At 8.20 I set off on the school run and by 8 45 I’m back in the house, toasting bread, feeding animals and feeling like I’ve just done a twelve hour shift in a third world brick factory.
After a strong coffee and a slice of toast and marmalade I’m usually up to sorting out the laundry basket, emptying the dishwasher, (we only got one when I began a new chores roster and put The Grump’s name down for pot washing duties 3 times a week,) and take a load overnight washing out to the yard to say hello to Priscilla, Princess of the pond.Priscilla was in her usual listening mood, so I sat at the side of the pond and had a moan.
‘I don’t know, Priscilla, you’d think people would be prepared for a Monday morning wouldn’t you? It happens often enough?’Priscilla watched the fish flakes float around the surface of the pond and said nothing.
‘I’m going to try to find a gym this afternoon if I have enough energy. There are a couple close by, ones a bit expensive though. The Grump will have a fit if I joined that one, but Lara will be impressed if I came home with all the local celebrity gossip.’I stopped to count Priscilla’s prize Koi as they came to the surface to feed. There has been a heron about lately and a lot of our neighbours are complaining about lost fish. Priscilla and I tallied our count and I went back to the utility room to drag out the ironing board. I turned on the portable TV, more for a bit of background noise than anything else, and got stuck into the mountain of clothes that awaited me.
I’ve heard some women find ironing very therapeutic but I hate it with a passion. I’ve tried everything from threats to bribery to get Lara to help with it but all to no avail. The last time I got her to hold a hot iron she burnt a hole in the back of my favourite top and she was only supposed to be doing her own stuff. I used to end up more stressed than her so I gave up and went back to doing it myself. Last week I put a crease down the front of a pair of her jeans. She reckoned that I’d done it on purpose because she didn’t help anymore. She made a big scene of sticking them in a charity bag.‘Do you know how much carbon was used up making these jeans?’ she asked.
,‘No, do you?’
‘Can you afford another pair?’‘Dad will buy them when he hears what you did to these.’
‘Good luck,’ I said, knowing that Gary was about to start on one of his economy drives. The new Dyson and haircut have made quite a dent in the bank balance. The pub has made a bigger one but that isn’t up for negotiation.The Grump did give in, but only after Lara had promised to clean the car and do a leaflet drop for his business. He can be a soft touch, but at times even she has to work to get what she wants.
After lunch I drove down to the Powerhouse gym at the back of the precinct. I was met at the door by a steroid-stuffed, middle age man wearing a scruffy vest and even scruffier track suit bottoms. He struck a pose to show off his biceps and looked disappointed that I hadn’t burst into spontaneous applause.‘Well hello,’ he said in true Leslie Phillips style.
‘Hello I’m looking for...’‘Me, I hope,’ he laughed.
I smiled politely. ‘I was wondering what sort of first-time fitness courses you run and how much the membership is.’‘I’m sure we can find something for you,’ said the Arnie wannabe. He seemed to be struggling to keep his voice at an even, gruff pitch. His voice lifted an octave. ‘Call me Jean Claude,’ he said.
‘I’m just looking for something to tone me up really. I don’t want muscles or anything.’Jean Claude looked me over. ‘You’d look great with muscles. Have a look at this.’ He picked up a body building magazine stuffed with photographs of women with veins like rope.
‘That’s repulsive,’ I said.Jean Claude looked hurt. ‘These are very sexy looking ladies. Just look at the shape of that calf?’
‘I’m just looking to tone up,’ I repeated.I thought he’d got the message but he hadn’t.
‘I can get you some bulk-up pro, cheap,’ he said with a sly wink.That confused me. Lara is always telling me that my bum is bulked up too much as it is. ‘I think I need to bulk down, not up,’ I replied.
I turned to leave; maybe this wasn’t for me after all.‘Excuse me, were you looking for anything in particular?’
I turned round to find myself looking at a thirty-something man wearing the tightest pair of shorts I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t pull my eyes away. He had a sock stuffed in there surely. I dragged my eyes north and tried to focus on his face.‘I was looking for an easy exercise plan to help me tone up a little but Jean Claude here...’
