Tuesday, September 6, 2016

karma chameleon...

When I first started blogging, it was for another website that didn't belong to me. This means I had to obey the blog owner and I was under strict instructions to “steer clear of religion, politics and sex.” Fortunately, I know almost nothing about politics, and sex is, well, there’s enough sex online as it is. Religion, however, has me foxed.

Truthfully, I was going to leave this topic well enough alone, but when I got one of those chain-mail type messages via Facebook yesterday which talked about karma, I took it as “a sign”.

To go back a bit, my personal relationship with religion has been a bit  unstable. This, to be quite clear, has not been due to lack of commitment on my part. When I was little, my mum attended the Methodist church and we attended the Sunday School. For some reason, I found the whole religious instruction environment rather intimidating, so much so that I was always too scared to ask if I could go to the loo. Consequently, my memories of Sunday School are mostly of me having peed in my pants.

Because many Bible stories involve miracles and angels visiting unsuspecting virgins, I believed that an angel visit was essential to becoming a “real” believer (after all, an angel is pretty good proof, right?) The way I saw it, an angel had to visit you to deliver the spirit of Christ, who would then “move you”, and you would be a changed person forever. A reborn Christian. You can imagine then, that I was rather disappointed and felt somewhat let down that I never made the cut for an angel visit, despite my nightly prayers being very specific - as in “Dear God, please send an angel tonight so that I know you are real”.

We left the Methodist church when I got older and switched to the Presbyterian church. I’m not sure why this happened but it could be because a) the reverend at the Presbyterian church had a much cooler name – his name was Reverend Melrose, and b) Reverend Melrose wore “sport-about” shoes, which were considered very cool in the 80’s. (You absolutely can’t find a picture of these online so perhaps it was just a South African thing, but they were made out of fabric, usually pale blue, navy or grey, and had foamy soles. They looked a little like a fabric version of old men’s hush puppies – you know the lace-up, moccasiny kind that has piping along the top seam.)

Anyhow, my “Presbyterian Phase” did little to clarify religious issues for me (and still, no angel). I had graduated from Sunday School to the Grown-Up’s Church, but found this to be a rather sleepy affair. In fact, to this very day, when my bum touches those slide-shaped pews, I can feel my eyelids grow heavy. There’s just something so relaxing about the tone and metre of the preacher’s voice that for the life of me, I can’t keep awake. Along with watching golf and cricket on TV, it’s like taking the strongest sleeping pill in the world. In an attempt to overcome my church-sleeping habit, I once went along to one of those “enthusiastic” churches with a friend of mine (I have always, ALWAYS confused “evangelical” with “enthusiastic”) but I didn’t feel like I was being very authentic when I tried to join the other folk who were rocking out to the songs. You either feel it, or you don’t, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, back to my Facebook message. It mentioned karma. Please be assured, I’m not knocking karma, there’s just a lot of things that don’t make sense to me.

Firstly, I’ve read that karma and reincarnation are inseparable. But, my question is what is the point of having all these lives if you can’t remember them? Surely, if one is to reincarnate as a higher and wiser being, you would have to actually remember the lessons you learnt from a previous life otherwise you would tend to make the same mistakes all over again? It’s like when I’ve forgotten that I already ate breakfast, and then I get all excited around 10:30 because I think I haven’t eaten and have a second breakfast because I forgot about the first one. And also, I’m sure you’ve read accounts where people claim to still suffer from, say, pain in their ribs which turns out to be an old wound from a previous life. By why would you still feel the repercussions of a stab wound from the Middle Ages, but forget other things? And what if you felt the stab wound, but the injury wasn’t even your fault, like someone had stabbed you in a jousting competition and neither of you were being mean at the time, it was just bad luck because someone always gets hurt? The point is, you can’t learn from it if you can’t remember it. Surely?

Secondly, karma seems to assign some kind of hierarchy to living things. You may have heard, as I have, that it is possible to be reincarnated as a “lower” life form. Like, say, a pig. This, I feel is very unfair, because who says that pigs are less valuable than humans? Also, if you were a pig, it would be quite hard to improve yourself through, say, charity work, so that you could reincarnate to something “higher”, like a donkey or even a horse. I mean how would you do it? Similarly, what bad deed could a pig possibly perform that could make him reincarnate as something “lower” than a pig?

