Learning to live with a back injury, I took the opportunity to treat myself to a (reasonably) expensive leisure club membership. I had tried municipal pools but not to put too fine a point on it, they made me feel a bit sick. I don’t have OCD but I couldn’t have taken my shoes off in those changing rooms never mind anything else. Bully for all those people who can swim in the sea and put their bare foot on a discarded corn plaster without a second thought, but that is not for me.
So, off to my new leisure club, nodding “good mornings” with retired older ladies who are aging gracefully, brushing shoulders with model-type younger women, and of course the successful business men (who are less graceful). I know they are successful because they talk about it, a lot, in the sauna between themselves. In fact many conversations are conducted entirely in pounds sterling, or they may have a more frivolous conversation about status symbols such as yachts, cars, acres, ponies, holidays… I work in health services in a deprived area of the city, so I tend to have minimal input into the conversation.
In fact, most of the time I feel like an imposter, upsetting the natural social order. I have to raise my game to not be found out. Subsequently, going to the leisure club has become a job in itself, demanding high standards of appearance through unwritten rules, glances, a code I am beginning to crack… I like a challenge so I have thrown myself into a frenzy of manicures, pedicures and general personal grooming. Now I join in smiling beneficently at occasional users with slightly sagging swimming costumes and grey roots on show. But friends keep my feet on the ground – after my new recent haircut a backhanded compliment: “it’s not that it looked scruffy before, but it’s…better now”.
Reception staff perpetuate the attitude of striving for physical perfection, although all communication is delivered with a strong Northern drawl and ends inevitably with “love”. Upon first contact: would I like to take advantage of an induction to the new gym equipment with individual media screens? No. Thanks. I’ll just have a gentle swim. The new me doesn’t feel the burn, I just try to stay mobile. As, it should be noted do most of my friends with no physical health excuses. Which brings me to the free passes – ooh how exciting, I can take my friends to share my new-found treat! I took my closest friend, who emerged from the changing rooms with swimming cap and goggles in place and proceeded to do front crawl and attempted tumble-turns up and down the pool. Hm, I had to explain on behalf of all female members, that mainly here we do a sedate breaststroke with hair clipped up artfully and wearing at least a bit of lipstick or mascara, before sitting in the Jacuzzi for about half an hour.
You can get up to ten such nicely-turned-out women bobbing gently backwards and forwards in the pool at any one time. Not so the men. Generally when a man gets in it’s like a full breach of the sperm whale, the movement from which could lift all the aforementioned women out of the pool on the crest of a wave. Splashing and smashing through the water with what, in his head, must feel like Olympic-style skill and finesse, in reality he won’t be getting on that 2012 bus – it’s a big splashy mess and if he were your child you’d tell him off.
So mainly I’m trying to keep it real at the luxury leisure club. Who knows, one day I might even see if I can get a TV working on the gym equipment, for now I’m off to buy more mascara and fake tan.