Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Gym Girl Myth

There are a number of reasons why people are often surprised that I go to the gym. Many friends from my past remember me only for single-handedly breaching the maximum occupancy of an elevator, or clandestinely trying to eat their first born child when their back was turned. To these far-flung acquaintances, the concept of my setting foot inside a fitness establishment is as unlikely as Henry VIII winning an Olympic decathlon. 

Then there are guys who brandish my eligible bachelorhood as a challenge to my gymnasial veracity. A certain faction of men staunchly promulgate that the gym is the ultimate venue in which to pull women. If I do indeed attend the gym, either I must have met an interested female party there, or elsewhere as a direct result of my testosterone-engorged pythons. I must secrete hormonal nectar from between my pectorals and ensnare women like a Venus fly trap. They simply will not believe me when I tell them that, despite visiting the gym 4-5 times a week for well over a year now, the only thing I will ever pull there is a herniated disc.

An inherent flaw taints the logic that the gym is a prime locale for attracting a mate. Before exercise has even been flirted with there’s the simple fact that I will never look my best at 6.30 in the morning. Then as the session progresses, any flex of a picayune bicep is swiftly equipoised by the dark circles of sweat that spread from various recesses like a body odour fallout zone. Some cite mirrors as an excellent means of catching a lady’s eye. This is not of benefit when cursed with a weight-lifting face like I’m giving birth to my lungs. On the one occasion I did use a mirror to flash a girl my least ominous smile, a snot bubble the size of The Prisoner attack balloon bilged from my nostril and burst in my mouth.

Every gym, at any given time, has its alpha male. He of the premium motley jogging bottoms akin to the engorged hindquarters of a concupiscent baboon. All others step aside to grant him his lord’s right with the water fountain. While I strain to the top my 3rd rep of the lowest weight imaginable, the alpha bench-presses a suntan-jaundiced groupie on each arm, juggles a clutch of his latest bastard offspring with his well-developed calves, while simultaneously injecting steroids into his hyperbolic track-marked cock.

One day the alpha will be challenged and perish in a tragic spotting ‘accident.’ Until that day, the rest of us must accept that simple comparison highlights us as inferior specimens unworthy of female attention.

I perpetuated this theory when, in passing, one of the female personal trainers complimented my Super Mario t-shirt. There are any number of smooth responses to this opening gambit. For instance, ‘Come over to my place and play on my Wii,’ ‘How’d you like a little Italian in you?’ or, and Mario fans should recognise the true genius here, ‘Do you ever get locked up in castles? ‘Cos baby, you’re a Peach.’ It is my belief that any one of these lines would have resulted in furious love-making against the floor buffer in the cleaner’s cupboard. Instead I just sort of smiled and tugged hopelessly at the door until I realised it said PUSH.

There is nothing I would love to believe more than the gym girl myth. For many years, I believed that if I lost weight and developed some muscle, girls would ring-toss their underwear over my head and, once I’d beaten them off with the optimist’s metaphorical stick, use chloroform and a plastic cup to steal my semen as I sleep. Yet now that I have achieved both of those criteria, and still found little success, I must deal with the less glamorous truth: I can grow as much muscle as I like. But it’s all for nothing if my personality doesn’t grow to match.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

How Not To Be A Man

I’ve just signed up for this: Warrior Dash

5 kilometres of partially-dressed men smothered in cold mud, screaming abuse as they tug one another over sheer walls, under barb wire, across freezing swamp pits, before packing into a mass shower to wash each other down and apply talcum powder to delicate male areas. It sounds just like my visit to that really colourful nightclub in Brighton. What could be manlier?

Ever since the first drop of testosterone hit my blood stream, like a hardened convict banished to community service in a kitten-grooming centre, I’ve been obsessed with trying to be more of a man. School was an extensive exercise in emasculation. My weight granted me a curiously asexual rotundity. When my friends wrote Valentine’s cards to the girls they had taken to harassing on the journey to school, one of them referred to me as ‘Lonely Red Coat’ and apologised for my mere presence at their encounters. Each and every PE lesson was preceded by a joyful chorus of ‘Boobies!’ when I removed my shirt.

So upon shedding 7 stone (98 pounds) I had rather a lot of ground to make up. There were guys to punch! Women to conquer! Overpriced sports cars to drive off bridges before parachuting improbably to safety in a silhouette of roiling fire. I would be a man!

(Chronologically, what I did instead was grow my hair long, wear tie-dye in public, and generally make myself the least desirable male specimen this side of Andrew Lloyd Webber. However, I’m skimming over this three-year period as it interrupts the already clumsy development of my narrative.)

At university I took to tackling my male friends and dry humping them in a bestial display of dominance until they begged for mercy. In hindsight, doing this in front of numerous girls I had a crush on may be responsible for my gargantuan lack of sex during my university years.

When I tried to equal the bench press of the bigger guys at my gym, I got trapped beneath the bar for five minutes before someone noticed and hauled it off me one-handed.

Last year I did a bungee jump so that I could add adrenaline-junkie to my list of less manly pseudo-addictions; ice-cream junkie; fragrant shower gel junkie; sing-a-long-a-Sound of Music junkie. Hurling myself over a 300ft drop would make me a man! Except that I accidentally jumped feet first, pulled my back so that for a subsequent 3 months it hurt when I breathed, and made this face as I leapt:


I’ll leave the caption blank and let you offer your own. The best wins a delightful My Little Pony play set.  

