Friday, 8 June 2007

Thin City

'Writers are more activity challenged than most, and the gym is a natural displacement activity for one's writing.'
If the National Health Service is so concerned about the country being in the middle of an ‘obesity crisis’ and keeps forcing its opinions on us about the importance of weight-control, why are there so many fat nurses?

And if Britain supposedly has one of the worst records for the consumption of junk food, which is a direct contributing factor to the ‘obesity crisis’, why does Trading Standards waste its time threatening Welsh butchers with legal action for ‘mislabelling’ their Dragon Sausages?

Neither of these issues make any sense to me, nor could I ever see them being plausible enough concepts to be explored even in the comically-heightened world of a situation comedy script, of which I assessed many whilst working at the BBC. Of course this never stopped aspiring writers submitting scripts which did contain largely implausible concepts, even though I would spend endless hours ordering against it during the many workshops at which I tutored.

A typical ‘implausible concept’ usually involves the sitcom set in a hotel where the lecherous manager is chasing after the blonde receptionist whilst a moronic teenager on work experience causes complete chaos. Meanwhile, everyone tries to deal with a surprise visit from the hotel inspector, usually with hilarious consequences. Next to this comes the sitcom set in a pub where the lecherous owner is chasing after the blonde barmaid whilst a moronic teenager on work experience causes complete chaos. Meanwhile, everyone tries to deal with a surprise visit from the brewery inspector (with hilarious consequences, etc.). Then there comes the sitcom set in a gymnasium where the lecherous fitness instructor... and so on.

The latter is naturally one of the more popular ideas submitted by writers as the nature of our art suggests that we are perhaps more ‘activity challenged’ than most, and the gym is a natural displacement activity for one’s writing where one can draw inspiration from a variety of characters. This of course is a complete and utter lie; in reality, writers who are ‘lost for words’ simply sit on the couch in front of the television set ‘for research purposes’ and eat biscuits. ‘Exercise’ therefore translates as one getting up from one’s desk and walking to the living room via the kitchen where one exercises one’s muscles by continuously lifting the biscuit tin.

Pink likes to point out on frequent occasions that, in her opinion, all writers (especially me) are too fat and lack significant exercise. Therefore it did not come as a surprise when I found a promotional voucher on the breakfast table the other day entitling me to a free fitness assessment at a local health centre. There was a Post-It note stuck to the voucher with ‘It will do you good’ scribbled on it in Pink’s handwriting. This was followed by specific orders to only go on a weekend so as not to ‘embarrass’ her in front of her boss, Jackson Muldoon, whom she works out with three times a week. This was further followed by a preference for me to consider going to an alternative gym altogether of which there was a list of qualifying centres on the back of the voucher. I was not to take this personally; it purely had to do with professional reputation (Pink’s, not mine).

Being an incredibly self-conscious person (as many writers are), I decided I should try to find some suitable attire in the wardrobe in order to make myself look ‘cool’ and blend in with the regular fitness fanatics. What I ended up with was a worn promotional T-shirt from Batman (the Tim Burton version, not the Christopher Nolan one), a pair of old trainers with one of the heels coming off, and a pair of baggy gym shorts that I’d kept from my school days which made me look like I’d just spent a long weekend with Billy Bunter or The Famous Five.

I arrived at the fitness centre and proudly presented my voucher to the receptionist who directed me to the changing room. I hasten to add that she did this in total silence with a distinct look of dubiousness on her face, as she scanned me slowly from head to toe in a very disturbing and sinister manner reminiscent of The Terminator. I was also disturbed to find that the changing room was of the communal kind with no individual cubicles, so it was some time before the place was empty of other people and I could steal an opportune moment to change into my Batclothes.

I felt more self-conscious than usual as I stepped out of the changing room amidst a full compliment of thin and muscular health fanatics and body builders. I noticed I was getting some rather strange looks as I walked across the gym to the front desk, at which sat a young blonde female fitness instructor in a grey tracksuit with ‘Jen’ stamped on her name badge. I introduced myself and, after pausing to consider my T-shirt, ‘Jen’ asked if Robin would be joining us. She laughed politely but I did not find it very funny and gave her my superhero death-stare.

