Illustration: Kelsey Davenport


Gym membership is worth it for the head space alone

For Christmas, Liz Dashwood was given membership to a posh gym that's clean, calm and child-free. It's the gift that keeps on giving

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What was the best present I got at Christmas, you say? I’m glad you asked! I got the gift of RECURRENT PEACE. The gift of SOLITUDE. The gift of A DAILY RETREAT FROM THE WORLD AND ALL ITS WOES.

My husband got me membership of a posh gym. It has a small pool. I swim there now every day. It is – including the changing rooms, shining showers and all bits in between – warm, calm and clean. It does not allow children. It is basically as I would wish my home to be, but with better water pressure and hair-drying facilities, so I am treating it as such.

Elsewhere in the – equally warm, calm, clean – complex there is free wi-fi, a restaurant and cafe, sofas, peace, quiet and SPACE. So I have a swim or do a class or have a little run on a treadmill to show willing and then I come out and have a coffee and do some work and, unlike my home, the whole place just seems designed to help instead of hinder me. No one interrupts me unless it is to ask if they can bring me another coffee (yes, please, and a cinnamon bun. I showed willing on the treadmill today). The wi-fi never wavers. And did I mention how clean the place is? It’s really clean. Without me having to do anything.

When’s your birthday? Your next promotion? Delivery date? Whatever the next present-worthy celebration you can contrive (dog’s birthday, husband’s vasectomy, emptying the dishwasher before anyone next needs a plate), ask for this and this alone. It is like having an au pair or concierge service or something, but much, much cheaper and you get fit, too. I commend it to all working women (mothers or not, but truly only mothers will be able to extract full value from a child-free zone, however – rightly – pissed off you become about other people’s little scrotes running riot in public places).

No one interrupts me unless it is to ask if they can bring me another coffee (yes, please, and a cinnamon bun. I showed willing on the treadmill today)

And the swimming itself is wonderful. Just complicated enough to force you to concentrate and let drop all the boring/anxious thoughts that habitually colonise your mind and then, once you’re about 10 lengths into the swing of things, still just odd enough for the novelty (look at me! I am moving through a whole different medium! My feet aren’t on the bottom or anything!) to allow it to fill with new ones. If you have a novel in you, you will plot it while swimming. If you have always longed for a farmhouse and five-acre garden, you will find it in your mind and furnish and plant it as you breaststroke up and down. At 30 lengths, whatever your chosen imaginary world is – personally, I’m a lone crofter on a deserted Hebridean island to which I shipped all my books before beginning my new life of small-scale arable farming by day and reading by night – will be more real to you than whatever actually awaits you when you have left the watery womb for home.  

I am allergic to the phrase “me-time” but I must reluctantly admit that this is what I have discovered and that about it I am now evangelical. All women, I reckon, should resolve to find theirs (in a pool, in a sewing club or blacksmithing class or in a lie about doing some such thing and taking yourself off for a pint alone in a pub once a week) in 2018. We could all do, in our own small ways, with a happier new year.


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Illustration: Kelsey Davenport
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despatches from the school gate

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