Archive | September 2009

The perfect machine

As part of my quest to get back on the football field next season I have returned to the classes in the surfclub or what is known locally as ‘Block-Chi’. (The classes are run by a bloke nicknamed ‘Blockhead’, don’t ask me why they’re called ‘Chi’ because they are far more violent than any idea of Tai-Chi I have). I attempted the classes last year and ended up in this. This time I have eased into it with a lot of prepartory swimming and stationary bike work. This got my fitness to a decent level before I even tried to approach the dance-floor of doom that is Block-Chi.

A few weeks ago Block was showing me how to use the rowing machine. He felt that I had been ‘bludging’, which is probably true. I walked in and he was stretching his legs on the bar, his left leg well above the horizontal with his head resting on his knee.

“Hey Block”
“GEORGIE! Rowing machine. 200. First 100, 35. Second 50, 38. Last 50, you can wind it back a bit.”

I just looked at him incredulously and absent-mindedly rubbed my pectoral muscle.

“Hang, on I’ll show you.”

He guided me down the hall toward the ancient, rusting gym equipment.

“Flexing at me are ya? Feeling ya muscles?” He laughed at how ridiculous this obviously was and the joke he made.

He walked just behind me. I could tell he had already worked up a sweat from the heat he was emanating.

“Pull in yer guts. C’mon” he said softly. I tried to pull the guts in.

“Stick yer tits out. Don’t be afraid a havin’ big tits.” He touched me lightly between the shoulder blades. “We’re gonna work at getting rid of THAT”. He was referring to the stoop in my back, developed over years of slouching to hide, yes, big tits.

He continued, without waiting for any kind of disagreement from me.

“C’mon, I know what yer doin’. What all women do. Hiding. Always checkin’ if everythin is alright. Now get on the machine”.

He had seen right through me. Seen right through the tights that were not skin tight and always black. Seen past the long, fitted singlets that I wear under everything to smooth out the creases and hide the muffin top. He has seen through my discomfort with women fitter and leaner than me, even though they are significantly older and have had more children. Women like his wife who watched me in the mirror last week as I laboured through 200 on the rowing machine. She laid on a bench and lifted weights at a measured and disciplined speed. I wasn’t scared or worried about her. I just wondered why she can look the way she does and I look like I do. A barrel on fat legs. She is always friendly towards me and never misses a chance to encourage me. She calls me ‘Darlin’. I suspect she doesn’t remember my name. Her gaze made sure I didn’t quit early even though I knew she couldn’t possibly be counting.

I sat down and Block squatted next to me.

“Grab the handles and pull. Go ON”.

I pulled it with more of a struggle than I expected.

“Ugh. That’s heavier than last week”.

He got up and adjusted something and the tension eased off a bit. I pulled the handle and began sliding backward and forward on the little seat a few times while he observed.

“Don’t hit yourself in your guts. It’s in the front part of the foot, getting yer arse back and forward. Use your legs”. He stood and watched a couple more pulls. “This machine is perfect,” he said as if he were looking at a Ferrari rather than an old rower that has seen better days, “perfect for taking you wherever you want to be”. I believed him.

“200, don’t go over 35”. Something made him revise down his estimation of my ability. “And don’t slack off. By the time you come out of here I want to see you red in the face, puffing and blowing”.

I go through my 200. I imagine this machine taking me where I want to be, back on to the field. I imagine myself using the guile gained through 20 plus years of football to fool women half my age. I imagine the ball coming off my foot and curling into the top corner of the net. I get to the end of the 200 and I can’t imagine any more, only focus on my face in the mirror above the machine. I am red and breathing hard, grimacing on each pull but I feel ok. Slightly dizzy but not nauseous. I guess this is probably enough.

After the rowing I walked out of the small gym to the large room with the dancefloor, had a sip of my water and tried to catch my breath before Blockhead saw I was finished and gave me more orders. The rest of the class were skipping, hard, to Jet’s Cold Hard B***h. Due to my stress fracture I can’t skip or do any of the more bouncy routines Block takes us through. I run up and down the stairs or I spend a lot of time marching up and down on the spot, lifting my knees high and pumping my arms into the air. I’ve now started to use weights while doing this. I’m sure people who come to the class and haven’t seen me before must think I’m some dork and a fat one at that. I don’t give a shit about people like that. We’re all at the same level in Block’s class. There is no one who is better than anyone else, we all get the same treatment: a stern talking to when we’re bludging and a gentle ‘good girl’ when we’re trying, even if we’re getting it wrong. Small, genuine mistakes are forgiven, laziness is never tolerated.

