Personal Training by the Seat of my Pants

Eventually, we all succumb.  Whether our surrender is a result of pride, carelessness or administrative error, we all ultimately find ourselves on some kind of quest to improve ourselves.  It needn’t be much. More care with your physical appearance, learning a language or improving your diet; it all counts towards making an even better you.  And although I could have ironed a shirt, learned how to speak Klingon so I could fulfill my life’s ambition to translate ‘The Art of the Deal’ into a language more suited to its author or eaten some broccoli; I, instead, chose personal training.  

My last birthday was something of a landmark occasion; probably a small mountain or an odd-shaped building. But whatever the monument, it’s the first time news of my birthday has ever been greeted with surprise. It’s something of an insult. I’m not sure what it says about how I conducted myself when I was younger, but when people react to your birthday by muttering, ‘really?’ it’s time to act.

I’ve attended the occasional exercise class before.  Mostly, I like to blend in and not draw attention to myself, despite my insistence on always wearing bright pink Lycra.  Whilst dressing like a highlighter pen might seem at odds with keeping a low profile, it’s solely for safety reasons.  You can’t be too careful in exercise class.  Or, as it turns out, too comfortable.

The difference between exercise class and personal training is that there’s nowhere to hide.  It’s just you and the person whose job it is to hunt you down in the event you decide to take shelter in the air conditioning duct.  Despite this, I turned up having forsaken my traditional hot pink Lycra in favour of full camouflage gear and one eye on the air conditioning duct in the event I needed to execute a swift escape. 

My trainer was an easy-going fellow who, technically speaking, may well qualify as a giant.  But personal trainers should really be called ‘personable trainers’ as they seem to specialize in being friendly and encouraging.  Perhaps it’s their way of getting the best out of you.  Or, then again, maybe it’s designed to lull you into a false sense of security. 

My trainer asked whether I was familiar with the Romanian Deadlift.  Disappointingly, the Romanian Deadlift is not a band, although it probably should be.  Let me say at the outset, I’m extremely fond of any exercise that’s geographically specific. Whether it’s the Welsh Squat, the Hungarian Vault or the Dutch Oven, these exercises have a sense of tradition that makes a trip to the gym feel culturally enriching as well as exhausting.  Then he explained what a ‘Romanian Deadlift’ was.  

It involves keeping your back straight whilst bending at the hips and pushing your backside out as far as it will go.  As a middle-aged man, such actions run counter to every instinct in my body.  That’s like asking me to change my routine or skip the news – it’s simply not something I ever contemplate doing.  Also, there’s a small matter of ‘the incident’.

It was years ago.  We were looking after my father’s farm in Tyabb whilst he went gallivanting overseas.  Before departing, he provided a list of the animals he feared might ‘go to God’ during his absence.  At the top of the list was his dog, Nelson.  Some pets are simply that.  They share space with you and eat your food, but everyone goes about living their daily lives, unaffected.  Others are so much more.  Nelson was in the latter category.  I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a ‘Hound of Distinction’ but if there is, it’d describe Nelson.  When he did, unfortunately, pass away, it fell to my brother and I to bury him in accordance with my father’s incredibly detailed and deeply impractical instructions.

Nelson was to be buried next to the lavender bush.  The problem being that it was the meeting place for a large number of bees during daylight hours.  So we had to wait until the sun went down.  Digging in the darkness, when struck trouble when we burrowed through a large underground apartment complex for bullants.  Still, we continued to dig.  The deeper we got, the harder it became.  Wielding a mattock, I stretched out as far as I could as I swung.  Then I heard an almighty ripping sound.  After a quick check, I was able to ascertain that the seat of my trousers remained in place.  It was only later when getting ready for bed that I made the gruesome discovery that my boxer shorts had ripped from top to tail.  I was shocked.  Granted, I was at full stretch, but it’s not as though I was performing a Romanian Deadlift.

As the personal trainer waited my shorts, if not large portions of my life, flashed before my eyes.  I hoped that my exercise gear could withstand the additional pressure.  I hoped that no one was watching as I gingerly moved into position.  Most of all, I hoped there was no-one standing directly behind me in case the unthinkable happened and there was a catastrophic structural failure.  Fearing that the Romanian Deadlift might trigger a Tyabb Trouser Tear, I bolted in the air conditioning duct.  Someday, maybe in a month or so, I’ll leave the duct and resume my life. Until then, if someone asks where I am, just tell them I’ve duct out for a bit. 

