It was early - 8.25 a.m. - and I was already on the rowing machine. I've been drifting earlier to the gym to avoid the nine o'clock crowd, who tend to hog the bikes with much desultory spinning and tedious recreational chat. My companion was one other early-morning guy, intently working out on the right-hand exercise bike.
In comes this large, flabby fellow in shapeless shorts, who climbs onto the cross-trainer next to bike-guy and starts up a slow, unstressing rhythm. Immediately he violates rule number one of the British gym: no unsolicited conversation.
"Cold, isn't it," he observed to his neighbour, "Think it's going to rain?"
Amazingly, the cyclist's natural politeness led him to a non-trivial reply. There was silence only for a moment as fat guy resumed with a cheery "Any plans for the weekend, then?" Maybe he was a hairdresser.
This time the reply was more of a grunt as the cyclist vacated his equipment to go exercise someplace quieter.
It was now time for me to go thrash the bike (ten minutes, with two intense one-minute bursts - cadence in excess of 110: I'm serious).
I chose the bike furthest from the somnolent yet garrulous cross-trainer .. mentally rehearsing gnomic zen rejoinders in case I was engaged in unwanted conversation. I made no eye contact, worked hard .. and was mercifully spared.
Ten minutes later I had finished, had changed and, as I was leaving the premises, saw fat guy in his awkward shorts exiting the fitness suite.
He did not look out of breath.