Thursday, January 26, 2012

book your spot today...

WARNNG: Sailor-style swearing ahead…

One of the lesser-promoted facts about me is that I teach aerobics (which for those born after 1990 is the 80’s name for a body-conditioning class). This piece of information is normally met with thinly veiled disbelief (I can tell by the way that their eyes go all narrow) because lets just say that if I was in a line-up, you wouldn’t exactly say ‘Why yes, that one’s definitely the fitness instructor’. 

People say all kinds of weird stuff in gym change rooms and gym instructors are often cornered when there’s no escape (what with being naked and all).  I was once asked why, if I am so fit and a regular gym goer, don’t I look much better than I do? 

It was tricky to come up with a constructive answer when the prevailing retort in my mind was ‘Piss Off’.  I considered making something up about over-imbibing on weekends (which isn’t entirely true and isn’t entirely a lie either) and just ended up saying , in what I hoped was a mysterious voice, “it’s due to the medication”. Thank God she didn’t pry further but she still looks at me funny.

And so it was that I found myself this week once again in a state of half-undress, fielding gym class concerns. 

Gym Class Lady: You know, some people are so rude.
Fake Me: Well yes, they certainly can be.
Real Me: Oh shit, I know what’s coming. Ear-fuck imminent.

Gym Class Lady: Yes, you know every week I stand in the same place and today, someone just came and stood in my spot.
Fake Me: Really? They did?
Real Me: It’s not your spot. 

Gym Class Lady: Yes, some woman who hasn’t come to the class in months just squeezes herself between MY spot and the wall.
Fake ME: Oh Dear.
Real Me: Between your spot and the wall would technically speaking make it NOT your spot. And if she hasn’t been for months she therefore DOESN’T KNOW that it’s ‘your’ spot. And also, it’s not your spot.

Gym Class Lady: It wasn’t as if I hadn’t booked my spot either.  I’d put my mat down there and everything.
Fake Me: Ah, I see
Real Me:  Okay, let’s clarify this for once and for all. Just the same as Germans can’t book sun-loungers with their beach towels, you can’t book a spot in a gym class with a mat.  The only thing that ensures your spot is you standing there.  And also, it’s not your spot.

Gym Class Lady: You know, I would never do something like that. I could never be that rude.
Fake Me: No no, I know you couldn’t.
Real Me: Are you shitting me? You’re being rude right now. Do I look like I give a flying feather about your stolen spot? Which, by the way, is NOT your fucking spot?

Gym Class Lady: I was so irritated that I just decided not to do the class
Fake Me: That’s a shame.
Real Me: Seriously?  You you’re blaming her for not finding another spot but you won’t move your spot? And also, ITS NOT YOUR FUCKING SPOT!

Gym Class Lady:  You know, I don’t really care.  People must just do what they feel is right. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t let others get me down.
Fake Me: Good for you!
Real Me: I can tell. Totally. So why are you chewing my ear off while I’m naked in the changeroom when I don’t give a toss about your lost spot because: IT’S. NOT. YOUR. FUCKING. SPOT.

I’m really going to have to work on my disinterested face.

NOTE OF WARNING!  Unless you plan on an early death, do NOT under any circumstances, get into a discussion at the gym about aircon VS opening the windows.  Seriously. You’ve been warned.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

old school...

My neighbour and I swap magazines. I’m not really sure why magazine swap is legal but music swap isn’t, considering that one magazine costs around thirty bux and a song only costs 7 US cents therefore the loss on magazines is bigger?  But this is just where the small mysteries in life start, innit?

Normally we swap tabliody mags like ‘Heat’ and ‘People’ – fiercely intellectual stuff. Secretly, we’re just keen to swap them so that we can get them out of the house. They serve as a reminder of our shame at having bought them in the first place. Er, before you get preachy, I know you read them too because they’re always the most-read mags in waiting rooms.

This weeks sharing was un-tabloids.  I’m always up for a bit of Tatler because I get to WTF at how the other half live and can pretend, for a moment, that I can relate to articles like “Wise Up, Rich Kids!” Whenever I read Tatler the word ‘who’ forms in my mind, followed by variations of: buys this shit, is interested in this shit, knows who this shit is and mostly, can afford this shit?  (Sorry, Nicole Farhi, but I just don’t see how a white cotton shirt can be worth 250 pounds - unless of course it was both woven and stitched with your teeth).

I did read one relatable article though called, Our Man in the Sixth Form.  Before getting stuck into the meat of it, my immediate reaction was ‘gee, wouldn’t that be fun – to go back to school for a day’.  This was followed even more immediately by my secondary reaction: are you blinking bonkers! Memories of my school years came flooding back, like those dreams where you arrive at school with no knickers on and your skirt’s hemline is getting shorter and shorter. 

It got me thinking (and not for the first time, mind you) who exactly enjoyed their schooling?

OK, I’ll tell you who.  The girl I sat next to in Grade 3.  Let's call her 'Brown-Noser'. The teacher asked – sneakily I thought – what half of three is.  Of course, we all know that there is no half of three. There’s two and one and one and two but definitely no half of three.  Least that’s what most of us figured because everyone, except Brown-Noser, didn’t put our hands up. I couldn’t contain my shock when Brown-Noser said ‘one and a half’ (still baffles me to this day) and I still wonder how the fuck she knew that.