Optimus Prime Minister: Explaining the FOMO of Scomo

Imagine this. You’ve spent your entire life being picked dead last for every team – from cricket to tiddlywinks to the team responsible for the best ad hoc sculpture made solely from toilet rolls, pipe cleaners and sparkles. Nobody wants you.  Suddenly, by a quirk of fate you realise that you have the power to decide who’s on which team. Instead of waiting to be picked you’re the one doing the picking. It’s the kind of power that could easily go to someone’s head. And it kind of did.

We’ve heard a lot about the ‘Westminster system’ recently which is not to be confused with the ‘Axminster system’ which is more about a type of carpet than it is a system of government and the ‘Westeros system’ that mostly concerns dragons and carelessly placed takeaway coffee cups. Although, that said, dragons in Parliament would be awesome, albeit difficult to capture in ‘Hansard’. One of the features of the Westminster system, beyond its appalling lack of dragons, is that there are members of an executive branch who are accountable to the Parliament.

It started off as an ‘in case of emergency, break glass’ thing in the Health portfolio. At the time, there was a lot happening and the idea was understandable, if not forgivable. But having learned that he could be appointed to multiple portfolios in addition to the existing Minister, it’s fair to say that the PM became the ‘Primed Minister’ – eager for anything he could get his hands on. It must have been something like a first-time visit to an all-you-can-eat buffet. You hardly know where to start. Or, more importantly as the case may be, where to stop.

Before long, Scomo was collecting ministerial portfolios like a scout collects merit badges.  He was insatiable.  He may not have made his acquisitions known to the general public, but I have a sneaking suspicion that every time he snaffled another job, he had his business cards reprinted.  It got so that Cabinet meetings could, in fact, have been conducted in an actual cabinet, with Scomo squeezed in between the panels like The Cure in the film clip to ‘Close to Me’ (although we all know that Scomo’s not going to be listening to The Cure. He’ll be listening to Dragon, which makes me think that he may prefer the ‘Westeros system’ after all).

Meetings must have been an absolute breeze. Instead of having to wrangle a room chock-a-block with unruly colleagues, you can make key decisions just by staring into the bathroom mirror.  Shaving has never been so productive.  It’s not hard to imagine Scomo, cut-throat razor in hand and a face full of foam staring lovingly back at his own reflection and asking the seemingly rhetorical question: ‘who’s a clever boy?’ before barrelling ahead to answer it regardless by smirking and saying, ‘you are’ and blowing himself a kiss.  Narcissus would be jealous.

It makes you wonder whether there are other jobs the (now) former Prime Minister would like to take on.  There’s a chronic shortage of labour right now but the answer is as obvious as it is simple – get Scott to do it.  Need an extra set of hands in the McDonalds’ drive-through? Give Scomo a headset and he’ll be asking you if you want fries with that before you’ve had a chance to scratch yourself.  In fact, there’s nothing the all-purpose Scomo can’t do. He’ll whiten your whites, remove unwanted odours and turn a sandwich into a banquet. Soon he’ll be a verb.

That said, things may have gotten slightly out of hand. Last night, I went to take the bins out to find that someone had beaten me to it.  Which is disturbing when you live alone.  As I looked up, I saw Scomo scurry away.  Today the dishwasher was empty and the ironing complete.  Then, this afternoon, I tried to join a team meeting on line and found that was already in my place and was using my name.  He must be stopped. I’d been Scomoed.

Surely there’s a small fortune to be made my inventing a heavy duty Scott-repellent.  Much like Aeroguard but for a much larger pest. I shall do my best to invent it. There’s something horrifically odd about the whole thing.  Something you can’t quite get your fingers around.  It’s one thing to decide you need a contingency in case of disaster.  It’s another to keep the whole thing a secret.  As if the day would not inevitably come whereby we’d discover that one person had taken it upon himself to be the king of everything.

It’s an odd turn of events.  It began when a Prime Minister had himself secretly sworn in and has ended up with his colleagues swearing him out.  Such is their frustration that the very name ‘Scomo’ has been reduced to an expletive magnet.  It’s been a rough couple of years and plenty of conventions have fallen by the wayside, but some things are important.  Knowing who’s in charge matters.  Knowing who’s responsible is incredibly important.

