"You mean a leisure card?"
"Are you a student?"
"Are you receiving any benefits?"
"Um…I don't think so. Here, I brought this council tax receipt thing to show that I'm a Camden resident."
She looks at it.
"Are you paying council tax or receiving council tax?"
"Huh? You can receive council tax?"
She sighs and rolls her eyes.
"Look, I just moved here two weeks ago, I don't know anything."
"Well, are you working?"
She sighs again and ducks down behind the counter, leaving me with the brochure. It dawns on me that she was trying to work out whether or not I qualified for the discount card, which costs 5.50 rather than 14 pounds.
"I don't think I qualify for the discount card, if that's what you're after."
"Ohhh, all right. Here, just fill out the form then."
Flustered, I fill in the appropriate boxes. Her belligerent attitude has me rattled, so I'm grateful to see that she goes off shift while I am filling in the form, and a young man takes her place. He takes my application and my money and tells me to go on down into the gym.
When I arrive, I change my shoes and a large, extremely fit Spanish man smiles and says hello.
"You going to use the sunbed?"
Clearly this is my day for questions out of left field.
"No," I say, trying to keep my distaste for the concept out of my voice and resisting the urge to assure him that I'm naturally this color, thank you very much. "I'm going to work out."
He flips me a thumbs up and saunters off to admire himself in the mirror. I head for the elliptical trainers and resolve to bring headphones or alternatively, Marco, the next time I come here. Just so long as no one speaks to me for the rest of this little adventure.
Marco returns from his football game before I get back from the gym. We shower as fast as we can and change to go watch the Manchester United vs. Arsenal game with Suzie and Damien and a crew from Marco's work. This is my first real English-pub-football experience. They've decided to meet in a pub called The Falcon outside Clapham Junction, south of the Thames. It's a bit of a pain for me and Marco. There's no direct route. We take a bus, then the tube, then the overground rail to get there. We make it to the pub about 25 minutes into the game. There is a huge crowd piled into the doorway, watching the projection screen. There's no way we can make it through so we stand there for the remainder of the first half. It is an ugly game. Many fouls are being committed on both sides. Arsenal has gone 49 games in the Premiership without a loss, and the Man U team is determined to break their streak. No one scores in the first half. We forge through the crowd to join our mates. Only one of them, Damien, is a Man U fan, and he has the distinction of actually being from Manchester. Most Man U fans are from, like, Singapore or something.
Damien tries to accuse Marco of selecting a team by looking at the top rankings in the Premiership. This is pretty rich coming from a fan of a team that has spent more than its fair share of time at the top of the Premiership. With a withering expression, I tell him, "Look, Marco is a Red Sox fan. Do you have any idea how long the Red Sox have been the underdogs?" He laughs and concedes the point.
We order g&ts. It is pouring at Old Trafford (the Man U pitch). The players are sliding all over the place. Man U gain a highly questionable penalty, which van Nistelrooy, who has the distinction of being one of the few footballers that I truly hate (the whinging, thuggish cherry-picker) takes and converts. Marco and I are bummed. Arsenal can't get it together for the rest of the game. Man U score a second, much less questionable goal near the ninetieth minute and it's pretty much over for us. Damien gloats insufferably. He and Marco trade mock insults, then a genuine bear hug, and we're off to dinner at the Banana Leaf Canteen, where Damien manages to keep his victory dancing to a minimum.
At least the food was excellent.