Perhaps I have it all wrong. Perhaps people don’t reincarnate as animals and vice versa. Perhaps you just reincarnate as a different kind of person. But here’s the thing. How do less fortunate people feel about karma? It’s all very well to talk about karma if you live comfortably, have all limbs in working order and have food in your belly. Right? Not to be funny, but don’t you think that sounds a little smug? I mean what should people suppose if they are poor, or have no hearing or eyesight, or were born disabled? I very much doubt that they spend their lives thinking “Ah yes, I had this coming because I was such a shit in my previous life”.  

Thirdly, I’m sure you’ve seen comments on those viral videos that show super talented young kids doing something in a very skilled way. Inevitably, you will see that someone in the comments thread has suggested that the said kid is "channelling a previous life". But here’s the thing. If we’re supposed to carry on growing and learning, surely your talents from one life wouldn’t carry across to your next life. For instance, if you were a naturally gifted tennis player in one life, surely you should come back in your next life to learn how to hone another skill so that you could learn new things about yourself (and be less of a showoff on the court)?

When I’ve questioned karma in the past, I’ve been told that I’m being “too literal”. That it isn’t an immediate cause-effect thing. That it isn’t materialistic. That karma isn’t about revenge or punishment, but rather that it’s about, well, not those things. But when I signed up as an organ donor a few years ago, someone said to me “Oh no! I could never do that! I don’t want to spend my next life without corneas or essential organs”. This, as you can imagine, came as a big disappointment to me, because I’d figured that giving up things in this life to serve the needs of others would elevate me to some kind of angel status in my next life. Shit.

Lastly, I think that if karma and reincarnation do exist, it would be useful if there were specific pointers on exactly what should be done in order to reincarnate “higher”. Deeds and traits such as “kindness”, “smiling”, “swearing under your breath and not out loud” should be given scores so that you could add them up and know how you’re faring. That way, we could have little rests in between all this learning and growing so that we could have more energy to learn and grow the next day. Just so that we can do it all over again in our next life.

I once read “Karma’s A Beach” on a kids backpack. It was made in China and was probably one of those wrong translation things. But I hope it’s true because that’s the karma I’m interested in.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

strange showers...

(Original image via wwwludlowcollection.culturenik.com)
The year after I left school I decided to travel to Germany. It was a terrible idea, not least of all because I had somewhat unwittingly hitched myself to a dodgy German man who seemed charming upon first meeting. Turns out he wasn’t charming at all, but that’s another story for another day. The story today involves me, a shower, and some soap.

Just to put things into context: I grew up in Howick, a small town in the KZN Midlands. It was the 80’s. Both the region and style of the era didn’t boast things like fancy interiors or, say, fancy taps. In fact, all the houses that I knew (which was quite a few, I can tell you) were strictly standard-Cobra-tap-type houses. No one I knew had a mixer tap in their bathroom, and the ones in their kitchens were, yes, very standard-Cobra-tapish-type mixers. Linoleum floors abounded (this may still be a standard fitting today) and light fixtures, well, let’s just leave it at that.

But back to the taps. You can imagine my surprise then when I arrived in Germany to find all manner of different styles of taps. In fact, the entire plumbing and bathroom scenario was totally different. Shower/baths (or bath/showers – whichever way you like it) were trending in most homes, and separate showers and baths were uncommon. The toilets also had a funny shape to them – quite unlike the streamlined, funnel-shaped loos back home. The German loos had a kind of  ledge, or shelf, upon which your business would land. I found this to be most upsetting because I don’t really want to see my business. Ever. I prefer it to be funnelled away as quickly as possible, as though it never happened in the first place.

One evening, DG (short for Dodgy German) had tennis practice at an indoor tennis club. I decided to tag along and go for a run while they practiced.  When I returned, I was in desperate need for a shower. It wasn’t that I’d worked up a sweat so much as I was freezing cold from being outside (bloody European Winters). I made my way to the change rooms and by this stage, no one else was around. This turned out to be a blessing, as you’ll see.

