Gym Buddies

The gym is rapidly becoming a no-go area. After my close encounter with a former flame the other week, I seem to have made the acquaintance of another character who I’m avoiding with equal determination.

My new friend – let’s call him Big Grey Man – first made an appearance when I was queuing for a post-swim, pre-work coffee. Me: flustered and late as usual; Him: big and grey – and overly eager to chat.

‘We meet again…’ he said, as I approached the coffee queue. I actually turned around to look behind me, so convinced I was that he couldn’t be talking to me. He was.

It transpired that we had also been queuing for a coffee together the week before (quelle surprise!), and exchanged the very smallest of pleasantries – an encounter so inconsequential that I had completely forgotten it had ever happened. Obviously he hadn’t.

And so began one of those awkward conversations, where I try hard not to engage with him on any level (short monotone sentences usually do the trick), and he tries his hardest to keep up the patter. I feel a little mean because Big Grey Man is perfectly pleasant. But I have a rule about the gym: I don’t believe in communicating with anyone whilst there. I just want to get in, do 30 lengths in the pool, and exit – all with minimum human interaction.

This was tested about two years ago when I was reluctantly befriended by Lipo Liza – a woman who regularly had several pints of fat removed from her stomach and thighs, and seemed hellbent on sharing the details of this gruesome procedure with me – at 6.30 in the morning. It wasn’t just her thighs that got airtime though: I knew all about her job (she hated it), mother (hated her), ex-boyfriend (hated him) and many other details which I would not want to inflict upon you. Luckily, her newly-thinned thighs led her to new-found love and she moved somewhere down South, finally leaving me in peace.

Another strange specimen at the gym is Mad Army Woman. You know those people who like to Make A Scene at the gym by huffing and puffing loudly, pacing up and down and doing exaggerated stretches? She’s one of them. While the rest of the morning swimmers are quietly getting on with their lengths, she’s busy doing her own peculiar routine, which as far as I can see involves angrily striding up and down the pool in a full wet suit (she’s about the size of a small bungalow), pausing to eat half a banana, taking two controlled swigs of Lucozade and then – bizarrely – circling the jacuzzi in figures of eight, thrashing through the water in an exaggerated army march. It’s quite frightening.

Back to my new friend though…

Big Grey Man: We obviously have the same routine!

Me (feigning interest in the coffee menu): Hmm…

Big Grey Man: I didn’t see you last week though?

Me: My car broke down.

Big Grey Man: Really? What was wrong with it?

Me (yawn): The alternator. (Yawn. Yawn.)

You get the idea.

I finally managed to escape but as was crossing the car park, there he was – honking his horn and waving manically.

I hoped that my interaction with him would be limited to the pre-work coffee queue. But when I went down to the pool this week, lo and behold, he was there – sat in the jacuzzi, beaming like a mentalist and waving at me (again!). Crazily, he was chatting to Mad Army Woman (who appeared to be on stage seven of her drill: Stop circling jacuzzi for three minutes and eat second half of banana). They both seemed to be staring at me. Big Grey Man waved again.

What next? Inviting me to join them in the jacuzzi? Chatting to me in the steam room? (attempting to strike up a conversation in the steam room is strictly taboo in my eyes).

At least Lipo Liza had entertaining stories in her quest to fight the flab. Big Grey Man offers nothing but big greyness and Mad Army Woman nothing but drill-sergeant lunacy. I didn’t want to be part of their weird jacuzzi club.

I dunked my head under the water and swam away – with a little theatrical splash of my own.

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