Back in the late eighties a gym wasn't the social carriage it is today, full of preening boy band members and blonde glockenspiels doing box tangos to house music. It was rawer, damper, full of cold concrete and slight menace. You had to actively seek them out in back streets. Up grimy back stairs. They were populated by by people who took exercise energetically. Who sweated a bit. Not preeners or steroid automatons but dedicated individuals looking to burn off their frustrations through gritted teeth and kinetic riffs.
These were the days before machines, at least in small town gyms. Usually the premises had been rented by an ex boxer or bodybuilder, with little business ambition and debatable social skills. You paid your three quid, got a nod and were pointed in the direction of various weights stacked in corners. There were no forms. No instructors with cheap Ibiza highlights.condescending your athletic ability. There was no house music either, just the constant thud of a man with murder eyes hitting a punch bag full of sand. You tended to walk a big circle around him.
These days a lot of people are scared to go to gyms for a different reason. Things have changed a great deal for the worse. Social branding and narcissism rules, an elitism that outlines the ground rules of fitness before you've even set foot on a treadmill. Walking in to one of these places is exactly like walking into a high brand fashion store. You feel a set of sneering alligator eyes lock on to you, checking your clothes, your hairstyle, your body mass index. It's the closest thing a normal person will ever get to walking down a Paris catwalk, only the aim is not to get a vainglorious photograph in the centre of Vogue magazine, it's getting your old Nike Airs into a fucking foot locker. That's the first bit.
Fitness today isn't really about fitness anyway, it's about maintaining an impossible standard. A lifestyle choice. It's an Americanism that has swept up all before it in its quest for domination. Gyms are like dentists waiting rooms now. Full of white teeth and clean walls. The great endorphin release is manufactured towards the type of people who pore over Sunday supplements like its a religion. Clean. Stepford like, burning with false ambition, the gym is their nouveau religion and woe betide anyone who doesn't worship alongside side them at this altar of modern attrition, and every boring testament that goes with it.
Personally speaking of course, give me an old school gym anytime, or at least something approximating to how they used to be run with a certain amateurism and romance. A lack of clique. Old boxing pictures on the wall and machismo ricocheting around the place. People of all ages and size. The boxer in the corner. The old guy at the window. The blood and sweat and Lonsdale. More importantly the fun too. Can anyone remember when gyms used to be like that?