There are a few places I wouldn’t like to find myself in: a bar frequented by Neo-Nazis perhaps or an abattoir. In 2009 I found myself somewhere far worse and much more terrifying: a gym. It was horrific.

I’d gone away for a weekend with a man I’d been seeing for a few months, a rather uptight policeman. We went to London, saw a play (which impressed him minimally) and then got the train to Brighton. The hotel was fairly classy with a room on the with a view of the ruined West Pier and unfortunately, a gym and spa.

The view at dusk was fantastic. A huge flock of starlings would congregate and perform acrobatic manoeuvres over the ruined pier, swooping down in graceful patterns. We also gained a seagull friend who I named Vernon the Voyeur as he had a habit of peeking through our window and seemed intent on catching me in a compromising position or two. He was one pervert of a bird.

My idea for the weekend was to amble about, taking long bracing walks (it was a cool November weekend), fortified by the occasional snifter of alcohol and lots of rich food. I wanted to take in the freaks and oddballs, espy the nudists freezing their genitals to nothing and see the drag queens and the stylish people. I wanted take in Georgian architecture and views of the sea. I envisioned browsing through shops, perusing useless tat, discovering kitsch 1950s treasures to take back to add to my hoard and buying a lot of second hand books. My companion, however, decided that whenever I went in a bookshop, he’d loiter about for a minute displaying obvious boredom and then wait impatiently outside till guilt made me join him.

He also decided that it would be a nice idea to surprise me with a massage in the hotel spa followed by a whining session whereby he convinced me, against my better judgement, to enter the gym. The hotel spa was nicely furnished and I was touched that he’d treated me to a 30 minute back massage. After 30 minutes of listening to whale song whilst a meaty young woman in a white smock pummelled my back I was less grateful, merely a little embarrassed and very bored. Naturally, I pretended it was an extreme pleasure and gushed about what a lovely treat it was whilst wondering how I’d avoid this ever happening again.

On eating out later that night I suddenly felt very peculiar and started to sweat profusely. Sweat dripped off my nose onto the tablecloth. My hair and clothes were soaked and I started to feel nauseated. I can only guess that it was some of the many toxins which inhabit my body making a quick exit thanks to the vigorous massage. In future I’ll hang on to my toxins. I quite like them, actually.

The following day we went for a brief walk and I eventually had to succumb to the pressure to go to the hotel gym. I walked down to the basement with trepidation and entered a vision of hell. I was sweating again, this time through fear.

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There were wholesome people on machines, grinding away, feet frantically slamming down and faces set in sinister expressions of masochism. They puzzled me and made me nervous, at the same time. I felt a rush of contempt, mixed with a measure of blind panic. This place was grim. There was a huge room with a pool in which people ploughed up and down with grim determination. Rows of terrifying looking machines flanked the walls, making eerie squeaking noises as people with the emotional expression of corpses moved monotonously. There were people skipping, punching punch-balls, stretching and gyrating. It truly was frightening in the extreme.

My partner made for the machines and I sidled over to the pool and immersed myself. I tried hard to forget how much I hated swimming, to ignore the graceful and the lithe as I floundered like a drowning dog. I lasted about 4 minutes. I left the pool and realised what this place reminded me of: school physical education lessons.

I tried the sauna and steam room. It was dank and spooky. There was a young bloke asleep in the corner of the steam room whilst two French girls sat animatedly chatting. The steam made me feel a bit asthmatic and claustrophobia set in. I was plucking up the courage to tell my partner that I had to go and lie down when a miracle occurred. The fire alarm went off.

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The thought that my room and my belongings could be burning didn’t enter my head. I was free and very happy about it. Grabbing my bag (I know, I know) I made my way up to the street and took my place with the other people clad in Lycra or shivering in towels in the November drizzle. There was a pub next to the hotel so naturally I went in to get warm and grab a coffee. No one seemed to mind that I was clad in just some shorts with a towel around my shoulders. Hot coffee had never tasted so good and the prospect of never entering a gym ever seemed deliciously appealing.

Some things are not for me. I’ll stick to wandering round book shops. You can keep your gyms with their threatening devices. I’ll lift heavy tomes and carry shopping. If regular exercise adds a few years to my life I’d rather forgo those years. They’ll probably be years where I feel creaky and arthritic and believe that I’m Bette Davis anyway.

About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He's usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.

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