‘Jean Claude? ... Oh, Barney. He’s not the manager; he’s one of the cleaners.’ He flicked his head towards the toilets and Jean Claude picked up his mop and bucket and went back to work.‘I’m the manager,’ he said pointing to his badge. ‘Will Manly.’
‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘I thought...’‘He’s always doing it, don’t mind him, he’s harmless. We let him have a few free hours on the equipment to supplement his wages. He spends more time here than he does at home.’
‘I bet his wife’s pleased about that.’‘Eunice is a member too, she’s into body building. You can’t miss her; she’s tattooed from head to foot.’
‘Do you get a lot of body builders here then? I was looking for something a little less...drastic.’Will smiled. ‘We cater for everyone. Try our twice weekly fitness plan; it looks just the thing for you. He circled me, eyeing me up the way Lara does.
‘You don’t need much, a roll off the tum and a slice of the bum, as we say. We have ladies only sessions on Monday afternoons and Wednesday evenings. Tell you what; I’ll give you your first session free, to see what you think. If you like it, sign up. It’s only £30 a month for the first three months. You’ll get into shape in no time.’I took his leaflet and told him I’d think about it. As I was about to leave a blond woman in a lycra leotard, almost as tight as Will’s shorts, came into the foyer. She looked down her nose as if she’d just found something nasty lying in the bottom of her parrot cage.
Will turned to face her. ‘Hi, Melanie. This lady is thinking of joining the midweek club.’‘The mum’s bum battalion?’ said Melanie, nastily.
Melanie was gorgeous; there was no two ways about it. Her leotard was like a second skin. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on her. Gary would have ogled her for hours. She must have been about thirty-five. I didn’t look that good when I was eighteen. She gave me one last pitying look and gave her full attention to the manager.
‘Will,’ she simpered. ‘Could you come and look at the rowing machine for me? I’m sure it’s not set right; I’m getting a bit of pain in my groin.’ She stuck out her long leg, took Will’s hand and placed it high on her thigh.‘Just here,’ she murmured. ‘I think I might have pulled something.’
When I saw the look in Will’s eye, I was sure she had.Will had obviously lost interest in his possible new recruit. He gave me a big salesman’s smile and dismissed me.
‘Hope to see you soon then, I’d better go and sort Melanie out before she cools off.’‘You do that,’ I said. ‘We can’t have her going off the boil, can we?’
On the way back to the car I met Fiona March, the mother of one of Lara’s school friends.‘Have you signed up?’ she asked. ‘Please say you have. It’s my first night tonight and I’m terrified of going in alone. I was about to tell them I’ve changed my mind and ask for my money back, but if you’re signing up too...You could be my training partner.’
‘Okay,’ I smiled. I've always liked Fiona. ‘They’ve given me a free night to see if I like it, so I can make tonight or Wednesday.’‘Let’s do it tonight,’ she grinned. ‘Have you got all the gear?’
‘No, I hadn’t even thought about that. What do I need?’‘Lots of stuff,’ she laughed. ‘Your Gary will have a fit.’
Fiona led me to the sports shop in the precinct and thirty minutes later I was all kitted out.By the time the Grump got home I was just about ready to leave. He hung up his coat and I picked up my new sports bag.
‘Right, I’m off to the gym. See you in a couple of hours.’Lara was horrified. ‘You can’t just… When did you… What about dinner?’
‘Dinner’s in the fridge,’ I said. ‘It just needs warming up. I’m sure you can manage that between you.’Gary did his goldfish impression; Toby waved and told me to have fun.
‘Don’t look so shocked, I’m only taking your wonderful advice on board,’ I said sweetly. ‘I don’t want to embarrass you anymore.’
I did feel a few pangs of guilt as I walked down the drive. I even thought about turning back but then Fiona pulled up in her car. She wound the window down and waved excitedly as I approached.
‘Cheer up, Isla. This is going to be fun.’Fiona pressed a button on the car CD. ‘80s dance,’ she said. ‘Perfect.’
‘I was shaking with excitement when I packed my bag,’ I said. ‘I dropped half the stuff on the floor. I think I’ve lost a sock already.’‘Don’t worry about socks,’ said Fiona. ‘I’m sure Will has a couple of spares stuffed down his shorts.’
We looked at each other and began to giggle like a pair of schoolgirls.