I, as is evidenced by the writing of this post, have decided to turn over a new leaf. This is something everyone should do once every couple of years. It’s good for the soul.
What you do is that you make a series of sweeping and dramatic changes to your lifestyle, and maintain them for six weeks. This is approximately the amount of time that it takes you to realise that you really were rather fond of the old leaf, and that living a cheerfully dissipated life beats the hell out of being mindful, virtuous, and dull.
But fear not. I’m just setting out. I’m still all aflutter with the limitless possibilities spreading out before me. I’m going to start writing again. Hell, I’m doing it as we speak! I’m going to go to bed early, and read the classics, and stop teasing my children, and be kind to animals, even Charlie the hell-dog. I’m going to be lean, focussed, popular and well groomed. I’m going to do all things in moderation. I’m going to wake up refreshed and motivated and keep my sock cupboard well organised.
I am, in other words, going to become the best possible version of myself, and in six week’s time, when it all goes to hell, and I go back to being the common or garden me again, everyone is going to be very sad.
And to kick the whole thing off, I have joined the gym. This is awesome because it gives me something to write about. I have tried a number of different styles of blog posts in the past. Cookery posts. Fashion posts. Poetry posts. Photography posts. Parenting posts. But never a gym post. Brace yourselves.
I started off by checking out some other fitness blogs. It all looks fairly straightforward. All you have to do is tell people what you ate, and how many reps you did on the transversal lat-extruder (if it’s a leg day), and then post a motivational picture of an eagle. I can do that.
My primary motivation in starting gym is to lose weight. Mostly because I don’t want to go out and buy seven new pairs of pants. I’m getting a little tired of leaning casually against things like John Wayne because to sit down means risking catastrophic chino failure. My secondary motivation is that I have found, as I head into middle age, that climbing the steps to our house leaves me out of breath, and I often have to take a break halfway. This would be easier to live with if there weren’t only two of them.
But I digress. Diet. At my age, you do not lose weight by simply going off to gym. You have to watch what you eat, too.
Luckily, I have always treated my body as a temple. Rather less luckily, I have always treated it as a temple to one of the ancient gods, and have sacrificed rather a lot of animals to it. Throw in some cigarettes to serve as burnt offerings and some liquor just for the hell of it, and I find myself in the rather unfortunate position where if I suddenly start eating salad and quinoa my body will go into toxic shock and I will die.
Fashion has come to my rescue. Banting. Apparently, the best way to lose weight these days is to eat lots of fatty meat and treat carbs as if they were soaked in strychnine. Nice. All I have to do is carry on eating normally then, apart from not finishing off the crusts from my children’s sandwiches (apparently in their minds that is where all the strychnine is concentrated).
I will, however, have to eat a few vegetables to fight off rickets. I usually get most of my vegetables in the form of pizza toppings and the stuff they use to bulk up burgers with, but those come with the new enemy of all that is good and pure in the world; carbs. Fear not. I have a plan. Smoothies.
So here we go; the obligatory gym diary daily food list…
A 500ml smoothie.
4 scoops of protein shake left over from the time five years ago I was going to become a bodybuilder. It was a fun six weeks.
Milk. To make it smooth.
4 pieces of broccoli. To give the smoothie the sort of colour that could only be associated with something healthy. I have seen people in health shops buying smoothies with grass in them for the same reason (they grow it in tiny boxes on a shelf behind the counter, like bonsai lawns), but sadly it is winter here and our lawn is dry and brown.
4 pieces of cauliflower. The only packet of broccoli I could find came mixed with cauliflower, and I don’t know what else to do with it.
4 brussels sprouts. Anything as vile as a raw brussels sprout has to be good for you.
1 spoon of instant coffee. Because all this buggering around with brussels sprouts doesn’t leave me enough time for a second cup of coffee in the morning. And I need it.
1 raw egg. Contents only. I tried putting a whole egg in once during my bodybuilding phase, to save money on calcium supplements, but the powdered eggshells stuck to the inside of my mouth, and I couldn’t sleep that night because whenever I ground my teeth together it sounded like someone was dragging an anvil across a rough concrete floor.
