The Ballad of Long Term Systemic Gym Junkie Injuries

(I’m just finishing my fifth set of weighted pull ups – that’s where you hang a 20 kilogram barbell from your belt and do correct form pull ups from a suspended chin up bar – when Alpha Girl enters and stands with her arms crossed. “You sweat a lot,” she says. “And do you have to grunt so loudly?”

“Could you go and bother someone else?” I say. “I’m pretty exhausted.”

“You look like you’re in pain.” Is that concern I sense? Can’t be.

“A bit. I have a long term tendonitis injury in my left elbow, and it hurts every time I work out.”

“So you’ve hurt yourself, and you keep making it worse?”

“Well, sort of. I have rest days and -”

“Your elbow injury is getting worse.”

“I’m looking after it.”

“Why are men such idiots?”)

Anyone who works out at home or in the gym on a regular basis will know what sort of short term damage you can do to yourself, if you’re not careful. Strained and torn muscles and ligaments are part of the game, but can generally be avoided if you stretch and warm up properly before starting your sets.

About two years ago I was working out with a mate who was much bigger and stronger than me. We were doing one of my favourite exercises, the aforementioned weighted pull ups, and I was lifting the same weight he was (as you do). I felt a twinge in my left elbow, but ignored it (as you do). I kept going, not wanting to show any weakness (as you do).

Over the next few weeks the elbow got worse. Being a man, and a stupid one at that, I chose to think it was just ligament strain, and that it would heal with a week off (as you do). I got back into training and the injury got worse. Eventually I went to the Doctor who gave me pain killers, a support bandage, and a recommendation that I stop training altogether for six months. After considering this for all of five seconds (as you do), I wore the bandage for a few weeks then took it off as I believed my left arm wasn’t getting the workout it needed (as you do).

Every gym junkie has their preferred approach to training. Many do 5-10 sets of 5-10 reps (repetitions) per body part (chest, back, legs, arms), exercising a different body part each day (a split routine). This can include supersets (my preferred option, whereby you do supersets of 2-3 different exercises for the same muscle group each set), drop sets (where you start with heavier weight and drop the weight back continuously as you go until you’re exhausted), circuits (multiple types of exercises for an all over body workout, moving from one machine to the next), and so forth.

Most sane people work out around three days per week. Body builders can work out five days per week, and if they have a competition coming up this can be stepped up to twice per day over that week (generally you would need steroids to recover from such intense workouts – my apologies to anyone who is competing who says they are not taking steroids).

I currently train for about 1.5 hours a day, four days per week. This includes a body split with a changing mix of supersets, followed by a tabata (a 4-minute intense cardio blaster) and/or jogging/walking circuits with push ups and lunges after each lap. My workouts tend to keep me lean with reasonable mass, but not huge body builder size.

One of the most important facets of training is having perfect form. This is where the exercise is done strictly, not rushed, using precise form so that the muscle is hit to maximise micro-tears in the fibres for optimal regrowth. Along with this is the need to eat right (lots of protein for muscle building, along with complex carbs for sustained energy) and sleeping right (good rest for recovery). This is, of course, oversimplifying things, but I didn’t want this post to go on forever.

(“That would be a first,” says Alpha Girl.

“Just go away,” I say.)

Anyone who has been training for any amount of time inevitably becomes a backseat expert (as you do) – you read a few fitness magazines and suddenly all of your advice is golden. Despite the threat of constant joint pain and crippling rheumatoid arthritis for the rest of your life, the basic formula is: Training = good, six months rest = evil.

But I had to do something. My neanderthal gym brain was telling me “must…fix”.

I finally started ultrasound therapy on my elbow, which is showing some promising results. I’m still working out regularly, so the improvement is slow. But at least it’s a start.

The moral of this story? Even a stupid gym junkie can use his brain. Sometimes.

(“Are you sure it’s getting better?” asks Alpha Girl. “I wouldn’t want anything to prevent you from getting a job. Or even better, moving out.”

