Magazine article The Spectator

Guiding Light

Magazine article The Spectator

Guiding Light

Article excerpt

A special-needs bloke comes to our gym sometimes. He can't speak, and he's deaf, I think, and he doesn't walk too well, but the disciplined intensity of his workout is an example to us all. A carer follows him around to advise, guide and watch over him; an elderly man with a neatly trimmed beard and moustache. His respectfulness towards his charge borders on the abject. The special-needs bloke obeys his carer, allowing himself to be guided from machine to machine, but shows him no affection nor does he look him in the face.

I've yet to see the special-needs bloke do anything controversial. Always well turned out in designer gym wear, he works out with exactly the right amount of seriousness for long-term gains. He's a proper geezer. But the carer watches him diligently, as though he might go off the rails at any moment. Of the two of them, it is the carer, standing around in his blazer and tie, that attracts irritated glances from the regular gym users.

I'm not saying our gym is overcrowded, but sometimes there are coxed fours on the rowing machines. In the run-up to Christmas it was packed. One evening I was on the stepper over by the window and the special-needs bloke was beside me doing sets of bicep curls with 10kg dumbbells. The carer was watching closely in case the special-needs bloke accidentally brained either himself or an innocent bystander with a dumb-bell.

Outside the window the pavement was frosty under the street-lights. Inside, people's armpits were still in mid-August and the place stank like a three-week-old refuse collectors' strike. Someone opened a window to let some air in. After peering out and noting the glistening pavement, the carer turned to me and said, 'They'll be snapping the dogs off the lampposts in the morning.'

I make a point of not chatting in the gym normally. You lose momentum. But I admired this chap's selflessness and I hadn't spoken to him before. 'How's that, then?' I said.

It was a sort of joke, he said. I should imagine a dog cocking its leg against a lamppost, he said, and the stream of urine turning solid in the below-freezing temperature, then take it from there. I looked blankly at him. But all joking aside, he went on, in Alaska it's a real problem for the male population. …

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