A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

I’ve been a member of the same gymnasium for a lot more years than I care to remember, and the fact that it still exists is frankly, truly astonishing. For reasons that will become abundantly clear, I’m not going to name the place, but I will tell you a little bit about it.

The first thing is the subscription fee - £60 for a full year. Now that might not seem very much to you, but let me tell you that there are long term members who are appalled that it now costs so much. They hark back to the days not so long ago when it was just £25.

I know what you’re probably thinking – at a price like that there will be compromises with regard to the standard of facilities on offer, but you’d be wrong. There are no compromises at all. The facilities are consistently and uncompromisingly awful in every conceivable respect.

For instance, take the building (as the wind has almost done on a number of occasions) as a starting point. It’s a prefabricated shed type affair with tiny slit windows just below roof height which are impossible to see through. And when it rains the roof leaks... it leaks really badly. You’ve heard of Aqua-aerobics, well try doing Aqua-weightlifting. It doesn’t work nearly so well. The heating system works beautifully in summer, turning the place into an impromptu sauna, but often gives up altogether in winter. Needless to say there is no air conditioning – an omission that would be less important if the windows even opened.

Staffing is another compromise which hasn’t been made. This is simply because there are no staff. There’s no manager, no instructors, no receptionists… nothing. When you join up, you’re given a swipe card and someone in a 12ft x 12ft office hidden away behind a nearby run down social club tells you where the door is. You’re then expected to make your own way there and hope to latch on to someone who’s been before, and will take pity on you and show you the ropes before you kill yourself.

When you step inside, you’ll find that this definitely isn’t a health club. Those places have water coolers and hot showers and useable sanitary wear, and this gym has none of those. Attempt to shower here and you’re going to come out a lot dirtier than when you went in, and probably with the sort of bacterial infections that will take several doses of antibiotics to fix. I think they had a cleaner once, but he retired just before the millennium. So using the toilets is not something any sane person who values their nether regions would ever contemplate.

I was going to call it a spit and sawdust place, but that would be only half right, because there’s no sawdust. The fact that there is only one female member (who has far bigger muscles and a deeper voice than me) is indicative of the general ambience of the place. The clientele is almost exclusively made up of young manual workers who walk in off the street in their work clothes, fart, swear and abuse each other a lot, and otherwise just get on with it.

The gym floor is covered in a mish mash of pieces of rubber belting that was left over from a job one of the members was doing in a factory. None of it meets up or matches, and as a result the floor is quite uneven. The equipment is in varying states of disrepair. Many of the dumbbells have broken and fractured welds, a number of the machines and benches are unsteady and feel on the brink of collapse and the machine ropes and cables are frequently frayed exposing sharp edges, and with a real danger of them snapping altogether.

There’s equipment littered around everywhere. Nobody bothers to put dumbbells or weights back in the racks, and weights are frequently thrown around, dropped and rolled around the room, making taking evasive action a skill you quickly pick up. I don’t want you to think these are poncey small weights either. This is a place where you’re considered effeminate if you can’t handle 100lb dumbbells or bench press a medium sized horse.

So apart from the lack of instruction and supervision, a porous building, health hazard showers and toilets, uneven and slippery floors, dangerously worn equipment and the devil-may-care attitude of the clientele, it’s all perfectly safe. If a health and safety officer ever pokes his head around the door, he will close it down in seconds – assuming he doesn’t have a heart attack first.

And yet despite all this, I’ve never known anyone even have cause to reach for a plaster from the first aid box. Which is just as well I suppose, because as I’m sure you’ve probably guessed by now… there’s no first aid box either.

I was thinking about all this today as I listened to yet another nanny state inspired message on the radio, advising people not to leave the house because of the snow and ice in the forthcoming winter. This is something I don’t remember happening until fairly recently. Wind, rain, ice, snow, fog, sunshine, cold and heat all seem to be reasons we should now stay indoors and not make any ‘unnecessary journeys’ (whatever they are). In fact, unless it’s 18 degrees and overcast, it seems that somebody, somewhere is determined that we don’t go out for fear that we might get ‘weathered’ in some way.

And just when you thought you were painfully aware of every possible hazard being offered up by the British weather, along came Hackney Borough Council last year to alert you to something you’d struggle to dream up on your own. Swimmers at the London Fields Lido in the borough were told that they would not be allowed to use the pool if the weather was too wet. They were made to wait outside in a rain shower, for fear that it would cloud the water making it difficult for lifeguards to see. So there you have it – it is now too wet to swim.

Does this sort of thing make you angry? I hope that it does because it’s just one more example of how we’re being patronised and then brain washed into believing and accepting that we can’t think, and look out, for ourselves. But of course we can.

Evolution over millions of years has delivered us to this point. That didn’t happen without us (and by ‘us’ I mean our ancestors whose genes we inherit) identifying and dealing with numerous hazards and dangers that were put before us. We didn’t need someone else to tell us what to do or how to behave. We assessed the risk, and then made a decision on the most appropriate way to react based on the evidence before us. Our ancestors were quite good at it. That’s why we’re here. We are programmed for survival, and don’t really need some third party interfering and telling us how to do it.

That probably explains why, despite displaying all the hallmarks of an accident waiting to happen, and having slipped through the health and safety fascists net, my gym hasn’t proved to be dangerous in the real world. The people that use it can see and assess the dangers for themselves and adjust their behaviour accordingly. That’s what people do when they’re not subjected to overbearing control and interference – they exercise self control and look after themselves.

And that’s an important point.

You see, once you’re brainwashed into thinking that your own safety and survival is someone else’s responsibility, there’s a very real danger that your own internal survival instincts will wither and die. And if that ever happens the health and safety fascists will have created the perfect self fulfilling prophecy. They’ll have won. They were right. You can’t be trusted to look out for yourself after all.

And if you can’t be trusted to make decisions on your own safety when you have all the evidence before your eyes to make the right choices, what the heck can you be trusted to do for yourself? If the words and actions of the idiots in charge are anything to go by, not very much at all I’m afraid.

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  1. stephie said...
    OMG! that gym is low priced but sounds like its enter at your own risk! As far as the radio saying its too wet to swim, if I heard that would wonder if it was April Fools Day all over again ! Great Blog as always !
    Katy said...
    Love the last two paragraphs. You illustrated your point nicely--and you illustrated the reason I 'work-out' at home. At least I know the germs here are my own. ;)

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