My New Year's revolutions in the gym

The Final Word
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The Independent Online
Good afternoon. It is past noon and you're past caring. Your tongue, once a healthy pink, has the colour of an over-ripe Californian date and there is a strange furry deposit on the roof of your mouth which feels like the inside of Compo's wellie. Your brain is out of its depth and you're not sure what year it is let alone what day.

Amazing. One minute it's 1995 and the next it isn't. So, do you have a resolution for the New Year? I have and, I am proud to say, it flies in the face of fashion. Not only will I not be giving up cigarettes but, whilst hundreds of new members will be signing up for the Windsor, Slough and Eton Squash and Health Club, I shall take my card to the scissors.

I have been looking for an excuse and that survey the other day that said too much strenuous exercise can be harmful was the clincher. It all started about 10 years ago when my friends and I joined the WS and ESHC to play squash. They soon tired of being routinely thrashed and announced they were taking up golf instead.

I retained my membership of the club and discovered they had a gymnasium about the size of a handkerchief. It had six rusting pieces of equipment and was perfect: nobody used it. Gradually the club expanded and today it is unrecognisable from the place I joined. It occupies two floors and has become a shrine to the mammon of coccyx and muscles.

The range of modern equipment is bewildering and you need to spend 10 minutes at each gleaming silver contraption working out which part of the body goes where. That is only mildly embarrassing compared to the work-out itself. You approach a machine that has just been vacated by a fitness freak wearing all the kit including a belt that is two feet wide to prevent a hernia from exploding.

You brace yourself, pump your arms, push your legs and nothing happens. The previous incumbent, Miss Dazzling Kit, has been pumping more iron than you're prepared for and to decrease the weight load you have to lower a little iron peg a few notches. I had my own little routine worked out: 12 minutes on the treadmill, six minutes on the rowing machine, 30 seconds on the upside down thing, etc. The beginning of the end came when I had just completed 10 minutes on the stationary cycle and was slumped over the handlebars when an assistant asked if I needed help. These characters are like dentists. They always engage you in conversation when it is physically impossible to respond.

I was beginning to feel more and more uncomfortable, not so much with the equipment itself but with the fact that I found myself in the presence of people who, amongst other things, wore baseball caps back to front. The other thing is that everybody looks at themselves, which is difficult to avoid given that they are surrounded by mirrors. And always, blaring in the background, is the appalling sound of Phil Collins. The Health Club, as personified by Princess Di, is no longer a place to get rid of a hangover, satisfy a guilt lust, build up a thirst and slam down a few pints of strong cider. It is a fashion statement.

As a dedicated unfollower of fashion, I will have to find an alternative role for my new Calvin Klein shorts which Santa brought me for Christmas. In addition, I have already resolved to buy a product called Roman 3000 which is guaranteed to turn jet black hair into a distinguished silver.

It is generally true that whatever happens in America will happen in Britain, usually later rather than sooner, and the Health Club is a classic example of the import as a prevailing mode. The same people who indulge in this fad probably eat beefburgers. One of the worst films ever made (so bad it's compulsory) featured Jamie Lee Curtis as a health club instructress and John Travolta as a probing reporter exposing the sexual overtones of the joint. The point is it was made donkey's years ago. Princess Di probably remembers watching Sue Ellen working out in Dallas: all lycra and lip gloss.

But is it Britain? Can you see Terry or Bob of the Likely Lads discussing world affairs over an aerobics session rather than over a few pints at the Black Horse? The time and place for exercise was in the school but nobody wanted to know about the gym. Now they'll spend thousands for the privilege of raising a sweat. Why? Because it's fashionable.

If American presidents want to jog themselves silly, that's their business, but it has no place in the British constitution. It is all a vainglorious attempt at cheating the ageing process. As Big Ben showed once again last night, you can't turn the clock back. He's not called Old Father Time for nothing.

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