The ‘assessment’, as it turned out, was more of a public exhibition of my general level of unfitness in full embarrassing view of everyone else who was much fitter than me. After being weighed, prodded, measured, prodded again, pinned and pinched, ‘Jen’ compared me with a chart which concluded that I was ‘moderately unfit’. Rubbing my new bruises, I told her that all she had to do was ask, but ‘Jen’ said it was necessary in order to work out a suitable ‘program’.

Next came the theory test. Question One: Was there anything I particularly liked doing in the gym? (This being the stupidest question I have ever been asked.) Answer: Yes — nothing, after which I calmly explained that I was there under duress as instructed by my suffering other. ‘Jen’ looked at me with a strange smile, ticked something on her clipboard, then moved onto Question Two: Was there anything I didn’t like doing in the gym? (This being the second stupidest question I’ve ever been asked.) Answer: Yes — everything. ‘Jen’ looked at me again, did not smile, and ticked something else.

After a few more increasingly stupid questions, I had to fill in a lifestyle questionnaire but became slightly confused when it asked me if I was a ‘healthy eater’. I ticked ‘Yes’ thinking that it was referring to the quantity of food I consume on a regular basis, rather than the quality. I kept quiet about this mistake. ‘Jen’ then introduced me to a formidable-looking exercise bike which looked like something out of Tron. I kicked myself for assuming that all one would need to do is climb on the bike and start peddling as I found myself faced with some kind of super computer with handlebars. What’s more, I had to attach a black plastic strap to myself which, according to ‘Jen’, would instruct the superbike when to make me peddle harder for no logical reason.

After suffering ten minutes (which seemed like ten hours) of an ever-increasing ‘difficulty level’ — i.e. having to constantly peddle harder for no logical reason — the numbers on the superbike’s control panel started to become very blurred and my head began to spin. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a hospital bed with a fat nurse looking over me. Next to her was a very sheepish-looking ‘Jen’ who, with one hand on her hip, waved her finger at me and said in a stern voice that I’d been ‘a very naughty boy’ for not telling her I had ‘dietary issues’.

She then gave me a letter which had my name entered in handwriting on a dotted line after the word ‘Dear’. It thanked me for attending my fitness assessment but wished to point out that, sadly, the company could not be held liable for any hospital treatment connected with non-declaration of medical conditions. The management took the health and wellbeing of their customers very seriously and, regrettably, I no longer qualified for membership at any of their fitness centres; but they thanked me once again for my interest.

The fat nurse took my blood pressure before confirming that I was still alive, making the point that gyms were for athletes and Kate Moss, and that I could forget about driving the Batmobile anywhere for the next few days until I’d fully recovered. The fat nurse departed with ‘Jen’ and I was left alone in nothing but my Billy Bunter Batclothes; so, as any good writer does, I started working through some new ideas in my head. Unfortunately, all I could come up with was a sitcom idea about a fat nurse who goes on a health drive and joins a gym where she leches after the fitness instructor (with hilarious consequences).


davidbdale said...

Oh, yes, by your definition, most of us are Healthy Eaters! Very funny stuff, Matt. What is in dragon sausage, anyway!?

insanity-suits-me said...

I'd like to know too...what exactly is a dragon sausage???

Matt Cruse said...

I think they are just normal pork sausages. Click the phrase 'Dragon Sausages' in the post which will take you to a BBC news story. To quote the butcher:

"We use the word because the dragon is synonymous with Wales and I think everyone who buys from us knows that."

Powys Council said it might confuse vegetarians or something! :o)

kellypea said...

Thankfully, I do get my walk in nearly every morning from 5:30 am until about 6:20. Then at some point later, I get even more exercise running up and down the stairs from my computer to the kitchen. Beer, chocolate, and left over casserole all made their way into my stomach today -- which needs to be smaller than it is.

Bat mobiles and fat nurses? Hilarious!