Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

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Thursday, December 18, 2003
Territorial Rights
Most of you know I go to the gym regularly, usually arriving there just after seven a.m. It's an Achievement, I'll have you know. It's especially so in this brass-monkey weather and when you only got to bed past midnight last night, after having seen Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words, a modern dance piece set in Swinging Sixties London, and the sexiest thing I've seen at the National all year.

At this frankly twisted time of morning, there's a small band of eager little body fascists gym bunnies who reliably shamble in every day, each one of us a creature of unbreakable habit. There's the old geezer, dressed in shorts whatever the weather, who's always first in the queue, tapping his membership card impatiently, waiting for the doors to open at seven. Then there's the tattooed loverboy who arrives with his girlfriend at 7.45 on the dot, before hanging around shirtless for too long than is convincingly heterosexual. And, of course, Master Narcissus herself, invariably choosing just one particular shower, because only that one faces a full-length mirror in which he can admire his pumped-up, soaped-down body.

Diverse as we may be in our little quirks and routines, we all observe basic gym etiquette: don't hog the resistance machines; put the free weights back where you found them; swim in the lane most appropriate to your ability; and don't look too long between the other guy's legs because he's bigger than you, and not only there.

But there's a new bloke at the gym now, someone unversed in these subtle, unwritten rules. I have never set eyes on him, and I don't even know who he is. But I'm convinced he's out there, just as I know he arrives at the gym even earlier than I do. And how do I know all this?

Because for the past week he's been using my bloody locker, that's why, getting to it a good five minutes before me, locking me out of the place in which I've hung towel and Timotei for five long years. It's the one at the end of a row, which gives me loads more space to get dressed, as well as affording me an almost panoramic view of the entire changing room. Everyone knows it's my locker: that's why no one else of the 7 a.m. gang would ever dream of going near it.

For you can do many things, my dears. You can laugh at my front crawl in the pool, or overtake me in the slow lane. You can fault my lateral pull-down technique, sneer at the amount of reps I can't do, or suggest that a couple less Stellas might just help the old BMI. Why, you can even slander me as a middle-aged tart, vainly trying to regain the sleek, youthful look he never had in the first place, and I will merely look benignly down at you before gliding on silently by.

But grab Locker 226 at the London Central YMCA just one more time, matey, and it's the Sudetenland all over again. I shall dicker with your dumbbells and tamper with your treadmill, load forty-kilo weights onto your ten-kilo bar, puncture every last one of your Swiss Balls, and then run off with your Speedos when you're not looking.

And, if all that fails, then I'll start coming in earlier still. This is war, my dears. And it won't end till 226 is mine again.