Men at Twerk: Great Dancing Catastrophes of the Modern Age

There are two types of people in this world – those who can dance and me.  If Michael Flatley is ‘The Lord of the Dance’, I’d describe myself something more like ‘The Undertaker of the Dance’ or, possibly, ‘The Night Cart Man of the Disco’.  Suffice to say that I have a surplus of left feet and not so much a sense of rhythm a nonsense of rhythm.  I am both a sight to behold and an object to be avoided, as my body cavorts and lurches to the music.  If all that sounds like an exaggeration, I can only say this: had I danced at my wedding, it would have been a far shorter marriage.

But despite the fact that I’m rhythmically deprived, there’s still a lot of dancing in my life.  Mostly it comes from a nine year old.  For reasons known only to the Internet, he’s taken to ‘twerking’ when I least expect it.  Not that I want to be critical of a nine-year-old child, but it’s horrifically off-putting.  For those unfamiliar with this particular brand of dance, ‘twerking’ involves suggestive thrusting whilst in a low squatting position.  It’s not something you expect when you’re changing rooms for a cup of tea. 

I suspect it’s something they do at school.  Not as a stand-alone subject, but in the playground to amuse each other.  When I was that age, such activities generally centered around yo-yos.  It was a safer, more wholesome era.  Things have changed.  In Flatley terms, this child is ‘The Lord of the Twerk’, prone to spontaneous outbursts of ‘River Twerking’ without so much as a note of music to warn bystanders.

At first, I assumed that this was his chosen form of self-expression.  I smiled politely and mumbled some vague words of encouragement before leaving the room as quickly as humanly possible.  Soon, it became apparent that it was a test of some kind; one in which my reaction became the basis for whether I was to be accepted or not.  He was winding me up like a toy.  It wasn’t just the twerking that upset me.  For, in truth, I have been traumatized by dance throughout my life.

My father cannot dance.  Luckily, it’s something that’s rarely required of him.  He had an office job and was seldom expected to communicate his feelings through the medium of dance when there was a perfectly fine typewriter within spitting distance.  Occasionally, though, he’d take temporary leave of his senses and bust out a couple of moves to terrify his children.  He didn’t twerk (thank goodness for small mercies); rather, he grimaced and bent his arms at the elbows in time as though he was manning an invisible water pump whilst leaning to one side.  It was awful.  The kind of thing that would make Michael Flatley throw up, before starting to cry.

 My brother did his best to overcome what limited natural ability had been granted to him by way of genetics with huge doses of enthusiasm.  And he specialized.  Specifically, my brother mastered the gentle art of ‘the disco pistol’; a move he’d use to wow onlookers at the local pub on a Friday evening.  Unlike twerking, ‘the disco pistol’ has the advantage of having holsters so they can be put away at the appropriate moment.

I, on the other hand, was a tragic case.  Instead of being fueled by enthusiasm, my dancing style was marred by self-delusion.  I was of the unshakeable belief that because I could play musical instruments, I must be a fabulous dancer.  I have since seen video footage that categorically demonstrates that my confidence was tragically misplaced.  I could not dance.  In fact, I couldn’t stand within ten feet of a dance floor without tripping over myself.

This is where is gets a little tragic.  Because I was in a band and, in particular, was the singer in that band, I had assumed dancing was one of my key performance indicators.  I shook not only my groove thing, but my entire body as though my soul was trying to break free of its earthly cage.  It wasn’t pretty.  It was, in fact, downright horrifying.  I’d forgotten precisely how horrifying it was until relatively recently when I sat down with my partner to watch one of my early musical performances at the Cheltenham Youth night.

There’s only one thing to do to combat the nine year old.  Next time he twerks, I’m going to sit him down and force him to watch a video of one of my early dance performances.  Maybe then he’ll appreciate how damaging the power of dance can be when not used responsibly.  One look at my flailing teenage self and I’m semi-confident he’ll swear off twerking for life.

As for me, I have no plans to return to the dance floor.  I have, however, started to see twerking everywhere.  It’s as though I’m being stalked.  Just last week, we were walking through a department store when I spotted a mannequin, hunched over and in a squatting position.  No one else seemed to notice, but I could not let it pass by unchallenged.  Without warning, I began my own primitive form of twerking.  Seeking to dance it into submission, I believe I was starting to prevail before the mannequin began getting smaller and smaller as security dragged me away.  It’s for the best.  

