Other than perhaps emigrating and renovating, there is little that RHB and I have applied ourselves to collectively with as much energy as our current gymnasical enthusiasm. True, we each have our own obsessions - RHB has a personal mission to name and befriend every small animal in the locale, and I, because of my habits have regularly to attend AA* meetings. But together, we have become gym obsessed. The addiction has gone so far that we plan how to "make up" for the time we will "loose" because of the need to be hospitable to some welcome overnight visitors. While it is undeniable that at least some of the motivation for this started with an admiration for our various marathon running, squash playing Canadian visitors, the impetus to continue has been self-generated and is so embedded now that it is ubiquitous in our routine.
This makes gym attendance entirely unlike earlier fads like the famous Max Payne era, when we crept round a virtual world playing computer games together - an ultimately unsatisfying experience due to RHB's prediliction for screaming "Bastard" at the on-screen baddies (she does tend to become involved), and displaying an entirely illogical disposition for frugality with resources that meant I wasnt allowed to waste any ammunition on fighting. Or another epoch in our relationship - salsa dancing lessons - which came to resemble title bouts for the WWF**. One week at salsa, Barry, the instructor, became frustrated by RHB's continuing tendency to "lead", (despite his frequent exhoratations that "the lady" must float and be led), so he whisked her off round the hall, intending to dance some sense into her. If I remember correctly RHB won by two falls and a submission.
It is with accomodating visitors in mind that we head for the gym at a time outside our normal hours. Creatures of habit as we have become, even this minor shift has caused some discumbobulation, in terms of schedule; cats have had to be herded at unusual times and the Crosstowner has been denied the weekly race with Bert's inheritor, Jim, so my mood is ambivalent from the outset. Arriving at the gym, we strip (not in the same room), change, and head for our respective warm ups. RHB starts on the ski-walker, a machine that I studiously avoid after an episode that nearly resulted in hospitalization for at least two other gymnastiques. I instead, direct my attention to the free-weights area, happy that even if I do fall off a weights bench, the worst damage I could impose on other gym users woud be strained stomach muscles and temporarily, mirth- induced blurred vision (TMIBER***).
One gets used to the rhythyms of a usual time spot at a gym, mostly because of the routines of other users, but it is almost a subconcious phenomena, so I do not notice at first that I am being shadowed. It is only when an unfeasibly shaped personage (with a physique roughly analogous to a woolly mammoth) stands right in front of me, curling about 1000kgs, that I begin to suspect I am being followed. My next exercise, "upright rowing" seals the case, as my stalker lifts a weight equivalent to the boat he is supposed to be rowing, directly after I have performed the same exercise with 40 kgs, and directly in front of me. At first, I am flattered, albeit that Spartan relationships are not my cup of tea, but eventually, as my pursuer is joined in his imitations of my routine by a couple of colleagues of equally strange disproportionation, I realise that the intent is not intimate male bonding, but intimidation. I am being stalked by Gym Pigs.
The Gym Pigs are all ginger and freckled. This, combined with a tendency to overwork the biceps and upper torso, plus an inherently thick neck has resulted in a physique that can without dispute, be called "big". But where the physique of a recently made acquaintance of mine - a Marine instructor - can undoubtedly also be called "big", there is, with my Marine instructor, a fairly obvious connection between form and function. In short, the Marine instructor - about as wide, and as tall, as four Toshacks (with tail extended) - is incredibly functional. |He looks as if he could break one's neck with his pinkie finger, a killing machine, immensely capable. The Piggy physique is much less understandable - running on their tiny little legs looks unfeasible, so sports such as rugby seem unlikely. Sports requiring hand eye co-ordination (such as tennis) so seem not to be destinations for these trainers, as all three of them have eyes that are sunken so far under their freckled pale foreheads that their vision is surely restricted to occasional glimpses of the world through reddish eyebrows.