I stripped off and stepped into the shower cubicle. Shit, I thought, where are the taps? Though the spout and shower head were in plain sight, all I could see was a kind of metal lever that stood at waist height. Testing the waters, so to speak, I decided to pull at the lever to see if that was “the tap”.

Mmm. Nothing. As I did several small circles of the cubicle, searching for some kind of switching-on device, my butt brushed up against something (this happens a lot – it’s quite a butt). Hurrah! A steady stream of water rushed out and I proceeded to soap up a storm. Then, just as I finished slathering my face with soap, the water stopped coming.


I pulled the “magic lever” to and fro but still no water came out. By now the soap had started to run into my eyes and burn the crap out of them, so I couldn’t see shit. The world became all misty and I knew I had to rinse my face before I became blind.

Glancing around (why I bothered to even look I don’t know – there could’ve been a band of marauding Indians in the bathroom and I wouldn’t have been able to see them though my burning eyes), I decided to run to the basin – which at least had taps that were familiar to me - so that I could at least wash the soap out of my eyes.

Sensing, rather than seeing, no one else around, I felt safe enough to make the dash, in the nude, slippery with soap, to the basin. Relief! My eyes stopped burning a bit, although I was still blinking wildly to get the residual sting out them. But now I had a dilemma. Do I go back to the “mystery shower” or do I stay at the basin and rinse there?

I knew that should anyone else come into the change room, they would find it most odd that I was standing at the basin rinsing myself and getting water all over the floor when there was an empty, perfectly good shower standing right there. I decided to try the shower again and dashed back over what had now become fiercely slippery tiles.

Lever, lever, pull, pull, push, push. Circle, circle (in the hopes that my bum will mysteriously activate the flow of water again).


And so it was that I found myself dashing to and fro over the slippery soapy tiles to the basin to rinse, then back over the slippery soapy floor to my clothes, to cover whatever parts of my body were de-soaped. Dashing back to the basin to finish rinsing, and dashing back to my towel and clothes.

Needless to say, I finally got a good run in.

When I emerged from the change rooms looking all flushed and out of breath, DG asked me what on earth happened. I patiently explained that there must’ve been some kind of shower-water-only malfunction because although the water in the basin worked just fine, the water in the shower wouldn’t turn on again after the first go.

It was then he explained that all public showers have a timer button to conserve water and that you just have to keep pressing the button when the water turns off after a couple of minutes. I realised that it was this button that my butt must have “switched on” as I circled the cubicle searching for the taps.

And since that day, I always make sure of the workings of showers before I soap myself up.

Friday, August 12, 2016

food shaming and other musings...

(Image via www.splitsider.com)
I’ve got something to tell you guys. In fact, I can’t keep it in any longer… OK, here goes, here’s the truth: I like white bread. There. I’ve said it. But how wrong am I to actually like white bread? After all, Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that Marie Antoinette actually meant “brioche” when she said “cake” – and we all know that brioche is actually white.

I know, I know. I’m supposed to say that I just love, love, love brown bread. But I don’t. In fact, I would rather stick needles in my eyes than eat government brown. Seed loaf, on the other hand, I happen to like. But please understand that this is completely by accident and not because I have been pressured into liking it because it is healthy.

Why am I compelled to make this declaration? Well, were watching the Olympics and Mr Chilled says to me “Mom, so do you know what Michael Phelps eats in one day”. 

“No”, I say. Because I don’t. And because I suspect that he eats homemade granola made from seeds, quinoa, and goji berries, I hope the conversation stops there because I don’t want to feel bad about eating Wheatbix.

Not wanting to be left out of the conversation, TFTF asks Mr Chilled,

“Well, what DOES he eat in a day?”

“Yes”, I say, without much conviction, “lets Google it”.

