Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

If there's a hotter, smellier and more cramped men's changing room in Britain than the one at our gym, then I'd like to hear about it. It's next door to the sauna and connected to it by an air vent. My glasses steam up the moment I walk in. After a workout, I shower, towel off, and before I'm dressed I'm soaking wet again with perspiration.

There's room, just about, for up to four people at a time. Sometimes there are six or seven in there showering, robing or disrobing. Intimate is the word. You have to negotiate your personal space with your neighbour and watch where you put your hands when attempting larger, more sweeping movements.

Everyone is forever apologising to everyone else for accidental space violations or knocks and buffets. I was towelling my back the other week and accidentally poked a chap right in the eye as he was leaving.

The floor is permanently awash with water from the shower and the tiny sink. At this time of year also mud. The two wobbly blue plastic slatted benches are cleverly designed so that anything placed upon them - socks, underwear, watch, glasses - immediately falls on the wet floor.

The overcrowding and discomfort has a unifying effect, however - victimhood can be marvellously sociable - and very often conversations break out between strangers about the conditions. Last week, I exchanged grievances with a man who was using the sauna, and had come into the changing room for a cold shower and a period of reflection before going back for another baking.

He was sitting alone in his swimming trunks when I walked in. The floor was wetter and muddier even than usual and he was sitting with his elbows on his knees, contemplating it sadly. 'Not very nice, is it?' he said. I wanted to get in and out of there in the shortest time possible, before the place filled up, so restricted myself to a brisk 'Like third bloody Ypres, ' then I whipped off my coat, shoes, socks, jeans, pants, fleece, shirt and vest in short order. Then I heard the door open behind me, and someone else come in, and I mentally prepared myself for our limited space and oxygen to be further reduced by at least 25 per cent.

Two cries of astonished mutual recognition made me turn around. The sauna bloke was on his feet and holding the newcomer affectionately by the elbows. 'Simon!' he said.

'Brim! …

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