I have been doing exercise for three weeks now and, astonishingly, I am not yet a svelte size 8. I would like to say that I'm doing it because it's important to stay healthy. But I'm not. I'm doing it because I am going on holiday to California soon and I don't want to be shot by a wealthy dentist who thinks I am one of the larger mammals he saw whilst on safari. I really wish it wasn't about appearance but it is. I want to be able to walk up to the bar in a pub without consciously holding my stomach in. I would like to look in the mirror and be satisfied with what I see. Not happy, I'm not going to aim that high, but satisfied that I won't scare small children with my terrible paunch.
To be truthful, I am also doing exercise for health reasons - it might not be my primary reason but it is a factor. I am pushing forty now and I have to accept exercise into my life if I don't want to be a spongy mass in my twilight years, unable to leave a chair without the assistance of two disinterested care workers on minimum wage. I know I need to start walking down the right path if I want to avoid visiting the heart disease hotel. Who knows what state the NHS will be in by the time I really need it? Hell, it might be gone by next year if Hunt keeps going the way he is, so I'd like to minimise my need for long term medical intervention through boring things like eating well and moving more now, rather than not doing anything for twenty years and then having to pay huge amounts to Serco or Virgin Care and whoever else has carved up its carcass.
I am, to my amazement, actually enjoying exercise. I do get that weird adrenalin buzz that I've been reading so much about.* I love stepping out into the fresh air and feeling that self-generated heat radiating from my body. I enjoy the feel of my tingly red cheeks, if not so much the look of them in the unnecessarily massive mirrors in the gym. If I could design a gym there would be mood lighting, gauze curtains to diffuse any natural light. There could be a separate room with one mirror, lit only by the glow of logs burning in a fireplace. (It could double as a Bikram Yoga studio.) If I could choose the music that is pumped out I would go for ambient techno - a good beat but not as shouty as the dance pop I am currently being subjected to - but at least I know what Rhianna sounds like now. One thing gyms these days do very well is changing rooms. I am used to scummy municipal swimming pool unisex changing rooms where you can hear the bacteria growing; these palaces of dry floors, wood panelling and separate showers are idyllic. Honestly if the kids get too much I may move in - unsalted nuts in the vending machine and all the chilled water I can drink. Heaven.
It is twenty years since I last went to the gym and I like the tech upgrades the have happened in that time. Admittedly some of the machines look like the Terminator's sex toys but I try to steer clear of those. The running machine I use has pre-programmes video routes, including San Francisco. This is marvellous, the marina looks lovely and I have spotted a few child friendly looking restaurants we can try on our upcoming holiday. In the interests of full honesty I should admit that I was walking briskly on the machine after shouting, 'I can't do running, it hurts too much!' at my lovely trainer. That is the only thing I have baulked at though. I have given every other thing as good a go as I can. There are so many new weird and wonderful new toys to try. I keep comparing the weights I'm using to the weights of my children. This was fine until I had to smash a sand bag into the floor repeatedly and it was the exact birth weight of my son. This was not a good visualisation strategy.
It hurts far more that I was expecting but my daughter is learning resilience and independence now I am unable to pick her up between Thursday and Sunday when the feeling finally returns to my arms. The family is getting used to my agonised shrieks as I reach all of four inches to pick up my iPhone. Mind you, having spent the better part of two decades fending off hangovers on a regular basis I am pretty used to pain and at least this pain feels like it's actually worth it. This is pain with a progression plan. This pain will stop me going to hospital rather than possibly causing it. I like this pain.
*Yes, I read articles about going to the gym for about six months before I actually got up and went. Small steps, people, small steps.