The entrance to the gym is via an obscure door on the posh hotel’s frontage. A doorman dressed in a long bottle green double breasted tunic stands to one side. He is wearing a bowler hat for the tourists. No one else wears a bowler in London anymore, in fact no one has since the late 1970s. His gold badge catches the blue of a passing police car. MY NAME IS GERALD. He doesn’t look like a Gerald to me. He looks like a Lee or a Darren. I think they assigned him the name Gerald for the tourists. Sounds better.
To the other side of the door, a long panel of windows provides the view of theatre goers having High Tea in the Palm Room. Plates of intricate cakes and sandwiches are brought to intimate tables shrouded in fresh linen. Pairs of women on their way to ballet or couples obviously from out of town sip Earl Grey from bone china and watch me watching them.
Down the marble stairs and into the bowels of the hotel I nod to the receptionist who by now recognises me as a regular. “So far so good,” I chirp as I collect a towel and find a spare locker in the changing room. The bodybuilders are in. I can tell because lap tops are spread out on the changing room benches and data is being downloaded into them. “82 efficiency on the butterfly curls,” one ponders. I wonder if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
I can last for 30 minutes on the cross trainer now. It is a great mechanical machine that simulates cross-country skiing. I watch my heartbeat rise on the monitor as I glance at the tv screens lined up at eye level.
The woman on the tv screen has lost 140 pounds. She stands in her former trousers for the obligatory ‘Fat Pants’ photo. She is wearing makeup and contact lenses now. Her hair has been cut into a bob and dyed an electric red colour. She is keen to show off her new husband who appears 20lbs lighter than his wife, even after the 140 have been dropped. He gushes that he didn’t know her when she was fat but would have loved her anyway. The wife pulls a face letting us in on the secret; he is lying.
A switch has been flipped in my head. Five, nearly six weeks without a cigarette and it has all been too easy. In the same period I joined a gym and although there is no visible evidence, I feel better. But I’ve been here before. If history is anything to go by, this could last a few months. But History says it won’t last, that is certain. History tuts and taps its fingers on the table top sighing, ‘We’ve been here before.’ History spins the yo yo so that it revolves on a fully extended string ready to be inevitably drawn back up its lead. Inevitable. It always is.
I do 100 crunches. There was a time 24 years ago when I could do 1000. Two weeks ago I could do only 24. I sit in the steam room dripping with sweat as the blue marble darkness fills up and dissipates with hot mist three times before I open my eyes.
I need to keep this fun if it is to continue. History tuts and taps its fingers. I shower and climb the marble steps to the street.
Gerald does not see me. He is trying to flag down a taxi on the street. An older American couple come out of the hotel. The elderly man with a nondescript mid-west accent is wearing a baseball cap with the name of some battleship embroidered on the brim.
I stand at the window to the Palm Room, tugging at the waist band of my trousers. There is some give but not enough for the Fat Pants photo. A mother and her 30 something daughter watch me from behind a potted palm as they munch on a cucumber sandwich and discuss the ballet. I don’t think it was the vision that distracted them; more likely the sound of flipping switches in my head.
Keep the Faith,