Friday, 5 February 2010

Blood, toil, tears and sweat – or at least the last three…

I’ve mentioned before that one of my motives for blogging is procrastination.  Today, I’m excelling myself: the subject of my blog is the very thing I’m blogging in order to avoid.

This ‘very thing’, this horrible, sweaty, painful ‘very thing’, this ‘very thing’ that makes me feel like a uncoordinated, unintelligent five-year-old is going to the gym.

I was a fat and short-sighted kid and it put me off physical exercise for life.  There’s only so many times you can be the last boy chosen for the football team without losing interest – approximately one, in my case.  As for rugby, why would you risk ending up in a wheelchair just to gain possession of a ball which isn’t even ball-shaped?  And cricket!  Why risk a broken finger when your Grade IV piano exam is coming up in a fortnight?  Cross country running was the least of the evils; at least you weren’t part of a team whose members were likely to get cross about your ineptitude and lack of interest, and there was no scary, dangerous, bone-crunching contact.  It was merely sweaty, knackering and boring, and the 11-year-old me was grateful for such small mercies.

Several months of serious dieting when I was 20 got rid of the flab.  I was thrilled beyond measure by the new, 31-inch-waisted me.  I had no muscles or definition, of course, but neither did anyone else in the late-70s.  A six-pack was half a dozen tins of lager, and definition was the meaning of words.  I began to dress more trendily and my sexual shyness fell away revealing a slim-hipped coquette.  I landed a first boyfriend who was so fit, he got paid to take his clothes off, and who dumped his rather tubby partner for me (see previous blog, ‘First love with a Zulu warrior’). 

The message all this burned into my brain was: ‘Thin is good.  Thin sets you free.  Thin gets you what you want.’   I’m guessing that’s why, 30 years later, I was still eating and drinking healthily and moderately and still fitting into 31-inch waist jeans whilst most friends of a similar vintage had steadily expanded.

30 years later, but not 31 years later, alas: despite not changing my lifestyle in any way that I can pinpoint, I have suddenly put on nearly a stone.  It has gone straight to my waist – my arms and chest remain as undeveloped as ever – and has forced me to edit my wardrobe; some of the severely fitted shirts I always felt so sexy in now look and feel like Victorian ladies’ corsets. 

I was always unbearably smug about others’ middle-aged spread, I now realise.  “Honestly, that beer belly is sooo unattractive!  I can’t think why he doesn’t do something about it.”  Not anymore.

What to do?  Exercising seemed marginally less unattractive than watching even more carefully what I eat.  And a gym had recently opened at the development I live in with bargain membership rates.  Thus, I found myself entering this alien world of strange-looking equipment, red faces and the wreak of sweat.

I signed up, and was offered a fitness evaluation and a bespoke exercise programme with supervision the first time I attempted it, all for a bargain 50 quid.  At least the embarrassment of having my flab measured was offset by the fact that the trainer conducting the evaluation was – cliche of cliches – a dark, handsome, fit Italian with the bluest eyes and blackest hair.  Let us call him Antonio, for Antonio is not his name.  His verdict was that I’m not bad at all in cardiovascular terms but have the physical strength of a unusually fey butterfly.

Two days later, Antonio was taking me through the fitness programme I am supposed to complete thrice-weekly for the rest of my natural – that’s quite a thought.  I was, of course, utterly hopeless at emulating Antonio’s effortless demonstration of each exercise, my ability to concentrate further impeded when, every so often, his exertions would cause his trackie top and bottoms to part company, allowing a gasp-inducing flash of toned, tanned midriff.  The situation was not helped when I instinctively looked away only to find myself staring at the grinning, what-the-heck-are-you-doing-here? face of a stunning African gentleman with whom I enjoyed a delicious dalliance several years ago.

Fast-forward another couple of days, and you find me attempting my first unsupervised session, feeling as comfortable as a rugby league prop forward pressing flowers or an opera diva doing a shift with the bin men.  I couldn’t fathom how to work the padlock on my locker, let alone remember which machines were intended for which exercises.  Once I’d located the right ones, I couldn’t programme them.  And as for making my body match those in the pictures illustrating the floor exercises, I may as well have attempted to read a novel in Swahili.

Luckily, the heavenly Antonio was on duty.  For no extra charge, he took me through every exercise a second time.  He only burst out laughing once at my baffled gaucheness which some might call unprofessional but which I deem little short of saintly. 

I really can’t ask him again so, next time, I simply must fly solo without crashing.  That next time should have been this afternoon.  I just about had the time for once so, of course, I squandered it by writing this blog instead on my comfy sofa with a pot of tea and some chocolate digestives.

I’ve got a hectic weekend lined up, with a double bill to attend at the Riverside Studios’ gay film festival in Hammersmith, dinner to cook for friends, not to mention housework and ironing, so, when I finally force myself back to that hideous den of pain where stinking sweat drips off smug faces, I’ll have had time to forget everything Antonio has taught, and re-taught, me.

I know I’m being daft.  Embracing change is part of life.  I pooh-poohed dishwashers until I moved into a home that already had one and was then speedily converted.  I shied away from computing until it became impossible to carry on one’s professional or personal life without one.  Now – the odd lover’s tiff aside – my PC is my best friend.  So, clearly, if I stick at it, I’ll get into the swing of gym-going, grow some arms that don’t look as if they’d snap in a light breeze and, crucially, firm up that wobbly tum.

Can I cross the Rubicon?  Time will tell.  Watch this space.

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