Near disenfranchisement owing to fire

Thursday’s trip to the gym was already proving blog-worthy, thanks to the conversation I walked in on as I entered the studio:
“…it’s good. You know how Original Mint Source shower gel feels? Well, it’s even better than that…”
I have no idea what the two men were talking about, but I’d love to know what manages to surpass the tingly feeling that particular brand of shower gel induces!

Twenty minutes into my bike ride, with my iPod turned up loud to drown out the studio music, a trainer tapped on my shoulder and pointed out that the fire alarm had been sounding for some time and I needed to get out. We traipsed out of the gym and up the steps to the streets as instructed, passing through a cloud of smoke as we did so. This was no false alarm, there was an actual fire.

Dozens of us were left standing on the pavement, clutching only what we’d taken into the studio. In my case this was my gym kit (vest top and cropped joggers), iPod and book. Everything else, including my towel, phone, keys, oyster card & purse was locked inside a locker in the changing rooms. Needless to say, during an arctic first week of May I was rather chilly – chilly and embarrassed in fact. My gym’s rather centrally located, so our evacuation point was opposite both a major train station and one of London’s top tourist attractions. I don’t plan my gym outfit for its attractiveness, it’s solely practical and not meant for public consumption.

Anyway, I felt less conspicuous when I spotted the women in towels. Yes, the answer to the question ‘what do you do if you’re in the shower and the fire alarm goes off?’ is ‘you put on a towel and head outside’. Poor things. (The towels aren’t generous in size either…)

We were only (only?) on the street for half an hour, before being moved to a moderately warmer bit of the building. At this point we were warned that it might be some time before we got back into the gym (the fire brigade hadn’t been able to locate the source of the smoke – worrying), but that anyone who wanted to continue training could head over to the other branch down the road – how very helpful. My main fear at that point was that I wouldn’t get home in time to vote, kicking myself for not voting in the morning. [Though my midday political epiphany changed how I voted – this is an entirely separate story.]

So, we sat in the corridor for what seemed an eternity. I was still cold, but buried myself in my book to try and forget about it. Thank goodness for reading on exercise bikes, otherwise I’d have been severely traumatised. (Shame the book in question was a definite children’s book, but thanks Becki for the loan!) At one point there was the possibility we’d be unable to get in that night and I was facing the prospect of being locked out of my flat till 10.30pm, with no food and no means of buying any, clad in just a vest and shorts. (Though I could have voted, that would’ve used up some time.)

In the end, it was 7pm when we got back in – only an hour after the evacuation, but a very long hour. Barely taking the time to do more than throw all my stuff into my bag, I left as quickly as possibly and caught the train home. Talking to my mother on the phone, I realised that I was in fact on a train that I’d probably have caught if I’d done my full workout, so hadn’t lost any time at all.

It was 7.20 when I joined the queue at the polling station and I cast my vote 15minutes later. I probably needn’t have panicked, but I’d have hated to have democracy snatched from my grasp through no fault of my own – like these poor people.

Oh and as for my public dignity, I cast that to the wind and voted whilst still wearing my gym kit, with just my jacket over the top, such is my dedication to the democratic process.


  1. My guess at the topic of conversation would be Dr Bronner’s Peppermint Soap. It’s an American thing that’s available in limited stores over here now. Some Canadian friends were getting so enthusiastic about it last week they offered to give us a sample to take home. Maybe they’re on commission. Anyway, they used almost the exact same words to describe it.

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