she said that most gyms’ rush hours were this one’s quiet times. “Oh, OK,” I said, “that’s interesting.”
“Yeah,” she replied, “Most of our members come in the middle of the day, because they don’t have jobs.”
I must have looked puzzled, because she elaborated “They don’t need them.”
And then I don’t know what my face did, but she stopped talking and pushed the form towards me and I signed away far too much of my hard-earned wine money.
So, that’s the kind of gym I’m currently at. I feel alien in it, and yet at the same time everyone there is so nice. The changing rooms are so clean and the exercise spaces are so quiet.
The other day I was sitting in the jacuzzi, as you do, and then another person got in. This prompted the same level of uncomfortableness I normally feel when I’m one of only two people in a waiting room, or queueing for a bus. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I studiously ignored her, because that is what Londoners do: they ignore people, or they silently hate them, or both. They don’t strike up sudden conversations.
But then she did. And we had a very pleasant chat. It was her first day – she’d just started working there – and we swapped anecdotes about past gym horror stories, and discussed how great it was to be in a gym where there weren’t any screaming children.
We seem to end up in the jacuzzi at roughly the same time each day – her once she’s finished her shift, me when I’m done swimming off the stresses of the day.
But today I went there a bit early, because I’m going to work a night shift tonight but I didn’t want to use that as an excuse to skip the gym. And I passed her on the way in, and I did a sort of double-take when she said hello because I didn’t recognise her at first. Then I smiled and said hi and went to get changed.
And I realised that I hadn’t recognised her with clothes on.
And then I was like, gym friendships are so odd, though. I’ve seen her naked, because all the non-potato types walk around naked in the changing rooms (luckily for me, there are toilet cubicles for those of us who are less comfortable with our clothesless forms), but until today I hadn’t seen her fully clothed. And she’s seen me in much more of a state of undress than any of my other friends are ever likely to.
Which isn’t a bad thing, it was just a strange realisation.
And then I went and got in the jacuzzi, and I was thoroughly enjoying it until the guy who was in there with me started doing something that involved rapid hand movements somewhere under the water and pulling the kind of faces that shouldn’t be seen in public.
And then I got out, and had a shower (a long shower, after that jacuzzi-guy experience *shudder*), and came home, and thought about what odd creatures we humans are.