Got a head start on the old New Year Resolution game by joining the gym last month. I don’t really approve of exercise, but a health scare combined with a bereavement sent me howling to Bannatyne as though the grim reaper himself were chasing me down on a motorbike, four horsemen howling in his wake.
I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying it. In particular, I’ve been pleasantly surprised – forgive me, fellow gym bunnies – by the median age of its membership. I’d imagined and feared oodles of tanned buff lovelies in their teens and twenties. But I suppose there aren’t many of those can afford a gym membership anymore (£714 for the year, if you pay upfront, although doubtless there’ll be a barrage of special deals this week).
Instead, I am far from the oldest bird hawking my sagging, wrinkly old flesh into the steam room, hurrah. The prospect of seeming ridiculous has kept me away from exercise for way too long, although worrying about seeming ridiculous while doing something patently ridiculous is pretty ridiculous in itself. I love swimming – all that long-cherished flab is an actual asset – and being ancient shouldn’t keep me poolside.
I’ve done yoga, too, and sh’bam, a sort of Glee-inspired dance class, which I enjoyed way more than it’s cool to admit. The treadmills and bikes come equipped with tellies, so you can catch up with Homes Under the Hammer and still feel virtuous: a marketing masterstroke.
Alternatively, you can pick a landscape to stroll through, San Francisco, or the Lake District. You can overtake, enjoy the scenery, be secretly unkind about people’s dress sense: all the fun of a walk, without the inconvenience of weather, or having to separate yourself from civilization – well, Westwood Cross, anyway.
If you choose the Lake District you find yourself ankle deep in dozens of dogs, and chubby irritable owners in puke-brown fleeces trying to call them to order. Someone decided that would make a walk better. Isn’t that interesting? Certainly they make me speed up, trying to escape them. Almost waved to one the other day.
I much prefer January to Christmas – all that hard work, denial, exertion, deprivation stuff is manna to a masochist. Indulgence is So. Damned. Dul. Don’t you think? Ooh, you can sit around for days watching telly and stuffing sweets, big deal. After two hours of that I get stable; add family to the mix, and make it 10 minutes. Even the greatest pleasure, taken to excess, will sour and stultify. It turns against itself, becoming jaded, bored, weary, self-disgusted; moving back, in fact, to displeasure.
‘Just like the rollercoaster riders and the way I keep writing these columns despite the endless comments begging me to stop. I am playing with pain on purpose, for pleasure, as well as personal and professional gain…’
If pleasure can turn so swiftly to pain, can pain also transmogrify into pleasure? Of course, and probably more readily.
The pleasant ache I’ve felt all day in my shoulders from thrashing out sixty lengths (yes, sixty, and yes, I’m only writing this to brag about it) is testament to this truth. I’m choosing to feel bad in order to feel better, emotionally as well as physically.
Just like the bracing New Year’s Day Dip tradition; the rollercoaster riders, the horror film devotees; the way I keep writing these columns despite the endless comments begging me to stop. I am playing with pain on purpose, for pleasure, as well as personal and professional gain.
I don’t really expect to look younger, leaner or thinner, as a result of my gym membership. I hope to become a bit healthier, so I can live long enough to write thousands more columns, and dozens more books. But mainly I’m motivated by the delicious endorphin rush brought on by achievement. The purification of ordeal. To seal your pampered self off from challenge might feel sensible, but also means living your life in muted grey, in fear of the ecstatic potential of your own body. Life itself is exceptional; to live moderately is to waste it.
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