Monday, 28 February 2011

An Exercise in Futility

This weekend's cinematic viewing was 13 Tzameti - a taut, minimalist French thriller about a young workman who follows mysterious instructions left for a dead man and ends up in a horrible situation. Simple, grim, unnerving. I spent the first 40 minutes wondering what on earth was happening, the next 40 wishing it wasn't, and the last bit being a little disappointed in the ending.

In the 'only in Glasgow' section, I joined a gym today (now, I know that's very funny, and totally unbelievable, but it's not the story). During my induction, the other inductee was a young man. The gym instructor asked both of us if we'd ever belonged to a gym before.

"What do you think?" said I.

He turned without further ado to the young man. "Aye, ah huv," he said.

"Where was that?" said the gym instructor.

"In the secure unit."

The gym instructor went pale. He was inducting Jabba The Hutt and Jack The Ripper.

So, completely off topic, I thought I'd tell you about the last time I joined a gym (the same gym, as it happens, but I think it's been long enough for the memories to fade. They allowed me back in, anyway.

Several years ago, two major operations within 4 months led to a period of complete inactivity and overeating. And we're not talking a couple of months here. More like a year. So you can guess the consequences. A body that was never slim and sylphlike began to gradually resemble The Blob.

I decided that it was time to lose weight and get fit. So, despite my stomach's protests, I gave up sugar, fat, dairy products, alcohol - everything, in fact, which makes life worth living. Then, of course, a friend (now ex-friend) uttered that four letter word - exercise. Yes, now was the time to work a bit of gentle exercise into the quest for a New Improved Donna. Time to peruse the offerings at the Leisure Centre for something suitable.

Aerobics? Definitely not - way too much jumping up and down and getting red in the face. Aqua-aerobics? What - this body in a swimming costume? I think not. How about Total Body Conditioning? 'Exercises to tone up the whole body'. That's it, the very thing, I thought. Blow the dust off my trainers and off I toddled.

Total Body Conditioning? Ha! More like Total Body Annihilation. This was an hour long class of sheer torture. I'm sure the woman who taught it also had a job as a professional sadist during the week. Good grief! You know how people say they used muscles they never knew they had? Well, I felt as though a whole army of really bad-tempered muscles that nobody would ever even want had spent a whole hour beating me up.

First of all you fetched a squishy mat. Great, I thought, a little lie down. I can cope with that. Then you picked some little weights out of big tubs. There were lime green ones, red ones and turquoise ones. Like Goldilocks, I made my way over to the tubs. First the turquoise ones. Oh-oh, no good, I couldn't even lift the things out of the tub. Then the red tub. Hmmmm, better, but a tentative attempt at lifting one of them above my shoulders made me realize that those little darlings were not for me. On to the lime green tub. Ahhhhhh, just right. About the weight of a nice big piece of chocolate fudge cake. I strolled confidently back to my mat, lime green weights swinging from my hands.

"You", said the Sadist. "Yes, you with the wimpy lime green weights. Is there any reason why you can't use the red ones?"

"What, apart from the fact that I need two hands to lift one? No, apart from that, no reason."

The accusing finger swung round to point at the tub of red weights and I slunk back up to the front to get a pair.

We then did 15 minutes of aerobic exercise to "warm us up". Riiiiiiight. By the end of the 15 minutes I was generating enough heat to power the whole of Scotland. Perhaps a little lie down on the mat would come next? Unfortunately not. For the next 45 minutes we worked each muscle group until it begged for mercy.

The arm exercise with Red Monster Weights From Hell came first. You know how you do, say, 8 repetitions of an exercise and you feel OK? And then you do 8 more and by the last couple the bit of body you're exercising is shaking and protesting? Well, it got to that stage. And then She Who Must Be Obeyed made us do 8 more. And just when you thought your body was going to fall apart, yes, there were another 8 to do. I think at one point I cried out "I'm in the wrong class - I want to be Catherine Zeta Jones not Jean Claude Van Damme", but it may just have been in my head. I believe my teeth were gritted too hard to say anything.

Finally we were allowed to put the weights down. I nearly cried with relief. Luckily I saved my tears. Because I needed them for the next set of exercises - outer thighs and buttocks. My outer thighs and buttocks subsequently disowned me. After those exercises I couldn't stand up any more. Luckily I didn't need to stand as we were down on the mat for inner thighs. Oh goodie. By now I had lost the will to live. I never realized that raising your leg two inches off the floor could be so hard. Holding it there for what felt like a week was even harder.

With every muscle in my body cringing and shaking, it seemed as though there was just abdominals left to do. By this time, my brain had switched itself into survival mode, and my eyes were glazed and even more vacant than usual.

Finally, 5 minutes of stretching and relaxing. At last I got to lay down on that inch thick rubber mat that felt like a goosedown quilt. From my prone position on the floor I waved to people as they put away their mats and weights and left the room.

"Are you alright?" said The Sadist.

"Gosh yes, I'm fine. Don't worry about me. I always lie down for half an hour after exercising."

"Well, there's another class about to start in here..."

"Oh, that's OK, they won't bother me. I'll just lie here and listen to the music. If you could just ask them to lift me into a standing position when the class is over that would be great."

I then had a ten minute walk home, during which time my muscles were moaning "You can't make us do this after all we've just been through. Can't you call a cab or something? It's miles. Can we just have a lie down on top of that hedge or something?"

