Tuesday, 8 December 2015

No gym

I was woken up this morning by the sound of one of my neighbours banging nails into a wall. I think that’s what the sound was. It could have been any number of things actually. Quite why nails need to be banged into walls at 8am, I’m not sure, but I guess, to some people 8am is like mid day. What else are you going to do with your time once you’ve had breakfast and read the paper?

I was awoken in the middle of the night by another strange sound. This time it was a dreadful clattering somewhere within the house. I opted not to explore. I assumed no one was breaking in because it wasn’t followed by any other weird sounds. I discovered in the morning that our angle poise lamp had hit the floor in the sitting room and landed on a pair of plates, which, randomly, had remained unbroken. 

It was awfully gloomy in London at 8am. A blue mist was hanging around in the trees above the tube station and, to quote Topsy and Tim, I wondered if the sun had forgotten to get up. The sun burned through at lunch time, however, and we had a rather pleasant afternoon. Well, at least it looked pleasant enough from the kitchen table. As we drove to the gym, the sun was setting, clouds were bubbling, and the sky suddenly resembled a glorious assortment of metals from silver through bronze to gold. 

Our gym is closing down. I spoke to one of the regulars there today, who seemed most upset, which, in turn, made me a little nostalgic. I started that particular gym in 1999 whilst working as Associate Director on a Raymond Gubbay opera at the Albert Hall. We were rehearsing in Three Mills out East, and I used to get up super early, do twenty minutes of exercise and then get on the train at Gospel Oak. In those days, the North London line was one that no one paid to ride on. There were no barriers and people use to pile on with absolutely no intention of paying. I remember a hand-written sign at Kentish Town West which read: “Ticket inspection 02.02.99. Many thanks to the forty people who were found travelling with valid tickets. To the five hundred and seventy who weren’t, please be aware that more regular checks with be happening on this service.” Or words to that effect! 

The train used to take me to a station called Hackney Wick, which was close to Three Mills, but seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It’s now been entirely redeveloped for the Olympics, but back then it was a mass of derelict concrete tower blocks with broken windows and tattered curtains flapping about. On more than one occasion there was a burned-out car. I used to hate waiting there in the dark for trains to take me back to civilisation. My mate Ted had a party there around that time, and I remember Philippa and Fiona meeting me at the station and fearing for their lives. I think Philippa was accosted by a random man several times before we arrived! 

So, 16 years is a long time to go to one gym. It’s probably the most continuity I’ve ever had with a single building with the exception of my parents house in Thaxted and my Grannie’s old house in Warwickshire which was a constant part of my life until I was about thirty. The gym has been taken over by a different company and is being refurbished. The pool and wet room area is being torn out and I’m told there will be no reception staff. Most of the other regulars are changing gym. Some are going to a place in Muswell Hill where there are jacuzzis with flashing coloured lights, but, for £104 a month, I shan’t be following them. 


I realised as I chatted that a gym, for some people, is far more than somewhere to work out. This particular chap, who is a very jovial tree surgeon, has a group of friends who sit in the steam room talking about philosophy and politics. He goes every day, has a quick swim and then sees who’s about to chat to. It seems a pity that he’ll have to make a new set of friends. “I shouldn’t complain” he said, “human beings fear and resist change far too much. In the animal kingdom, change is thrust upon creatures, and they do nothing but learn to adapt. Perhaps we should be more like that…” He then made a joke about arms which I didn’t understand. Obviously I laughed politely. This is something I often do. I don’t understand many jokes… 

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