Biltong. For those of you not from South Africa, that is a dried piece of cow with a strip of rich, buttery fat down the side. Ten years ago, living on biltong would have been a one-way ticket to a coronary bypass. These days, though, it’s even better for you than muesli, despite not having changed at all. Science rocks.
One can of tuna in vegetable oil. When I googled this to see if it was suitable, I discovered that vegetable oil was a toxin, and I might die, but it was too late and there was no other protein in the house.
3 dry roasted coffee beans I found in the coin pouch of my wallet. Don’t try this. Dry roasted coffee beans are grittier than powdered eggshell, and mysteriously don’t taste at all like a tall skinny latte.
And that was it. It may sound a little Spartan, but my day’s meals were actually rather well thought out. The smoothie left me feeling so nauseous that the idea of food became repellent to me for the rest of the day. And I’m pretty sure that retching burns a lot of calories.
And so on to the gym.
But not to work out. Not yet. First I had to navigate the changeroom.
I’ve been to a gym or two before. I know what gym changerooms are supposed to look like. The one at school was made of raw concrete and smelled of adolescent testosterone and old socks. Then I frequented a gym owned by a chap who competed in the “World’s Strongest Man” competition. The changeroom was much the same, except it smelled of adult testosterone and old socks, and was filled with vast men straining to force themselves into those little wetsuit things powerlifters wear (apparently they’re a little snug) and eating whole chickens.
This was not what I found at my new gym. I strode purposefully into a room that looked like it was designed by the same people who designed the Apple Store; all shiny white surfaces and concealed lighting. And then I froze. In front of me was a line of ten little white vanity tables, each with its own mirror. But that’s not all. Half of them were equipped with hairdryers. The other half had those electric tong things people use to iron their hair.
Christ! I had started off my six week training program by wandering into the women’s changeroom. Now I would have to find a new gym and have my appearance changed by an underground plastic surgeon! I froze, and began to back slowly toward the door, hoping to escape undetected. But it was not to be. A small but noisy group burst in through the door behind me. A group of men.
Yup. Gyms have changed a little since I was last in one. They now provide a handy little tables for men to line up their grooming products on while they iron their hair.
It all made a little more sense when I undressed to put on my gym clothes. I glanced up to see a young man who looked like he had been stung by a swarm of bees taking shirtless selfies in the changeroom mirror. Apparently whoever he intended to show them to would not object to the inclusion of a pale, doughy, and naked forty-two-year-old in the background. Maybe that was the point, and I’m soon going to be appearing on a specialist website called “Naked Dads 2015”.
I didn’t take it up with him, though, because he seemed so very happy. And so very dedicated to steroids. His hair, by the way, was immaculate. Apparently testosterone doesn’t work the quite same way it did when I was twenty anymore.
And so to my workout. Which was rather dull. Bearing in mind my struggles with the steps to my house, I have decided to start slowly.
I strode purposefully up to a machine with two footrests on moving metal plates, and two moving handlebars like ski-poles. I hopped up like I knew what I was doing, and glanced down in front of me. It had a screen. A touchscreen. With an entire menu of options. Not one of which I understood. Oh, well. I pushed some buttons and began to move my legs around.
Which was a problem. I thought it was one of those machines that guided your legs around it a skiing motion. It wasn’t. The footplates were suspended from strong metal cords on pulleys that let your legs go just about anywhere. Which mine proceeded to do.
I glanced up to my left, where a woman was using her machine to climb some imaginary stairs. To my right, a round and florid man was using his to practice the moonwalk. As one does.
Right. I tried to compromise between the two (if one of them was doing it wrong, I would only be doing it half wrong), and ended up bouncing my legs around like a panic-stricken ostrich trying to free itself from quicksand while being menaced by a Yorkie. I narrowed my eyes, set my jaw, and tried to look like whatever it was I was doing, I was, at least, doing it on purpose.
And then things really went to hell. I glanced down at the touchscreen. There was a section called “games”. I let go of one of the handlebars and tried to push it. After three tries, I got there by timing the upward bounce of my left leg with the forward stroke of my right handlebar. It was well worth the effort. The game menu popped up in front of me. And there, at the top of the list, like a monument to human stupidity, was “Angry Birds”. I was entranced. What sort of criminal deviant would attach a game like “Angry Birds” to a machine that requires you to flail your arms and legs around like a teenage girl with a spider on her back? And what kind of moron would try to play it?
