Biff! Kerpow! Splat! There goes another warlord

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HAS YOUR local swimming-pool turned into a sports and leisure centre yet? Ours has. I know this because above the door where there used to be a modest sign saying "Entrance to pool" and an arrow, there is now a huge blue, white and gold billboard covering half the wall with SPORTS AND LEISURE CENTRE in 2-ft-high letters surrounded by fluorescent go- faster stripes. It's certainly impressive. People walking past stop and gaze at it in wonder, as well they might because, apart from the sign, nothing else has changed.

The lino in the passage is still scuffed. The ladies' changing-room has the same mottled concrete floor sloping towards the centre, and the 2- in puddle of brackish water that inevitably collects in this depression still offers excellent hydroponic opportunities for the cultivation of old tissues, verruca plasters, toenails and hair.

I lied. There have been changes. Outside the gents' changing-room, in place of the scales that gave your weight in stones, pounds and ounces, there is now a vast, chrome vending-machine offering 50 varieties of health drink and, beside it, a glass cabinet displaying super-support sports bras. This must be the leisure section.

Last time I went for a swim the receptionist asked if I wanted the special half-price membership to the gym, available in February only. What gym? "Kadisha", called the receptionist. "Would you show the lady our new facilities?" A superbly supported girl in trainers emerged from a back room and took me upstairs. "Isn't this where the spectators' gallery is?" I asked, remembering noisy swimming-gala evenings. "I didn't think there was anything else up here apart from a couple of broom cupboards."

You'd be amazed how much fitness equipment you can squeeze into two broom cupboards, or how many sweaty people. If the man on the weighing-machine had had more hair, or indeed any hair at all, it would have brushed the knees of the girl on the exercise bike every time he leaned forward. Kadisha said there were plans to incorporate a multi-purpose exercise studio, but I'd had enough sport for one day and took the membership brochure home to ponder.

"Why don't you get a personal trainer," advised a well-heeled friend who is currently in the middle of an acrimonious divorce, most of the acrimony arising from her ex-husband's refusal to continue paying for her personal trainer. The mean beast, said Phoebe. "I know they're expensive. But they're 10 times more effective than going to a gym and work out cheaper because you stop going to gyms because they're so squalid." I thought of the bald man on the weighing-machine. How much is a personal trainer, and what exactly do they do, I asked. How long is a piece of string, said Phoebe.

Next morning, Anne-Marie, tall, lithe, blonde and carrying a sports bag full of weights and boxing gloves, arrived at 7.30 sharp. She specialises in that strain of martial arts known as Tai-Kwon-Do, her aim being not just to make you fit, but fighting fit. Her husband, Winston, is the British Tai kick-boxing champion. I don't suppose their neighbours complain about loud music after 10.30pm.

Between six and seven that morning Anne-Marie had personally trained a banker in Hampstead who wanted toning and muscle definition. After me she had a couple of housewives who wanted to lose weight and, that evening, she was seeing a barrister who was particularly fond of that Tai-Kwon- Do exercise where you jump, twist and kick. He likes kicking really hard.

I cleared sundry shoes, cereal bowls and items of clothing from the sitting- room floor and Anne-Marie took me through some warm-up exercises. "Great," she said, "you're doing great. Now kick this." She produced what looked like a leather oven-glove and held it at waist height. "Kerpow!" went my bare foot against the glove.

"Mum, where's my packed lunch?" said the youngest. Biff! Kerpow! Splat! I was now doing extended twist-kicks like Bruce Lee and the lawyer. "Where is his lunch?" asked my husband.

Anne-Marie was explaining how Tai-Kwon-Do was invented by oppressed Korean peasants. There was one particularly impressive aerial kick designed to unseat oppressive warlords from their horses but, unfortunately, she couldn't demonstrate it for me because she had just cracked a rib. Gosh, how? I asked. After a bad coughing fit, said Anne-Marie.

I should like to learn how to unseat an oppressive warlord but, in the meantime, Anne-Marie showed me how, with a graceful knee-jerk to the groin, I could unseat or more likely unman a mugger on the Northern Line.

Toning, muscle definition, self-defence. It's a snip. Go for it, Phoebe. Why settle for less?