Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

A fresh start in a new gym in a foreign country. The serious young gym attendant didn't speak a word of English, so we did the best we could using my limited French. He weighed me then asked me to hold a device that measured my body mass index via my palms -- how it does that I can't even begin to guess -- and he carefully wrote down the result on the induction form. Had I ever exercised before? I had, I said, but about three years ago, after a cancer diagnosis, I had lost heart and stupidly given it up. What kind of exercise did I used to do? Swimming, karate, cycling and gym, I said. He carefully, and a touch sceptically, I thought, wrote all that down. How tall was I? Six feet exactly, I said. Neither of us had a clue what that was in metres so he had a good look at me and hazarded a guess.

And what did I want to achieve by coming to the gym? I told him that for three years my testosterone production had been halted by quarterly injections. My aim, I said, was a body like Gina Lollobrigida in Trapeze . That the elderly English guy in skintight leggings and a T-shirt exhorting him to Enjoy Coke was not entirely serious here, he failed to notice. Another note was carefully inscribed on the form.

The gym was on the upper level of an industrial unit next to a roundabout. The diameter and extent of the air-conditioning pipes criss-crossing the ceiling was impressive. The view through the windows was parched mountains. After March, said a notice, all windows were to be kept closed. Basically, it was a ladies' gym with about 40 fixed-weight machines and the usual rowers, treadmills and elliptical cross-trainers, about a quarter of which were occupied by members. There was no Jurassic Park section, for example, where meatheads could grunt and sweat over their barbells and free weights. 'Muscle' vests are forbidden.

The gym guy wrote me out three work-out sessions, or séances , to be used in rotation, then led me out on to the floor to show me how to operate the machines, starting with the rower, or rameur . Sitting astride the latest version of the Concept 2 rower was a young woman whose appearance would be impossible for me to describe to you without using my hands. …

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