My gym membership is about to expire. I know this because I’ve circled the date in my diary as if it has great significance, like a high holy day or The X Factor final. 

In one sense it does—it’s my last opportunity to pump iron before having to commit to a further contract. But really it’s just one more day, in a series of 365, on which I will, almost certainly, fail to go to the gym.

I don’t like gyms. I don’t like the torturous machines, the swaggering personal trainers, the pervasive aroma of chlorinated sweat. I don’t like the distant thud of dance music emanating out of nearby spin classes, as if from an interrogation suite just out of eyeshot. I don’t like the banks of TVs showing “sports news”, as if that’s even a thing. I don’t like the small talk in the changing rooms, and I don’t like to socialise while I’m dripping with fluid. Of any kind.

So it’s hardly surprising that I’ve not made the most of my membership, nor that I’m now choosing to let it lapse. In fact, one might reasonably ask why I joined in the first place.

There were a trio of contributory factors. Initially, the cunning marketing—the gym had recently opened in my area and their “free day” leaflet had aroused both my curiosity and my nose for a bargain. I’d anticipated they’d give it the hard sell; but how hard could it be, I’d thought to myself, to resist enrolling in a club I already knew I almost certainly wouldn’t use? I’m Mr bloody self-control: I didn’t even buy an Apple Watch!

 

 

"I’m always a sucker for a free towel… Recklessness with towels is the only thing that makes me feel alive." 

 

 

The second factor in my conversion was Emma, the “membership co-ordinator” (translation: cold-hearted money-milking assassin) tasked with showing me around.

She had shockingly strong patter: if I joined TODAY I could claim One Month Free! If I set my “goals” with the on-site physio I’d see the benefits within WEEKS! And she was ruthless at establishing rapport: only days later did I realise it was uncharacteristic for a 21-year-old with a sports-science diploma to be so fascinated by podcasting.

The third and final reason I found myself handing over my direct debit details was the most compelling: they had free towels. I’m always a sucker for a free towel.

 

gym towels Olly

 

In any hotel room that I hire, all that please-consider-the-environment malarkey can go jump: sorry, Mr Hilton, but by dawn every single one of your available linens will be soiled with my moisture, even the flannel. Occasionally, when I’ve got through six towels in an evening just getting in and out of the bath, I feel ever so slightly guilty. But the next night there they are again, all clean and ironed and folded, and you best believe I’m at it again.

Recklessness with towels is the only thing that makes me feel alive. 

So the fact that this gym not only provided free towels, but also that the staff seemed indifferent to whether I took two (I’m a big-boned gentleman, after all) or even three (I suppose I might require one to mop my brow), or even four (er… hair towel, face towel, upper-and-lower-body towel?) was a huge selling point. A club with towels on tap: show me the dotted line. Towelstowelstowels.

As it turned out, the allure of a free towel isn’t enough—on either a cold winter’s morning or a sunny summer afternoon—to get me up and out of the house, into the car, to drive for 15 minutes to go and get changed just so I can have a swim, all so I can abuse a free towel. Apparently some other motivational pull (presumably a desire actually to spend some time in a gym) is required. 

So in the 12 long months that have passed since Emma flashed her teeth and towels at me, I’ve attended this gym (wait for it) seven times. Seven. And each time, I’ve used only the pool. Because, as I believe I’ve mentioned, I don’t like gyms.

 

 

"I’ve attended this gym seven times. Seven. And each time, I’ve used only the pool…" 

 

 

I’ve done the maths and the sums are horrendous. The membership was £58 per month (a discounted rate, because I’d fraudulently claimed to work for a company with whom they had a corporate account—oh, how I laughed!), totalling an eye-watering annual fee of £696 (roughly the cost of an all-inclusive week in Cuba). So each swim cost me…deep breath…£99.42. 

I can’t think of any other thing I do that costs nearly £100 a pop. My weekly shop is at Lidl. I buy clothes in the sales. Occasionally I’ll go to a good restaurant and spend, say, £60. Sometimes, when the trains are knackered, I’ll splash out and get a minicab from the centre of town back home. That, too, is about 60 quid.

Yet, for the money I’ve been spending on a facility I had no real intention of using, I could have done both these things for five days running, and still have money left over to get seven new towels at home.

Still, I’ll attend the gym one final time. There’s a free-day promotion next month.

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