Saturday, 25 April 2009

No easy road to virtue

The pursuit of happiness is, as we all know, an inalienable human right. And tolerance is one of the great qualities: the exhortation to believe that I might be wrong, the starting point of all tolerance, resonates deeply with me.

In theory at least.

The problem is that while I’m committed to contributing to the sum of human happiness, I do also believe that there are times when a little solemnity is called for. In particular, I’d like a solemn approach to be taken to working out in the gym. This is facetiously referred to in some quarters as a ‘leisure activity’. Leisure? It’s not for nothing it’s called a work-out. I can’t handle it in the evening which means I have to go in the morning before work, and that means getting up at one of those stupid hours that should only exist in the afternoon. ‘Ah, five o’clock,’ you think, ‘time for a cup of tea’ until you realise it’s the other five o’clock and what you really need is several powerful coffees, delivered from a cup only because you can’t get them intravenously.

Once I’ve done an hour’s leisure at the gym, I’m ready for eight hours in the office just to recuperate.

What this means is that I need an atmosphere in the gym of quiet, or perhaps morbid, introspection. You get your head down and work your way through the pain.

I’ve learned to put up with the muzak all gyms seem to pipe in these days. Sonic wallpaper, I can ignore it. What I don’t need is the cheerful Irishman who seems to be there every day. He likes to ask me how I am. How I am? I’m a soul in pain. Isn’t that obvious? But he can never be silenced. He offers me advice. When I’m really saying ‘disappear and die somewhere’ but actually pronouncing ‘really? I must give that a try’ he always ends up telling me ‘well, it doesn’t matter anyway, just as long as you’re enjoying it.’ Enjoying it? What sort of a masochist does he take me for?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m in favour of good cheer more or less anywhere. I’m happy to crack jokes at a funeral. But in the gym: per-lease. A little silence. A little decorum.

Which brings me on to tolerance. This guy means well. Can’t I just smile and be nice to him? Can’t I think to myself ‘we all have our ways of being, and his is no worse than mine’?

No, I can’t. He just gets on my nerves. He has a way, whenever he’s pumping weights, of exhaling noisily each time he makes an effort. Now we should all exhale during the effort phase of exercise. Good practice. But do we really have to sound like Thomas the Tank Engine starting off? That feels to me like someone saying ‘I’m exercising much more vigorously than you are.’ I keep wanting to go over to him and say ‘Would you be so kind as to stop making that infernal noise? Please?’

But I don’t. I smile. I say ‘hello’. I say ‘goodbye’ as I leave without revealing my sense of relief.

So my gym work has become as much a spiritual as a physical endeavour. I’m keeping myself in shape and learning tolerance too. A double benefit.

But believe me – it’s hard work.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

I meet a lot of people who claim that working out is fun. It's probably just a desperate attempt to justify the amount of time they spend doing it.

Well done on all the exercise you're doing, by the way!