I usually spend my lunch hour going for a walk (and carefully counterbalancing this by consuming copious quantities of crisps), but today I am sitting inside and writing a blog. This is not due to inclement weather, nor the fact that I feel a nagging guilt for not having written recently. Nope, the only reason for me failing to leave my desk is the fact that I can’t bring myself to stand up. Last night I partook in a half hour long kettle bell class. Half an hour. I can run a half marathon and feel okay(ish), but today I feel like I was hit by a bus (if being hit by a bus leaves you with wobbly legs and pains in places you weren’t previously aware existed). Standing up (nevermind walking) results in a mass protestation from my entire body. Muscles I didn’t even know I was in possession of are screaming out for attention. I spent the morning regretting every cup of tea accepted; tea means toilet trips and that means getting back off the porcelain throne… It’s amazing how many different muscles it takes to stand up when one does not have an item of furniture on which to lean.
I think it’s fair to say that my post-class recovery could be classed as ‘poor’. I’m currently obsessed with my recovery times. I recently bought one of those all-singing, all-dancing super-fandangled running watches which uses GPS to track distance, pace, and a multitude of other things that I have yet to figure out.* It also monitors sleep and steps and heart rate and it plays music onto wireless headphones (well, it does when I remember to charge them). It’s my new favourite toy and most of the time it’s marvellous. Having said that, I have found myself become more than a little fixated on its post-exertion advice… It doesn’t matter that I’ve run five miles, or ascended a massive mountain, my wrist-based trainer likes to comment on my recovery times which it usually informs me are ‘poor’. Complete with associated sad-face emoticon. It takes away a little of the smugness, which is a Bad Thing. I must remember to see if I can deactivate this annoying, and quite frankly superfluous, feature.
Anyway, as I was saying, before I veered right off topic, I’m not out for a stroll today as my body is still broken from my recent cross-training shenanigans. Last night was only my second kettle bell class. It being on a Monday evening, attendance isn’t great (if my phone hadn’t died, rendering me unable to cancel my place, then I would have been reclining and eating leftover roast with the best of them…) Alas, there is no hiding when there are only five of you in the class (4 girls casually lifting 14kg kettle bells above their heads whilst not breaking a sweat, and me stumbling about on wobbly legs – squatting is difficult – with my 2kg disk whilst the overly enthusiastic trainer tries to encourage me to use a proper kettle bell instead).
Don’t get me wrong, I actually do enjoy the class. I like the fact that good coordination is not a prerequisite to taking part (anyone with coordination as bad as mine who has ever participated in an aerobics class will know exactly what I’m on about). Basically, you just have to stand (who am I kidding, you have to squat painfully) and do lots of really sore repetitions for a ridiculously long time. It’s great, honestly! You can’t think of anything else – it’s like meditation for those who aren’t hippified. If an exercise isn’t quite as excruciating as it perhaps could be, the chirpy trainer is always on hand to helpfully tell you to do it slower, or use a heavier weight, or squat a bit lower… Add into the mix the very real element of danger and daring that relates to the action of swinging a kettle bell as high as you can in front of you (with very sweaty hands) and what more could you possibly want from a class?!
After half an hour (the longest half hour of my life), we exit the room and file past the attendees of the next class. They look at me with concern. By this point I am beetroot coloured – not just my face, but my arms and chest too. Under my leggings, my legs are probably scarlet, as well. My hair is sticking attractively to my face and I’m swaying about on limbs that are all squatted out. Clearly, the 14kg brigade look fresh-faced and chipper, makeup still perfect, as they trot through the door on their way to sprint home, or maybe spend a couple of hours on the cross-trainer. I stumble to the changing room; all notions of ‘finishing off with a quick 5k on the treadmill’ already banished from my battered being.
But there’s no forgetting that I’ve taken part in the class. I have a good three days of smug ‘I hurt this much because I worked really hard’ to look forward to (in reality, doing everything in my power to avoid walking/standing/moving). I can type; typing doesn’t use my core muscles, it would appear. So today I am going to type about a venue which is even worse than the gym (even a gym that plays constant chart dance music and has DJ nights. Don’t get me started…) The bowling alley!
Is there a sentence more likely to instill horror and trepidation into the heart of an employee than one that contains the phrase ‘team building bowling’? of course there isn’t! Last week, I was involved in one such excursion. As is so often the case, the anticipation of the event proved to be worse that the actual eventuality, but that’s really not the point.
Why do I hate bowling so much? Where do I start? Well, I’ll begin with the footwear. Smelly, uncomfortable, unhygienic, skanky, communal footwear. Where other than the bowling alley (or the ice-rink) would you share shoes? It’s simply not civilised. I have even witnessed repulsive individuals wearing the aforementioned atrocities sans socks. One word: why? A friend once regaled me with a story of a night out which began at the bowling alley and ended in a nightclub. According to this friend, it was whilst in a taxi between venues, that she realised she had forgotten to exchange her shoes and was still wearing King Pin’s finest… How is this even possible?!
I insist on taking extra socks to the bowling alley; heaven forbid a pair of contaminated socks should touch the inside of my shoes after I rid myself of the dreaded communal ones (shoes, not socks, obvs.). I also come prepared with a plastic bag in which to deposit the worn socks – no way are they coming into contact with my satchel. I don’t believe this to be remotely odd behaviour.
