Much has been made of the body image pressures imposed by social media; the endless stream of ripped torsos and pert bottoms that interrupt one’s timeline and make you pause in between great big bites of that juicy chocolate eclair. Frankly, this is nothing new. I recall that Jazz Age ditty ‘Keep Young and Beautiful’ that exhorts one to be wise and exercise all the fat off and take care of all those charms and you’ll always be in someone’s arms. I always found the tone more threat than promise.
The song concludes, ‘keep young and beautiful if you want to be loved’ and it has be said few of us don’t have an inkling that there might be an element of truth to it. I might say that I go swimming for inner peace, committing to fitness and mental wellbeing but the byproduct of buns of steel and a flat-ish stomach are of course to ascend the snake and ladders board that is dating in London.
I recently got back on the horse the other day by joining the Marshall Street baths in Soho. There has been a bathhouse on the site since 1850 and the present Art Deco marble swimming pool with vaulted ceilings was completed in 1931. When I joined the staff member asked whether it was my first time in the pool. I replied that I had last visited before the pool closed. His eyebrows shot up. The pool had closed in 1997. I felt like Cher in Mama Mia: Here We Go Again.
Asked whether I wanted to have a gym induction, I decided to show willing so reported for duty at 9am the next morning. They play Techno in gyms. My tempo is Cole Porter. Two bufty-tufties were being put through their paces by a shaven-headed trainer who looked like he’d served time in Sing Sing. The Muscle Marys were taking it in turns on a machine that looked like a waffle iron closing up and down on their splayed feet. The sound coming from them was reminiscent of a yeti having his bikini line waxed.
I was offered an hour training session or a tour of the gym during which the hottie instructor would demonstrate all the machines. No fool I, I took Option B, Bob. To be fair the trainer did get me on a running machine but we kept the setting to Dot Cotton struggling down Petticoat Lane with her shopping cart. Any faster and I would have shot off like a lemming.
The gym and I will never be friends. It reminds me of PE panic attacks as a gay young blade and frankly I don’t want to be anybody’s fantasy body builder or brickie thank you very much. A swimmer’s body is much more preferable to me even if the Tom Daley physique ship sailed many years ago. Actually, I think men benefit from a bit of meat on the bone after forty. Nothing wrong with a bit of stewing steak rather than flash fried.
I think when you get past forty it is all about maintenance. The mistake many of us make – me included – is to think our bodies can absorb all the shocks we put them through in our twenties. Oh no they don’t. When one reaches an age, exercise is not about achieving the body of an Adonis. It ie making sure the joints are still supple enough to enjoy the Hurley-burley of the chaise longue with the best of them.
At my old pool in Bloomsbury I have to admit the exercise was kept to a minimum. For every minute in the pool there would be twenty reading the paper on a lounger or lying back with my trotters up in the steam room. With Marshall Street, it is a brisk fifteen minute walk to and from with a solid half hour of lengths in between. I won’t be entering for an Iron Man any time soon but at least I will fend off being a ‘Hey Fatty Bum Bum’ for another decade.
Along with swimming comes natural life adjustments that can only be a step in the right direction. I don’t wake up wanting to jam a cigarette in my gob like Bet Lynch in early episodes of Coronation Street. Drinking deep of an evening is also too punishing when you’ve got to get up and on the road by 7am. It’s not quite from Jeffrey Bernard to Zola Budd in a fortnight but I do believe we have the power to rebuild him…
What else is new on the Rialto? Well, a dear friend gifted me membership of the London Library in St. James’s Square; the thinking being that I need a new working environment to get inspired and reinvigorated. I’ve been twice already and I must say it is already doing the trick. At the moment I am researching the Italian Riviera.
The date is also set for the launch of Jewelry for Gentlemen. Piccadilly antique jeweller Bentley & Skinner is hosting and Thames & Hudson are working on the invitations as I write. I like book launches to be reminiscent of This Is Your Life with as many old friends and family in attendance as possible. I hardly think I will be in ‘peak physique’ by the 25th of September but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Until next time…