Suddenly, an anthropological thought hits me, as it tends to do when you are the joint second best academic in England. Perhaps, I muse, Neanderthals did not, after all, become extinct? But no! I am immediately ashamed of such ethnocentricity - there is absolutely no evidence at all that homo neanderthalises, or homo heidelbergwhatitsnames were stupid. Instead I logically conclude that genetic experimentation is being conducted in Hull, and the ones that go wrong are simply turned out to roam free. By a quirk of fate, they have ended up in the gym.
For my second set of exercises, I move to the only machine deemed macho enough to be located in the free weights area - the thingymajig. This is a machine of sheer power. It looks like a kind of crane and I mainly use it for light work on the shoulders, as follows:
an arm, preferably one of your own( for maximum efficacy of exercise), is extended outwards, laterally from your side, and in the horizontal dimension. The digits at the end of said arm, grasp firmly onto a stirrup shaped handle, and with a sudden intake of breath, you force the handle - attached to a big piece of string and weights interpreted by pulleys - downwards, so the arm becomes vertical, or north to south, through an arc while still travelling in a plane co-incidental with that of your torso, when considered across the width. Transverse motion across the torso plane should be avoided, as should unequal torsion via the dorsal medial parameters.
In other words, its the same action as signalling for a bus holding a shopping bag.
After my first set, Piggy 1 approaches, and communicates it's intention to share the machine, as it wants to do the same exercise. I agree, as if I have a choice, and it changes the weight load from the 30kg I have been attempting to about 5600kg. Machine set, and with its pals shouting good natured obscenities, he begins violently yanking on the handle. As Piggy works through his set, his face turns red, purple and then puce, and he grunts, shouting something that sounds like "huyuuah" with each repetition. On the final repetition there is a massive 'CLANK' as the weights return to their staring position. Piggy turns to me, rolls his sleeve back and examines his muscles appreciatively, rubbing then with a surprising gentleness, then turns back to the machine to readjust the weights. I stop him in mid-action ... "No, its allright mate. Tha'll do". He looks a bit surprised, but I step up to the handle anyway, grasp it firmly, draw in a mighty breath and draw my arm downwards, Or rather try to, because the weight will not move. I adopt the grunting technique that was apparently such a part of his success, and still the wieght doesnt budge, so I start counting..... "Huyuuahh.. ONE...huyuuahh...TWO... " and so on.
From Piggy's point of view, it must look quite strange. I am standing, completely immobile, next to a machine with my arm extended horizontally, counting loudly and grunting, eyes bulging from their sockets. I count up to six then stop, turn around, roll up my sleeve, find my muscle, rub it and look him straight in the eye ..."Right on. Your go now". This charade continues through two further sets, then Piggy 1 wanders off, but I'm pissed so I decide to pursue the battle further. I'm pissed mainly because I have noticed that I am not the only person who has had the shadowing treatment, and frankly the Pigs behaviour is bullying. They are trying, through humiliating other users, to discourage anyone else from using "their" area.
I decide to turn the tables, so I now follow Piggy 1 round the room, insisting on sharing not only the equipment he is using, but at the same weight. Its a bit like an uninvited guest at a Menonite barn raising turning up with power tools. Except in reverse. By the end of my session, Piggy 1's beginning to look a bit freaked out as I invite myself to share every bit of equipment he goes to use, him moving weights as heavy as Stonehenge and me, at exactly the same weight, puffing and panting through a series of immobile grunting counts. I encourage him in his sets "C'mon buddy. You can do it! Lets take it!" and at one stage even utter a small "whoo - whoo" with fist pumping air action. I stop short of slapping his butt affectionately, but am not stingy with admiring glances.
Back in the locker room, Piggy 1 is in too much of a rush to get a shower, and leaves with just a mumbled something. Next week we are back to our normal schedule, so our paths wont cross, I hope, but as I get on the scales, and glance into a mirror, I realise I have put five kilos on in as many weeks. I am getting bigger. And the muscle shape is definitely beginning to happen. I think about my next workout and fantasize, for second, how great it would be with no weedy twenty year old students clogging up the equipment. And hang on, are my eyes getting a little....well, piggy?
AA* = Anthropologist Anonymous
WWF** = World Wrestling Federation
TMIBER*** = Temporary Mirth Induced Blurred Eye. Rupture.