A number of months ago, I suddenly had to go to San Francisco in the USA
on business for a week. It is not something that happens very often, so I
was understandably excited. I had only been in America twice before that.
The flight took eleven hours and the time difference was eight hours-two essential
ingredients for a bad case of jet lag. As I appear to have an innate dislike
for pills of any sort (apart from plain multivitamins), I decided in advance
to just “tough it out” when I got there. Easier said than done, as it turned
My bodyclock was telling me that it was nearly midnight, yet locally it was 2.30PM on a warm, sunny day. I went through Customs and Immigration (well, you have to, don’t you?) , got my suitcase and headed over to Car Rental to get my wheels. Then, it was out onto the Freeway and into San Francisco. Despite the fact that the car was on the wrong side of the road and the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car (where I come from, we drive right and steer on the left) , I somehow made it to downtown San Francisco in one piece, though the car wasn’t so lucky. I think San Francisco Bay is one of the world’s most beautiful sights and I was glad to see it again in one piece, especially that day. I arrived at the hotel (at the side entrance and travelling very fast, but I’ll spare you the details) and left the car for parking. Then, I checked in, went up to my room and was very tempted to go to sleep. I didn’t, as I knew that if I did, I would be up again and wide awake at 2AM local time-a bad idea, because I had gone there to work. It was then that I made a fateful decision, which has prompted me to write this article.
I decided to watch some TV.
A granduncle of mine used to call the TV the “Moron’s Magnet”. I was about to find out why…
I flicked through a dozen or so stations which had various soap operas (and a few advertising something called a “rom com”) before I found one with an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Let’s put it this way: Seven of Nine, if you’re reading this and want to hire a personal trainer, I’m yours for the asking. Enough said. Anyway, it was one of those high adventure episodes- the Enterprise was about to be invaded by Species 8472 and Chakotay’s life hung in the balance. (If you don’t know what this means, don’t worry about it…you have to be a Trekkie to know these things). All too soon, it was time for a commercial break. Seven of Nine had gotten rid of my jetlag for me for the moment, so I was wide awake for what was coming next….
Cue rap or house music (I’m not educated enough to know the difference), swirling psychedelic patterns across the screen , then a glimpse of a heavily muscled thigh glistening with sweat. Pan up to a spandex-clad torso which resembled a stack of lego more than anything human and then arrive at a head bedecked in a black bandana, rivulets of sweat (though even the rivulets looked perfect) , piercing blue eyes and teeth so white that they could double as a portable lighthouse. While the music volume dropped, the apparition on the TV screen before me snarled at me. Here is what it said (I think) :
“YOU!!!!!!!! YEAH! YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GET UP OFF YOUR BUTT AND MOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The screen then immediately cut to a roomful of panting, spandex-clad , pain-ridden victims panting in unison and all frantically pulling and pushing at some sort of fearsome-looking pink contraption, while from somewhere in the background, a shrill and manic voice howled “Again! Again! Again! “ I’ll bet the smell in that room would have knocked out a team of racehorses. Exercise should be enjoyable, but this looked like something from the Marquis de Sade’s Spring Catalogue.
Just as quickly, the apparition appeared before me again. The teeth were still there and gleaming as stringently as ever (in fact, he seemed to have sprouted a few more in the intervening seconds) , the bandana was still there, the spandex was still there and fitting as snug as ever and the eyes now resembled armour-piercing bullets, so intense was the gaze. The music abruptly switched to something slower and more thoughtful, while the apparition rubbed his hands together and moved to a gaudy-coloured sofa, which had appeared next to him, presumably thanks to the wonders of TV. Then came the pitch. With index finger jabbing rhythmically in mid-air, he growled
“HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE A BODY LIKE MINE? HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO PEEL AWAY ALL THAT FAT AND REVEAL A SIX PACK UNDERNEATH? ARE YOU READY FOR THIS ? IF NOT…THEN DON’T WASTE MY TIME!!!!!!”
The screen switched again, to a very attractive blond (unfortunately, not Seven of Nine, but then you can’t have everything) semi-clad in the offspring of spandex and black lace and with a voice soft enough to melt western Iceland. She smiled demurely into the camera and purred, “ Before this I hated myself. I never got asked out on dates, I had a poor body image and my relationships were all based on conflict. Now, I feel great! “ (The voice became slightly more strident here, while her eyes moistened ever so slightly) “ My relationship with my boyfriend is now better than it has ever been! I look good, I can shop for longer, I am popular and my bad body image is now a bad memory !! ” Eyes now glistening with emotion, she stood up and sashayed out of view, but not before the camera lingered lovingly over her midriff for a second longer than necessary.
At this point, my blood pressure was slightly up, I have to admit, but then again I am only human. That was not good, as the screen was suddenly filled with the apparition. This time , though, he adopted a paternal, let-me-tell-you-what-is-good-for-you tone. “I did it, she did it and now you can do it too, with the secrets of ancient Birdcrapia to guide you on your way” he intoned.
(Now, I know what you’re thinking : Birdcrapia is a made-up name. You’re right. However, as they say in San Francisco, “Give me a break”. I claim poetic license.)
