It’s January. You spent most of the Christmas break with your feet up in front of the telly, with a can of beer in one hand and a bowl of Twiglets by the other. You spent too much on presents, then tried to redress the balance by spending more money in the sales. How did that work out for you?
Now that the festivities are over and you’re back at work, what’s the obvious next step? That’s right: get down the gym and try to repair the damage you’ve done to your body. For you, this might be a quick fix to undo the yuletide excesses, or it may be the beginning of a concerted campaign to get your bikini figure back in time for the Summer holidays. The latter being rather a long-shot for me, I’d be happy with losing a few pounds and having a bit more energy.
Our local health club has got brand new gym equipment. I knew this before going inside because there is a huge canvas poster on the building’s sloping roof advertising the fact. The club’s proximity to a main road makes this a good marketing ploy, because passing motorists can glance up at the sign, then sweep their gaze down to their belly resting on the steering wheel, all without losing sight of the road ahead. At least, that’s how the sign worked its magic on me.
Karen and I went to the gym together several times in the last few weeks, and the equipment is indeed quite new. But here’s the scoop: whether the equipment is still shiny and new or been around a few years, gym workouts are boring, and the older you get, the more boring they become. We’d gone through this process at another gym three years ago, before we moved to Riyadh, and at that time we opted for the whole induction package, including “personal programme design” by a qualified instructor. I turned up in my uncoordinated, improvised gym get-up consisting of an old T-shirt I wouldn’t be seen dead in anywhere else and some old jogging bottoms found at the back of a drawer. The girl at Reception had no record of my appointment and I had to hang around self-consciously for about five minutes while they all disappeared into the back office and drew straws to see who had to show the Old Git the ropes. Becky lost. I followed Becky around the gym for the next hour as she wandered aimlessly from machine to machine with a clipboard, seemingly picking exercises, weights and repetitions from the air. I was twice her age and resented being told how to structure my physical fitness regime by a school-leaver. Still, at least her outfit looked good.
That was then. This time we weren’t about to ask for a second dose of this patronising ritual, and so told the guy at the new club that we were experienced, regular workout-ers. The expression on the guy’s face as he looked me up and down in light of this claim was a picture, but at least he didn’t burst out laughing.
This club also has five squash courts. Great! I thought. Let’s play squash. Getting fit by playing a game is much more fun than jogging or cycling on the spot for hours on end. But then I saw what squash players look like after a game: The door opens and out lurch two red, blotchy faces with messed up hair and clothes soaked with sweat. If I didn’t know better I’d swear they’d just fallen into a vat of boiling water. That’s not for me, No Thanks!
It was then, looking along the courts, that I discovered Racketball. It’s a new(ish) game, similar to squash but much less physically demanding. Basically the court’s the same but the bats are bigger, and the balls are bigger and bouncier. The end result of this is that you don’t have to lurch around the court so much, and you don’t have to swipe at the ball as hard as you do in squash. It’s relatively sedate, while still delivering an aerobic punch. Perfect for middle-aged men like me, who aren’t quite up to the rigours of squash, but neither are we ready to hang up our trainers quite yet.
It’s the Radio 2 of ball games.