Since it wasn’t proving cost-effective (about three visits in five months), I’ve now cancelled my gym membership. Thinking about it, I’ve been a member of a gym for the vast majority of the time I’ve lived in London (over a decade), but as my main form of exercise is now running, and London has an abundance of pavements and parks, I don’t see any need to pay out for the use of treadmills. Should have realised this earlier and saved myself money, duh.

But, being how I am, my time in the gym hasn’t always been without incident – and I don’t mean someone getting the wrong towel or bumping into me or whatever. I mean, of course, the sort of statistically-unlikely and socially awkward nonsense that seems to be a recurrent feature of my life. So, I shall share with you two tales of my gym-related shame – there are more I could tell, but these have the common theme of involving the changing rooms.

Shame the first: talking to a (nude) stranger

At the chain of gyms I was formerly a member of, the showers were in a communal area, with little cubicles whose walls came up to about shoulder-height. It was a Sunday afternoon, and after a bout of exercise, I was having a shower. Another chap was doing the same, though of course we’d left a couple of empty shower cubicles between as a kind of buffer, as one does.

As I was standing there under the shower, rivulets of water streaming down my naked body (I’m sharing that detail for the ladies), the fire alarm went off. Just briefly, but it went off nonetheless. I frowned, and then looked over to the other chap, who was busy lathering shampoo into his hair. He looked back at me.
“Tch,” I said. “This is the last place you want to be when a fire alarm goes off, eh?”
“Yeah,” he said without enthusiasm, and then quickly looked away.
I couldn’t understand why he didn’t seem to share my bemusement. Until a second or two later, when I realised that he hadn’t heard the alarm, and had a very male moment of panic.
Oh god, I thought. He reckons that was some kind of come-on, and that the comment about the fire alarm was my opening gambit.
I say that this is a very male thing, because as we all know, women’s changing rooms are very different to men’s. On the male side of things, we spend as little time as possible there, possibly grunting to acknowledge that the locker someone’s obstructing is yours. That’s about the extent of it. Whereas in the women’s changing rooms, the women spend a long time towelling and applying lotions and powders and drying their hair, and even when they’re partly-dressed, they’ll find time to have a playful session of towel-flicking in their underwear. They… what’s with that look of scepticism in your eyes? That’s how things go over in the women’s changing room. I’ve seen the films to prove it.

Anyway, it’s a male thing, and I had that horrible sinking feeling of embarrassment – not so much because the naked man might have thought I was gay (he wouldn’t be the first, and it’s not an insult anyway), but rather because he might have thought I was gay and that ‘oh, I wouldn’t like the fire alarm to go off’ was the best opening line I could come up with. If he thought that, it would have been truly horrifying.

Thankfully, the alarm went off again several minutes later, and one of the staff came in and asked us to dress and leave as quickly as we could, so I guess he must have realised I wasn’t just coming up with lousy chat-up lines. Either that, or he might have thought that I somehow the power to predict when a fire alarm was going to go off. Regardless of which of those conclusions he came to, it was an awkward couple of minutes, I have to say, though it was probably amplified by the fact I was bare-ass nekkid throughout.

Shame the second: who would do such a thing?

Another time: having worked myself into a frankly testosteronal sweat (ladies), I went to the changing room, retrieved my towel, took off my clothes, dumped them on the floor, and wrapped the towel around my waist and went off to have a shower.

When I got back to my locker, all clean and glistening with beads of water (…), I found that someone had stolen my underwear. My t-shirt and shorts and socks and trainers were still there on the floor, where I’d left them, but my actually rather classy undergarb (Calvin Klein, no less) had gone. Now, I can’t really believe this was an accident, as the boxers were atop a pile of clothes on a bench which was nowhere near anyone else’s clothing pile or anything like that – in fact, there wasn’t anyone using the bench near me. So I can only conclude that someone had stolen my sweaty boxers. Which is a little odd.

Granted, that branch of the gym was pretty close to Old Compton Street, so maybe someone had decided that rather than buying something saucy from Janus or Prowler to liven up things at home, they’d take my frankly-riddled-with-man-musk pants home to add some zing to things. But still…

Going commando wasn’t really that big a deal – or that big a thrill, either, don’t go thinking that – but why would someone steal my underwear? All right, let’s be more specific – why would a man steal my underwear? All very strange.

I’m hoping that making home my base when it comes to running and the like will cut down on underwear theft, or eyebrows being raised at my come-on lines, but I’m not putting money on that being the case.