Ficklish Blog

Friday, August 31, 2007

Getting Physical

Last Monday, 27 August, marked six months to go until my 30th birthday. As my mother said on the phone last weekend, ‘OH. MY. GOD, how is that even possible? Actually, I'm not all that conflicted about it and am quite looking forward to my 30s. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are going to be fabulous.

Having said this, I'm the kind of girl who loves a milestone, and so I thought I'd try to use this one to try and see if I can't finish my 20s a bit healthier than I was when they started.

I have previously mentioned that I am a member of a local gymnasium. TPC was quite the gym bunny when he was in town, and he guilted me into accompanying him on a handful of unmemorable occasions. That soon ended, and when he left I felt absolutely no compulsion to resume my attendance. Guess how many times I went to the gym during my two months of unemployment? That’s right. A big, fat, zero (quite literally).

So, on Tuesday I commenced Operation: Move That Ass. Next time I sit on a tart, I want to be okay with showing the photographic evidence with the world.

I have been to the gym every evening this week. Not much, I’ll grant you, but it’s a start. It is a very strange experience. It stinks of stale sweat and mould, which is unpleasant. They play dreadful music, and the film clips featuring (unbelievably) scantily clad women gyrating aren’t as much of a motivation as you might expect.

Seriously, at the risk of sounding like I’m six months from 80 instead of 30, I cannot get over how little those music video dancers wear. It’s shocking and makes me want to scrub my eyes.

The biggest problem, though, is in my head. I am hopelessly unfit, I always have been. I know that it’s going to take time, that I need to do what I can and it will get better. However! I am a child of the age of instant gratification and slow, steady progress is freaking annoying. Further, it is humiliating to be going as fast as I can, all sweaty and with screaming muscles, and to be surrounded by people going three times quicker. I suspect that the reason I abstained from most physical activity from a young age has to do with the fact that I hide a mean competitive streak deep down inside and it pains me that everyone else can do it better than I can. I am attempting to develop a sense of humility about trudging along only slightly faster than a walrus while ignoring the sprinter on the next treadmill.

I have discovered that if you throw your towel over the LED display, no-one can see how fast you are going. Not that they’re looking, or that anyone gives a damn, but it makes me feel better.

Before he left, TPC designed me a mini-program for using the weight machines every other day. I get a kind of perverse pleasure out of this type of activity – it hurts like hell, but I can switch my iPod to something nice and heavy and feel all hardcore and Eye of the Tiger for a while.

The paranoia doesn’t go away, mind you – I feel guilty for taking up time on the machines when the fierce-looking beefcake types stand around tapping their feet, arms crossed, waiting for me to struggle feebly through my turn. I do realise that this is idiotic, but let’s remember that I am quite an idiot. I’m the type of person who feels the urge to apologise if I get in an elevator and press the button for a floor below that of any fellow passengers, in case they’re annoyed that I’m wasting their time. My head is a rather stupid place.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to get over this. The program TPC designed is pretty fun. I don’t know the names of the machines, so we had to invent descriptors so that I would remember which was which. Last night’s routine, for instance, included Chicken Tonight (lifting elbows out), The Big Dipper (a kind of tower on which you can do push-up thingys) and Why, Hello There (which is, um, a thigh exercise).

There’s a weird bloke who hangs out in the weights room every single evening. He hops on a machine now and then to demonstrate his prowess at various feats of strength, but mostly he just wanders about, checking out the scene, and offering to help others with their form. He mostly helps the pretty girls, I have noted, but will offer assistance to a fellow beefcake every now and again, so they can flex their guns at each other in lieu of dropping their shorts and just getting it all over with once and for all. Last night, I heard one such beefcake ask him, mid-flex, if he worked there, and he said, ‘oh no, I’m just here to fill in the gaps.’ Thanks, fella, we’re all much obliged.

I’m self-conscious enough without this guy watching me so I find his presence discomfiting and irritating. And yet (fickle creature that I am), I am a trifle insulted that he hasn’t offered to help me. Perhaps it has something to do with the death stares I shoot in his direction whenever he is nearby. Thankfully, it has reassured me to note that everyone looks like an idiot while doing the Chicken Tonight.