I enrolled in a mixed martial arts class so that I would be able to punch/choke/lay perspiringly on top of any other man that questioned my masculinity. After ten minutes of the boxing session, my sparring partner informed me that I throw punches ‘like a T-Rex with a stick up its arse.’ The humiliation continued in the grappling session, where a fat guy farted on my head while choking me unconscious. I never went back.

It’s only until I took a look around that I realised I was doing it all wrong. To be a modern day man, I need to spend over half an hour in the morning preening my hair into symmetrical spikes more rigid than a Rhino’s horn, scrub my face with overpriced designer exfoliator sourced from the most perilous depths of the rainforest (or a warehouse in Bolton), and douse my morning’s 5 Weetabix in milk directly from the cow’s udder because I murdered the milkman with a sharpened lip balm and mounted his head on the satellite dish.

I don’t belong. I haven’t started capping every sentence off with a mock-cockney exclamation of ‘Mate!’ and eloquently referring to bad news as ‘gash!’ My gut isn’t so pregnant with beer that I can barely tuck it under the football shirt of whichever team happens to be doing well this year. So far, I haven’t contracted medicinally-resistant gonorrhoea from a sexually ambiguous Thai masseuse.

Most damning of all: I don’t find The Hangover remotely amusing.

If this is what it takes to be a man today, I’ll happily remain the frowned-upon outsider. Although it occurs to me, now I’ve already signed up, that it will likely be thousands of just this kind of man accompanying me over 5 kilometres of faintly homoerotic obstacles this summer. Perhaps it will be transformative? I’ll start the race a stringy whelp whimpering for his mother’s breast, and, like a snivelling conscript beaten in his bed with soap-crammed pillow cases, emerge the other side with flawlessly sculpted hair, a destructive disdain for anything in a skirt, and my genitalia rotting off from disease. A boy can only dream. 

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Amidst the whinging verbiage and sesquipedalian vernacular that form these accounts of my quotidian existence, I am all too aware of my penchant to portray myself as somehow victimised by life, worthy of the wider worlds’ cherished pity. This would be an audacious fallacy, and I feel I should make the effort to redress this self-portrait as fate’s most humiliated subordinate.

Surely that opening sentence alone is proof enough that I deserve to choke on my own tongue.

The most pressing example is my fondness for attributing my failure with women to their ill-judgement or simply my general incompatibility with the world at large. The truth is that I have inflicted enough regretful romantic hurt to earn a lifetime of sucker-punches from karma’s vengeful fist.

The incident I regret perhaps most keenly is my first, and so far only, blind date. I was 13 years old, and out of school on work experience. During this time I became involved in text message communication with a girl named Kerry whom my friend had met as a result of his own work experience. I knew precious little about her, good or bad. The good: she was a real human female inexplicably interested in me; she didn’t baulk at my awkward conversational gambits; I suffered a thundering erection each and every time my phone signalled the arrival of a fresh message. The bad: she was fat.

A frequent assumption during my teenage years was that, as an obese shapeless sack of meat, I should be exclusively attracted to women of the larger persuasion. What the proponents of this theory neglected to recognise was that the depth of my personality roughly equated to a second-hand condom discarded in the drain of a public shower. A shallowness which, despite my half-hearted efforts, has largely persisted to this day.

At the time, however, I simply could not conceive of a human being more grotesquely engorged than myself. I was the outsized monster rampaging through nursery schools greedily gobbling the fleeing infants while carers jabbed fruitlessly at me with cattle prods. I was the repulsive proliferating lard on the brink of swallowing Neo-Tokyo entire in Akira. Kerry simply had to be slimmer than me. A person larger would long ago have been harried by torch-wielding villagers and mounted in the atrium of the British Museum.

We shortly agreed to meet at a local town hall not far from my house. I instructed her to identify me by my ‘rat nest hair,’ a description which several years in the employ of a pet shop taught me was rather unfair to rats.

Kerry had arrived first. She waited with a friend, but it was quite clear which girl I was there to meet. A description here would inevitably be unkind. It is quite enough to say that she offended by impossibly idealised margin of error.

A good person would not have laid on a rigid poker face and kept walking. A good person would not have turned away from the nervous, hopeful smile on Kerry’s face. A good person would not have ducked into a nearby shop in order to double-check that a more pleasing girl had not somehow been overlooked, before escaping down a side street. I am not a good person.

In the following days I resolutely blanked a barrage of phone calls and text messages. My answer, when I did finally summon the decency, is forgotten to me. I’m sure it did not resemble the simple despicable truth that I considered her too fat.

11 years have done remarkably little to dull the shame I feel for my actions that day. It is only the lack of any information beyond her forename that prevents me, despite the likelihood of my being a mere footnote in a chequered romantic history, from scouring the internet and falling at Kerry’s feet in apology.

The impulse to apologise for my past strikes me at the oddest of times, like an acid casualty enslaved by chemical flashbacks. During the most everyday of tasks I will suddenly regret with fierce acuity my failure to walk a dear friend home one dark night after watching a horror movie together; the time I revealed my friend’s birthday to everyone at school so that they beat him mercilessly to the brink of tears; not coming home enough when my dad was ill.

And I wonder if it’s unhealthy for these bygone misdeeds, no doubt trivialised or forgotten by time, to trouble me so sharply, like tattoos inked forever on my skin. Perhaps it is a futile obsession with redemption that prevents me from recognising such blemishes as ineluctable thistles that snag our clothes on life’s journey. Should we be allowed to pick them off under the binding keystone adage, we all make mistakes? Or is it important to remember them so that, as cod-philosophers and stuffy history teachers the world over will po-facedly proclaim, we should not repeat them?