Sherlock Holmes had Moriarty, Batman had The Joker and Victor Meldrew had unhinged neighbour Nick Swainey.
I have my very own nemesis – the dead bug. I am haunted by dead bugs. I see them everywhere. They haunt my dreams. I live among dead bugs.
On the face of it, this sadistic item of exercise equipment looks like a poor excuse for an arch enemy. In fact, there is something comic about the rotund, bouncy dead bug, something playful and disarming in its demeanour.
And that is exactly what makes this such a supreme weapon of torture.
A dead bug, in case you haven’t been acquainted, is basically a Space Hopper without the ears and the smiley face. It is a large, inflatable soft ball. When you pick it up, it’s as light as a feather. How could it possibly cause any distress?
That’s the cold-hearted beauty of it. Dead bugs masquerade as a force for good. They are used by pregnant women in child-birth. Mums-to-be kneel down and rest on top of them, clutching them and rocking back and forth as they give birth in a squat position.
So they can’t be all bad, helping little babies come into the world. Right? Wrong.
Move a dead bug from the labour ward to the gym and it becomes the embodiment of evil.
Think of Patrick McGoohan being chased by that big balloon in The Prisoner. It’s like that, only scarier. I was introduced to this ball from hell by Wayne, my fitness mentor at the University of Birmingham.
Wayne has been nursing me back to modest fitness following decades of idleness and excess. He started off softly-softly, encouraging me to familiarise myself with plimsolls, shorts and movement.
I have previously revealed how six months’ of gym work led to me putting on weight (Wayne assures me this was probably due to an increase in muscle rather than lard).
So with my nervous approval, Wayne has gone hardcore on me. He has devised an exercise regime the like of which is unknown in its ferocity outside the British special forces. It’s killing me.
I alternate between two exercise programmes that comprise about eight gym-based activities. The session is intended to last about 45 minutes to an hour.
I am undertaking this heroic task at the Munrow sports centre on the university’s Edgbaston campus. If you go in there, look in the gym, and see a grown man in tears, wailing “I’m going to puke!” well that’s me.
And if you see a man screaming “I didn’t sign up for this! I want my mummy!” that’s also me.
Wayne gave me an induction for my new regime. Everything hurt; even looking at the equipment hurt. But oddly it is the exercises with the least amount of equipment, or without any equipment at all, that seem to inflict the greatest pain.
Take something called the side plank, which, like the majority of the exercises, is designed to improve my core strength. Sadly, me and core strength parted ways about 20 years ago and our reunion is proving to be traumatic.