The Trader: Joining a gym can be a stressful exercise

They won't stop - if you open a gym for City types they'll just turn it into a contest
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JANE HAS decided that we need to join a gym. This I blame on the fact that we've just come back from a holistic Caribbean spa, and although, as Jane points out, our chakras may be well and truly balanced, it's done little for toning up the flab. "Not to mention all that guava cheesecake we got through," she says, pulling at her waistband.

Now, my opinion is that if God had meant us to use jogging machines we'd all have been born as hamsters. Unfortunately, Jane is an unstoppable force when she gets enthusiastic about something, so I'm not in the least surprised to find myself the following evening in one of the Square Mile's finest sweat factories having a "try-out" session. "How much to join?" I hiss at Jane as our salesman-cum- instructor talks us through the membership fee structure. Robbie, whose teeny shorts show off his well-muscled and tanned legs to nauseating perfection, has just mentioned a figure the size of a Third World country's debt.

"It's worth it," Jane hisses back. "Think how great you'll feel." In theory, I know, she's right. I don't get nearly enough exercise, what with spending most of my waking hours at a desk or a dining table. A regular workout would do my body the world of good.

Unfortunately, Jane has overlooked the psychological downside. "I mean, look at these people," I say as we stand on the edge of the cardiovascular area watching everyone jog, row, ski and climb but go nowhere. "Trendy sports gear, perfectly manicured nails, not a hair out of place - and that's just the men. I bet it's even designer sweat." But Jane just ignores me, flicks her fringe and hops on to the nearest machine so Robbie can do complex calculations with her pulse rate and a stopwatch.

I am left to wait my turn with the tanned one. I haven't worn my sports gear since school, which means the only initials embroidered on it are my own. I look like a country bumpkin compared with the regulars, and toy briefly with the idea of writing to Real Rooms and asking if they could do a makeover on me instead of some dreary kitchen or bedroom. After all, I reason, I feel the size of a house.

As I stand there, my attention is caught by two men on the jogging machines nearest to me. They look in their early thirties, though it's hard to tell as their faces are screwed up from the effort of running flat out. I can just about see, with a little surreptitious neck-craning, that they have both been on there for 35 minutes: a fair workout, I think, and they'll be stopping any time now.

Only they don't.

And then I realise what has happened. Yes, I think, they have both started on the machines at the same time and would rather die than be the first to stop, though if they carry on much longer that may well be what happens. So much for the stress-busting qualities of exercise. Open a gym for a bunch of City types and they'll turn it into a contest. Suddenly it's my turn with Robbie. I start to stride out on the treadmill and I'm just beginning to think that not only do I feel like a hamster but I look like one too when I realise I'm enjoying myself. The minutes fly by and, when Robbie measures my pulse, it turns out I'm fitter than I thought.

"That was awful," Jane says as we get changed. "Apparently I'm terribly out of condition and I drink too much ... I need a vodka right now."

"How can you say that?" I ask her. "It was brilliant. In fact, I think I'm going to join..."