Creepy Crawlers

I suppose it stands to reason that at 6am in the morning the gym is full of fruit loops. After all, what sane person would tumble out of bed at such an ungodly hour and voluntarily start running on a treadmill or start swimming half a mile?

That’ll be me then.


For many years now, I have (often wearily) swum 30 lengths of the pool three mornings a week – before a great race against the clock to wash and blow dry my hair, slap some make-up on, grab a coffee  – and be at my desk for 8am. Recently, I’ve upped this madness to five mornings a week, to include two gym workouts too.

In my mind, I see this early morning as a good use of time: Basically, if I wasn’t at the gym, I’d be happily catching a few extra Zs in the comfort of my own bed.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. What kind of lunatic, for example, sets their alarm at 5.30am, drives to the gym and then idly lounges around in the jacuzzi?

Every morning, as I’m feverishly front-crawling in the pool, there’s a least three people just chewing the fat in the jacuzzi/ sauna/ steam room like they’ve got all the time in the world. If you want that kind of relaxation at the crack of dawn, here’s an idea: JUST STAY IN BED.

Most early-morning gym frequenters follow the unwritten rule of going about their workout/ hair dry/ make-up application in comfortable silence. No-one wants to start making small-talk at such an early hour.

No-one that is, except for Mad Scottish Woman.

I’ve mentioned Mad Scottish Woman before. But recently she has begun to loom even larger in my life. She’s in the pool pretty much every morning, clad in a full black wet suit and thrashing around like a huge excitable whale.

When she’s not showering other swimmers with torrents of water from her noisy, showy lengths of butterfly, she’s pacing around the sides, chomping on bananas and sniffing around eagerly for anyone to talk to. If in doubt, do not make eye contact with this woman.

What amazes me the most is that despite this seemingly extensive fitness regime, Mad Scottish Woman is still about the size of a small garden shed.

Only the other morning, as I was feebly lowering myself into the water, Mad Scottish Woman started yelling and beckoning to me with over exaggerated arm movements.

‘Do you want this float?’ she bellowed.

Float? Why would I want her float?

‘No, thank you,’ I said primly. I lowered my goggles in what I hoped was a please-do-not-engage-with-me-any-futher-gesture.

Luckily for me, Mad Scottish Woman was already eyeing up her next victim: a drippy-looking man, who was doing the doggy paddle in the lane next to her. She started gesticulating to him that he was doing his stroke all wrong.

‘Like this,’ she said, as she pounded down the length of the pool, soaking several unsuspecting swimmers in the process.

On her return, she actually started man-handling Mr Doggy Paddle, showing him how to stretch out his arms. He looked nothing short of terrified.

‘This woman is out of control,’ I thought.

Now, I’m not one to usually cast judgement on the trends of exercise attire but recently, I’ve spotted some rather bizarre get-ups in the gym itself.

Exhibit A: Woman on cross-trainer in full padded coat, complete with fur trim.


Exhibit B: Woman clad in full length dress, attempting to cross train – and, later hitching it up to her knees to grapple with the rowing machine.


Whatever happened to a good old t-shirt and leggings?

In the coffee queue the other morning, a man quite randomly offered to buy me a coffee.

I found this a little odd.

It was 7.45am. I’d just done 30 lengths, dried my hair in a hurry, and somehow managed to fend off the advances of Mad Scottish Woman. I didn’t have any fight left in me.

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I’ll just take a medium-sized-one-shot-extra-hot-soy-latte-easy-on-the-foam.’

‘A what?’ he said.

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.