I left class that night feeling strangely deflated. I didn’t bounce out the door feeling like I could jog home. I felt like someone had given me a firm but gentle punch to guts. I felt found out. The novelty of the class had been punctured, I looked ahead and saw only months of hard work.

HE’S a fan

Sticker on car at Toormina

Sticker on car at Toormina

I’ve been tooling about, trying to write something about football and my (perhaps very misguided) decision to get myself fit so I can get back on the field next season. As part of this I’ve been thinking about why I like football, and sport in general, so much and why not many people I know can understand this. Of course, there are men I know who totally get football and they fully understand why I like it, even while questioning, I suspect, whether a woman can really get football. There are a whole lot of others though who are openly confused and slightly put out by my obsession and I am continually feeling apologetic for allowing something as barbaric as sport play a large part of my life. The message is: in the scheme of things sport should be allowed to provide only a small amount of meaning to one’s life. It is merely a set of games intended to amuse.

I feel apologetic about my sport but at the same time I feel inferior in my obsession, when compared to men. I feel I need to make up for being a woman by taking it very seriously. I need to be sure of my facts and always admit when wrong. I never try to make out I know more than I do because I suspect I will always be found out. (However, I am not afraid of telling a bloke he doesn’t know what he is talking about and once got into a mild argument with a man at the Spanish Club in Sydney over how much Chelsea paid for Chris Sutton when he moved from Blackburn. It was 10 million, I was right).

The other day I read a review of two books about football fans and noticed this:

“For me, the study of diehard fans is essentially about men. I don’t mean that women’s stories are uninteresting, or that their fandom is any less valid…But there is a way that men support their clubs that speaks more powerfully to their behaviour in other spheres.”

At first I thought, what tosh, women can be just as loony as men! Of course they can be serious fans. Of course their fandom speaks volumes about the rest of their lives!  A MAN has written the review hasn’t he? I started thinking about it and thought perhaps there was a bit of truth in that. I love football, I love my various teams, from the local club to the overseas club I follow  but if they lose, my life will not be ruined. I do not fall into a deep depression. I get annoyed, yes, but I am usually distracted by other things closer to home soon enough. Like the dishes. Or ironing the school shirts. I was mightily pissed off when we lost the Ashes and I could appreciate the ‘cultural’ significance of it and enjoyed the tactical discussion of each Test but I was not about to allow some gloating Poms to ruin my day. (And besides, the Australian cricket team is in a ‘rebuilding’ phase, just like our rugby team, so these losses are feeding future triumphs). I enjoyed watching the Ashes while it was on but when it was finished I didn’t mourn the loss or the end of the series.

I don’t know whether I allow myself to be distracted because it provides a defense against sport-induced depression or because I know it just DOESN’T REALLY MATTER. Anecdotal evidence gathered through discussion with a very small amount of women points to a prevailing opinion that sport can be interesting and that it plays an important if somewhat over-emphasised role in society but that, as a football manager might say, at the end of the day, there are much larger things in life. (I could compare its role and importance to art or literature here but I am not going to do that right at this point in time because I will be here for a long time and I want to post this today). Women are fans, they enjoy football and can be fanatical but is there something in them that doesn’t allow them to get to the same point as men, simply by virtue of them being women or because sport doesn’t act as an extension of their role in society or how they see themselves?

I can’t really provide any answers to that right now but I can try to put my finger on how I like to see my obsession with football: as a semi-intellectual engagement with a seemingly meaningless but major part of our culture. Football, (and sport), is kind of like this:

“Football is the love of form. A spectacle that scarcely leaves a trace in the memory and does not enrich or impoverish knowledge. This is its appeal : it is exciting and empty.”
Mario Vargas Llosa

Maybe I like it precisely because it DOESN’T mean anything.