DIARY AT LARGE: Nuffield Health

By Lorne Jackson

THERE’S a memorable scene in the first Star Wars movie where Luke Skywalker and his comrades in kick-ass, Han Solo and Chewbacca, break into the outer space gang-hut of the unified forces of pan-galactic numptinesss.

Luke and the lads are in the Death Star, where they find themselves being hunted by stormtroopers, all baying for our heroes’ blood. Their only hope of survival is to disguise themselves in the uniforms of the enemy, which they promptly do.

I’m also wishing I had a Stormtrooper outfit to wear right now. Or any sort of costume to help me evade discovery, capture and eventual torture. Because right now I’m in my own personal version of the Death Star. Scurrying nervously through the corridors of the Nuffield Health gym in Giffnock. A place where people come to get fit, finesse their bodies and worship at the alter of all that is horribly, hideously, unrepentantly good for you.

Though I shouldn’t really concern myself with thoughts of being tortured. Because I’ve little choice in the matter. It’s definitely going to happen, because I’ve already agreed to meet a personal trainer here, who will put my body through levels of pain it hasn’t previously encountered. (Full disclosure. The only pain my body has ever endured arrived courtesy of John Bruce, who gave me a Chinese burn when I was in primary six. The occasion still rankles. I never should have pulled up the sleeve of my school jumper to let him inflict such excruciating pain on my forearm. But I’ve always been fond of oriental food, and when he offered to give me this Chinese burn thingy, I concluded that if it was anywhere near as memorable as prawn crackers, I was on to a good thing.)

But back to the gym. When I say I’ve got a personal trainer waiting for me I should probably clarify what that actually means. My ‘trainer’ happens to be my 14-year-old son, Ben, who has been narking me to get fit since his narking powers first bloomed. (Which was, coincidentally, round about the time he learned to talk.) Never one to ignore a lusty nark, I dutifully joined Nuffield Health a few months ago.

I made good use of the place, too. Hardly a day went by when I wasn’t in the canteen, ordering light snacks, not-so-light snacks, full-blown meals and sugary carbonated drinks.

Sometimes I even accompanied Ben on one of his many workouts. While he bounded up to the first floor to make good use of the gym, I’d recline on a sofa in the lobby reading a book and feeling mighty pleased with myself. This is what it must have felt like to be an American hippie in the late 1960s, fleeing to Canada to dodge the Vietnam draft. No one was going to force me to pull on a tracksuit uniform and parachute into the combat zone to fight jungle-gym warfare with my own pudgy body. Love and peace, man. Not pilates.

Besides, I’m a man of intellect, not brute exertion. Rather than gyrate in the gym I prefer to watch ballet, listen to opera, study the tragedies of Shakespeare. (At least that’s what I intend to do once I’ve finished watching the latest series of Love Island.)

But my concession to loiter in the vicinity of the gym while not actually partaking of its exercise opportunities only worked for a while. Then Ben’s narking was dialled up a notch. He started giving me the arched eyebrow treatment whenever he caught me stuffing my face with …… and……. (Feel free to fill in the blanks here. Your guesses will most likely be on the mark, as I was pretty much gobbling anything and everything at the time. And I always gobbled my anything and everything with a dollop of full-fat cream on top. Yum!)

Ben was also pretty concerned when he caught me next to the stairs in the flat where we live, huffing and wheezing like a steam train in an Agatha Christie thriller. What worried him most was I hadn’t attempted to climb the stairs yet.

Eventually I conceded defeat and agreed to jiggle my jubbly bits down to the gym.

Though before setting foot in the place I take the essential precaution of undertaking a few preliminary stretching exercises back at my flat. Though not for my body. The stretching I’m doing is of the T-shirt I’ve opted to wear for my work-out session. This very same garment was loose and baggy when I bought it some years ago. Now it’s as skin-tight as, well, my skin, and it’s showing every single one of my unseemly lumps and bumps. I look like a bird table nut-bag.

So I stretch that sucker out. While wearing the T-shirt I drag it down to my knees and hop round the floor in that position, tugging the material taut.

The results are impressive. Before undertaking the stretching exercise I was a fat man in a ridiculously tight T-Shirt. Now I’m a fat man in an ever-so-slightly tight T-Shirt. The confidence attained by this near-miraculous transformation evaporates as I hit the gym.

As I mentioned previously, an exercise room of any sort is my own personal Death Star. And on this occasion I don’t even have Chewbacca to watch my back. (That’s not entirely true. Ben is a tad fuzzy at the moment, with something of the wookiee about him. That boy definitely needs a haircut.)

To be honest, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Nobody’s pointing at me and laughing, for a start. Everyone minds their own business. Except me, that is. I manage to take a sneaky shufty at a few of the bodies on display, and I’m comforted to note that not everyone is strutting around inside a bespoke Arnold Schwarzenegger flesh-suit.

There are a few Marvel superhero types, of course. Though quite a few others have clunky Coronation Street bods. This gives me the confidence to clamber onto one of the stationary bikes, which I cycle for an entire minute. The reason I stop isn’t because I’m out of puff, but because the saddle is sharp as a razor. I’ve heard of close shaves, but this is ridiculous.

Hopping off the bike, I try the running machine. Although with me on board it should actually be called an ambling machine.

Now this is more like it! Or at least it is until Ben turns the speed dial up and my amble turns into a saunter. Blimey. Suddenly it’s all a tad hard going. My baggy T-shirt is back to being skin-tight, with my sweat plastering it to the contours of my body.

Meaning it’s time to stagger off the gear-changing gizmo and onto a rowing machine. Which isn’t so bad. A padded seat for my padded backside, and I’m also once more in my favourite reclining position. As I attempt to row I discover a large, unwieldy object getting in the way of a smooth rowing action. That unwieldy object turns out to be my gut. Though hopefully gut will soon be a goner. All I have to do is keep rowing for just a little bit longer. Which I do. For ten seconds.

Then it’s on to the steps machine, which I clamber for another smattering of seconds. A further few minutes is wasted, I mean used constructively, by donning a pair of boxing gloves and attempting to clobber my wookiee son. Actually I’m meant to be whacking the padded gloves he’s wearing, though what would be the harm in accidentally giving him a loving skelp on the chin? After all, he was the one who forced me to come to the gym in the first place.

On seconds thoughts, I should probably leave Ben’s chin intact. For I have to admit I’ve enjoyed this brief but empowering sojourn in the Land of Good Living, and I’m now genuinely swithering over a second visit. And perhaps even a third…

Though I’m still not sure whether those visits will be for snack scoffing opportunities; or to scoff at such scoffing and jump on a treadmill instead.

As that playwright bloke whose works I intend to study one day would no doubt have put it: To sandwich or not to sandwich. That is the question…