January 21, 2011 10:04 pm

The Diary: Nicola Barker

The author is a fitness DVD devotee and a reality television fan

I noticed in Tesco the other day that Davina McCall has a new fitness DVD out. I’m a huge fan of her other two. In fact, when I’m completing work on a novel, I do little else bar devour endless packets of crisps, sit hunched over my computer and stomach-crunch with Davina.

Davina and her two trainers become virtually my only human companions. Even my daily conversation (directed mainly at my two dogs) becomes peppered with inane Davina-style yelps and expostulations.

I think it would be true to say that I am a great workout DVD devotee in general (although my motor skills are distinctly questionable; I have all the natural poise and grace of a constipated elk). In fact, I actively enjoy the new year because (yes, I am this person) the range on the shelves visibly expands.

After closely perusing the back cover of the new Davina DVD, however (and growing suspicious that it might just be more of the same), I faltered, craving novelty, and began scanning the shelves for some fresh, high-tempo fitness meat. I ended up heading home with the new Tracy Anderson Method.

I had never heard of Tracy before (which is remiss, given that she has honed both Shakira’s and Madonna’s six-packs). What chiefly drew me to her DVD was (a) a quote from Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover claiming: “Truly is a miracle ... you will see the results you never thought possible.” (I should note at this stage that Gwyneth is not a lifestyle inspiration for me), and (b) a picture of Tracy in a black almost-bikini. It’s a lovely yet oddly disturbing image: she has the fluffy, blonde head of a Botox-friendly, thirtysomething glamour model, and a body that makes skeletal Hollywood uber-stylist Rachel Zoe look positively beefy.

I have no aspirations to look like a prepubescent boy (at least not consciously) but the fact that there was nothing written on the box about the type of exercise contained in the DVD tantalised me. Maybe no actual, physical effort would be involved? Maybe Tracy would teach me to simply levitate my stomach flat?

I got the DVD home a week ago and tried it out immediately. It was great fun. I loved it. The routines were basically a series of endless, magnificently high-energy bounces set to psychotic, crazy-frog-style house music.

I followed the tape religiously for three days wearing two fitness bras. I bounced and I bounced. I bounced like my life depended on it. I embraced the bounce in all its wonder, in all its joyous exuberance, in all its simple complexity.

On day four, I awoke and was unable to move my shoulders. By elevenses, both hips had frozen. My left knee stopped functioning a couple of hours after lunch.

That same day, chastened, unable to do anything but move my index finger, I ordered a Tai Chi for Beginners DVD online. Yesterday I started learning the basics of Qigong with Dr Paul Lam and a roomful of grey-haired Australian octogenarians. It was like entering an alternate universe based on the principles of the film Cocoon. It was all creaky and quiet and slow and cuddly. It was care-worn. It was temperate. And, as poignant as this sounds, I think I might have finally found my level.

I’m struggling to come to terms with the awful fact that my eight-month-old French bulldog Sarge, while a wonderful character and profoundly loved, is a disastrous example of the breed. There’s so much wrong with him (not including the recently-removed head tumour, the hernia, the perpetually snotty nose and the bald eye) that I hardly know where to begin.

He is over-long, for starters, with ridiculously short legs (like a 1960s, Formica-topped, occasional table). He is huge (a beast of a dog – at least 4lbs over the designated Frenchie weight). And worst of all, he has floppy ears.

The other stuff is manageable but the ears are nothing short of a catastrophe. The bat ear is the main, defining feature of a French bulldog (my other dog, Moses – Sarge’s half-brother – has a magnificent pair). Sarge has (gulp) napkin ears (Frenchie blasphemy). In brief: he cost me more than £1,000 and he looks like a giant, maladjusted dachsie/pug.

Of course I could have had his ears surgically trimmed (it’s their huge size that makes them hang) but I wouldn’t dream of it. Although I have, I must confess, pondered whether to put them in splints overnight (ie tie them up with bandages), my partner Ben has strictly forbidden it.

Lately, when people meet Sarge for the first time I find myself muttering (all cowed and humiliated), “He’s meant to be a French bulldog ... ”

Yesterday, though, all remaining illusions that he might still pass for what he actually is were finally shattered when I was stopped on Wapping High Street by a young woman pushing a bike. “Excuse me,” she smiled, pointing at Sarge, inquisitively, “forgive me for asking this but what breed of dog is that?”

Every last syllable was delivered in an impeccable French accent.

Nobody could accuse me of not taking my reality television seriously. My devotion is passionate, intense, sometimes almost bordering on the credulous. Ben once had to break it to me that Nigella Lawson wasn’t actually creeping downstairs to raid her fridge at night. The fridge pilfering was just a set-up.

Of course, I pretended not to be surprised by this shock revelation but, at some level, I honestly did imagine that whenever Nigella happened to tiptoe downstairs after dark to gorge on leftovers (make-up typically impeccable), the cameras were somehow just there.

So I think you can imagine my excitement at the return last week of my favourite reality television programme (LA Ink) about my favourite subject (tattooing), and then my crashing sense of disappointment when, in the opening few minutes, Kat Von D (my favourite tattoo artist) allowed Cory Miller (my other favourite tattoo artist) to storm out of the tattoo shop she manages after a silly spat (which was entirely Kat’s responsibility).

Following 40-odd minutes of listening to me ruminate darkly about how Kat had lost her principles (along with the tip of her nose – where has the tip of Kat’s nose gone?) the long-suffering Ben was kind enough to work through it all with me.

Ben: “Do you remember how Kat fell out with Ami James when she featured in his tattoo show Miami Ink, then left and started up her own shop in LA?”

Me (gravely): “Yes. I do. I’ve still not forgiven Ami for that.” (And nor has Dolly Parton, as Kat Von D proudly recalls in her New York Times bestseller High Voltage Tattoo.)

Ben (infinitely patient): “Well, that’s possibly what’s being set up to happen with Cory. He’ll probably just end up going to work at that rival shop they introduced in the last series to help further the plot.”

Me (with a snort): “Oh. Yeah. I mean I kind of realised that already ... I’m just really disappointed in Kat, that’s all.”

Nicola Barker’s most recent novel is ‘Burley Cross Postbox Theft’ (Fourth Estate)

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