Meanwhile, back on the screen, the apparition was now doing a voice-over to a map of the ancient lost kingdom of Birdcrapia, with mysterious music of irregular cadence being played in the background. It actually sounded like someone breaking wind while sitting astride a plastic bucket while simultaneously blowing through a plastic straw. I immediately rebuked myself for having such unkind thoughts and continued watching the screen. The map was brown and had many wrinkles. This was presumably in order to convey the impression that it was an old map. The voice-over continued…
“Long before the dawn of recorded history, the inhabitants of Birdcrapia knew what real exercise meant , what real self-defence was all about and how to get the perfect body in the shortest possible time. They were a warfaring, rugged people who slept with their weapon by their side-though they only needed one hours’ sleep a night. The neighbouring peoples feared and respected them, both for their martial ability and their physical prowess. The source of all this was their weapon itself. In their language (now of course long since extinct which means no-one can verify any of this) , their weapon-a deceptively simple stick with a knobbly end-was known as a ‘Coloured Stick’. By exercising with this for fifteen minutes a day once a month, they gained the strength to drive off the nomadic tribes from the north while protecting their supply of hair spray. They based their exercises on the movements of the animals around them, though most of these animals are long since extinct (so no-one actually knows how they moved or even whether they existed at all). They were able to build structures made of stone, which reached into the clouds, without breaking a sweat, without any mortar, and sometimes without any stones. One of them would allow himself to be captured by the enemy and taken prisoner and then slay hundreds of them using only his or her trusted “Coloured Stick” plus an amazing reservoir of physical prowess and secret skills. They had physiques so rugged that a tribe living south of them believed them to made of rock and therefore called them the STONE PEOPLE. (Coincidentally, this southern tribe is also extinct.) They developed self-defence techniques that were later used by Moses to beat the Egyptians and later still by Jesus and His Disciples to drive the moneylenders out of the Temple. These techniques and exercises lay undiscovered and lost for thousands of years until a one-eyed archaeologist with severe dandruff discovered them in the form of engravings on the underside of a pile of seagull droppings just off the cost of the Aleutian Islands, in the middle of a freak typhoon and amid a torrential downpour.
In fact, these exercises with this device are so lethal that NATO and the UN have called for it to be banned and all knowledge of it suppressed. Fifteen years ago, the KGB placed listening devices at the bottom of my toilet to see if they could discover its amazing secrets. The Mossad planted an invisible camera underneath my pillow in case I talked in my sleep. None of this worked, because I am strong in both body and mind thanks to my use of the authentic “Coloured Stick”. ”
Now, the map vanished and the apparition leaned closer into the camera and spoke in confidential, hushed tones…
“Unbelievably, it has survived down through the ages. This special secret weapon and the amazing health and strength it imparts can be yours !!! Be the envy of your friends !! Forget being scared of big dogs !! Laugh in the face of grizzly bears !! Have a six-pack set of abs that will make women grovel on the floor !! Spend the day in Death Valley and feel refreshed and cool the same evening !! Don’t bother with car keys any more-just rip the damn door off your car !!!! Stay up all night for three nights and then run a marathon !!!
AND ALL THIS IN ONLY FIFTEEN MINUTES ONCE A MONTH!!!!! “
The apparition then waved the “Coloured Stick” a few more times and the rap music started up again. Bobbing up and down while waving the stick around aimlessly, he rapidly grew red in the face and concluded in a panting , yet frantic monotone while pausing to adjust his spandex….
“ WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR ? ORDER YOUR COLOURED STICK TODAY !!!! THE FIRST TWENTY PEOPLE TO ORDER ONE WILL ALSO GET A FREE COPY OF MY NEW BOOK ON SECRET NOSE-PICKING TECHNIQUES OF THE ANTARTIC SUBCONTINENT WHICH SHOWS YOU IN 10 MINUTES A DAY HOW TO PICK YOUR NOSE WHILE COMBING YOUR HAIR AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I actually fell off my chair, I was laughing that hard. It was without a doubt one of the most unintentionally ridiculous and hilarious things that I had seen in quite some time. I know of no popular comedian who could come up with a routine that unintentionally funny. The sad thing is, the “Coloured Stick” and its equivalent is probably making someone a small fortune as you are reading this article.
After I had recovered my composure, I decided to make a list of what was wrong. Then, I changed my mind. A list is not needed. What is needed instead is some common sense-which sometimes is not all that common. Here is a quote from George Walsh , self-styled “World’s Greatest Body Builder” , written by him the late 1930s and which sums up my own attitude to exercise far better than I ever could :
“ There is no such thing as a secret exercise which will produce miraculous results. There are no mysterious appliances which will work wonders for you. Progressive exercise against resistance-whether furnished by the weight of your own body or by an appliance-and adherence to certain rules of living, will infallibly produce results for every fit man”.
What a difference to the overblown balderdash spewed forth by the erstwhile spandex-clad apparition! Walsh was speaking the truth here. The only way to go is to make a start and then keep upping the resistance , while adhering to a sensible routine as regards bathing, diet and sleep. There are no short cuts and certainly no secrets.
I’ll stop writing now, as “Star Trek : Voyager” is on the TV in five minutes. I like to watch it with a dumbbell either side of me (one called “Seven” and the other called “Nine”, but that’s another story.)
Ray Brennan was born in Northern Ireland and has been involved in martial arts, mostly aikido and aiki-jutsu for a number of years. He is currently studying Zen Judo and Canadian Combato. Ray has been doing strength training for almost a decade.