I am sitting in a room of four disgusting walls and a low claustrophobic ceiling; there is sweat dripping from every possible corner, there is groaning and you have to move fast to dodge the quick, jerky movements of flailing limbs. The sounds of clanging and bashing are inescapable, as is the obscene taste in music that nobody quite knows how to react to.
Where in hell am I? It could well be Babylove, or Camera, depending on your taste. But, it’s not. It’s the Iffley Gym; the weightlifting room, to be precise.
What am I doing here? Well, quite.
There is a stench of masculinity about the place. A smell that cannot be described as must, or sweat or even B.O. Rather this is the smell of large men trying to convince other large men that they are the larger group of men. It’s an acquired smell.
Why do I not just leave? What is a skin-and-bone chap like myself doing in this place? Sadly, I am buying into this environment: I go to the gym. I have even elected possibly the most vain man in my college to help me on my quest to “get big”.
Will it happen, will I ever be “big”? – I suspect not. I don’t think I have it in me, if I’m brutally honest. But I attend “the sessions” and follow “the programme” nonetheless. It passes time. And, if we’re being cynical, it helps him feel good about how much stronger than me he is.
Should I bother? Should I buy into this superficial practice? Well, weightlifting is a part of our culture now. There’s nothing we can do about it.
Teams of young men from our generation and beyond will grow up forever wishing they were a little stronger, a little less insecure about their bicep size, or their bench-press.
They will predict their success with women based not on their personalities, but on how big they look in a shirt.
Oxford University’s Powerlifting Team Member, Stefan Curtress, asserts that “it’s all about the pump”. The foot-pump? The bike-pump? Not the rotary lobe pump, surely?
Alas, no. The pump is the size of your muscles before you go out. Naturally, you do a few pull-ups, some press-ups, some crunches before you smash Bridge on a Thursday. “What it comes down to, at the end of the day, is your presence. Skinny men just don’t have presence.”