When I first joined the local gymnasium I was quite proud of my membership number, 0002 (although the credit was really due to my ultra-competitive partner, 0001, who dragged me there so that she could get a discounted, family-membership rate). But they don’t call it a gymnasium any more. Not even a gym. In fact they have discarded the use of a place-name in favour of a branded concept: it is now called Wotsisname Fitness. I have done my best to live up to Wotsisname’s concept - albeit with limited enthusiasm for the method. I would have preferred a more natural approach - manual toil and outdoor activity - which does not involve the payment of membership fees - but life has a way of thwarting dreams, so my years spent behind a desk have condemned me to exercise on a machine.
I once heard a doctor pronounce that half an hour per day of aerobic exercise is all you need to maintain a healthy heart so, conditioned as I am not to question scientific authority, I have adopted precisely that regime. The cross-trainer has been my vehicle of choice. It has its own TV and touch-screen controls so that you can set your personal exercise parameters - length of time, age, weight and degree of resistance. Once set, I like to distract myself from the tedium of the actual process by listening to stimulating music through headphones while watching repeat episodes of Location, Location, Location with the subtitles turned on.
But Wotsisname recently installed new machines and their screen ratio is set so that the sub titles are now only partially visible. This could be rectified easily but the manager won’t agree to it. “We would have to change all the screens because it’s a linked system”. “Yes” I said, “and?” “And some people might complain” she replied. It seems to me unlikely that anyone would complain about now being able to read the sub titles fully but, since I have seen the repeats of Location many times, am familiar with all the picky house-hunters and have even calculated that Kirsty has had at least seven children, I am saving my energies for other battles.
A more worrying feature of the new machines is that they display an intermittent message: “Attention! Heart rate is high!” accompanied by a flashing, red heart symbol. It is possible to dismiss the warning but it is persistent and keeps popping up. I guess it has been incorporated as a requirement of the insurance policy so I’ve decided not to trouble the manager again. Instead I am dealing with it by ignoring the screen altogether: I now simply close my eyes and listen intently to the music.This has proved to be quite beneficial: apart from no longer being haunted by warnings of a heart attack, I find the music is even more stimulating when my attention is concentrated on it. In fact I am now frequently moved into a dance-trance which helps to make the 30 minutes feel less interminable.
Yesterday I was nearing the end of my dance routine (I peek at the clock from time to time) when I felt a hand on my lower back. I opened my eyes, turned and saw a friendly but concerned face a few inches from mine. He was saying something. Did he want to use the machine, perhaps? Without missing a beat, and at considerable risk of unbalancing, I released one of the handles in order to remove my headphones. “Are you all right?” said the face. “Yes” I replied tentatively, recognising him as one of the staff and wondering whether I had triggered the flashing heart symbol. “It’s just that I thought you were about to fall off the machine” he said.