You Can Bank On It

It’s been a while.  So long, in fact, that I feared that I’d completely forgotten how to do something that was once, if not second nature, at least a close third.  It’s funny how something that is a part of everyday life can vanish.  Like a weekly trip to the Video Library, some things veer rapidly towards extinction until they disappear altogether.  That said, in the case of Video Libraries, it’s well deserved – you can’t go around calling yourself a ‘library’ and reject the Dewey Decimal system outright.  It just won’t stand.

I went to a bank.  For the life of me, I can’t recall the last time I did that.  As a kid, it was the place to which you were dragged on a warm afternoon against your will and forced to suffer a supreme form of boredom.  People spoke quietly when they were in a bank.  They were like libraries in that regard (although not video libraries – those places were bedlam).  At banks, they gave people money and dullness.  One you paid for, the other was complementary.  In fact, the most exciting thing about the bank was that the pens were on chains.

The chain made an interesting sound as it slid across the countertop.  It was inconvenient if there wasn’t a spare patch of bench proximate to the pen you were using which meant you had to stand much closer to a fellow customer than either of you felt comfortable with.  There was about a fifty percent chance of a pen actually working, meaning that you might have to suffer the indignity of moving from pen to pen as the security guard took note of your suspicious behaviour.  Clearly intended to discourage theft, the pens would have been worth all of about two cents each. 

Banks also had a substantial pot plant in the main customer area, together with the day’s date displayed prominently so that people could fill their deposit and withdrawal slips in accurately.  I’d watch the hand on the clock as it turned.  As a kid, the bank is where time slowed to a crawl.  There was no such thing as a ‘quick’ trip to the bank and even if your parents spent no more than ten minutes in there, it still felt like a lifetime.  Granted, major financial institutions are designed to do a lot of things, but they were experts at testing a child’s perseverance.

The other week I received a cheque.  I had no idea what to do with it.  It’s been so long since I saw such a thing that it had an air of novelty about it, despite being a regular rather than oversized cheque.  Until it arrived, I’d believed the phrase ‘the cheque’s in the mail’ was one not to be taken literally, much like other fanciful statements such as ‘a lot of people are saying’ (they’re not) and ‘due to popular demand’ (we still have heaps left of whatever it is we’re desperate to get rid of).

I did my very best to remember what it is I used to do when coming into possession of a cheque.  Trawling through the dank and abandoned recesses of my mind, where I found several tennis balls and a jumper I used to like, one word suddenly jumped up and slapped me fair in the face – bank.  I would be making a trip to the bank. 

I haven’t lived here for that long, but I knew that a branch of my bank had just re-opened after an extensive refurbishments.  Given that I was going to bank for what was possibly the first time this century, I decided to make an occasion of it and pretend it was still the nineteen nineties.  Dressed in Blundstone boots and a lumberjack shirt, I consulted my Melways to ensure I knew how best to get there. 

I grabbed my regular sized cheque and headed down to the bank.  As I strode into the branch, the scene that greeted me was like something from, if not another century, then from some time other than the nineteen nineties.  There were no counters, no tellers and no pens on a chain.  How they even had the nerve to call themselves a bank, I’ll never know.  Instead, there was modular furniture and a series of small workstations and a tasteful pot plant.  I thought I knew how banks worked.  Turns out, I knew nothing at all.

A polite lady approached me and asked if she could help.  Struck dumb as a result of sensory overload, all I could do was point mutely at the cheque in my hands.  The lady smiled and shook her head, telling me that they didn’t accept cheques at this bank and that I’d need to deposit it some other way.  As I stood in the middle of the bank branch / modular furniture showroom, it occurred to me that I was standing in the wrong bank.  That is, not the wrong type of branch but the wrong financial institution altogether.  I began to back away whilst still keeping eye contact, lest the helpful lady wanted to sell me a pot plant.

As it turns out, all I had to do was scan the cheque with my phone.  It almost made the Internet seem worthwhile.  It’s funny how activities that were once pivotal are relegated to novelty status.  Who knows when I’ll see a cheque again?  Or how long it will be before I need to set foot inside a branch?  Truth is, if I ever attend a bank again, I’ll probably travel by hoverboard.  By that time, I’ll just be getting over the embarrassment at having gone to the wrong bank.  Maybe.

