April 23, 2011, from Two Fat Laddies, Boxing Clever
There is an understated wooden building sat back from the main road near to a bus stop. It looks locked, but the steady whump, whump of music from inside betrays the fact that something is happening within.
Outside some young, athletic looking teenagers gather, dumping their sports bags on the ground. Some are in short sleeves, others in vests, their biceps toned and muscles defined. A few swear, some laugh. Others say nothing.
Joining them a couple of men, older, greying, probably in their 40s but the outside chance that they may just be fit in the fifties. It’s hard to tell. They are waiting patiently for the doors to open.
When they do teenage girls and young women stride out, confidently, loudly. Some exchange helloes with the guys outside, but all disappear quickly. Then the pack strides forward and into the hut. My gut tenses, Iain’s face drops.
There is no clue to what’s inside as you wander up the path and squeeze through the windowless door, save a small sign to your left.
Then you feel the heat, the kind of warmth only active bodies give off.
The place smells of sweat, like a small room does after hot sex, and once through the narrow corridor you are bathed in the artificial light which illuminates a full size gym, the kind of which you may never imagine.
Not here the gleaming new treadmills, shiny exercise bikes or polished clean mirrors provided in most mainstream leisure centres. No staff in matching polo shirts with badges to remind them their own name.
Here are walls covered with newspaper and magazine clippings, framed shorts, a boot in a glass case, wrestling for space among the lovingly painted yet chipped woodwork and other memorabilia.
To the left, hanging there like dead carcasses from hooks battered into the ceiling, a collection of differing sized bags, swaying gently as members breeze past them to get changed, wrap their hands in bandages.
Below their rectangular arrangement, training mats laid methodically across the wood panelled flooring. And across to the right, dominating the corner, the roped off platform which forms the ring.
Welcome to Lochend Amateur Boxing Club, LA Boxing, a treasure trove of still fresh memories and young hopes for the future combined.
The place oozes character, matched only by the warmth of welcome offered to the night’s newcomers. On this occasion myself, Iain and sporting her trusty video camera, producer Clare.
We probably make an odd sight to the regulars, but they barely bat an eyelid as we snoop around the halls, enthralled by the way they ready for the night’s training in orderly, well-drilled harmony.
A handwritten sign on the back wall is the first clue to the kind of steely discipline that the club demands, a simple but fair warning that anyone caught spitting inside will be shown the door.
It is signed T McCormack. The T is for Terry, competitor, trainer, coach and founder of this magical place. He is there having agreed to have the Two Fat Laddies put through their paces for the night.
For whatever reason I was first to be led to an anonymous looking cupboard where a pair of blue gloves were found for my tiny hands, Velcro straps holding them against my wrists and I was ready to go.
The others were at their places in front of the bags, poised. I remember Pope out of the corner of my eye still looking around at the photos on the wall, Clare ready with the camera to capture what came next.
Which is just as well, because it flashed by in a blur.
The first lesson was sorting out my stance, drawing elbows closer together, gloves tight up against the head for protection. More basic work followed to learn how to properly deliver a jab and combinations.
My target, the man sized bag before me. Not hitting for all my might, but aiming for steady consistency.
A steady time of that is followed by a few minutes jogging and jabbing on the spot. Then dropping to the floor for around 25 ab crunches, up and onto the next bag. Then repeat, and again, and again.
It’s a well oiled system once you know it, and the guys were fantastic in helping make sure you knew where to go, what to do. They were also forgiving when landing them with punishment exercise.
The rule is concentrate, no yibber yabber chatter. Not even when the coach asks you a question. That is his trick to get a response before he tells you to drop and give him 30 press ups, sit ups or other payback.
I counted eight times in the course of that hour.
In all the coaching team reckoned we did between 500 and 700 crunches on the night on top of the bag work. It wasn’t tiring. It was exhausting.
My top was soaked in sweat, wringing wet. My limbs ached. Every iota of energy was sapped from my body. But at the same time, I’ve never felt better. This was fitness training but at its most honest.
But while Iain and I were, literally, on our knees and knackered, some of the guys just kept right on going – weights, pull-ups, medicine balls. Impressive doesn’t even go close to doing them justice.
What Iain and I did get to do was some sparring with each other, in the ring, under Terry’s watchful gaze. I was glad to face the tall chap, when I first showed up I thought we were for a whipping from the real deal.
I’ve been the member of five different gymnasiums in 10 years. None were as good, as intense nor as fun.
More than that, it felt like an old friend. I’d been there less barely two hours, but the welcome and camaraderie made it feel like two years.
Terry told us later about the range of people who come in, what they take from it, how it can change their lives. The video coming from Clare, who showed a deft pair of hands herself, later will be far more eloquent than I telling that story.
Iain seemed to appreciate the toil. He seemed to enjoy himself hugely, as did I. Clare, as an observer, looked like she couldn’t wait to join in too, transfixed by the purpose and dedication of those around.
And despite my initial fears, there was no broken noses, black eyes nor burst and bloody lips at the end of it.
No, the only thing I’ve been left nursing is a quite unexpected and inexplicable desire to go back and do it all again.
I don’t know why, but I felt happy there. Comfortable.
And if I’ve still more than two and a half stone left to lose, then simply put, I want these guys in my corner.