Last night I found myself a local gym, and this evening I went along for the first time. I’ve been going to a gym regularly since August 2010. I was on a flight from Dubai to Bangkok with a short connection to Phuket on a wholly different ticket. Unfortunately it was on an A380 and the baggage took an hour to unload, leading to me having to sprint from one terminal to another carrying a small bag on my shoulder. After fifty feet I turned purple and went into a coughing fit which had people staring at me. It was all I could do to stop myself being sick. For the previous 7 years I’d done virtually no exercise, and I realised something needed to change.
When I got to Phuket I went in the gym of my condominium. It stank, there were sweat stains on all the equipment, the gear was rusting, the air conditioning didn’t work, and the treadmill featured a woman who yelled at you in Chinese every time you pressed a button. I ran a bit, cycled a bit, and lifted weights for twenty minutes. My arms didn’t work for about three days afterwards, and remained sore for a fortnight. I doubt I achieved much in those few weeks in Phuket, but it meant I wasn’t starting from scratch when I arrived in Nigeria.
For the first few months in Nigeria I was staying in a hotel. When I got back to my room at 5pm or so, I couldn’t bear the thought of staying there alone – I was depressed enough already. So I went to the gym after work each day, and then again at the weekend. I was doing about 6 days per week, purely to exhaust myself in order that I don’t mope about. I met some of my new colleagues in that gym, including a lump of a Norwegian who I’m good friends with to this day. The other patrons were a mixed bunch, but those times are a little hazy and I don’t recall who they were. Later I moved to a proper housing compound which had a lovely big gym with views over Lagos lagoon. For my entire stay I went there 5 times per week, taking Wednesdays and Fridays off. Occasionally it got busy, but mostly there was only one or two other people in there. On many occasions I was utterly alone. The staff used to turn on the TVs and set them permanently to Trace Urban, a French R&B channel. There are two volumes of music in Nigeria: Unbelievably Fucking Loud and Off. You can guess which one was selected in the Ocean Parade gym. If I was in there alone I’d ask them to switch the TV to the cricket, and I spent many an hour watching a test or ODI. This is how I managed to get through whole series and barely miss a ball. If the staff weren’t there I’d change the channel myself, and if they came in and noticed they’d get all sour because I could cause severe damage to the equipment, or something. Once someone asked the staff to change the music and I got a good look at what music Nigerians think white people like.
The gym I went to in Melbourne belonged to the building I lived in which, thanks to the responsibility for housing falling on my shoulders, was one of the swankiest places in the city. That was probably the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in. The gym patrons, being mostly Australians, were a friendly bunch. They showed the cricket on the TV screens during the ill-fated second Ashes tour of 2013, when England got clobbered. That was reason enough to strike up conversation. There was also a blonde woman who looked about fifty, which I reckon was also about the number of plastic surgeries she had. She had a small, fit body on top of which sat a giant head and a face like Mickey Rourke’s. She was accompanied by an athletic Chinese boy in his twenties, who helped his cougar lift weights by groping her enthusiastically. When she was done she’d grope him back. If her face hadn’t been welded in place, she might have even smiled.
My gym in Paris was in a basement and I never figured out if the room was originally designed for something else or not. The equipment wasn’t bad, but the facility itself was old and decrepit. I went there 2-3 times a week without fail for almost 5 years, and never said a word to anyone. I noticed the same core group of men were there all the time, regardless of when I went. Some of them must almost have been living there. There were a few women in the fitness section, and occasionally you’d see one or two in the weights section. French women generally don’t need to go to the gym because they stay slim in other ways, namely shunning food in favour of coffee and cigarettes. The thing is, nor do the men. About 90% of the men in the gym in Paris were blacks, Arabs, gays, or expats and only 10% normal Frenchmen. I once knew a doctor who asked a Frenchman if he exercised and his reply was “Yes, I tend to my garden”. This is in stark contrast to Australians who forgo literacy in order to run along the ocean and look beautiful. I hated that gym, but I must have gone there around 500 times.
My gym in Annecy was much nicer: small, friendly, smiling staff and decorated in bright colours with cool pieces of kit you feel compelled to try. It was a lot cheaper than the one in Paris, too. It was attended by both men and women, but there the men were actually normal Frenchmen. A couple of skinny old women used to do some weights, along with an unattractive but very slim girl with a tattoo of a skull on her thigh who wore micro-shorts which looked to have been sprayed on, was there every single day doing every exercise going, and knew pretty much every guy in there. I used to quite like going there, and when autumn came around again just before I left for the UK I got a whiff of nostalgia as I walked across the car park for when I first joined at the start of my MBA. When I handed in my badge I felt a bit sad, especially when the staff said I could pop in and use the place if ever I was back on holiday.
So tonight I went to the latest stop on my global gym tour. It was huge, and the first thing I noticed was it was packed with women, probably 50:50 with the blokes. An awful lot of them were doing weights, too. The second thing I noticed was how a lot of the women were dressed: lycra hot pants and crop tops whether they looked like Maria Sharapova or a humpbacked whale. If sweaty cameltoes are your thing, I can recommend a gym in Cambridge. I also noticed a few of the girls were Asian. My racist guess is they’re at the university studying maths. There was also a woman in her late thirties who had the sort of tattoos you see on an MS-13 gang banger. It was the first time in all my years of tramping the world’s gyms that I’d seen a woman with tattoos on her face. I don’t think she was studying maths.