Gentrification has ruined London. Everyone knows that. Even the Guardian readers know what they’ve done, inflicting their weird culture, constant whining, numerous genders and strict dietary restrictions on the rest of us without bothering to ask first. It’s now all but impossible to find a scuffle in a chip shop, or enjoy the aroma of fried onions, fag smoke and piss around Upton Park or White Hart Lane or Highbury or Stamford Bridge. We are poorer for it, but such is the world. When gentrification jumped the water and came to south London, it hit ‘Anton’ harder than most, as the sudden influx of slimmer and more physically attractive females all but ruined his sexual appetite. Prior to this, he would rampage happily among the thirty five year old grandmothers at Wavelengths Leisure Centre in Deptford, where they traditionally gathered to sell contraband Benson and Hedges to each other, and discuss how many tattoos were needed to avoid getting themselves harpooned by whaling fleets in offshore waters when visiting Clacton for the Bank Holiday weekend. No one at Wavelengths was putting money aside for their children’s gender re-alignment surgery, let me tell you. I believe it’s on offer as an evening class there now.
I was reminded of ‘Anton’ and his reign of terror recently, while in the process of becoming a frequent flyer at my own local* gym. I enjoy going to the gym, which puts me in something of a minority. Also, I have to go there because my dog won’t let my physiotherapist near me, which I suspect this puts me in an even smaller one. The physiotherapy is the aftermath of the Tennyson Road Incident, in which my shoulders were quite badly damaged, and my dog, Archie, is an affectionate saluki with a thieving, kind and greedy little face. As befits his breed, he is quietly protective of his people, and demonstrated this by insistently laying across me whenever the physiotherapist came to my house. I tried putting him out of the room, but to save me from the therapeutic intentions of a medical professional he would try and tunnel under the door, so visiting her at her gym was the only solution. Undaunted, I made the best of a bad job and, while there, invented the Norfolk Shred. This is not dissimilar to the usual Shred format of concerted physical exercise, except that instead of working out at a high intensity to dance music, you run slowly on a treadmill to an Audiobook. Try it – it’s awful.
While grinding out the stationary miles to Professor Gary Gallagher’s peerless series of lectures on the American Civil War, it occurred to me that the gym is a rare blast of honesty in a frequently deceptive world. You go in, have an unpleasant time, and come out better for it. You’re not meant to enjoy yourself, for the same reason that you aren’t meant to serve paracetamol with roast potatoes and gravy. Cycling and the robust nature of life at Runton Hall already keep me in fairly decent shape. This is handy, because a single pound of fat will take around seven hours to work off. There is no getting away from this, although by praying for death you could probably make the time pass more quickly. Only on posters is the gym about carefree afternoons spent laughing on a running machine, then going for a baguette in a leotard with your insufferable friends. Anyone can run gloriously and well when they are already good at running: instead, find glory in repeatedly running an extremely short distance and then throwing up on your trainers, because therein a greater glory assuredly lies. The Varsity Boat Race is a marvellous thing, especially if like me you enjoy drinking all day with toffs, but real glory comes in using a rowing machine for eight seconds and then weeping openly with shame of it all. Put that on a poster, and anyone who still signs up for membership will achieve literally anything they put their mind to. Everyone else can ponce about doing yoga**.
Happily, my physiotherapy is nearing an end. I feel much better thank you, although I will keep going to the gym to lift weights. I have a suitcase full of codeine I didn’t take as prescribed, saving it instead for making this very purpose funner, and it seems a shame to waste it. I suppose I could always sell it to ‘Anton’ if I get bored. Anyway, it’s been a protracted convalescence, and although it’s likely that my left shoulder will never fully recover, I can take comfort in – to quote the consultant who oversaw my hospital stay – having managed to ‘miss four different fatal injuries’. This seems like a fair trade to me, and I am grateful for it. Come to think of it, my sundry non-fatal injuries would doubtless have cleared up earlier had I not refused to admit a level of physical discomfort greater than three on a scale of one to ten during treatment, but no one wants their physiotherapist to think they’re some kind of wanker, surely.
*ie nine miles away. I hate the countryside.
**That said, we have two yoga teachers at Runton Hall. One does Deaf Yoga, and the other teaches class while drunk. Both are overcoming adversity in admirable style, and we can all learn a lesson from them.
Main: Sevastopol the Peacock’s summer palace, well away from where his racket can get on Joe’s tits.
Top inset: Archie finishing off a physiotherapist.
Lower inset: My current steed, an inexpensive but reliable single speed road bike. Got a bit bashed about in the Tennyson Road Incident, but is fine again now.