Once my workout (that word amuses me greatly) is done, I retreat to the changing room, where I am invariable confronted by the sight of many women prancing about without their clothes on. I am not sure what the hell is with that. I can’t help wondering if everyone got over this long ago in the locker rooms of adolescence while I was busy in the library, but I remain a furtive, towel-draped changer. Apparently, there are many who are perfectly comfortable hanging out in the nude, doing their hair and makeup and chatting on the phone and whathaveyou. Every time I go in there, I grab my stuff as quickly as I can and scurry out, with the voice of my Grade 5 teacher in my head saying ‘eyes on your own work, people’.

I was telling RVW about this the other night, and he said that it was just like he had always dreamed. Then he asked if I had a camera phone.

(I’m pretty sure he was kidding).

Anyway, humiliation and strange guys and naked women aside, I’m doing my best to stick with it. Who knows how long this health kick will last? For now, it’s like I’m tourist in the life of other people, which is curious and confronting but also kinda fun.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

jLo (and) the Tart(s)

This is a story from some time ago, which I had neglected to post until now. It happened while TPC was still in town, during roast season, when we would go to the Billy IV every Sunday evening with our jar of mustard, and then retire to Dr Evil’s Lair afterwards to drink wine and watch cheesy movies made in the 1980s.

On our way back to the Loft from the pub one evening, we stopped a small convenience store to lay in supplies of cheese and wine. While perusing the shelves, I came across the following:

jLo: “Ohmygod. Look! “ASS JAM TARTS!!!”

RVW: “I think that’s supposed to be “ASSORTED” jam tarts."

jLo: “But that’s not what it says. These are, quite clearly, ass jam tarts. And don't they look delicious!”

Everyone else: “…”

jLo: “We have to buy some.”

TPC: “How did I know you were going to say that?”

jLo: "At only 99p, we can't afford not to!"

I purchased the ass jam tarts, then spent the rest of the evening offering them to everyone at the slightest provocation.

Madam Fox: “Anyone for more wine?”

jLo (waving the open package): “OR AN ASS JAM TART, perhaps?! You know you want to.”

Dr Evil: “Yes to wine, no to tarts.”

jLo: “Damn”.

Later, I went out for a smoke. I came back in and blathered merrily about something as I went to sit on the futon. I threw my not-inconsiderable bulk down, just as TPC bleated frantically for me to stop. “THE TARTS!”

A pause.

jLo: “Did I just sit in the ass jam tarts?”

Everyone else: “Yes, jLo. Yes you did.”

Another pause.

jLo: “It seems as though this was inevitable.”

The others didn’t answer, they were too busy giggling as I blushed – caught between humiliation at sitting in tart and delight at the irony.

I lifted a cheek, and the room exploded with gleeful shrieks at the sight of an ass jam tart stuck fast to the pocket of my jeans. Cameras were procured and evidence recorded as I peeled the ass jam away from my actual ass. I had been waiting for Dr Evil to send me a copy of the photo so that I could post it here, but then I realised that I really didn't want to post a picture of my ass on the internet. This is one of those images that is probably best left to the imagination.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Weekend in Paris

(Do you have any idea how much fun it is to write that?)

Last weekend I had the inestimable honour of joining Le Tour de Fear 2007 for their final fling in gay Paree.

I was disproportionately excited about going: I haven’t been anywhere in ages, not least because the Home Office has had my passport for a while. The rationale for my trip was a questionable one: Le Comte had some exams he needed to sit and I was required to officiate while he did so. [ Apparently I’m sufficiently qualified and responsible a member of society to be approved to do such things. Who would have thought?] At any rate, I was on my way to Paris and that’s always good news as far as I’m concerned.


It was my first trip on the Eurostar, which was excellent fun. I booked late, and on Captain Kloss’s credit card, and so accidentally happened to be seated in a travel class above that to which I am accustomed. I was surrounded by grumpy well-dressed business people, all of whom played Sudoku for the entire trip – even while they were eating their dinner (which, by the way, was surprisingly good – I guess that’s what happens when you book Fancypants Class). My fears of being trapped in the tunnel were allayed by the lovely wee bottles of red wine that the hostess obligingly brought me at regular intervals.

After whipping myself up into a frenzy of giddy excitement before my departure and then one or three too many bottles of red on the train, my first night in Paris turned into One of Those Nights that every traveller has once in a while. As my brothers would say, it was an attack of The Fear.