It must be tough being Scomo right now. People are understandably angry and upset.  But even if his friends and colleagues abandon him just as voters have deserted him, at least he’ll still have himself to comfort him.  Which is probably exactly the way he likes it.

There Ain’t No Millisecond Prize

Time is a relative concept.  Not an especially close relative – probably a second cousin twice removed or an odd uncle who smells strange – but a relative nonetheless. But just as a malodorous uncle can muscle his way in on the queue for the Christmas pork crackling, fuelled equally by a sense of entitlement and brandy eggnog, so too can time throw an almighty spanner in the works when least expected.  Time, it seems, is speeding up.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  It’s the earth that’s getting faster by taking less time to rotate on its axis.  In June, our planet recorded its shortest day ever, clocking in at 1.59 milliseconds quicker than average.  No wonder I felt rushed.  This, of course, creates a problem much bigger than a millisecond.  For whilst the earth might play fast and loose with time, the same cannot be said for clocks who are incredibly stubborn about it.  As a result, things are ever so slightly out of step.

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that it’s this kind of confluence  of circumstances that makes time travel a reality.  I’m tempted to take the Holden Astra up to eighty eight miles an hour in the Woolies car park and see if I end up somewhere other than in the back of the discount bottle shop.  All I need to figure out is which year I should return to.  In truth, the answer is obvious.

In the movie ‘Back to the Future’, Marty McFly is transported back to 1955 in order to help Chuck Berry invent rock and roll.  This must have come as something of a shock to Chuck when he saw the film. For me, however, I would use my time machine to return to the Year of Our Lord 1987.  

There are many reasons why I’d choose this particular year.  It was the year the Berlin Wall came down – crumbling as it did when subjected to a performance of ‘Jump In My Car’ by David Hasselhoff.  1989 was also the year that Microsoft first released ‘Office’ – which is the version I use to this very day.  It was the year of Milli Vanilli and ‘Pump Up the Jam’ by Technotronic. Of Cher and a revitalized B-52s. But my reasons for heading back to 1989 are not to be in Berlin as the Hoff sang or to encourage Cher to wear something more suited to standing astride a Navy destroyer but, in truth, to tell me to pull my socks up.

If I could travel back in time, it would be to cut my mullet off and explain that no good ever comes from acid wash jeans. Ever.  I feel this advice would have changed my life for the better.  Also, I would have encouraged my younger self to learn how to dance.  Footage from that era survives of me out the front of a band doing something that I thought, then, was dancing but know now to be something akin to wriggling like an electric eel after a nasty surprise.

As exciting as it is to consider that there’s now time unaccounted for that can be claimed back at will, there are questions of a more troubling kind that need to be answered.  Namely, if the world is getting faster, how much faster can we expect it to get?  I remember once taking my nephew to Luna Park and discovering that this quiet, unassuming eight-year-old feared nothing and insisted on experiencing the most terrifying theme park rides known to humanity.  One such ride involved leaning against a wall which then span around until somebody lost their lunch.  I don’t remember what it was called, but always think of it as ‘the Vomitron’.

I, for one, am not looking forward to the day I wake up only to find the world spinning at such a pace that my car keys are stuck to the wall and I want to lie down.  Soon will come the time when the entire planet is spinning like a top, until it falls from its axis and tumbles into space.  Chances are, it’ll happen before I’ve had a chance to use the last of my JB Hi Fi gift vouchers.  Typical.

Funny thing is, the world wasn’t always in such a hurry. Until a few years ago, the general consensus was it was slowing down, necessitating the introduction of ‘leap seconds’ to keep everything in line.  Now that it’s gone the other way, some are advocating that we ‘drop’ a millisecond.  This is new territory. Its impact on technology is, apparently, unknown.  All I can say is in the event of a negative leap second, there’s not a chance in hell that I’m going to try and synchronize the clock on my microwave. It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.

 It’s no surprise, really, to hear that the world is speeding up.  Most of us feel that every day.  But amongst all the chaos and noise and pressure, I hope there’s still time to slow down and appreciate things.  Time may change and so do we.  I think there may have been moments when I’ve resisted changed – which is why I still had a mullet and wore acid wash jeans until November 2013.  But it’s different now.  

Even if the world speeding up creates a wormhole through which it’s possible for a Holden Astra to slip, I won’t be going back to 1989 after all.  What’s done is done. I like it here, instead. And I’m more interested in what’s happening now than anything behind me.  Bring on the future. 

