This blog is going to be a bit off-topic.
I'm in the middle of planning for several school visits and my mind is not so much like Sandra's fluttery brown things as like an over-excited and untrained collie racing round a field, barking furiously and scaring away the sheep it's trying to round up.
In an attempt to exhaust the over-excited collie, I went to the gym on Tuesday morning. And That Bloke was there again. The one that makes my jaw drop.
Before you start conjuring up some tall, blond, muscled Adonis, stop and think again. He is nothing whatsoever like that.
He is Asian and probably no taller than me, though he's certainly much slimmer.
He doesn't strut around in a skin tight vest with all his tattoos on oiled display. Instead, he dresses anonymously, in a loose t-shirt and knee-length baggy shorts. The most 'don't-look-at-me' gear you could imagine. I haven't seen him talk to anyone, and he does nothing at all to draw attention to himself. Apart from the astonishing stuff he does -- which he performs in an abstracted, absorbed manner with not even the quickest glance round to see if anyone's watching.
At the centre of the gym floor is a complicated structure of vertical steel bars, with some cross bars. Various platforms can be hooked onto this structure at different heights. There's a punch-bag hanging at one side, and straps with hoops on them, with which some brave people do press-up and what-not.
The first time I noticed That Bloke, I happened to be on a cycle near this central structure. Absorbed in my own work-out, I barely registered That Bloke when he strolled over and seized hold of one of the vertical bars. I assumed he was going to do some chin-ups, which is a common enough sight. Even the men do them, sometimes.
Then I realised that That Bloke wasn't hanging down from the upper cross-bars... No, he was standing out horizontally from one of the vertical bars. He had taken hold of a vertical bar at about head-height -- and then raised his whole body, legs and all, so that he stood out, rigidly, horizontally from it. Arms straight out, legs straight out. And there he stayed. Perfectly still. For what seemed like an age. While my jaw slowly dropped lower and lower with every ticking second.
The core-strength required to hold your body in that position for even a second is, well, considerable. Without even talking
about the arm and shoulder strength. Pole-dancers can do this, I know, as part of their routine -- but they don't hold it the position for so long.
For all the expression That Bloke showed, he might have been standing at a bus-stop.
Then he dropped to his feet and went off quietly to shake the big heavy ropes.
He was there again on Tuesday morning. He started off by fixing a plastic platform to the steel frame, at about hip height. Then he stepped up onto it, first with his left leg, then with his right. That is, he lifted one foot onto a platform at hip height -- and then used that one leg to step him up onto the platform. Like climbing a stair where every step is at hip-level. He repeated this stunt several times.
I thought this was mad enough. But he followed it up by putting both hands flat on this platform -- his feet were on the floor, remember. He then raised his legs in a straight line behind him.
Picture the scene. His hands are palm down on this hip-height platform. He balances on them while he raises the rest of his body, and his legs, in a straight line behind him. His heels are slightly higher than his head. The palms of his hands are his only contact with anything solid.
Let me be clear. His feet aren't resting on anything. There is nothing supporting his body except his hands. He is holding his entire
body at that sloping angle in empty air.
Then he did press-ups. While balancing on his hands and holding the whole weight of his body in the air, in a horizontal line, he did several press-ups. I was there. I watched him do it. I wouldn't have believed it otherwise. I didn't even know the human body was capable of that.
After four or five press-ups, he dropped down, had a drink of water and wandered out of the gym.
Washboard abs? -- With that kind of core strength, the man must have abs like the steel cable that holds up the Forth Bridge. Somewhere under his loose, baggy t-shirt.
You wouldn't give him a glance if he passed you in the street. He wasn't tall. He wasn't 'built.' What could be seen of his arms and legs seemed quite slim and normal, and not noteably muscular. He seemed unremarkable in every way -- until he started turning himself into a human shelf-bracket or angle-poise lamp.
When I told Davy about That Bloke, Davy said, "He must be a gymnast. Only a gymnast would want to do that."
The gym, I should say, is a well-attended but unspectacular 'lifestyle centre' run by the local authority (or, at least, out-sourced by them.) It's not expensive or in any way glitzy. Its clientele spans the local population, from the young and fit to the old and unfit (like me) to people in wheelchairs and people who come along with guide-dogs or carers. And in the middle of us all, this quiet bloke quietly doing astonishing things. And then wandering off. To where? To do what? Leap tall buildings with a single bound?