I’ve been writing about blokes again. See what you think…
“Dinnae round your back like that when you squat Mrs A,” Nate Walker said the words automatically. He wasn’t paying his client full attention, mulling over what he needed to do to take his personal training business in a new direction.
“You’re still rounding, Mrs A.”
Mrs A, attempting to squat while holding onto a not insubstantial kettle bell, grimaced at him. “The weight you’ve given me is too heavy,” she panted. “That’s why my form’s gone out the window.”
Ah well, perhaps he really ought to concentrate on the woman who was paying him a hefty hourly fee. He folded his arms and shook his head. “C’mon. You can lift that nae bother. You managed it fine before Christmas.”
Mrs A – or Elizabeth Armstrong to give the woman her proper title – executed another poor form squat and put the kettle bell down. They were exercising in Nate’s Giffnock studio – the space he had just above the hairdressers in the high street. It wasn’t a massive amount of room, but then fitness didn’t need it as far as Nate was concerned. It only required imagination and judicious use of the space and equipment you had at hand.
His studio featured a sprung floor, a couple of treadmills, a rowing machine, a weights rack stacked with dumbbells, Swiss and bosu balls, and TRX suspension training bands. Ideally, he’d have liked a vibration plate as the fast vibrations intensified any exercise the user did on it, but with everything he had already, he could create inventive and effective routines.
From the way Mrs A was scowling at him now, she’d definitely agree that a lack of space didn’t mean that you got an easy time at his studio.
He supposed he’d better ask after her Christmas. She was his longest-standing client after all, and he remembered that she’d told him her husband Ronnie was planning to whisk her away somewhere for New Year.
“Did you get away for Hogmanay then?” he asked. Mrs A was married to one of the wealthiest men in Glasgow. Ronnie Armstrong owned property, as well as the majority shares in a huge building firm that had somehow come through the recession unscathed. The two of them enjoyed a lavish lifestyle that included a huge house nearby, regular trips abroad, race horse ownership, large cars, boats and all the other trappings of the wealthy. Nate supposed he was one of those other trappings. Mrs A was part of the rich Glasgow set who were on the boards or fundraising committees of various charities. Such membership meant lunches, dinners, balls and fashion shows where you booked a table and then spent the night bidding outrageous sums of money on tat such as signed Old Firm football shirts – or a block of sessions with the likes of Nate. Mrs A liked to be able to squeeze into her size 10 dresses for those events.
Relieved that he didn’t seem inclined to make her do any more torturous squats, she nodded. “Yes we did, and Christmas! We went ski-ing. Bloody marvellous. The McCluskeys joined us, and Avril and her husband of course.”
She said “Avril” casually, but Nate wasn’t fooled. Mrs A was a ferocious name-dropper. Avril was Avril Taylor, beloved daughter of Glasgow and now successful film actor married to an equally well-known Hollywood star.
“Avril’s going to be in town for a while actually,” Mrs A continued, watching him carefully. “She starts filming in this country in the next few months, would you believe. I s’pose she’ll need to get in shape for that.”
He knew what she was up to. She wanted him to beg, or be suitably grateful. “Oh god Mrs A – could you get me an introduction to her? Could you do that for me, please? Oh that would be so good.”
She meant well and over the years she had pushed various people his way. She was rather like a patron of old, her largesse benefiting a personal trainer rather than a poet or painter as would have been the case in centuries gone by.
But Nate wanted a change of direction for his business. It had been a New Year’s resolution, thought up on a gloomy, rainy day as he battled against that typical first of January feeling that his life needed a thorough shake-up.
Nate had been a personal trainer for ten years now. Like most PTs, he started in big box gyms, teaching legs, bums and tums classes, and wandering around the weights floor trying to make sure no-one injured themselves too seriously. He’d undertaken various courses – spin classes, kettle bells, vibration plates – before going for the personal trainer qualifications, and discovered he had a talent for one-to-one training. Patience, or maybe the fact that he’d been overweight as a child and teenager and therefore fitness and effort didn’t come naturally to him, were contributory factors to his success.
