Most people join a gym in January. This year I’ll be cancelling my membership.
I joined just over five years ago, took out family membership (for me and our two children). At the time the children were 4 and 6. The gym has a family changing room, a kids’ pool and a 25-metre pool. I have only ever used the swimming facilities, never used the gym facilities or the tennis courts, of which there are many.
The children had a few swimming lessons there and have progressed to the larger pool, where they can both stand up without difficulty, and have just about outgrown the kids’ pool. And now that we go so rarely we’ve got to the stage where each swim costs £20, £30 or even £50. In fact the next swim will be the £100 swim because we haven’t been for over a month. That will be our farewell.
There were months when I swam there so often that I thought they’d send me an “Excessive Use” letter, like the Automobile Association did one year, about 13 years ago, when my wife and I were driving old and previously reliable cars. On our joint policy we called them out 5 or 6 times in a year and they wrote to say that the next call-out would incur something like a £50 charge. There was no mention of all the years when I hadn’t called them out at all, and I have hardly called them out since. In June 2011 I swam 26 days out of 30 and wondered if the gym would send a similar letter, threatening extra charges if I continued to use the services so excessively.
I am currently out of the habit of swimming regularly but over the decades have gone through phases of swimming at least 5 days a week. In 1986-7, when working in the West End, I used all of the Westminster pools (Marshall Street and Seymour Place most often) until an ear infection set me back, and in 1989 regularly went to early morning sessions at Acton Baths, until a dose of shingles put a stop to it. In the mid-90s I was again a regular at Acton Baths and in the late 90s at Chiswick New Pool. And in 2011-12 I was swimming on average 5 times a week with my private gym membership and only contracted a single ear infection. I am prone to ear infections but always wear ear-plugs when swimming, and always wash with soap and clean water immediately afterwards, and that keeps them at bay most of the time.
I have always preferred public baths to pools in private gyms. It’s all very well having a Jacuzzi, and free towels (the gym membership allows me to use other branches, which offer free towels, but my usual branch charges £1 per towel) but I have never felt comfortable with the clientele. I haven’t yet got into an argument with anyone there but, really, the things I have seen. What is it about a private gym that encourages men, of all ages and sizes, to wander around naked, or to stand naked in front of a mirror drying their hairy backsides with a hair-drier? I really don’t want to see that, and I certainly don’t want my 9 year old daughter to see it when walking her through the men’s changing room to get to the family changing room. Farewell to all that, and hello again to public swimming baths, in Acton, Brentford and Chiswick, and cubicles where we can get changed without seeing the genitalia of complete strangers. We’ll save a few quid too.