I gave up after fifteen minutes when my yellow bird kept shooting straight down into the ground and the gym attendant started nervously approaching me like he thought I might be having some sort of seizure.
I spent the rest of my workout musing that, while yoga pants might look rather fetching on the right sort of woman, they made the elderly man on the treadmill in front of me look like he had had a backside transplant with a warthog.
And that was that. Or at least it should have been. It wasn’t. I had to go back to the changeroom.
This is where things get a little dodgy. I try to keep things clean around here, but I fear that I am going to have to discuss male genitalia. Sorry. In order to keep things professional, I shall be using the word most favoured by scientists and the medical profession; “dong”. I shall also be using the word “scrotum”, since it is an honest and solid word, like “lozenge”, or “vestibule”, and is nice to say even if the article it describes is a little less appealing. Scrotum. Say it out loud, rolling your “r” slightly. It is the verbal equivalent of a brisk walk in the countryside on a bracingly cold day. You’ll feel refreshed and worthy.
The first thing I noticed as I went through the door was a rotund, hirsute chap at one of the vanity tables blow-drying his chest hair. This struck me as being a little unusual. I mentioned it to Mrs 23thorns, and she felt it was perfectly normal, and that he was probably getting ready for a business meeting. Mrs 23thorns is a little odd. I thought he was preparing to commit some sort of sex crime.
I soon forgot about him, though. As I rounded a corner I was confronted by a friendly little chap who greeted me with a broad and open smile. I smiled back, a little nervously because you shouldn’t smile at people in changerooms, and turned to open my locker. I grabbed my bag and turned around again. He was still standing there, legs slightly apart and hands on his hips.
“How,” he said, “was that workout?” He was naked.
And this is where the situation slipped away from me. I went to a boys-only primary school. And a boys-only boarding school. I know the rules about male group nudity. The first, and by far the most important, is that you may never make eye contact with a dong. It’s just not proper. It makes people edgy.
I immediately glanced down at my new friend’s dong. I couldn’t help myself. His scrotum was clean shaven, as smooth as a new-born baby, albeit one that had been left in the bath for too long.
That is not, however, why I looked at it. We live in a permissive age, and if someone chooses to spend his free time waving razor blades around his most treasured possessions, far be it from me to judge.
Nope. The reason I could not avoid looking at his scrotum was that it was bright green. And covered in scales. It was, in fact, tattooed to look like a folded set of reptilian wings. This might seem strange, but it actually made perfect sense, because the dong itself was tattooed to look like a dragon, complete with horns and large, staring eyes. Which was a little disconcerting.
Even more disconcerting was the fact that my new friend had obviously enjoyed having his dong stabbed repeatedly with an ink-filled needle quite a lot more than he did chatting naked to strangers in changerooms. The unfortunate result of this was that his dragon in its current state looked like the result of several generations of inbreeding. The eyes weren’t right. What was obviously a threatening snarl at more exciting moments now just looked like the result of a major stroke. And to top it all, it was hanging its head in shame like the hero of a children’s story titled “Boopy, The Sad Little Dragon Who Couldn’t Find a Friend”.
It’s just not right. I have always felt that one should live and let live. If you are gay, be gay. I don’t care. It’s none of my business, and it certainly takes nothing from my life. Black? Super. Keep it up. There is no need to change on my account. Amish? Keep right on Amishing. And I think it’s really cool that your little carriages have indicators and brake-lights. Although I’m a little concerned as to how you wire those up to the horses. I hope it’s SPCA approved.
My enlightened and progressive attitude, however, apparently has its limits. Society needs its rules. And for me, as of this afternoon, the most important of these should be that if you must insist on illustrating your private parts like a special-needs dragon, you should not be allowed to point it at strangers while you ask them about their day. I swear the thing’s eyes followed me around the room as I showered and dressed.
So that was it. Day one of the 23thorns six-week life-adjustment programme. So far so good. I’ll do them same again tomorrow. Except that I will be changing inside one of the toilet cubicles. I will splash myself down with water from the cistern, and dry myself with toilet paper. Unless I’m going to be going into a business meeting. Then I might risk nipping out to use a hair-dryer. When in Rome…