I have never been dragged to a bowling alley that varied perceptibly from the norm; I think there must be regulations pertaining to acceptable ambiance. Perhaps a bowling alley won’t get planning permission unless it agrees to adhere to a strict set of rules relating to specific sensory overload. You don’t believe me? Let’s break it down….
Here is a list of all the things that it is compulsory to spot within mere seconds of stepping across the bowling alley boundary:
- A large reception area consisting of a desk, a slow-moving teenage employee (whose varied role includes dispatching smelly footwear, answering the phone, taking bookings and cold hard cash, serving at the bar, cleaning up spillages and delivering lukewarm food to hungry punters) and row upon row of scabby bowling shoes. The plasticky reception desk is always carefully interior-designed to coordinate perfectly with those uncomfortable chairs screwed to the floor beside the lanes. Whilst we’re on the topic of decor, the carpets must be patterned; all the better for setting off that flattering UV lighting to its best advantage…
- A grabby claw machine of the type that kids like to screech for. One that swallows your cash before grabbing with futility at the assortment of soft toys languishing behind the glass. Nobody ever wins. Those toys have been in there since the dawn of time, or at least since the grand opening of the bowling alley.
- An air hockey table. Usually with at least one broken light. The entire market for air-hockey tables must be bowling alleys the world over; has one ever been spotted anywhere else? I very much doubt it.
- Remnants of yellow-food platters. And smears of ketchup. And empty glasses. And abandoned Slush Puppy receptacles.
- Matching tracksuits.
All highly obligatory. All horribly offensive.
The Sounds, alas, are no better…
There’s a bowling alley rule stating that no decent music is allowed to be played ever, lest it ruins the carefully constructed ambiance. Everything on the painstakingly prepared playlist is carefully chosen to maximum irritative effect. It is subsequently played too loudly and on an endless loop. Mix in some screeching children (and hollering drunken adults – lots of bowlers get weirdly competitive and seem to think it is some sort of sport they are participating in!**), the distinct clack-clack-clack of the air hockey table, some electronic fruit machine jingles, the clatter of skittles getting knocked down, and the occasional thunk as a ball is dropped, and there you have it – a soundtrack to a bowling alley (any bowling alley).
Your typical bowling alley is pretty malodorous. Walk through the door and you will generally be hit by a wonderful amalgamation of the following Smells: feet, smelly bowling shoes, smelly-bowling-shoe-smell-masker-spray, the stuff they polish the lanes with, feet, yellow food that comes in a basket (all the better for absorbing all those delightful deep-fat-fryer aromas), feet, eau de sticky-pub-carpet, blue Slush Puppy, feet. It’s inimitable. Clearly, Taste is tied up pretty closely with smell – bad pints, beige culinary delights, weird flavours of cider (toffee apple is one I have never spotted anywhere outwith the alley…), etc. Haute cuisine indeed.
The final sense, and one which I cannot possibly gloss over, as it were, is that of Touch. If I had to use one word to describe the physical feel of the bowling alley, that word would be STICKY. Sticky, tacky carpets, sticky, grubby tables where sticky, flat beer and sticky, lurid Slushy has been spilled and allowed to dry into sticky claggy circles. Bowling balls with sticky finger holes (I have small hands so if I don’t wish to run the risk of dislocating an arm or breaking a toe, I am obliged to use the balls favoured by sticky tracksuited children with their sticky-fingered predilection for sticky Slushy drinks). Obviously I have never touched any of the buttons on any of the games machines or the grabby toy contraption, but I know with great certainty that they, too, are super sticky. I feel sticky thinking about it.
If I’m being perfectly honest, this particular trip to the Alley of Doom wasn’t nearly as traumatic as it could have been. This was as a result of a triad of happy coincidences:
- We were at the only bowling alley in the entire land where bowling shoes aren’t compulsory! Okay, I had to wipe my trainers on the way out of the door in an attempt to rid them of any residual stickiness, but that was a small price to pay.
- It was 2-for-1 drinks all night. The obligatory bar is the only saving grace of these establishments and I am prepared to overlook the lack of ice, lime and smiling service if only there is an abundance of cheap alcohol to take the edge off the game in hand.
- Handily, I found a bottle of antibac hand gel in my bag. Result.
As much as it wasn’t quite as bad as it may have been, I won’t be rushing back there any time soon. I can honestly state (admittedly whilst I am safely sat down at a desk), that I would rather endure an entire evening of kettle bell hell than another foray into bowling ball territory.
*Why does modern gadgetry no longer come with physical instruction manuals? I have no desire whatsoever to download a lengthy PDF, only to discover – when halfway through skim-reading – that it relates to an entirely different model from the one in front of me! Hence the reason I have yet to figure out the full repertoire of features; if I can’t look it up in the index, I can’t be bothered faffing!
** Going by the ‘If you have to wear special shoes then it’s a sport’ rule then one might attempt to reason that it does indeed fall into this category. I prefer to categorise it as something you shouldn’t really participate in over the age of about ten (alongside pursuits such as pass the parcel, or Twister, or skateboarding).