One of the unexpected pleasures of living in Brittany is that every morning – well almost – I can go to my private gym. I walk down the garden and in seconds I am sitting in front of my first piece of exercise equipment and ready to start. This is the story of that gym, its creation and the pleasures it brings. But first, the background.
2007. On the day of my retirement I joined the local gym in Richmond; from then on exercising each day, save at the weekends, became part of my life. Apart from helping me keep fit, I saw my 20 minutes on the treadmill each day as a diet aid that would allow me to indulge in a croissant for breakfast – well that was my pre-retirement dream.
2018. During this year I decided to correct my stoop. As a result of my poor posture I had, since my early twenties, lost almost three inches in height. Now I hoped to do exercises to straighten me up again (See A Tall Order, 9th December 2018).
With the help of a patient and attentive personal trainer, I learned stretching exercises for my spine, and strengthening exercises for the muscles in my shoulders, neck and upper-back. Jubi told me how doing these everyday should “do the trick”, and indeed they did! After several months of hard work I was once again close to my former height.
Doing the exercises each day was easy, but now I was worried that if I were to stop some of them the stoop might return. In France, although I could flex and stretch anywhere, strengthening exercises require complicated and expensive equipment which I did not have.
2019. Six months later at the start of our next stay in France I tried in vain to find a local gym where my exercises could continue; some were closed for the holidays, others didn’t do short-term membership. If I was serious I would have to build a gym of my own.
Plans for the gym were soon hatched. For the site I could use our garage; a large wooden shed that is empty during the summer when the car is parked in the front drive. Weights too were easy; I could use buckets filled with stones. For the equipment itself the challenge was more difficult; somehow I would need to pull loads at different angles. My solution was to use a series of pulleys, ropes and hooks and these I soon found at one of the chandlers nearby. Within a week the system was ready for use and after breakfast each day I was able to exercise once again.
2020. This summer, when we arrived back in France, I drove the car out of its winter quarters and my garage gym was just as I had left it. Due to the pandemic my gym in Richmond had been closed for months. In Treguennec, exercise was once again possible.
Gyms evoke feelings and mine is no exception. In my first year, I was made to feel awkward. Some friends and neighbours were praising but amongst the others I, as the builder, was seen as cranky. Much worse was the fact that some also saw my workouts as the antics of a “sweet old man”. Then there were those who took exception to the grimier side of the gym. While it didn’t worry me, there was certainly a lot of rubbish and dust on the floor, while on the walls and ceiling there was an abundance of spiders and their webs! All in all, the gym experience that first year was not a wholehearted success.
How different it has been this year. Why things have changed is not clear; however, doing my stretching exercises as I look out over the orchard through the open gym (garage) doors is now a delight. Feeling the warmth of the axe handle of ash that I use to pull the rope down from the pulley in the ceiling is so much nicer than pulling on the ‘clinical’ steel bars and rubber handles in the gym in Richmond. Hearing the pulley wheels squeak as they take the strain of buckets loaded with 35kg of stone gives everything an earthy feel. And there are certainly advantages of being alone and so spared the grunts (and smells) of the occasional serious body builder.
That I have been able to correct my stoop by doing special exercises comes as a welcome surprise. Moreover, after a shaky first year, I now see that building my gym in France as a success. As for my idea that exercise might help me lose weight – there is, so far, no convincing evidence that the the amount I do makes any difference.
The illustration shows a photograph of the ‘weights’ in my Tréguennec gym. Each bucket contains stones weighing 35kg. Through a system of ropes and pulleys they provide the workload equivalent to that of my exercise equipment in the gym in Richmond. Here the handles are set to pull horizontally towards the centre of my chest.
For helping me with this blog I would like to thank Jubi, Rohan and Vivien.