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Girls Allowed

Frankie Boyle, Esteemed Scottish Gentleman, has been in my thoughts recently for daring to stand up for ‘women only’ swim sessions. As is to be expected, he’s received a lot of flak for the same but hey ho, such is the fight for equal rights, or indeed, any rights at all for the distaff side of humanity.

I shall tell you a story about why these ‘women only’ sessions are so important. It involves me, a rowing machine and a man with a severely shaved head.

I used to, when my kids were in primary school, attend the local leisure centre gym. I enjoyed it, very meditative in a heart pounding daydreaming sort of way. I didn’t much care for the weights room, this was because there was generally a little clique of men who were, quite literally and dangerously, throwing weights around. If there were men in the weights room I didn’t bother.

It didn’t matter. There was a small side room packed with the odd machinery of ‘fitness’, the hellish Stepper, the wild and wonderful Cross Trainers and, best of all in my book, the rowing machines.

I rowed my heart out on the rowing machine, some days quite literally, as I turned my music up high and lost myself in dreams of Grasmere and the black water of Coniston. I vanished from that small sweaty room. It was not about building muscle or increasing reps or any of that bollocks, this was about mental escape, about mindfulness. And I got fit too.

One day, the shaven headed bloke arrived and began to row on the machine beside me. There were no other punters around and I was unaware of him and his exercise regime, my ears filled with Kate Bush. However, the moment that I stepped away from the machine this gentleman also stepped from his and barred my exit.

“What d’you think you’re doing?” was his first question, delivered with a sneer. I was flustered, not sure what this line of questioning was even about.

“I was rowing.” I replied and tried to take a step towards the door. He barred my exit once more.

“What’s a woman like you even doing here…”

“Oh, I just like the rowing machine.” I attempted to make my shaking face smile and step past him. Big mistake. He began a sharp tirade of abuse. It was very unpleasant and so I walked around the machine to get by him and quickly headed into the women’s changing room. What a loon, I thought. What an oddball. I tried to make him seem silly but it didn’t work. He was frightening. I was frightened.

You might be surprised to discover that this gentleman was waiting for me on the stairs to the car park a short while later , I certainly was and not in a good way. He managed to chunner out some further verbal abuse which was only cut short by my running down the stairs and out into the multi storey car park where other gym users were coming from their vehicles.

I was, as you might imagine, pretty shaken. I returned to the gym a day or two later and after seeing that this shaven headed man was in the weights room I found that I couldn’t row on the machine because I was in too much of a panic. I abandoned the session and never went back.

More fool you, you might say. You let him win, you might also say. You’d be right. But it was unpleasant and scary and it spoiled my rowing experience. I ought to have reported him but I felt embarrassed and ashamed, as if I was somehow responsible. I had been annoying, it was all my fault.

Years later, in my forties, I joined a womens only gym which I loved and went almost every day for four years. No one hassled you, you were encouraged and cared for. Just recently I have been considering going back. It was, frankly, bliss, an environment where you could let go of your stress like a helium balloon whilst toning your bingo wings with bicep/tricep curls.  The ethos of the place was to build strength, in your spirit as much as your quadruceps.

I don’t know who the idiot was that complained about the sole hour a week that is put aside for women at Dursley Pool. Possibly he is the same kind of man who wouldn’t turn up to a ‘men only’ session at the pool because of his homophobia.

I imagine the complainant was also keen to trot out the Sexual Equality legislation for the recent golf club contretemps at Muirfield and stand up for women having the right to whack small balls with big sticks. No? Am I wrong? Is that not equality?

To be fair, I rather like the idea of a ‘men only’ golf club.  Don’t faint. I will explain.

I’m not a big golf fan, must be said, chiefly because the game seems to attract the kind of misogynist, sexist, racist, right wing Tory git that I can’t abide. So my view on ‘men only’ golf clubs is to keep them. Stick with me, this is a workable theory. I like the idea of these smug chaps massing in their own oak panelled bar with their whisky and water and their colour blind trouser choices. I think we should lock the doors and keep them all in there, it seems preferable to them wandering the streets, or rather cruising through town in their Rovers, parking on double yellow lines and in disabled spaces.

What with glass ceilings and the crevasse that is the gender pay gap, no wonder we ladies need an hour to ourselves to front crawl and backstroke our way back to sanity.

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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge


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