You can imagine my surprise when the image that came up of “what Phelps eats” revealed the following:

Pizza (big fucker too, no smallness here)
2 monster sized servings of pasta (looks like spaghetti with mystery meat)
6 – yes 6 – milkshakes (they could be smoothies, but who can tell?)
3 Dagwood type sandwiches (also, big fuckers – I believe they have egg on them)
3 pieces of French toast (very, very chubby slices)
3 chocolate pancakes (OK, you know what, if he’s able to eat that, I’m hitting the pool)
1 bowl of um, something white (on investigation I found out it’s grits/oatmeal)
A 5 – fiiiiiiivvvveee - egg omelette (and that’s the only thing that looks flat on his plate)

This revelation has made me love Phelps all the more. Should he apologise because he lives mostly on refined carbohydrates? No! He doesn’t. Apparently the world thinks he’s redeemed himself enough through hours and hours in the pool. So much for the “it’s not what you do, it’s what you eat” theory.

But back to the title of the post. Food shaming. We’ve all seen those foodie pictures that people post on Facebook and Instagram (why, oh why do I follow “FitGirls”???? WTF?!) My worst has to be when people post photos of fruit and then hashtag it #naturescandy. 

Let’s get one thing straight. Fruit is fruit and candy is candy. You can eat fruit and you can eat candy but don’t try and fool me with fruit when what I really want is candy.

I was once fooled by a “fruit-candy” type of video that someone posted on Facebook. It showed a beautiful cake that looked like a mammoth carrot cake with shedloads of frosting. Just as I was about to jump into my car and rush over to Mugg & Bean to go-get-me-some, it was revealed that the “cake” was actually a watermelon that had been peeled whole, cut in half and then smothered in plain yoghurt. I think the strawberries that were dotted on the top were supposed to pass as glace cherries.

Disappointed is not the word. Tricked? Yes. Cheated? Most definitely. The person who posted it commented that it was a “super” idea for their kid’s birthday party. I was once severely reprimanded by a 4 year old for not having party-packs. One can only imagine the wrath that would ensue if one was to serve a watermelon cake at a kid’s party. (And also, you can only use the word “super” in relation to things that really ARE super … like Olympic swimmer’s bodies).

Of course, the sub-text of posting fruit that’s dressed up as cake is:  a) Look at me I’m so healthy and b) I can’t believe you’d put real cake in your body.

Nowadays you can find almost any food that has been demonised by someone. Gluten? Colon cancer - that shit’ll kill you. Cream? Clogs the arteries – that shit’ll kill you. Dairy? Sinus and allergies – that shit’ll kill you. Carbohydrates? Obesity and depression – and oh, that shit’ll kill you.

This brings me to recent commentary regarding sugar. I’m sure you’ve all seen it: sugar = cocaine. Actually, Mail Online reports that Sugar ‘is the new CRACK cocaine’. Fuck. If watermelon cake disappoints cake lovers you can only imagine a drug-taker’s horror if you were to serve them sugar instead of cocaine. The way I see it, many folk have a glass-half-empty approach when confronted with this sugar/cocaine argument. We should rather be thankful that we have sugar or else we’d all be doing cocaine.

On that note, perhaps you’ve also seen the research that was done on spiders that were given different drugs. (Mmm, a complete aside, I wondered how they administered the drug? I mean surely these spiders have seen the anti-drug campaigns? Must’ve taken some persuasion. Perhaps all their friends were already doing drugs and they felt peer pressure…).

This particular research revealed that while on no drugs  - surprise-surprise -  the spider made a kick-ass web. Curiously, the web it made on LSD was pretty damn fine too. On Peyote it wasn’t that great – probably spent more time communing with its spider ancestors. On Marijuana (I feel so pompous when I use that word), it was pretty sloppy – lots of holes and stuff, and on Benzedrine (I think that’s speed), it did lots of lines that were kind of untidy. No surprises there. The scopolamine web was unfinished business. I think the spider must’ve nodded off. 

Anyhow, the point of this is that the web the spider made while on caffeine was a cluster-fuck of biblical proportions. Hell, I’m not sure you could even call it a web. What is the point of all this you might ask? Caffeine shaming. People have been calling on this research to back up the fact that caffeine is bad for us. Now far be it from me to critisise researcher Mr Witt’s efforts, but I for one see a few flaws in equating spiders with humans. To begin with, I’m inclined to think that six legs require a much more sophisticated sense of coordination than what two legs and two arms do. That, and that not many humans ever really need to weave a web.