He’d built up clients fairly quickly – mainly the likes of Mrs A and her friends, but one-offs here and there. Brides who wanted bingo-wing-free arms for their weddings or 20-something men who fancied a Charles Atlas-style transformation booked him up, but it wasn’t enough anymore. He made a living from it, but Nate wanted more. He watched developments in the fitness industry closely and decided an online business was the way to go. As a personal trainer in Glasgow, he could only rely on Mrs A and the likes, but if he offered online classes, or online life coaching then he opened himself up to a whole new clientele all over the English-speaking world. Training spoiled women was beginning to lose its appeal, and he wasn’t sure he fancied working with Avril Taylor. No doubt he’d be at her beck and call. She’d pay him handsomely, but he’d have to go wherever she was, and he’d probably have to prioritise her above everything else.
No thank you.
He stalled. “She uses Goonar Jaanssen doesn’t she?” He named the Swedish/American celebrity trainer, well known for his brutal routines and appearances on shows such as The Biggest Loser where he shouted at desperate, overweight people and made disparaging remarks about their lack of will power. Nate loathed him and his approach.
Mrs A looked smug. “I think Avril is thinking of a change. She’s very aware of the importance of the local economy, you know. She’s such a conscientious girl at heart. She comes back to Glasgow and she wants to give something back.”
Oh Christ. Mrs A actually believed what she was saying.
“I’m going to be moving to online training, Mrs A,” he said. Well, he was now. This was the first time he’d mentioned his plans to anyone.
“Oh. Really?” Mrs A’s tone swung upwards alarmingly. “What does that mean – do I not get any more sessions?”
She looked so thoroughly put out, Nate felt a sudden wave of affection for her. Who was he to be snooty about the type of women who provided him with so much business, women like Mrs A? She had been a client of his for years, recognising that fitness was something you needed to work out all the time – not just something you did before your wedding or your beach holiday. And she had put a lot of work his way.
“Never Mrs A,” he clapped his hand to his chest. “You’ll always be my number one.” Touched, he noticed that she blushed, redness breaking through that heavy duty foundation she wore even to work out.
“Oh, good,” she said, balancing on one leg and pulling the foot of her bent leg close to her bottom to stretch out her quad muscles. “So what about your New Year? What did you do?”
“Och, you know me Mrs A. It was a quiet one,” he said, moving around her so that he could tidy up. She might have been on of Glasgow’s richest women, but that didn’t stop her helping him out. Other quad stretched out, she picked up the mat she had been using it and put it to the side, and began to wipe down the treadmill.
“What, you didn’t go out at all?” she said in disbelief.
“Nope. I sat in and watched a couple of films. I was in bed for 11 o’clock.” It was little wonder that he’d spent the next day making plans to change. Finishing the year in that way had been lonely and dissatisfying.
She put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “Nate! You’re 20 years younger than me – not 20 years older for God’s sake. You should have been out dancing the night away in a nightclub, or at least in a restaurant sharing a meal with someone special.”
There was a change in her inflection as she said “someone special”. Again, years of working with the woman told Nate what she was up to.
He gave her a jaded look. “It was good enough for me.” She was always trying to get information out of him about his social life, or rather love life. She should get together with his mother. The two of them could synchronise their attempts to quiz him.
Nate wasn’t much of a drinker, so the New Year celebration held little temptation for him, especially the Scottish version of it that seemed to involve grand-scale imbibing. For years, he hadn’t drank at all. When he had started out as a personal trainer, he didn’t drink because he wanted to maintain a six-pack which wasn’t possible if you had alcohol in your system interfering with your metabolism and stopping your body from efficiently burning off body fat. He’d got used to staying in and evenings out that didn’t involve booze.
As for his love life…Running your own business kept you very busy. He didn’t have time to meet anyone, and he couldn’t face dating apps such as the likes of match dot com and Tinder. There were also his kids to consider.
Nate had a daughter and a son – twins. He had married his childhood sweetheart years ago when she had got pregnant. It hadn’t been planned, the result of carelessness rather than any deliberate attempt on her part to get him to stay with her. At least he thought it wasn’t. They’d started dating each other when they were 14, but five years later he’d begun to tire of their relationship. Jennifer was needy. At first, he’d loved that. It made him feel wanted. But by the time he was 19, he’d lost a lot of weight after embarking on a strict diet and fitness routine when he’d got a job at a gym. All of a sudden, women were looking at him, hungry glances as they took in the hard, muscular physique he’d worked hard to achieve.
