The above photo is not really an example of my most brilliant work, given as it fails to accurately portray its subject and context. What you are looking at is an exercise bike (Alice is demonstrating how it is used) in the middle of a pub’s ladies’ toilets. Yes, in the toilets. See the sinks? The hand-dryer? The doorway into the cubicle? Terribly random. 
[Should you be female and wish to try out this bizarre arrangement, the pub in question is The Boot in King’s Cross.] 
This leads me nicely onto two totally separate bike related anecdotes…
(i) Reading on exercise bikes.
This is one of the more random 2010 Firsts on the right – last month I read whilst cycling at the gym for the first time. I’ve often watched people read on the bikes – usually it’s magazines or newspapers – and I’ve wondered whether they can really be working hard enough, seeing as they look rather relaxed. 
But arriving at the gym near the end of a particularly gripping novel, I decided to give it a go. It was amazing – I didn’t watch the time or the intensity levels, just pedalled on regardless. In fact, I went longer because after half an hour I still hadn’t quite finished the book. Note: reading is really not a good idea on a treadmill… 
(ii) A sudden desire to cycle in London.
I’m not a good cyclist. In fact, I am so bad that I failed my Cycling Proficiency test – I don’t know anyone else who failed it. (Though I did get full marks for the theory…) A rather bad accident aged 12 knocked my confidence and, while I’m very happy doing familiar routes back in Gloucester, preferably on my friend’s gorgeous ‘sit up and beg’ Dutch bike, I’m something of a liability. 
Last week I joined a new choir (there will be much blog fodder derived from this activity, I’m sure of it). It’s local, but as is the way with London, getting there involves either a half-hour walk or a bus. Leaving choir after my first rehearsal, a woman ahead of me jumped on her bike and cycled off towards The Roundabout of Death (as it’s become known in my driving lessons). Suddenly I thought that perhaps my bike would be better off here than in a Belfast basement, if solely for these weekly excursions, and wondered about finding a way of getting it over the Irish Sea.
Lest you be worried for my safety, one conversation with my mother put paid to that idea. Anyone else hearing the words “I’d be worried about you cycling in London” would assume maternal fear of the city’s traffic and roads. No, she was voicing her concern at my cycling capabilities and rightly so. [I’ve recently been  told that she misinterprets some of my comments about her on here, so I need to be careful to say the right thing.] 
Fear not Londoners (or those that love me and would hate for me to end up under a bus) I will hold-off on the cycling desires for now… 

Public Pilates

Ahhhh, Mondays…almost my favourite day of the week (were it not for the whole beginning the working week thing) thanks to the presence of pilates and Glee in my evening. It’s been over two years since pilates entered my life and we are well and truly together for the long-haul.

My love of Joseph Pilates’ Art of Control is a source of amusement, fascination and just occasionally wisdom for my friends. It’s this passion for evangelising its merits that’s found me demonstrating positions in public more than once in the last week.

Conversations about pilates somehow end up with me extolling the virtues of a particular move (lately it’s been the plank) and casting furtive glances around me to see whether the coast is clear for me to demonstrate properly. Many moves are difficult to explain verbally (though hand actions can help…) so actually getting down and demonstrating is the only way.

On reflection, the picnic area of a services off the M25 was possibly an insane place to demonstrate the first three levels of the plank. I have a sneaky suspicion that humiliating myself in order to impart wisdom to friend will have backfired – I bet the intricacies of the exercise have been lost in the memory of me looking like a total twit.

Possibly less humiliating was last night’s exhibition at church. The plank was possibly less conspicuous than following it up with some leg stretches (standing on one leg and pointing an arm out in front of you isn’t particularly normal behaviour during post-church conversation).

At this point in writing I was hit with a staggeringly brilliant/stupid idea, the results of which are below. This may be even more humiliating than any of my public performances…

Yes, that’s my very own pilates tutorial video. I am officially a lunatic. Maybe someone will learn something from it (if only that when making a tutorial that involves a full body move it’s good to have the whole body in shot…). Otherwise, just think of it as an opportunity to laugh at me in my pilates kit and hair. Thank-you, and goodnight.

