Magazine article The Spectator

Unattainable Goals

Magazine article The Spectator

Unattainable Goals

Article excerpt

There's a young girl at our gym who has recently burst into flower. She's so extraordinarily beautiful she's like a sport. Here's one, you think, that even Nature herself is slightly surprised at.

I can't bear to look at her, either directly or obliquely in the mirror. If she enters my line of vision, I look away or down at the floor. Now that I'm a 50-year-old bloke, young feminine beauty of that magnitude, being as it is now unattainable in my case, not to mention highly illegal, makes me feel slightly sick at heart.

I sometimes wonder if she's ever thought about the ugly old git over there on the cross trainer who's trying not to look at her.

Unlike everyone else. Especially unlike the young bodybuilders from downstairs in the heavy weights room who climb the stairs to goggle frankly at her or shake their heads in disbelief. Maybe she's noticed my deliberate looking away. Do women who are admired for their beauty from a young age quickly become experts at interpreting non-verbal communication, at recognising basic male psychological types? I think they do. Once, on the warm-up mats, I found myself face to face with this amazing creature, and her clear, ocean-green eyes looked questioningly into mine, as if she was asking me what I thought I was playing at, and it took me the rest of the day to get over the trauma and resulting depression.

It's not often, however, that I'm disturbed by other gym users. When I work out I keep my head down and concentrate on what I'm doing. This has the added benefit of discouraging those who prefer to talk. There are people who go to our gym who like to exercise only their tongues. If you look up and acknowledge one of these people's cautious, insinuating greetings, you're done for.

Let them talk to you once, and they'll think they've a right to talk to you every time they see you. If I wanted to talk I'd join an internet chat room. So I keep my head down.

I'm a familiar face, but a closed one.

I might even be regarded as something of a mystery man. Who is this chap, they might ask, who turns up dressed as if the gym is a priority in his life; who moves about the place with confidence and purpose; who always does the same workout; who gets a respectable sweat on; who obeys the rules by carefully wiping down the equipment after he's used it; who comes here year after year; and yet who never says a word to anyone? …

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