From Hold to Eternity

I don’t think about ‘hell’ that much.  For better or for worse, I don’t while away the hours pondering the battle between good and evil and the eternal struggle for redemption.  I probably should, but it’s hard to find the time.  Between sorting the recycling and opening the mail, I barely have a moment to scratch myself, even though it’s one of my absolute favourite pastimes.  Hell remains something of an abstract concept.  I don’t wonder what it looks like, how it’s decorated or whether they use VHS or Betamax.  I don’t think about how it feels and whether Uber Eats delivers there.  I do, however, know how hell sounds.

Whatever you’re thinking, you’re totally wrong.  When invited to consider the aural atmosphere of the underworld, doubtless most of you are instantly thinking about thrash metal or hard-core techno music.  Put that out of your mind right now.  All that’s saying is that hell sounds like the music you, personally, don’t like.  For me, hell would sound like Ed Sheeran.  Nothing against Ed; it’s just that I find his music as inspiring as a jar of olives that’s been sitting in the back of my fridge for eight months.  Which is to say I could do without it.

But whether you think hell sounds like the thrashiest thrash band to ever tumble down from the summit of Thrash Mountain (there’s bound to be such a place.  In Finland.  Probably) or the plinkiest plonkiest bleepiest electronic vomit in all of techno music history (and there’s lots of competition), you’re entirely mistaken.  Even my belief that Ed Sheeran is in league with the Dark Lord and is a supernatural portal to eternal hellfire is mildly off the mark.  That’s because hell doesn’t sound like any of these things.  It sounds like Vivaldi.

 Now I like Vivaldi as much as the next person, unless the next person is glowing red, smells of sulphur and has a pair or horns sticking out of their head.  Broadly speaking, Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ is a masterpiece.  Evidence, were it required, of the artistic heights to which a single human being can soar.  Unless, of course, the ‘Four Seasons’ is used as ‘hold’ music.  In which case it’s enough to make you want to rip your ears off with your own hands. 

I had to call a company and was put on hold.  Immediately, Vivaldi kicked off.  It was ‘Spring’, I think. I can’t be entirely sure because I may have fallen unconscious after half and hour or so.  As I waited for someone to take my call, the first ten seconds of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ kept playing and playing until I began to weigh up whether it was better to be patient in the hope that my call might one day be answered or to hang up now to preserve what was left of my sanity.  That I chose the former suggests that my sanity was something of a lost cause.

They say ‘hope springs eternal’.  When on hold, ‘Spring’ by Vivaldi has a similar running time whilst simultaneously ravaging whatever hope you might have had when you first dialed the number.  Worse still, every twenty seconds a voice (possibly Satan) interrupted to tell me that if I wanted to update certain kinds of details, I was totally out of luck because a member of the service team would be unable to assist.  I assume service team members were, instead, instructed to laugh in the faces of those unfortunate enough to try and update their details.

The voice then went on to extol the virtues of doing everything ‘on-line’ instead of over the phone.  Clearly they were seeking to discourage anyone from attempting to ring them.  Fittingly, their ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’ customer satisfaction guarantee wasn’t enough to put me off.  That’s because I had no choice.  The reason I was enduring Vivaldi in ten-second segments even though I suspected that the longer it went on, the more my soul was attempting to escape my body, is that I couldn’t log in to the website.  Here’s where it gets tricky.

The reason I wanted to log into to the website was to change my mailing address, which had been misspelled.  However, to log in to the website, the company send you and authentication code.  Through the mail.  Which, if your address is wrong, is tantamount to a parachute made of barbed wire.  Thus, there was no choice for me but to grit my teeth, gird my loins and generally brace myself for inanity on a loop.  After ten minutes I was annoyed.  After twenty minutes I’d forgotten why I’d called in the first place and after forty minutes, I was reduced to rocking back and forth with my clasped hands raised to the skies as I begged it to stop.  Then it did.

A pleasant person asked how they could help.  ‘By magically dislodging Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from my mind’, was the obvious answer, but I didn’t say it.  My issue, ultimately, was resolved but there are still nightmares.  I can’t even look at a phone without hearing a bright burst of strings.  I’ll probably have to listen to some heavy-duty thrash metal or obnoxious techno music just to get it out of my system.  But not Ed Sheeran.  Despite the physical and mental anguish caused by Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, there are still limits.  Sorry Ed.