The boys weren’t arriving until the following day, so I had booked a hotel for the Friday night. My hotel was surprisingly cool – with green apples instead of mints on the pillows – and after checking in I set out to roam the streets for a while.

It was late, I was tired. I was out of cigarettes. I don’t speak French.

I was reminded of how it feels to have those moments of utter and complete despair when in an unfamiliar place. It doesn’t take much, but when you’re tired and cranky and nothing’s open and you can’t ask for help, small tasks become overwhelmingly complicated. It makes me shy and hesitant and frustrated and I’M NOT HAVING FUN, DAMMIT, WHEN WILL THIS BE FUN?

I wandered the streets for an hour, aiming for bright lights and being disappointed time and again at finding nightclubs instead of supermarkets. I cursed myself for not making more of an effort to remember some French before I came. Random words from Madame Smythe’s Grade 8 French class flitted through my brain, as though they might be useful: ‘window’, ‘fish’, ‘happy birthday’, ‘left’, ‘warm’. I had to fight the temptation to ask in Spanish, as if speaking in any different language would suffice.

Eventually, I found a Holiday Inn and decided to try to impersonate one of their guests. I walk straight up to Reception and give him my one sentence: ‘I’m very sorry. I don’t speak any French.’ (it’s best when completed with a mournful, apologetic look). He directed me to the bar, where after whispering my request shyly I finally managed to exchange money for nicotine.

The tension eased somewhat, I made my way back to the hotel. In my earlier panic, I had completely failed to notice that I was staying right in the middle of deliciously clichéd storybook Paris: small dark streets lined with little bistros and dark, cosy bars, people sitting outside and smoking and looking impossibly chic. I wandered along, listening to the funky music and busy French chatter wafting through the air and then felt miserable all over again as I realised I was lonely and in no way brave enough to sit down somewhere to order a drink and try to do something about it.

I decided Conquering Paris could wait until morning (there’s a surrender monkey joke somewhere here, but I can’t quite find it). Weary and feeling sorry for myself, I found a little grocery store and went in to buy some snacks (and a beer) to take back to the hotel. I found cheese, and decided to splash out and get some salami as well – grabbing a package at random and discovering to my dismay upon my return to my hotel to discover that it was, in fact, bacon. I vowed to speak of this to no one.

My very exciting trip really wasn’t going very well so far.

Moments later, it got worse. I realised that not being able to say ‘how much is that?’ or ‘where can I buy cigarettes’ is one thing. The true depths of my language problems were made clear to me when I realised that I had absolutely no idea how to say what I needed to right at that moment:

“I’m very sorry, but I have spilled my beer all over the carpet”.


I didn’t even try. I mopped it up as best I could and tried to feel thankful that it wasn’t the bed.

Reasonably miserable by now (and beerless), you’ll be pleased to know that consolation was found in the form of hilarious French television, particularly an excellent show called “Splashdance”. A horde of young, scantily clad beautiful people clustered around a pool in a tropical location, bopping about to funky music. There was a raised wooden platform over the pool, and two people at a time clambered up to have – get this – a dance battle. When they were done, the crowd would vote, and the wooden platform split and tilted and the loser was dumped into the pool. It was awesome.

It happens sometimes, you know – all this excitement and adventure isn’t all fun all the time. I know it’s always worth sticking it out, though, so I sat and sniggered at the television, eating cheese and knowing it would be better in the morning.

The Rest of the Weekend

The Lads called early – they had already set up camp in a wee village outside of Paris. I hopped a train out there with minimal angst – navigating routes and timetables with relative ease. Abandoning all memories of my Friday night angst, I boarded the train and settled down with my book, feeling slightly smug as I thought, man, I’ve definitely got this travelling thing sorted.

Then I noticed that the train was going express, hurtling through each station at an alarming speed. I wet my trousers in panic, wondering where the hell I was going to end up and how on earth I was going to find my brothers. I used the last of my mobile phone credit to alert Captain Kloss of this alarming development, then cursed my trigger-happy nerves as the train slowed down and started calling at every station along the line.

Crisis averted, I was soon met by my hosts and escorted to my first encounter with the Messy Days Express. My first impression was that it was less smelly than I had feared - no small feat, given that it had housed three boys for a month. It was huge, but crowded inside with a wee kitchen and bathroom, a booth with a table, cabinets and drawers everywhere, everything neatly self-contained. The Lads had set up the card table outside the front door under an awning – it was camper’s paradise.

