Sunday, 14 November 2010

Strange Times in the Steam Room

I love sitting in the steam room of my local gym at the end of a workout or swim, particularly as the temperature drops outdoors and winter begins to weave its way into our weather system. Ten minutes of tropical heat defrosts and rejuvenates, allowing me to imagine I’m in warmer climes or at least removes the veil of blue dancing across my skin. This time is the summit of my exercise session, when I can enjoy a feeling of achievement and totally unwind. 

Sometimes relaxation is difficult however.  Not because I’m mentally or physically in the wrong place to chill out. Because steroid enhanced, shiny, fake-tanned, sometimes hairy menbeasts with an excess of testosterone are in the wrong place to allow me to relax – they’re in the steam room too, damn them.

I can cope with a ‘roider if they adhere to the unwritten rules of steam room conduct. These rules are: be still and be quiet. It’s common sense. There are benches to sit on and there’s steam to enjoy. Perhaps I’m unimaginative but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to do anything other than sit and enjoy. But ahhh those creative ‘roiders explore a whole new world of usage.  I imagine the flexing of their drug inflated muscles and their peacock like strutting could surely be exhausted on the gym floor prior to steam room entry, but apparently not.

Like David Attenborough observing prosimians* in the wild, I look on, fascinated, at this uncultivated species in their natural habitat. They swagger. They exhale/heavy breathe. They posture outrageously to determine the alpha male of the pack and subsequent pecking order. The most dominant sit on top of the high backed tiled seats, heads skimming the ceiling, allowing them to survey the area below for potential prey or mates and feel important. They pace restlessly. They sit on the floor and stretch. Imagined yoga positions are adopted. Last week a manbeast pushed his face to within millimetres of the steam vent, perhaps to maximise steam absorption or perhaps to acquire a third degree burn, thus rendering him 'hard' and gaining promotion through the ranks of the steamy tropics. This week I witnessed a particularly loud and sweaty creature performing push ups, an act that no doubt gained him kudos aplenty. They are strange times indeed in the steam room. I occasionally manage relaxation, usually early morning before the ‘roiders rise, but truthfully I'd miss their antics if they weren’t around. I might contact Sir David and propose a six part series. 

*The most primitive of all the primates.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Responsibility of Youth

I've written about the reasons behind my move from Hirwaun to Cardiff, the calling beckoning me from mountain enclosed valley village to capital city. My experience won't come as a shock to anyone with similarly itchy feet, a craving for continual culture and a quest for a quicker pace of activity. What surprised me about my shift in location was the support I received from (to be honest) those I least expected to.

As I packed the last moveable possessions into my car - so that's everything but the shed and actual house - the removal van was already rumbling toward Riverside, where a new flat and new phase of my life awaited. I just needed to explain a few last details to my tenant, hand over my front door keys of five years, and say goodbye to a couple of neighbours. I wasn't looking forward to the neighbours bit. I anticipated lots of probing questions and disapproving 'tuts' and 'muns' at my disloyal fleeing of the hills.

The first I went to visit had been my favourite during the Station Road residency. A couple, they always had time to chat, wave hello, look after an assortment of internet purchases which arrived whilst I was at work, help carry heavy white goods to my car, and send me Christmas cards. Pretty much all the qualities I like in a neighbour. The husband answered the door in response to my knock. I explained I would be moving to Cardiff, and renting out my house. He was verbally encouraging, but cast his eyes down to the ground.

"We've had a bit of bad news", he said, his gaze still fixed to the floor. "She's not very well."

His wife appeared behind him, looking frail and gaunt. He briefly relayed our conversation so far, omitting the part about her illness. "Best of luck love", she said with a tired smile. "I've got to go and sit down now."

I turned back to her husband, a tall, sturdily framed man. He stepped out of the house and gently closed the front door behind him. "It's cancer", he whispered. "There's nothing they can do." I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. I’m sure the sensation at the pit of his was far worse. He extended his arms and wrapped them around me in a bear hug. Although friendly, he'd never so much as shaken my hand previously, but his action seemed surreally apt. My innards lurched again as I realised this had become a final farewell, a last goodbye on behalf of his wife.

"Enjoy yourself love, you're doing the right thing. You just make sure you enjoy yourself."

The words were simple but I knew his meaning was deeper. It appeared life was being handed to me across the doorstep. I felt its weight, like one of the heavy internet parcels he'd passed to me so many times; the contents of this not provoking my usual delivery based excitement, but a heavy heart. A click cut through the silence as my former neighbour retreated back into the house, carefully pushing the door closed, sealing out the world, and, it seemed, a chapter of my life.

My second visit was to an elderly lady who lived directly opposite me. I’ve written about her before, she was (and probably still is) serial spy of the street. Her eyes used to be upon me as I got into my car each morning, and upon meeting them she would scurry to arrange a picture frame or adjust curtains. I was always positive I wasn't the subject of fascination, that there was no intrigue as to the person I am, what makes me unique and makes up my everyday life. It's just a small street, in a small place, where many inhabitants live small lives in the sense their footfall, their mileage travelled, is minimal. Some rarely leave the village. I thought this lady was part of the tiny town club, and expected a reaction to match upon hearing my news. Instead, she described a life lost, relating my move to her own regrets; a longing for a different destination.

Lady X, as I’ll refer to her for this piece, married at a young age and, sadly, her husband died soon afterwards. She subsequently raised her three children alone whilst caring for her ill mother. She attributes her anguish to a failure to pursue her own interests, her disappointment at the death of her personal life. Far from chastising or condemning me for my plans, Lady X’s response was the reverse of my expectation. I received congratulations.

“Well done love, you’re doing the right thing. You’ve got to do these things whilst you’re still young or you’ll have regrets like me. I hope it works out for you.”

That totalled two confirmations I was doing the right thing from, as I mentioned earlier, the people I least expected to show encouragement. The people I associated with the mountains closing in on me, the people who produce Street Soap Opera Live.

I didn’t solely receive support however. More importantly and inspirationally I felt I was awarded life. Like an Olympic relay race, I was passed not one but two batons to propel forward. Yes, I was already living - and not just existing, but living - seeking excitement, searching out meaning, attempting to achieve fulfilment, asking questions. Even so, an extra thrust in the right direction can never be a bad thing; regardless of existing fulfilment or motivational levels we all have plenty of room for improvement, self-development, and a reminder of our direction. I received that tenfold as my soon to be ex-neighbours revealed their regrets and handed me their hope.

Heartbreakingly, crushingly, one life would soon be ending, and as a result I felt very aware of my comparative health, my relative youth. I felt a responsibility to heed the words of my neighbours, to learn the lesson of disappointment and to cherish existence, such is its fleeting nature. A DIY philosophy for life began to form – that there is a responsibility in youth* to follow our hearts and passions whilst we are still lucky enough to have the time and opportunity. Whilst we have the time and opportunity, we need to eliminate the possibility of future regret as much as possible. I hope I don’t sound like a self-help book here. I'm not attempting to lecture, or admonish anybody else for their life choices, I'm merely reflecting a happening. That day is one I will always remember and I can’t help draw meaning from the experience. Each time I think life is difficult or I’m feeling a little direction-less, I look back to that day, think of the two lives I encountered, the messages they conveyed, and am reminded I have the responsibility of youth to fulfil.

* I'm a very youthful thirty year old okay?!