Pretty much the whole of my primary schooling went along these lines (mathematically speaking) and when I got to senior primary it only got worse. Enter 'Suck-Up'. Cutest girl you ever saw, curly dark hair, big brown eyes, dimples (I shit you not. Dimples.) AND she was seriously smart.  Teachers pet for sure. There may even have been apples involved.

When the time came for her English oral, she actually made a joke in her oral.  I mean what kind of freaky kid knows at age 11 that you should break the ice with a joke?  Of course, you’re wondering what her oral was about, right?  Her hobby: pressing bloody flowers. Of course it was. Need I say more.

It was really in Grade 6 that the panic reached fever pitch regarding number-work (the half-of-three business was just the start). Can someone kindly explain the importance of math speed tests?  I mean unless you’re planning on being one of those coke-snorting stock exchange-quick-with-numbers-types, when will you ever need to add numbers at speed? (note to self: send kids to school with cocaine to help their maths). My parents were totally bewildered when I kept saying how I hate, hate, hated maths.  ‘But you’ve got A+ the whole year!’ they exclaimed.  Well I could hardly tell them that I’d copied my best friends entire body of arithmetic work (thanks, Alex) the whole year, now could I?

I will not even begin to stray into the realms of social angst of school years,  except to say that it is exceptionally tiring to try and suck in your bum and pull in your stomach for an entire five years of high school. So no, Peter Dench of Tatler, well done for giving it a whirl but I will not be trying out school again. I’m afraid that no-knickers dream will finally come true.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

bow off...

Dennis (today's guest blogger) first shot to fame in our household in one of the lesser well-known  YouTube videos "It's my 30th Birthday" (view at:  

I didn't know at the time of viewing that we would actually get to know him and when we finally met in Argentina, he kept us so entertained that we skipped our trip to Evita's grave and instead imbibed in copious amounts of Patagonia beer.  He's a worldly-wise, brilliant writer with a mind is as quick as his tongue.  I regret not having played his suggested game when I was in Japan...

Ask someone to impersonate a Japanese person and there will likely be a combination of pretending to take a photo with a gasp of awe, holding their hands together and saying “konnichiwa” or bowing deeply with an “arigato” at the peak. While these might be ignorant generalisations, as most stereotypes are, they are not entirely removed from the truth.

Over 125 million people inhabit the four main islands of Japan enjoying a safe and peaceful community, arguably the safest in the world. A key ingredient to this successful society is the respect that the Japanese show for each other. This society has been moulded through the simple concept of showing respect for others. One of the most impactful ways to show respect to others is via a bow. The lower the better.

In my days as a high school teacher, every class was inevitably ignited with the students standing up, a predetermined spokesperson yelling “rei”, in an unenthusiastic monotone, leading to the class to uniformly fold their body into a 90-degree bow while blurting “arigato Dennis Sensei”. Meet a friend of a friend and you will be confronted by a “yoroshiku” followed by a casual bow. Buy a bus ticket at the station and a bow will follow your change. Give way to a pedestrian crossing the road and you will be rewarded with a bow. Bows represent respect and respect shapes Japanese society. They are so important that they actually learn how to bow properly at school in large practice sessions.

This can be daunting to a foreigner who has never bowed before. Do I look up as I bow? How far down should I go? Hands at the side? Timing? But there is no need to worry. This needn’t be a point of fear but a chance to enjoy the difference in culture. Introducing the revolutionary game, Ultimate Bow Off!

This game works particularly well in restaurants because commonly as you square up your bill and exit, all staff members will stop and bow as a sign of gratitude. It is nice to receive this bow to top off a nice sushi meal or a hot bowl of ramen. But why not enjoy this even further by throwing in a game?

Now, as I mentioned, Japan is all about respect. Respect for your elders, your superiors or your customers. Therefore, it is a sign of respect to have the last bow. You leave a restaurant and receive the standard good-bye bow. It works. The staff are happy, they showed their respect for your business, you are happy to receive the respectful gesture. Enter the chrome double-ended spanner into the works. What if you bow back and say “arigato”? This plunges the whole system into chaos. They thought their work had finished. You ate, you paid, they bowed, you left. Done. But now, they are required to meet the customer respect requirements and bow back. They do. It’s solved. They had to double their bowing performance, not a big deal, back to caring for the other patrons.

Now, imagine the crazy idea of replying to their second bow with a second rebound bow. Therefore, tripling the work of the bowing staff. They once again reply. You match their third bow. You have entered into a bow battle. They can’t let you have the last bow, that would be terribly rude! We’ve now slipped into the extreme sport of ultimate bow off.

Who knows when this will end? You continue to match their bows. Remember that there is very often not just one staff member involved, but the chef, the waiters and the cashier. Each one of your reply bows multiplies the bow volume by four or five. After a bow rally of around five returns, other customers have noticed this battle and stop their slurping for a second to observe. This places even more pressure on the staff bowing away frantically.

As time goes on you may lose the chef, he will admit defeat and subtly side step out of the conflict hoping that no one notices. However, the cashier is like a front line soldier in the midst of battle. He can’t just drop his gun, smile and say “can we stop this now?”. He has to keep on bowing away. Some will do so with the same bravery of a frontline soldier invading enemy ground, not letting the abnormality of the situation affect their perfect bowing style, perfected at school.

Some will see the funny side of it and bow with a cheeky smirk gradually letting each bow slip closer to the border of casualty seen amongst friends. The more ‘rebelious’ staff members will immediately catch on and cease to participate in such a game. Extremely rude if you ask me.  Whichever viewpoint you come from, Ultimate bow off is here and destined to change the face of this rigid formality forever.