“For a moment there I almost thought you cared,” I say. She smirks and exits.)

(English spelling, not American. Just so you know.) 

The Muso Who Said: No More! Or was it no, more…

(Alpha Girl walks into my bedroom, screams and says “What are you doing?!”

I immediately freeze mid-action. She wrinkles her face up like crumpled newspaper. “Were you…dancing?” she says.

“Um…no,” I say. “I was just…head banging…to…” Awkward silence. “Metallica’s new album on my iPod. They’ve done this dance/funk/metal crossover-type thing. Yeah, it’s all the rage.”

Alpha Girl, always the suspicious one, tilts her head to one side, eyes me intently and scans the room for incriminating evidence. “Metallica, eh?” she muses.

“Yeah…they’ve gotten really experimental, lately”, I lie.

Alpha Girl walks over, yanks the earbuds from my ears and places one near her own. She immediately guffaws. “I can’t believe you’re listening to Taylor Swift!”)

 

I have been a serious musician for about 25 years or so. I play guitar, drums, bass, keyboards and sing. I write my own music and have made seven albums. (And, yes, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my music – so, sue me.) I have very broad musical tastes; I like metal, punk, jazz, pop, funk, rap, classical, and opera, to name a few styles. But in all my time as a serious muso, I have never, ever admitted to liking the music of Taylor Swift.

So what’s so bad about Taylor Swift, you say?

We so-called serious musos have an unwritten rule. We are not allowed to like rich, attractive, mainstream musicians (especially when they are squillionaires at some ridiculously young age). It’s just not the done thing. The reason for this is because most serious musicians tend to be poor, unattractive, alternative and poverty-stricken.

It’s called tall poppy syndrome, and we’ve all been guilty of it at some point or other. Musos are the worst. If we feel they didn’t do the hard yards like we did, they can’t possibly make good music.

But a few months back I actually got my hands on a copy of Taylor Swift’s album 1989. And because I’m an eclectic music listener, and tell anybody who will listen that I can find the good in almost any song (I can’t help it, I’m fair), I decided to give it a spin.

And I have to admit, I was pretty impressed.

Swift puts a lot of herself into her songs. (And yes, I know most of them were collaborative efforts, but that’s okay.) She sings self-deprecatingly about how she can’t keep a boyfriend, that people put her down for being who she is (Shake It Off), and that she’s a little left of centre field (Blank Space). She sings deeply and emotionally about relationship breakdown (Clean). And she writes some of the catchiest tunes you’ve ever heard (listen to Style and Bad Blood, if you don’t believe me). She presents as incredibly vulnerable and intimidating at the same time (must be her height and all that money). Swift is also a damn fine singer.

I love musicians who write personal and semi-autobiographical material. I’m guilty of it myself. It’s why I love John Lennon, Ed Sheeran, Birdy, Eminem, Jewel, John Mayer, Kate Miller-Heidke, Missy Higgins, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Regina Spector, Adele, Death Cab for Cutie, George Michael, to name a few.

I also love musos who tell stories in their songs, like Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Prince, Foo Fighters, U2, Duran Duran, Queen, Alice in Chains, Biffy Clyro, Dream Theater, Fall Out Boy, Hard-Fi, Harry Connick Jr, Jimmy Eat World, k.d. lang, Linkin Park, Rise Against. Like I said, I have broad musical tastes.

And I’m not afraid to admit I like Taylor Swift.

Great album, Ms Swift. You have yet another fan and more cash to add to your squillions. And from what I understand, you’re also really nice to your fans, so I can’t even criticise you about that. DOH!

 

(“You like Taylor Swift, Mr oh-so-serious punk metal muso,” teases Alpha Girl. “Where’s your street cred, now?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say.)

The Last Chocolate Cowboy

(I hand the box of chocolates around. Beta Max takes a moccachino caramel toffee with whipped orange mallow and dark chocolate swirls. Hmmm, I think. I really wanted that one.