I’m a very responsible examination supervisor, so I checked thoroughly to make sure that there were no textbooks and no internet access, then we left Le Comte with his exam papers and headed back into town.

We weren't particularly fussed about seeing Paris sights – I’ve been there before, and the boys are coming back in September for the rugby World Cup. We ticked a box or two, wandering around the Louvre courtyard and climbing up the Arc de Triomphe, as shown here:

…but the bulk of the weekend was spent focussing on some bike race that was apparently a fairly big deal.

We found a pub just off the Champs-Élysées that was showing the penultimate stage of the Tour on television. We drank many pints, the boys regaled me with stories from their trip and I sat and scrolled through their many very entertaining photographs. There was one of TPC in red Speedos that was among the best things I have ever seen. I don’t have a copy, sadly, but perhaps if we’re all very, very lucky he’ll put it up on his blog.

We struck up a conversation with a garrulous Yank who had apparently been drinking Jagermeister all afternoon. He was highly entertaining, filled with stories of his Tour so far – he’d met everyone and scammed his way in everywhere. He was loud, but harmless and friendly, carrying packets of flower seeds from his native Texas to hand out as gifts. I made an excellent joke about yellow roses that didn’t get the love it deserved.

I tried to pay attention to the cycling, asking many questions and letting The Lads trip over each other to display the knowledge gained from three weeks on the road. As the beer flowed, my questions became louder and stupider. I recall speaking at length about my views relating to how the race could be enhanced with the addition of spokey dokeys, which I can only presume did wonders for my credibility. At one point, the Texan accused me of paying too much attention to the contents of the cyclists’ shorts as I peered intently at the screen. I told him he was right, but not in the way he thought:

jLo: “What I can’t stop imagining is the scar tissue on their arses. Imagine – years and years of professional cycling, the chafing must be unbearable. It must build up into layer upon layer of scar tissue, all along their legs and butt cheeks."

The Texan was flummoxed: “This is my fourth Tour de France. I can honestly say that has never occurred to me before.”

I told him that expanding your mind via conversation with random strangers is what travelling is all about.

We rounded out the day with champagne and a most excellent dinner. I’d tell you about what we ate, except that I know there are some vegetarians who read this blog who really don’t want to hear about it. Let me say just this: it was delicious, and I feel very bad about that.

On the train ride back out to camp, the boys taught me the card game that has kept them going for the long weeks of the Tour. It’s called 2,3,10 and I am pleased to report that I was a natural and reigned triumphant all the way home.

Camping in the Messy Days turned out to be a highly comfortable experience, not least because there was plenty of room for me after CK elected to seek solitude for an evening by finding a hotel and staying in town. The next morning, we hiked up to the train station, through the beautiful village of St Genevieve de Bois. There was a patisserie open at the station, and the boys groaned at the thought of pain au chocolat for breakfast again. For me, it was a novelty. A delicious novelty.

By the time we arrive back in the city, the Champs-Élysées was already choked full of people jostling for spots along the rail. The small streets off the main drag were beautiful and completely empty. We wandered for a while, then set up at the pub again to watch the start of the stage. The boys bought bucketloads of merchandise, because they are suckers:

(Check out TPC's hilarious beard!)

Just before the bikes arrived in town, we ventured out into the crowd that by this stage were three and four deep on the Champs-Élysées, chattering with excitement. We found a spot and TPC fetched us beers, arriving back just as the peleton flew by for the first lap. My impression of the Tour de France? Those bikes go really fast. Seriously, I can’t even describe how fast they were going. This blurry photo will have to suffice:

There were a bunch of American college students standing in front of us, making inane comments about the race. They were clearly scenesters, and The Lads scorned their superficial knowledge, bursting with self-importance at having seen (almost) Every Single Day of the Tour. It amused me enough that I joined in and did some sneering of my own - smug by association.

Eight times the pushbikes flew by, then we scurried back to the pub to watch the finish. It was jubilant and exciting, The Lads cheering the end of their odyssey. An hour, several beers and many hands of 2,3,10 later, it was time for me to head back to the station to catch the Eurostar back to Londres. I may have seen little of the city, but it was a most excellent weekend nonetheless. Next time, I’m going to have some French. I swear.