I love people watching, and I do it pretty much all the time. I’m never bored sitting in any public place where there are passers by or characters to observe. Inevitably I start making up stories about them, based on their clothes, the way they hold themselves, the expressions on their faces, what they’re carrying, or I simply imagine the most unlikely scenario I can for why they are in that place at that time, and passing my line of sight.
I like to think I can avoid the clichéd interpretation, that I can think of something original to make up for them. But sometimes they just resist all my efforts at originality; they start doing exactly what their appearance suggests that they would do.
Last week at the gym I was entertained during most of a spinning class watching a group of young men in the adjacent studio, which I could see through the glass wall. I first noticed Narcissus, the star of the little group when he wandered into the spinning studio after the class had started and asked the instructor if he could use the suspended punch bag in the corner of the studio. So contrary to is this to ‘normal’ gym etiquette that one can only assume he’s not the sharpest fighter in the ring.
So instead, he went next door to thump a floor standing thing which he dragged into the middle of the room; and given his rather diminutive size, it involved a lot of dragging. Then, he systematically wound a bandage round each hand before putting on boxing gloves, in a rather natty red. He danced around the standing punching thing for a couple of minutes, in that funny head bowed, fists up position, without throwing a single punch. And then stopped. Clearly dissatisfied with the flooring he piled several padded mats around and bounced up and down on them, assuming ‘the position’ again, and finally making contact with the standing up thing.
Barely had he landed the fourth punch before he’d drawn a crowd of admirers, who had mysteriously heard the siren call of pugilism: a pigeon chested skinny bloke in the unseasonal and unusual outfit for a North London gym on a Wednesday morning in March, of checked bermuda shorts and flip-flops, and a big bloke, his rugby shirt stretched over his ample girth, his long baggy shorts, just short enough to reveal the spider tattoo on his hairy calf. Skinny guy bounced around shadowing Narcissus, while Tubby guy sat on a medicine ball apparently shouting encouragement from the sidelines.
When Narcissus stopped to catch his breath, Tubby jumped up and flailed a couple of punches at the standing up thing. It barely moved.
The ratio of standing around chatting time to bouncing around punching time looked in the range of around 6:1, so there wasn’t that much contact with the equipment, before the older ladies arrived to use the studio for their On the Ball class. The ladies stood by the door, arms on hips until the Guys noticed them and started to leave. They were halted on the threshold by an imperiously pointed finger, and cowed into returning, they put the equipment back where they’d found it, only then were they allowed to leave.