Alpha Girl hesitates before choosing. “So why are you being so generous?” she says.

“I just wanted to share,” I reply. “Something wrong with that?”

Alpha Girl grabs five chocolates from the box, watches my eye twitch slightly. “These ones are your favourites, aren’t they?” she says, her eyes glinting malevolently. “I’m going to enjoy them so much…”)

 

Chocolate! I’m not a huge chocolate eater, but when I have some I like to take my time to enjoy it. Of course, I share with others because it’s the right thing to do. But deep down, there’s that niggling selfishness to keep it all to myself, so I can stuff my face silly.

I’m not the sort of person who hoards food. I’m more than happy to share anything I have with people around me, whether they’re horrible to me or not.

 

(“Hey!” says Alpha Girl. “Is that some veiled reference to me?”

“No,” I reply. “I don’t need to disguise anything I write about you.”)

 

Chocolate is one of those things that most people just can’t get enough of. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like it (hold on, I remember some crazy weirdo on a train once who didn’t, but I think their mind was on other things…)

Apparently it’s been around for about 3000 years or so and was used by the Aztecs. There’s nothing like a bit of chocolate after a busy day flaying people alive and cutting out their hearts.

I’m a dark chocolate lover; I like the bitterness mixed with the sweetness. Others prefer milk chocolate, white chocolate, blended chocolates – in fact there are so many types of boutique chocolates now, I’m not sure if they can be called chocolate any longer.

Apparently eating a little chocolate every day is good for your gut bacteria. I prefer that argument to the one about causing obesity. I’m not a fan of eating lots of chocolate (unlike my father, who enjoys his chocolate in bulk, and preferably in his stomach as soon as possible), but I guess there’s a time and a place for everything.

 

(“Man, I love chocolate,” says Beta Max, as he grabs another from the box and stuffs it unceremoniously into his mouth. “I could eat these all day.”

“As long as you leave some for me,” I say. The chocolates diminish along with my hope.)

 

Yeah, chocolate is mighty, fine stuff. But then I’m preaching to the converted, aren’t I?

Angry Birds – or “I’m on a good thing here…”

I visited one of my good mates the other day (whom I shall refer to as ‘Surfer Dude’), and was greeted by his wife (forever more to be known as ‘Master Artist’, or MA for short), who was engaged in conversation with a fuming man (whom I will refer to as ‘Angry Bird’).

After venting enough steam to run a power station for a month, Angry Bird left. MA explained that he was an old friend of Surfer Dude’s; he dropped down every month or so to pick up his mail (Angry Bird had used their address for this purpose for many years). He had just returned from a long yacht trip up the coast with a friend, who had unceremoniously dumped him on a remote beach when the two of them realised they couldn’t be on the same boat together without killing each other.

Angry Bird had an anger management problem; his temper would rise to the point where he would lose it – almost having a psychotic break. This issue would often arise when he recounted events that made him upset, as he had while talking to MA earlier.

MA explained that she had been a bit worried about his rising ire and that she had prayed for Surfer Dude to come home from the beach. I had knocked on the door, effectively answering that prayer.

“I’ve never worried about him before,” MA said. “I didn’t think he would hurt me, but I was a little concerned.”

“If he’s using this place as his home address,” I said. “It might not be on the up and up.”

“Angry Bird isn’t the kind of person who would do something dishonest,” said MA. “He’s a very intelligent man who goes out of his way to help people.”

Surfer Dude arrived home not long after. “Yeah, the address thing is obviously dodgy,” he said.

 

(Alpha Girl looks over my shoulder as I type. “So what’s this about?” she says.

“Friends who take advantage,” I reply.

“Hah! You’re no expert on that,” she says. “You don’t have any friends.”)

 

So what’s the point of this story?