How much is too much…

Specifically, nakedness in the gym.

I’ve belonged to the gym long enough to have got used to a certain amount of nakedness. The women who walk in/out of the showers; those who leave their clothes off till the last minute so they can moisturise every inch of their body; simple changing of clothes…

But today, not only did I have to contend with a women who chose to blow dry & style her hair totally starkers, but another who went to the toilet nude – and LEFT THE DOOR OPEN!!

This second one threw me, just slightly. I’d gone in to the bathroom to do my hair and as I looked in the mirror I saw this vision (bad vision) behind me and was aghast. I may even have gasped. All I could do was flee into the adjacent stall and wait for her to leave. Honestly, who does that??

Perhaps it’s just because it was Saturday. Saturdays see a different clientèle at the gym – some might even say ‘freaks’. Because let’s face it, who actually has time/inclination to go to the gym on a Saturday morning?

Ok, I do. If I’m free on a Saturday, I want to go. It’s quieter, chilled (unless the Finnish Personal Trainer’s working) and it gives you an inner glow that comes only from burning calories whilst most other sane people are still sleeping/eating huge breakfasts. You know what else is good on Saturdays? A couple of episodes of Gilmore Girls and enough time to do a decent manicure. If that makes me a loser, I don’t care.

Perhaps he could have kept that question to himself…

There was a new man at pilates this evening. Men are not uncommon in the class (there are currently two regulars) it’s not awfully off-putting, except that they’re both very good.

New man was immediately a bit of an issue. For one thing, he talked during quiet time. (That’s the 5 mins before the class starts when we get to lie down and have a bit of a nap whilst soothing music plays. I run down the Marylebone Road to make it in time every week.)
Then, in response to the instructor’s “does anyone have any injuries?” he addressed the entire class, at length, regarding an issue he had with his knee. Usually responses to this question are shared in hush tones with the instructor – we really don’t need to know everyone’s random niggles. (Incidentally, the other weekly question “is anyone pregnant?” is usually met with murmured giggles and whispers of “not that I know of…”.)
It was whilst we were engaged in some knee rocking, which happens to ‘massage the digestive system’, that new man enquired, loudly, why it was that whenever he did yoga or pilates he got terrible wind?
Seriously, in a fairly crowded studio, that’s the kind of question you keep to yourself! And, if you’re being told that a particular exercise is designed to help digestion and is beneficial to IBS sufferers, well, I think anyone could make the leap as to why one might get windy…
And, should he show up next week, I will be ensuring that I am on the opposite side of the studio. It’s bad enough contending with the sweaty-feet aroma of the gym mats, without added unpleasant odours!

Gym karma

I’ve missed pilates. Tonight was the first time I’ve made it for a month, thanks to snow, travel, birthdays and stuff. When I entered the studio and saw everyone gathering exercise balls and dynabands I started to wonder if I should have come back at all.

In over a year of pilates instruction I think the balls have only been used a couple of times, dynabands never and definitely not both simultaneously.

As someone who lacks the co-ordination to make it through a door way (on occasion), this equipment worries me. Floor based pilates is much simpler – you can’t fall off the floor.

In actual fact, I didn’t do too badly. Or at least, was getting on ok until the girl next to me smacked herself in the face with her dynaband (ouch!), which made me giggle. The giggling then caused me to lose balance and almost fall off the ball I was sat on.

One might say that’s karma.

As an aside. Laughing in general at the gym can be dangerous.
On Saturday I was warming down on a mat whilst listening to the Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy podcast. Turns out it’s rather difficult to stretch whilst your body’s convulsing with laughter.

In conversation with Polly my pilates friend [that’s her official name], we decided that listening to such podcasts is great gym entertainment, but does have the downside that your fellow gym goers think you’re a total lunatic for grinning and laughing to yourself. Ah well, so be it!