Soulless in Sevenoaks

A pavement walk to a soulless gym on a cloud-hung day. Even the temperature is mediocre – it’s neither this nor that. Just okay.

A conveyor belt of cars slides sedately by at this early hour. Some drivers bear that far-off, dreamy look so familiar to us all, suggesting that they are relieving the boredom of the road by seeking somewhere quite different in their minds: a mountain, a beach, a nice warm bed.

I reach the gym. I never come here, but needs must at the moment (you may be spared the dull details).

The brightly lit gym is full of not-very-smiley people. They don’t look unhappy, they are just working out. Staring at screens or into the mid-distance. Exercising on the spot on equipment which doesn’t move.

And I do the same. My screen has lots of numbers on it, displaying all sorts of very important information. Beyond that is a plain white wall (I’m not lucky enough to have snagged a window seat). I know my machine is pretty clever – apparently it offers any type of “interactive workout landscape” you can imagine. Though tempted by the idea of beach run with lapping waves and salty wind in my hair, I realise I’m getting carried away, and instead I summon to the screen a lakeside road surrounded by mountains. It’s a safe bet.

But it’s boring. Yes, there’s an attempt at realistic: sun glints on the lake, there’s a hotel on the shoreline and a couple of cars overtake me. I curve round bends, puff over bridges, my run even feels easier when the screen takes me downhill. Weird.

From the gym’s sound system George Ezra’s voice hurls out the lyrics to “Shotgun” – the summer song that played constantly in our Spanish car -“underneath the hot sun” – as we wove round olive groves and past pueblos blancos perched on “mountaintops” and felt like we were real “someones“.

But that was then and this is now.  Currently, George’s easy rhythm is not having the same effect on my gait. And I’m not feeling like anyone at all.

In the end, I switch the screen back to the numbers. They scroll with a relentless slowness. When that becomes too painful I wonder if gazing at the blank canvas of a wall in front of me will take me back to a pueblo blanco – any village would do. 


When I’ve done my time, I’m out of there as quick as a flash. Walking home along the same route I came by earlier, I find a briskness that invigorates.

And I notice the greenest moss on an old stone wall. It has texture and a rich softness – the perfect contrast to nearly nude Autumn trees, a well-weathered pipe (whose function is unclear), and a crispy brown hedge of leaves.

I’m still in Sevenoaks but the soul is returning. Because being outside is always better than being inside  (except when enduring a whip of an ice storm in Antarctica, arguably).

However, I’ve resolved to be open-minded and I will go back to the gym. Who knows, I could get used to it.

But I hope not.

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