Have you ever had a friend who has stretched the friendship just that little bit too far – taken advantage of you in some way? It could be stealing your world-changing idea and making millions, or building their motorcycle in your front room, or turning up on your doorstep after a decade away looking for a place to stay and asking you to change their colostomy bag.…

I’m talking about people you consider good friends, people you would bend over backwards for (so, no, not your Facebook friends).

Now’s your chance to blow off some steam – share your experience in the comment box below (but don’t use any real names).

Go on, you know you want to.

 

(Alpha Girl frowns. “That’s it? You’re getting readers to write the blog for you, now?”

“I call it ‘writer/readers Hanging Out about not so Positive Experiences’ or HOPE, for short,” I reply.

“More like ‘writer Suggests High-minded Idea Terribly’,” she says. “Or SHIT.”)

Sting’s “57th & 9th” – a review through the eyes of a jaded muso

I picked up the latest Sting album, 57th & 9th, the other week. I play it when I work out, so I’ve had the opportunity to listen to it a number of times. I’ve deliberately not read or listened to any reviews so I could provide a balanced viewpoint in my own. It should be noted I’ve been a Sting fan all my life, so please bear that in mind as you read this.

The first thing that struck me when comparing 57th & 9th with Sting’s previous material is how stripped back it is. His recent reunion tour with The Police has been an obvious influence. I saw Sting playing live on TV the other night and he had a three-piece backing band supporting him as he played bass, rather than the large ensembles he usually tours with. The material on 57th & 9th has a leaner production and drier mix than previously (tighter, less involved arrangements and less reverb, for those not in the know).

The first time I heard this album I was in two minds. Part of me wanted to love it, and part of me felt it was a little…dull. Sting’s previous compositions tended to be slow and methodical, with sprinklings of odd time signatures and well crafted, intellectual and literary lyrics. That remains the case on 57th & 9th. There is an underlying poignancy to this album, the passage and inevitability of time a common theme in many of the songs.

The more upbeat material, I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, musing about old age and the search for love, and Petrol Head, with its speed-driven biblical allusions, break up the plodding feeling this album can have. In 50,000 Sting responds to the loss of Bowie while pointedly reflecting on his own fading star. One Fine Day is a catchy environmental song, where Pretty Young Thing is a period piece love story. One of the more potent songs on the album, Inshallah, tells about the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing from conflict, through the eyes of a father. If You Can’t Leave Me is a dark tale of possession, insecurity and self-doubt told in 7/8 time. The album is capped with The Empty Chair, an affecting tale of a prisoner separated from his family.

This time around Sting has written much of the material with co-writers from his backing band, and there’s a familiarity and leanness that is reflected in the songs. Perhaps age has mellowed him, making him a little less of a control freak than his various biographies would imply.

I liked this album. It’s mature, thoughtful, song writing that deeply resonates with me. If you give 57th & 9th a try I think it may with you, too.

The Perils of Christian Dating (or “ask questions first and shoot after you’re married”)

(Alpha Girl reclines on the lounge and eyes me venomously. “So when are you going to get out and meet someone? I know it’s hard, you being a loser and all, but other people do it.”

Beta Max thumbs his Xbox controller and nods. “She’s right you know. You’ve been a hermit for too long, man.”

Through artful manipulation of multiple controller buttons I eliminate his on screen avatar, turn and smile at them both. “I’ll have you know that I’ve thought about that. I’m writing a blog about it later.”

Alpha Girl rolls her eyes. “Now you’ve started that blog you’re in the house even more than you were before. If you get out and meet a girl maybe you could move out. Or get a job. Or both.”

“Yeah,” says Beta Max. “Don’t forget to come over and play me on Xbox, though.”)

 

Two years ago I broke up with my wife. Around the same time I resigned my job of twenty plus years. It was more than a mid-life crisis – really a case of kicking myself in the balls for an extended period of time. Since then I’ve done a lot of soul searching, complemented by much self-loathing and despair. Aside from a good dose of psychological therapy, I also found comfort in God. I became a Christian, found a great church run by a good friend, and started getting my crappy life back together.