I was recently asked – as I often have been since becoming a “reborn” vegetarian – whether I am “still vegetarian”. As though vegetarianism is a temporary setback that one just needs to overcome.  What I’ve found with being vegetarian is that no food shaming is needed. People tend to just launch in and shame the fuck out of themselves. It’s the weirdest thing. They often vacillate between apologising for being a meat-eater and justifying why they still eat meat. Someone recently told me that they still eat meat because  “all the documentaries about meat-eating are actually ‘Americanised’ and are therefore not applicable to us here in South Africa.”  And then I feel obliged to apologise for being a vegetarian so that they don’t feel so bad about not being one. It’s all very awkward.

Funnily enough, although food shaming would be perfectly understandable in the context of vegetarians (and especially vegans), if I personally was to go in for food shaming in a big way, I would target chemicals.

Call me crazy but if I’m going to ingest chemicals, they’d better be fun, darn it. Yup, I would choose cocaine and whiskey over aspartame, psychedelic food dye and all those E numbers anyday (which might actually be why I have the junk that I do. Mmm.) Whereas most of us can generally agree on the food dye and E numbers, the aspartame vs. sugar debate is almost on a par with the HFLC vs. FAT FREE debate (and the margarine vs. butter debate for that matter). Heaven knows, heated shit goes down when the aspartame issue is discussed. Ask Dr Mercola and he will tell you that, “Aspartame is by far the most dangerous substance on the market that is added to foods”. And then you will find theorists that weigh up the damage caused by aspartame with the damage caused by cocaine (a.k.a sugar) and will find aspartame to be the lesser of the two evils.

So basically, I think you should eat what you like without making other people feel bad about eating what they like. Because after all, we all eat and do things that are unhealthy for us and when we do, we don’t want to feel even worse about it than what we already do. I also think we should stop tricking people with fruit and that we should all do the best we can with the caffeine we’re given. 

And that’s my cue to go and make myself a white bread peanut butter sandwich, or as Marie would put it, “peanut butter cake”.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

talk the walk...

(Image via www.mashable.com)
This morning began as all my weekday mornings do: at the gym. Gymming is a throwback habit of mine from the 80’s that started because I always felt fat (who didn’t feel fat in those high-cut undies and cozzies?) So, back then I went for the sake of my body. Now, with a chemical called “peri-menopause” coursing through my veins, I need to go to the gym to rectify what can only be termed “my rapidly unravelling brain.” Of course, when I tell people that "nowadays I gym more for my head”, I can read their minds: “Do it for your buuuuuummm!”

Now, I know that lots of people look down on gyms and gymming people. I know that I’m “supposed” to prefer exercising outdoors (because it’s much more, um, noble and, um, outdoorsy and, um, connected-to-nature-ish) but I, for one, love the gym. I fucking love it. One of the reasons I like the gym is that it is so neatly compartmentalised. You don’t go to the gym and “accidentally” end up exercising. You go there to exercise and then you go home, or you go to work. And then you either do home-stuff or work-stuff and you don’t have to clutter your brain with thoughts of exercise and you can fully apply your mind to other exciting pursuits. Later, if you like, you can walk the dogs with no thought of exercise at all because you already did your exercise and you can walk as slowly or quickly as you like without bothering about things like “heart-rate”, “calories burnt” or “personal best”.

Just to clarify, it’s not that I dislike being outdoors. I love it in fact. It’s just that I feel the outdoors is too nice a place to spoil with blood, sweat and tears. For me, the outdoors is purely a place where I can lose myself in the sounds of birds tweeting and feel the breeze upon my un-sweaty skin. It’s a place where I could ride a bicycle in a white frock down a country lane (think: most movies set in Tuscany/Provence) and where I can use phrases like “just look at those sweet lambs gambolling”.

My thing with the outdoors is somewhat inherited. Exactly half my family are any-kind-of-weather outdoorsy types who like nothing more than doing almost anything outdoors (although I must add, they do seem to have a weird preference for being outdoors in unreasonably hot weather.) The other half of my family, of which I am one, are fair-weather outdoorsy types. We like doing things like lying on the grass reading a book, taking a stroll in a leafy forest or perhaps doing a spot of beach yoga. Needless to say, sweating doesn’t typically come into it.