When I got home even my tongue (which, by the way is the only muscle in my body which gets a regular workout), was refusing to co-operate.

"Hnngh wah egxcruuuh" I said to myself, as I collapsed into bed for a well-earned nap.

So, having come to the conclusion that exercise classes were not for me, I decided that a solitary workout in the gym was more my style. So I arranged an induction session where I was introduced to the instruments of torture masquerading as exercise machines. There was The Albino Bat Wing Reducer, The Gynaecologist's Chair, The I Look Really Stupid With My Bum Stuck Out Like This, and The How The Heck Am I Supposed To Lift This One.

And then there was the Cardiac Room (they call it Cardio, but I know better). I get really tired out just watching the people next to me on their treadmills running. Running?!?! Where's the point in that? I only run if someone puts a big jam donut at the other end of the room. And even then I have to sit down for a good half hour afterwards.

So with running not an option, I just walk, feeling really pointless not getting anywhere, while staring at my stupid face in the mirror (and what is it with gyms and exercise classes that they have to plaster all the walls with mirrors? Everywhere I look there's me, looking like the creature from the black lagoon with stray bits bouncing about all over the place. Is that supposed to make me work harder? Am I supposed to think "Wow, this exercise is really making me look gorgeous?" Well, that might be true if you look good in yellow lycra and your make up doesn't slide off as soon as somebody says "pump those knees ladies", but it's definitely not the case if your face turns that ugly purple colour that clashes with whatever enormous leggings and t-shirt combo you've happened to drag out of the wardrobe that morning.

My most hated machine is the rowing machine. I look at that machine and want it to die a horrible death. I discovered that the only way I could cope with it for any length of time was to turn my ipod up really loud and close my eyes. I'm sure I looked really odd as I sat there rowing away with my eyes closed, singing in my head (and, on more than one horrific occasion, out loud - whoops), and with my head bobbing in time with the music. But anyway, that's what I used to do.

To add insult to many, many injuries, the very last time I went to the gym on that earlier endevaour, I was rowing away, oblivious to everything except trying not to sing out loud to Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London, and there was a tap on my arm. I jumped about six feet in the air, yelped, and opened my eyes. It was one of the staff. Apart from us, the whole place was empty. Everyone else in the whole building was now gathered outside. The fire alarm was shrieking away and, oh joy of joys, the fire assembly point was right outside. I knew this because the wall of the cardiac room is glass from floor to ceiling. Unfortunately, this meant that they could all see me as I sat on the rowing machine, eyes closed, face red, sweat dripping, letting out a silent werewolf howl.

So, tell me...why, exactly, have I re-joined?

Back to your regularly scheduled Scottish crime fiction news on Wednesday.


  1. That was a hilarious post!. Don't give up and stick with it. It will totally suck for about 1 week and then you will be home free after that, if you stay with it.

  2. Man, this sounds brutal. Reminds me of when we all had to do sport at our sixth form college. I signed up for Step Reebok thinking it was rock climbing. Needless to say, it wasn't.

    Mind you, I'm also aiming to get to a gym for the first time in ages later this week. Must be something in the air.

  3. Donna - I like the idea of staying fit and healthy, too, but sadism like that? Not sure.... ;-). Hey, you know what? I could see some great crime fiction plots for places like that.

  4. Great post as ever, and yes it is very funny and totally unbelievable, and yes we want to get back to crime fiction as quickly as possible, and why does your tongue get a regular workout.. so many questions... now back to the thrillers, Donna!!

  5. Thanks for making me laugh out loud so early in the morning. I never thought I'd say this, but it does get better, although unlike a previous commenter, it's taken me 2 years to feel worse if I don't go to the gym. The secrets are an iPod, only using equipment you don't feel unsafe/foolish on, and never, repeat, never going to a class. Do it on your own at your own pace and it will eventually seem worthwhile. Honest.

  6. Mum just goes for a walk now. Four tmes up and down the corridor is one mile. That is if she does not get waylaid on the way. See what you started when you were down at Xmas.

  7. You're all very cruel...

    Sean and Janet - OK, is it going to be 1 week? Or 2 years?

    Chris - not sure what it is, but I don't like it :o)

    Margot - probably me strangling the sadistic and oh so bubbly woman taking the classes.

    Margit - very next post will be all crime fiction, I promise!

    Dad - and why are you not going with her? Hmmmmmm?

  8. I'm telling you, the soreness will start to go away after about 1 week. Then, by week 8, there is so much improvement, and that is when most people start to slack off because they feel great. By week 12 you will be a new person!

  9. Your Glasgow posts always make me laugh, and the fellow from the secure unit was just as funny as the near mugging where you told the "wee neds" to feck off because you hadn't found the shoes you wanted. KEEP WRITING! We need more good laughs!

  10. Just walk to the shoeshop and back. As often as you like. Sing if you like.

  11. Sean - well, when I get to half a person, I'll be happy :o)

    MJ - thank you! I shall do my best :o)

    Ms Witch - being made redundant curtails the shoe-shoping, sadly. But I shall make a special trip since you instructed me to :o)

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  13. The arm exercise with Red Monster Weights From Hell came first. You know how you do, say, 8 repetitions of an exercise and you feel OK?