It’s been about ten years since I’ve been on a date with anyone other than my wife. I find that I’m struggling to work out how to do it, especially in light of my new found status.

I’ll lay it out for you: I’m mid-forties, fighting fit with a great gym bod (so I’m told), I’m reasonably good looking, reasonably smart, reasonably lovable, have no home, no possessions and little money (those last ones hurt), and have Christian values, so sex before marriage is off the table.

 

(“I thought your blog was to improve your writing,” cries Alpha Girl from the kitchen. “It’s just an excuse to meet women.”

“Whoa,” I reply. “That is not the reason – I’m providing context.”

Her head appears around the door. “And you thought I couldn’t get a rise out of you.”

Touche.)

 

So how do older Christians find someone to date? I guess I could meet someone at my local church. The ladies there are lovely, however all of them are either 1) too old, 2) too married or 3) both.

I spoke to a charming woman who told me a long story about meeting her husband via a Christian online dating service. Now I dabbled in online dating a few years back when my girlfriend (who later became my wife) and I split up briefly. It was a pretty depressing affair that sent me running back to her to propose (details? I went out with thirteen women in three months and none of them were a patch on her).

I can’t really hang out in clubs anymore because the average age of club goers appears to have dropped to that of teeny boppers, making me feel like a freaky old grandpa stuck in a literal twilight zone.

There’s another problem. Possibly the biggest (not that – get your mind out of the gutter).

I cannot read the signals that women give off. You know what I mean – when someone is interested in you they give you a few subtle signs and whammo, you know they like you. I am completely unable to spot these signals. Example: I remember a party some time ago where I sung an impromptu duet with a gorgeous girl. She told me how cute I was and I told her what a great singing voice she had. It wasn’t until after she split that I realised the error of my ways.

 

(“You pick up on my signals easily enough,” says Alpha Girl.

“Contemptuous disdain is one I can’t miss,” I reply. “Oh, a tautology. I’ll need to write that one down.”)

 

This has never really been a problem for me in the past. The women I’ve gone out with have expressed themselves in no uncertain terms (that is, hit me over the head with a pile driver and literally jumped me on the spot). This is what I like to call the “shoot first, ask questions later” approach.

Of course, being a Christian complicates things a bit. Since we’re going to get to know each other first (the “ask questions” component), and we’re not going to actually do the “shooting” bit, I have to learn how to interpret the signals to know if a woman likes me.

Having been blind to these signals for so long I’m concerned that I’m going to miss the love of my life unless she has a blazing neon sign attached to her head saying “It’s me!” In fact, I’m a bit worried I may have met her already and never recognised her because she didn’t have that aforementioned flashing sign on her.

So I’m praying for some pretty big signs. And a pair of big eyes so I can see properly.

And an eventual cure for my semi-patented disability.

And a woman who recognises the love in my heart. A woman who doesn’t care about a big bank account – and no, that is not a euphemism.

Here’s hoping.

 

(“I think I’m going to vomit,” says Alpha Girl.

“Didn’t like the sentimentality in that last line?” I say.

“No. I just don’t like you.”)

Real Men Play D&D (when their girlfriends aren’t looking)

So, I’m a nerd from way back (you wouldn’t know it now, I’m fit, healthy and a wee bit trendy). I have, however, accepted my nerdism and embraced it (to those still struggling with coming out as a nerd, I strongly suggest you take a good look at yourself and get over it. Don’t you know that geeks are in?).

Like many young nerds, I played Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop fantasy role playing game and glowing beacon for nerdity everywhere. Now some of you reading this blog (if there are actually any of you), may be wondering just what this D&D thing is.

(Alpha Girl smirks as she sees me reading a copy of the D&D Player’s Handbook. “You are such a geek”, she says.

“But a well built one,” I reply.

“No amount of weight lifting is going to change the fact that you are lame.”

“And no amount of nastiness is going to change the fact that you can’t get a rise out of me.”)