All Hail Me: Mega Bowling-Lord Extraordinaire

It was, to put it mildly, unexpected.  On an evening on which I anticipated keeping a very low profile, I ended up being crowned king and supreme ruler.  Had I known that a simple afternoon at a lawn bowls club would end with my coronation if not deification, I would probably have worn a better shirt.  But some are born to greatness.  Others have greatness thrust upon them.  And then there’s the rest of us for whom greatness just rolls along as it pleases until it comes to a gradual resting touch.  So it is with lawn bowls. 

This was the second time I’d ever set foot inside a bowls club.  The first was decades ago in St Kilda to see one of my all time favourite bands, You Am I, play.  Although they may well be terrific lawn bowlers for all I know, they stuck to playing rock music.  And, as music goes, it was a great gig but it wasn’t much of a sporting event.  Which, in retrospect, made my decision to dress in bowling whites all the more unfortunate.  I’ll only say that I was misinformed as the venue entry requirements.  Besides the ensuing mockery, I’ll simply say that bowling whites will always come off second best in a mosh pit.  Always.

But this time, my visit to a lawn bowls club was different.  This was no late night gig but an afternoon that would casually slip into the evening by which time spirits would be high and great sporting achievements would be honoured.  My partner plays football.  In fact, she plays football really, really well.  And this year, her football club’s end of season shindig was being held at a local bowling green.  Naturally, I went as her ‘plus one’. 

I say ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’ because I quickly learned that referring to God’s own game as ‘soccer’ is akin to referring to Penfold’s Grange as ‘go-juice’ whilst drinking it from a plastic sippy cup, and is something that only the most ignorant of neophytes would do.  I’ve also learned to refer to potato chips as ‘crisps’ and to ‘Eurovision’ as awesome.  There’s been a lot of talk, too, about the World Cup but, to be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around that one.  All I can tell you is that Meat Loaf won’t be playing at half time.  I know because I expressly asked.

The end of year knees-up was dedicated to celebrating the sporting achievements of the club, whatever form they took.  From great victories and bags of goals and glory, through to narrowly avoiding relegation – the teams within the club had experienced it all.  For my part, I was there as the partner, not the star attraction, which is the role I feel I was born to play.  In attending, my mission was simple: don’t get sunburned and don’t do or say anything embarrassing that would result in being disowned.  It was, without a doubt, a low bar.  As it happens, there was also a low bar directly behind the bowling green that was doing a roaring trade, but I took up a discreet position against a wall and watched.

Early on in the pandemic, I stopped drinking alcohol.  I’m not sure why.  It was event without drama – there was no bottom of the barrel (or bottle) moment.  Rather, it was a gradual loss of interest that was hurried along by a general sense that the world was spiraling out of control.  That was more than two years ago, and I’m still very much enjoying life without it.  But when it comes to lawn bowls, would being sober give me an unfair advantage?

We were broken up into teams.  One of our players had played the game before and another had seen the movie ‘Crackerjack’.  Looking around the room, some of the teams were large, loud and were limbering up.  Given the warm up exercises they were doing, I could only assume that some of them were intending to bowl over-arm off a long run-up.  I was nervous.

I’ll admit there was a learning curve.  One that saw my bowl skive off the green and into the path of someone else’s before high-tailing it to the gutter.  But the next one was better and, by some miracle, we won our match.  And the next one and the one after that.  Within an hour, we were in the grand final.  The atmosphere was electric.  The other team was taking things very seriously indeed, but our team held its nerve and we ultimately prevailed. 

As the medal declaring me ‘Lawn Bowls Champion – 2022’ was being hung around my neck, it occurred to me that I may have made a mistake.  Attending a sporting club function as the ‘plus one’ and designated driver, I had no business winning anything.  Much less winning against a group of highly competitive humans.  Mind you, I suspect I’ll have to return the medal once the results of the random drug test come back and it’s revealed that I was stone cold sober.

I wasn’t the only winner that night.  As I sat at our table, I watched as my partner collected a ‘golden boot’ award.  Unlike my medal, her trophy was hard earned and richly deserved.  It was quite a night.  And if you’d asked me a year ago whether being a ‘plus one’ at a sports team function held in a bowling club would be a glorious experience, I’d have thought you were mad.  It’s funny what time does.