I had never been hung up on my fitness. I viewed the appearance of middle-aged boobs as a natural stage in life just as I did the arrival of bodily hair or taking responsibility for putting the dustbins out. Increasingly though, I realised my lifestyle had become too static. I was evolving into a koala bear - slow moving, cute, cuddly and constantly masticating. But in the event of being chased by a pack of hungry wolves, I would leave this earth to the sound of my screams and my internal organs being shared amongst creatures with poor dental hygiene. To rectify this situation, I decided I needed to start going to the gym.
My arrival into the gym came at the same time as the World Health Organisation announced that 1 in 11 of the global population suffered from diabetes. It was therefore a shock to find myself in an establishment where the bulk of my fellow gym buddies resembled well defined anatomy drawings, their bodies populated by a wealth of muscles and tendons which had been given identity. While I possess the same body parts, their discovery is similar to the arrival of a forgotten family member at my doorstep. In most cases, their presence is welcome. However, in some where the muscles and tendons have grown like Japanese knotweed, it is like having to share a bathroom when your new family member is Robert Mugabe or George Osborne.
Among the men at the gym, impressive beards and intricate tattoos are the order of the day. Indeed, the prevalence of these features suggest they have emerged from a fishing community rather than the swanky bars and coffee shops of the area where they regularly drop their tackle.
The same is thankfully not true of the women despite a tattoo existing somewhere for anyone under 30 - you just have to find it. In their case, they are well defined in Lycra which show for the most part that they possess very little excess flesh. While this experience does of course make this old man very happy, it does make me realise that I would prefer their bodies resembled the undulating landscape of the Derbyshire Peak District rather that dull flatness of the Lincolnshire Wolds which goes on for ever without any discernible features save for the occasional thicket.
There is prominent group of the women in the gym who dress for the gym. They cannot operate without looking flawless in full make-up and the still cold legs of hapless spiders enhancing their eyelashes to provide the necessary length. The fact that none of this cracks or runs down their faces as they sweat is a miracle of cosmetic science. There must be applications for these same substances in the weatherproofing of houses in coastal locations.
There are ordinary people at the gym too. Slow moving, wobblesome and uncoordinated people. People you could meet at the bus stop although now wrapped in cellophane-like Lycra providing excessive bodily definition where imagination should suffice. These people are normally found in instructor led classes with such titles as "spinning" which does not involve spinning, "boxing" which does not involve hitting each other and "insanity" which requires a lack of judgement rather than actual madness. They have a common goal of improving body and soul and for the most part achieve it.
I was introduced into what I needed to do by a sporty young woman with large thighs and broad shoulders. She was a little disappointed I was not Usain Bolt but got over it owing to my dogged approach to exercise - enthusiastic, mournful of expression and a tendency for my tongue to loll once I got into my stride. Following my briefing, she produced a 5 page list of exercise instructions so complicated there was no hope of me following it. Instead, I apply the benchmark that once I think I am going to faint, I stop exercising.
Mental focus is given in the gym through motivational music from a variety of rap artists most of whom are now six foot under having exited this life in a hail of machine gun fire.
Anything too downbeat does affect performance. Being an avid listener of podcasts, I normally plug myself into 30 minute Radio 4 programmes as I work my body to the limit. Whilst enriching my brain, it is fair to say that pumping iron while listening to a programme on civil war in Ukraine does nothing for my upper body strength. And three consecutive episodes of the Radio 4 programme "Soul music" where each programme focuses on a particular piece of music which has touched the lives of a number of people caused me to start crying a number of times. I now recognise the warning signs - words such as "Requiem" and "love" are the automatic indicator that there will be a tearful farewell around a hospital bed or a beloved puppy snatched from the bosom of the family by a passing bird of prey.
Overall, I am pleased with what the gym has done for me. I feel saner and my nipples now look me in the eye rather than dejectedly at the floor like a small boy with a guilty secret. Mrs Pickwick is very positive too with my new form saying she feels like she is sleeping with a new man. I take this metaphorically rather than literally although note she been out a lot recently. I still weep occasionally at podcasts explaining when challenged that it is perspiration following an unwise abdominal crunch. And while I do not have a six pack stomach yet, my stomach looks as if shaped by a jelly mound so progress is being made.