A role playing game allows the players, gently guided (read: slaughtered) by a “Dungeon Master” (yes, it’s a stupid name), to take on the role of a character living in a sword and sorcery fantasy world. They fight monsters, grab treasure and generally live an impossible existence far more exciting than their real lives. The game doesn’t require a board, as it takes place in the imagination of the players. There are, however, large numbers of accessories to visualise the game (including miniatures, for the less imaginative).

D&D was the first fantasy role playing game. Created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, it became the template for a plethora of RPGs that followed, both tabletop and electronic. Since the original incarnation there have been multiple versions/updates – the latest is Fifth Edition, called “5E” by its fans, for short. 5E was released two years ago and has been responsible for a resurgence in D&D’s popularity. Indeed, tabletop RPGs have entered a new renaissance, with electronic PDFs of old and new games and supporting materials sold online via sites like www.drivethrurpg.com.

But what does the game mean to me? I’m glad you asked. Let me take you back to 1981, when a skinny young kid came across a copy of Basic D&D in his local games shop. He took home the strange pink box (yes, a horrible colour, even then). “This game hasn’t got a board,” he said to his mum, feeling he’d been ripped off in some way.

I was the first guy in my school to own a copy. I played it with my friends, who had never heard of a game like this before. They were all slaughtered in the first room of my first dungeon (I had yet to learn that it’s was a good idea to have some players survive so that they might want to play again).

A year later I moved on to Advanced D&D, a more complicated, definitely more expensive, version of the game. By this stage I had tempered my Dungeon Mastering lust for player character doom with some compassion, so some of them managed to level-up – that is, advance in rank so that they could take on bigger, better and more dangerous monsters and dungeons. And possibly die a more horrible death.

AD&D was responsible for a vast improvement in my mathematical ability, due to ridiculous experience point calculations. AD&D, along with other nerd-like things, such as comics and Star Wars, helped forge in me a fevered imagination and creative bent. And a joy of writing.

(“Wait a minute,” says Beta Max. “Are you saying that this game makes you magically good at maths?”

“Not magically, but with a bit of work, yeah,” I reply.

“Oh,” says Beta Max. “For a minute there I was interested.”)

Even my son (a padawan nerd-in-training) has started playing. I harped on about the game for years and he finally created his first character the other week (a Half Orc Paladin who communicates in grunts and gestures and has a penchant for physically throwing his protesting Halfling Rogue comrade into battle). Needless to say he loved his first game. (Told ya so, son!)

Nowadays, I play D&D every week or two. It’s surprising how many “gamers” are out there. You probably know one. They may even outwardly look like a “cool” person. But don’t be mistaken: they are a nerdist in disguise.

I say embrace your inner geek. Don’t you know we will inherit the Earth?

Play on, fellow gamers.

(P.S. Lots of women play D&D as well. Ignore that stupid title, it’s supposed to be a joke. English spelling as well, haters!) 

 

So…why a blog?

Good question, I ask myself.

I’ve recently enrolled in two writing courses for Uni. I’ve written for work in a business capacity for years, and I wrote short stories in my youth. I guess I thought I should do something now that I’m semi-retired (that’s a nice way of saying unemployed).

I’ve been posting my assignment answers to the course discussion board, and some of the readers have been amused. So I thought maybe, just maybe, I could give blogging a go. Why not? The worst I could do is crash and burn. And it’s not like many people would notice (my guess is the traffic for this site will be one hit – by me).

And here I am. Ready for the big wide world with not a lot to say, but a hankering to say it anyway. (Oh, I should mention I’m a musician and composer – I love stuff that rhymes. It doesn’t have to be a good rhyme.)

I’m not political (much). I’m not charismatic. I’m not even a very good writer.

But, hopefully, I (that’s my one hit on the site!) will get a kick out of this.

And if I don’t, I’ll have a neat little online collection of blogs. Maybe I can self-publish them one day. Or not.

Welcome to my dreary little world!

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