You spin my head right round. – By @currantjones
By Tommy Curran Jones
You spin my head right round.
It is early evening in the very centre of London. I am led into a clinical building, all glass and stone with a name that hints at a vaguely medical purpose picked out neatly in stainless steel lettering. I am not sure why I am here but have been told that it is for my own good. My name is taken and I am reduced to a number by a uniformed receptionist. A pair of uncomfortable looking shoes are thrust at me. I will need these, apparently.
At this point the men and women are separated. We are told to change and present ourselves downstairs when we have done so. My belongings are stowed and I am given a number to remember if I ever want to see them again. I put on my new shoes and discover they have large chunks of metal on the bottom. I look around and check that this isn’t a mistake. Everyone else has them, so I slip them on. They close with velcro straps and I briefly wonder why this is. Will I need to be swiftly removed from them? Will I be reduced to an infantile state, incapable of undoing laces at the end of this?
I clip-clop along the tile flooring and struggle down the stairs in my ungainly footwear. Passing me on the stairs is a famous American actor, who smiles at me. This is no less strange than anything else I have so far experienced, so I shrug it off. l reach a staging area at the bottom of the stairs where everyone else has chosen to put their shoes on. The air is rife with a febrile energy. My colleagues in this endeavour are clearly zealots who have subscribed wholeheartedly to whatever it is we are about to experience. I sense I am an outsider infringing on their hallowed ground.
A door opens and a stream of over-worked looking people stumble out. Their hair hangs heavy with sweat and their faces are painfully rubicund. No one else seems concerned by this. A muscular woman suddenly appears and in a slightly too loud West Coast American accent entreats us to enter. We are supposed to collect two weights and take them to our machines for some unspoken purpose. I take the heaviest looking ones because I am unsettled and feel I need to assert myself.
Around me, people begin spinning dials and wrenching levers. I stare at the machine in front of me. It is an ungodly melding of plastic and metal, with what one could only generously describe as a seat. I make a few token twists of various dials and then mount. My new shoes disconcertingly lock into the pedals and hellish images of my legs spinning uncontrollably flash before my eyes. I am suddenly grateful for my velcro straps.
All the lights go out. From the darkness booms the microphoned voice of the American woman. She is to be our drill sergeant and right on cue,”Left, Left, Right, Left”. My right leg goes first and I struggle to get back into the right rhythm. Colourful neon light strips suddenly burst forth from above and with them comes a heavy bass beat. I glance around and see that no one is sat in their seat but are somehow standing in their pedals. I struggle up just as we are told to sit back. I sit back and we are up again.
For 35 minutes we play an unfunny game of Simon Says, except in this one Simon screams motivational quotes every 15 minutes and tells an anecdote about how her father wasted his life and we would be wise not to do the same. I fluctuate between Stockholm syndrome and petulant teenager, desperate to please one minute and refusing to be involved the next.
“And we’re done.”
I audibly sigh and begin considering how I will extract my feet from their bonds. It becomes apparent no one is leaving. We are not done and the purpose of the weights is about to become painfully apparent. We thrust them over head and I discover that the cycling was just a cruel prelude to a much worse torture. My moment of bruised masculinity punishes me with weights that a too heavy. The pain will never end. And then it does.
My feet twist free and I step unsteadily on solid ground. I gulp down cold water, sweet manna from heaven. Our shoes are cast off into a metal cage and I race as well as I can towards the showers. I stand under the hot water trying to take stock of what has just happened. My heart rate has yet to slow and my breaths are still ragged. That was hell, I conclude. Literal hell. That is what it would be like to be Sisyphus, or Tantalus or any other of Hades condemned. But I am smiling. Even as I change and step outside I am smiling.
I know rationally that I had a horrible time, but my body disagrees. I am perky and happy and I’m having ideas about the work problem that’s been bugging me all day. They must put something in the drinking water I decide. I shuffle out into the cool evening air.