Netsux: The Streaming of Unconsciousness

The Netflix giveth and the Netflix taketh away.  Without any warning whatsoever as it turns out. One minute you’re watching season 12 of ‘English Pantries and Cupboards’, moments from learning who’ll take out the ultimate title of ‘Lord Cupboard Sorter’ and the grand prize of a week’s caravanning in Devon before the whole series disappears.  Abducted, never to be seen again.  Without so much as a goodbye note, it vanishes from your ‘continue watching’ list.  It’s gaslighting, pure and simple.  

A series, once yanked from the platform, leaves no trace that it was ever there at all until you begin to question your own sanity. Did I imagine devoting one hundred and thirty hours – much of them in a single weekend – to watching a lifestyle show about tidying your cupboards?  Was it a dream?  Surely not!  Instead, our shows are stolen from us, right when we need them most.  How is it that we allowed ourselves to be at the mercy of this unfeeling, insensitive streaming overlord?  

How dare you, Netflix!  One minute I’m enjoying myself thoroughly, the next I’ve been cruelly cut off without so much as a five-minute warning.  For shame!  Had I known you were about to yank the rug out from under me, I’d have redoubled my efforts, lest I should be stranded; hapless and flailing, without any clue as to how the series might end.  I feel so….unresolved.  

It’s all so incredibly arbitrary.  Things appear and disappear as they please. When I was a kid, I took piano lessons.  In the waiting room, there was a small pile of religious pamphlets that were very keen on the idea of an imminent ‘rapture’.  For those unfamiliar with it, ‘the rapture’ was the moment when God’s servants would be called to heaven and would disappear from the face of the earth.  It was quite the concept; one that I hoped would manifest immediately before my year 10 Maths B exam, to no avail.  Having things vanish from your watch list; it’s as though the rapture has suddenly called your favourite television shows to heaven.  

It’s made worse by how loudly Netflix will trumpet the shows arriving on its platform.  I am constantly barraged by unsolicited emails telling me about programs that I would only ever watch at gunpoint and, even then, probably not.  If that sounds like a drastic and melodramatic overstatement, then let me simply say ‘Goop’.  Enough said.  Netflix will go to great lengths to talk up these shows, most of which will inevitably be complete duds, whilst saying nothing about those that are about to be moved on.  Imagine if someone you worked with left and there wasn’t a farewell card? It’d be a scandal.

It’s made worse by the nature of television these days. Once, TV shows were episodic in nature and each episode was largely self-contained.  You can start watching ‘The Fall Guy’ or ‘The A-Team’ or even ‘Magnum P.I.’ mid-season and you’ll know exactly what’s going on.  These shows went to great lengths to explain themselves, often in the opening theme song.  Now, however, television shows have story arcs that last the best part of a decade and blinking at the wrong time means that you’ll have missed some subtle but essential clue that becomes a vital part of understanding episode twelve in season twenty seven. 

These shows require commitment.  They demand hours of your time for weeks, if not months on end, until they dominate your life.  Television shows have a much bigger canvas than movies and are more likely to take their sweet time in getting to the point.  It’s common to be told that a particular series is fabulous ‘once you get past the first six seasons’.  It’s a lot to ask.  But, having made that commitment, to have the series removed is an act of unfathomable cruelty.

Technology companies are funny like that.  On the one hand, they present themselves as being at the centre of everything that’s good and wonderful about contemporary culture.  They portray themselves as offering consumer choice and promise the freedom to watch what you want, when you want.  Which they kind of do right up until the moment they rip the rug out from under you.

Why is transparency so difficult for these mega-tech titans?  It’s as though they’re afraid of what we might say if they told us the truth, so they go to great lengths to tell us as little as possible.  It’s a sleight of hand.  A dirty hustle by bloated corporate entities, fuelled by algorithms at the expense of human emotion.  It leaves me with no choice – I’ll have to write my own ending.  It’s not the first time.

I was mid-way through series seven of ‘Mad Men’ when Netflix dumped it. Using Lego pieces, I filmed an ending on my phone in which Don Draper quit advertising to become a professional hotdog vendor in Omaha. He settles down and ends up incredibly contented before lighting up the dance floor when disco rolls around. Then aliens attacked.  Don Draper defended the entire planet using nothing but a small, flimsy Lego sword with only his wits and plastic hair for protection.  It’s not much of an ending, but at least it’s mine.  Take that, Netflix.   