Nate had always been faithful to Jennifer. They’d lost their virginities together as 15-year-olds, the two of them laughing their way through discovery of each other’s bodies, but now he could see other women watching him and he kept thinking, “Is this it?” Jennifer responded by upping the neediness quotient. She wanted to know where he was all the time, and she insisted they spent all their time outside of work together.
Then she got pregnant.
The logical part of Nate knew he didn’t have to marry her – or even stay with her, but when they found out Jennifer was expecting twins, it seemed particularly caddish to abandon her. They married, the twins came along and turned their lives upside down. For three years, he remembered only exhaustion and tedium, punctuated occasionally by feelings of intense and fierce love for Ross and Erin.
And in the meantime, his relationship with their mother had gone from bad to worse. By the end of the three years, they only thing they talked about was the twins, and the arrangements for them. Jennifer had put on a great deal of weight while pregnant, and had never managed to lose it. The extra stones made her self-conscious and grumpy. The extra weight hadn’t bothered Nate. The grumpy moodiness was another thing altogether. Jennifer began throwing all kinds of accusations at him – that he was seeing other women, that he flirted with the women in the gym he worked at, that he looked at other women all the time trying to guess what it would be like to sleep with them…
Only the last was true.
They finally divorced when the twins were four years old. The impetus pushed him into setting up his own business as a personal trainer. It would mean that he could arrange his hours to suit childcare, as he wanted to be more than a second weekend-only father. Jennifer had never forgiven him, and he knew to this day she poured a steady stream of poison in his children’s ears. He did his best not to moan about her in front of them, but sometimes hearing from them what she said about him pushed him to his limits. Luckily for him, the twins had worked out early on that what their mother said about him wasn’t always justified. Now at 14, they rolled their eyes when she went off on one. Either that, or they stopped listening as teenagers were wont to do whenever their parents spoke.
Her behaviour worsened when she became aware of him seeing anyone, even though she’d been living with someone for the last three years.
So no, Nate didn’t have time for love and romance.
“I have this young friend…” Mrs A began, and then stopped, quelled by his expression.
“Keep that up Mrs A and you’ll no’ be walking out of here next week, you’ll be crawling.”
She poked her tongue out at him, the gesture making her look like a ten-year-old instead of a woman in her 50s.
“All work and no play Nate!”
“Aye, aye I know. Right then, I’ll see you next week? Same time?” He was now anxious to get rid of her, and she took the hint picking up the hooded top and designer handbag she had dumped by the treadmill.
She let herself out and he heard her walking down the stairs and letting herself out of the building’s main door. Her Mercedes S-Class saloon was parked nearby.
He stacked the dumbbells they had been using on the rack and pulled out his phone. Jennifer had phoned a couple of times already, probably checking up on the arrangements for the twins as she and her partner were going away for a short break taking advantage of the January hotel deals. He listened to her voicemail message and sent her a text back – always the best way to communicate with Jennifer.
No time for love and romance… Netflix’s most up to date films and a lonely wank (one of those films had featured one of his favourite actresses enjoying an impossibly glamorous bout of sex in a hotel room) did not add up to a satisfying conclusion to 2015. His last serious relationship had petered out because the woman got fed up of Nate taking too much notice of Jennifer’s opinion, and keeping her secret from Ross and Erin. Since then, he’d had a few one-night stands, but he always backed out of any further commitment.
What was it like to be with someone who really liked you, who made you feel comfortable, who watched your Netflix films with you (Netflix and chill, right?), who cooked with you, who finished your sentences for you, who met your children, liked them and played a role in their lives, who…
…who, who, who? He might knock back Mrs A’s attempts to set him up with someone, but Nate had felt that loneliness keenly on Hogmanay. The first of January had seemed spectacularly bleak.
Locking up the studio, he decided to go for a run. If he timed it well, he could shower at his flat and then go out for a late breakfast/lunch. With any luck, the exercise and some nice food would clear his head and banish the self-pity. You could only hope so, couldn’t you?