But I digress, back to the gym. As you know (if not from me, then surely from your own experience), gyms are funny places. One of the most funny things about gyms is what I call “the gym-walk”. I’ll explain.

A gym-walk is a walk that is mostly reserve for the gym only. Sometimes, you will see guys doing their gym-walk outside of the gym, but then they will most likely be on the beach or be doing some other kind of sporty thing. Both girls and guys have gym-walks but they are characterised differently. Girls will hardly ever use their gym-walk outside of the gym, unless they are walking alone and suddenly feel threatened. But then they will use the men’s gym-walk and not the women’s gym-walk.

Women’s gym-walks tend to lengthen their necks, which calls for raising your chin slightly and pulling your shoulders down. Women’s gym-walks aim to reduce any Quasimodo-like shoulder hunching, which means you have to pull your shoulders back, but not too back that it looks like you’re showing off your boobs. Women’s gym-walks are also inclined to resemble a sprinting sandpiper rather than a striding cowboy. Many women have plenty of swag but they tend to speed it up – like those old fashioned silent movies – because as you know, women always do things at pace because they have places to go and shit to do and they mostly rush their workouts.

Men’s gym-walks are different and for some bizarre reason, I’ve adopted the official men’s gym-walk rather than the official woman’s gym-walk. I attribute this to trying to look like I belong in the free-weights section. It’s taken me years to perfect and I have to say that it often fucks out. It looks something like this.

I warm up my gym-walk between my car and the gym entrance. This involves a kind of bouncy walk (you know, the kind where it looks like you’ve strained you Achilles, or your heels are hurt and you don’t want to put them on the ground. BTW, I have a friend who walk s like this all the time.) This walk is important to establish the impression that you are “ready to do this shit and then rule the world”.

There is a brief period when I swipe my card where I kind of suck in my tummy and puff out my shoulders a bit – just to set the tone. But by the time I hit the cardio area, I’m in full-on gym-walk mode. Working from the top down, this involves several things. To begin with, my head is pulled slightly back, as though I’ve just smelt something unsavoury. This automatically makes my neck look thick, like a boxer or wrestler, and gives off the vibe that I’m not to be messed with. My shoulders are slightly hunched forward, as though I’m just about to wrestle a heavy, but rather short bear. This sends a message of “possession”, as in “this is my machine, back off”. It’s different to the puffed out shoulder look because it implies humbleness, suggesting, “I’m not full of myself, I’m just here to do my shit”.

Hunching my shoulders is further enabled by the fact that I’m trying to simultaneously pull in my gut and pull in my bum – which means that all that junk gets displaced and is repositioned in my shoulders. My legs are responsible for striding out purposefully - no hesitation is permitted on my way to the “machines” – which is the non-verbal equivalent of saying “there’s just no stopping me”. Once I start training, my gym-walk is supported by various noises and facial expressions. These involve devil-may-care face-scrunching, tongue-out panting, and, on occasion, grunting or unintentional loud whistling as air is forcefully expelled from my lungs.

The irony behind my gym-walk is that it pretty much fucks out the minute I start running on the treadmill. Here, the word “running” is to be interpreted in very elastic terms because I’m not sure that you could call what I do on the treadmill “running”. Its more a short-stride-shuffle, seasoned with a touch of imminent- wipeout. To make matters worse, I often do “rapper hands” as I run – to look tough, you understand – even though I am actually listening to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” (which, by the way, is perfect in terms of BPM if you’re wanting to run at a speed of 10 minute per km). Another reason my gym-walk fucks out on the treadmill is that I’m always very busy rearranging myself. I have to manage my pants so that they don’t slip down and my top so that it doesn’t slip up. Actually, I’m thinking of inventing some kind of braces for gym tops. They would look almost exactly like men’s braces but they would be shorter and worn upside-down. The two front straps could fasten to the front of your gym top and the singular strappy bit could go under your crotch and fasten to the middle-back of your shirt. I suppose this is why leotards were invented but fuck knows, I’m never wearing one of those again.

Anyway, next time you’re at the gym, look at everyone’s gym-walks and then glance at the mirror and look at your own. Heaven knows, mine makes me laugh.