What Mark will look like when you read this
Maybe not quite the time I was forced to compete in the Black Country Gurning Contest or when I had to dance on Sedgley Beacon Morris at 4am. But it’s up there.
This week I went back to the gym for the first time in over 15 years.
Some of you may remember that I had a bit of an issue with the old ticker earlier this year: I don’t like to mention it, but it’s kind of relevant to the story.
As part of my rehabilitation, the excellent Action Heart charity has kindly allowed me to use a gym in my local hospital. By the time you’re reading this, I’m having my first of three sessions with a cardio professional showing me how to get my heart back in shape. I wonder, however, if they know what they’re getting into.
I’m not what you would call a gym rabbit.
At school I actually really liked the gymnastics lessons. Not because I had talent, but because they occasionally offered a break from the normal routine of standing on a frost-encrusted playing field and being yelled at. By comparison, it seemed a pleasant luxury to be yelled at in a warm gym.
Even so, I’ve been pretty adept at dodging the gym for the past 30 years. In my late 20s, I tried weight training, but only in the privacy of my own home. With some high quality kits from Argos that left the car’s suspension sagging.
Before the lockdown, I went swimming every week at my local recreation center, much to the annoyance of those who actually could swim faster than a sleeping turtle. But go to the gym? No thank you.
But didn’t I mention anything about going to the gym 15 years ago? Oh yes, the first and only time that I went to a real gym while on vacation in Turkey, I decided to use the provisions in the hotel. It is not an unconditional success.
Trying to blend in with the background, I sat at a power machine and tried to pull the lever down, but it didn’t move an inch. After a few minutes of lifting and grunting, I only managed to lift myself off the bench, the weights rock solid. This machine, which everyone else could use with impunity, was clearly beyond my meager strength.
Humbled by my wretchedness, the plan was to escape the building as secretly as I had slipped into it.
No chance. At this point, a well-trained, dark-skinned Mediterranean guy with straight black hair, a lycra vest, and matching shorts had noticed my efforts. He smiled knowingly, flipped a switch on the back of the machine and the weights were released. The only experience I bring to this session is that it helps to turn on the equipment.
Anyway, with the sessions booked now, I need some Bludgers next.
“Wear a T-shirt, loose fitting pants and sneakers,” said the lady on the phone. To the right.
I am not entirely averse to buying clothes. In general, I manage to look reasonably presentable for work, and off-duty I can rock the dark jeans and plaid shirt combo as well as Jeremy Clarkson. But getting dressed for the gym? That sounds scary.
OK, the tee shirt isn’t too tough, even if it has a brewery name on the front. May not be ideal for a heart rehabilitation center.
Is my Converse suitable for trainers? Apparently not. Serious exercise requires serious footwear, and I need more protection. I suppose the most sensible thing to do would be to go to a sports shop and seek advice from a floppy teen on duty. The problem is, I know he’s going to talk about air soles and kevlar pillow technology the way geeks talk about apps, rams and megas. My eyes will glaze over and I won’t have the faintest idea what I’m buying. Plus, those in Tesco were 16 pounds.
Then there are the loose-fitting trousers? That sounded important, even serious. The lady on the phone insisted they mustn’t be tight. Well, I’d say everything is pretty free and easy in my bootcut wranglers, but I don’t think that’s what she had in mind. So go ahead and buy some sweatpants.
Now it is very easy to buy regular pants. I know I am a 34 inch trash, or at least I was before hospitalization. But sweatpants aren’t measured by something as simple as waist size. Instead, there are vague categories like small, medium, large, XL, and XXL – which seems to be the most plentiful.
What if they don’t fit right? You just add the slack by pulling on a drawstring thing in the front. A bit like pedal bin bags, just not quite as chic.
I wonder if the lack of waist sizes is one of those sensitive things: “That’s not what you call people”: To save fats the embarrassment of asking for a 62-inch drop, the rest of us have steps that It doesn’t fit, with a bit of rope to keep them from falling off.
Oddly enough, while there is a “some sizes for all” approach to waistbands, there are all sorts of different styles within those sizes. For example, what is the difference between “slim” and “thin”? And even though I found a suitably “loosely fitting” pair, they still had elastic bands on the leg ends. Will that be okay? I hope so. Because I’m already exhausted, even before I even enter the gym.
Can’t do the heart good …