Hi Ho Silver Bullets

There’s no getting around it – times are tough.  Wherever you turn, there are problems piling up like laundry in a world without a washing machine.  War, famine and the end of ‘Neighbours’ – there’s simply no end to the misery confronting us.  And whilst there are a lot of very obvious problems, there seems to be no corresponding supply obvious solutions.  This fact is reinforced every time I turn on the television. Almost without fail, the person talking will begin by saying ‘there’s no silver bullet’.  This prompts the obvious question – what on earth happened to all the silver bullets?

Let me speak candidly, I’ve never owned a silver bullet.  It never occurred to me to do so.  And this is coming from someone who owns a doohickey, a thingamajig and several whatchamacallits.  But no silver bullets.  Frankly, it feels a bit shortsighted.  Despite going to the supermarket weekly, I never think to grab a packet of silver bullets to plonk beside the tub of yoghurt in my trolley in case of problems.  Granted, some problems can be solved by a good yoghurt.  Others, however, require a silver bullet.  But alas – I’m now left to wallow in my own foolishness as it’s too late.  There are no more silver bullets to be bought.  We’ve run out.

When faced with this kind of gut-wrenching disappointment, it’s tempting to blame others.  It’s also comforting.  And something I will do without a moment’s hesitation. Which is why I  demand to know which bozo was asleep at the wheel and allowed this chronic under-supply of silver bullets to come about? For it seemed like only yesterday that silver bullets lay strewn across the street and it was almost impossible to leave the house without tripping over them.  Now you can’t get a silver bullet to save yourself. Clearly, someone’s to blame.

That said, silver bullets are something of a niche product.  They’re different to milk, bread and sugar in that respect.  Traditionally, though, silver bullets are also used to dispatch werewolves and witches into the afterlife as well as solve intractable problems.  Which makes me think that if we’ve run out, werewolves and witches must be in plague proportions and we’re in danger of being overrun.  Try not to panic.

The Lone Ranger also used silver bullets, even though there are no surviving accounts of either he or Tonto being attacked by werewolves.  Truth is, he probably only used silver bullets on account of not having any lead ones.  As a result, he then believed that silver bullets were perfect for every occasion – from dispensing justice to wayward outlaws through to pest control and even removing bottle caps. This phenomenon is known as ‘golden hammer’, even though it’s a silver bullet.  Which is kind of ironic.

Bob Seger – who, in a certain light, bears more than a passing resemblance to a werewolf – had ‘the Silver Bullet Band’.  Until supply chains are restored, perhaps we can make do for the time being with a bit of Bob Seger.  Next time someone important stands up to announce ‘there’s no silver bullet’, expect them to slide into shot wearing only a shirt, sunglasses and a regular pair of Reg Grundys whilst the Silver Bullet Band cranks out ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’.  Suddenly, werewolves won’t seem so bad.

Doubtless, the great silver bullet drought on 2022 will be something that will be remembered forever. There will be murals, plays and songs (and not just ‘Old Time Rock and Roll’, either) as tales of our collective suffering are handed down from one generation to the next.  In fact, so severe is our current shortage, they’ll have to rewrite the record books.  

It may be that I’m watching too much sport.  But every time an athlete does exceptionally well, there is talk of ‘rewriting the record books’.  Rewriting an entire book is a drastic step when a slight edit would surely suffice.  At most, a revised edition would be enough.  I remember once setting a new world record for the most number of times falling over whilst playing football.  Although it was undoubtedly a stunning achievement that stands to this day, I doubt that a full rewrite would be warranted.  Probably just a note of correction, slipped inside the cover.

Much like silver bullets, it turns out that the record books are also in scarce supply.  Worse still, when I marched into my local bookstore and asked to be pointed in the general direction of the record books (I wanted to see if they’d been rewritten already), not only were they out of stock, they denied their existence altogether.  Clearly, this is a conspiracy lead by werewolves (probably) and whoever is responsible for inventing Tik Tok.  

Sigh.  Sometimes it all seems like too much.  As problem after problem continues to pile up, all we can do is comfort ourselves to the gentle strains of ‘Night Moves’ by Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.  Maybe things will start to improve.  Perhaps things will start to get better if we simply grit our teeth and keep on going.  One thing’s for sure though.  When it comes to the current shortage of silver bullets, all I know is that there’s no silver bullet to fix it.