Time to call it a day?

Not the blog; at least, not yet. I’m talking about lifting heavy. Those big presses and pulls that draw blood and sweat from every pore. Isolation work that burns with infernal intensity. And even if you don’t train that hard, there is still a point in life when you just have to accept the harsh reality—one day you have to go light.

Now, to be clear, growing old does not mean giving up. It doesn’t mean you can’t be strong. But there are changes in our body as we age that require some reflection. As I approach my fifties, to me, that change is how long it takes to recover from injury. Not serious damage but those little niggles that prey on your tendons and joints. That insignificant twang when you were eighteen years old becomes a cacophony of pulled tendons, a resounding chorus repeating for months on end. It’s as though every injury from the past thirty years developed a photographic memory; each bundle of abused fibres suddenly recalling what it was you did wrong with a bicep curl in 1995. Oh, the folly of youth to think we were indestructible. We might forget that we never warmed up properly, or that we trained too frequently, but one day your accumulated exercise foibles will come back to haunt you. And once Scrooge, the ghost of exercise past, drags his chains around your creaking joints, there can be no happy ending to your tale of glory.

Damn, is it really that grim? No, of course it isn’t but this is my blog and I like drama. Though, it is still a pertinent point that as we age, we need to consider the structural integrity of our bodies. No matter how careful we are with our physical endeavours, there are consequences to every lift, pull, skip and jump we do. Our articulated joints have a covering of cartilage which reacts well to moderate exercise. This self-healing surface can absorb and protect us from physical stresses. Consider when we jump from a height to the ground, such as when we were children and those things were just plain fun. Or, as adults, when we drink a little too much and think we’re kids again. Jumping from shed roofs while being filmed by a giggling accomplice, the result being a hit on social media as you writhe in pain afterwards. You get the point. Heavy, infrequent impacts are diminished by our cartilage. But what about heavy, frequent impacts?

We are not jackhammers. I’d say ‘pneumatic drill’ but jackhammer is a far cooler word to use. Say it; jackhammer. Ooh! I’m pretty sure there’s a crappy pulp-fiction detective with that name out there. But anyway, we’re not one of those. Machines are designed and purposed for repetitive action and even then, those machines will also wear out. Unlike machines, our parts are not so easily replaced, and when they are, they’re never as good as the real thing. The cyberpunk future is not yet here—the metal joints they drill into your bones in surgery are not cool. You are not Johnny Silverhand. Or Cable. And if you don’t know who they are, go and Google. Yeah, you’ll never be as awesome as them.

All those repetitive impacts, delivered without proper attention to technique or recovery, pile up a multitude of problems for later life. Ageing itself begins to break down those protective articular surfaces, and what we do in youth, is compounded on top. To sum it up: the harder you train, the greater your pensioner pain.

So, you’re approaching fifty and want to know how to stop the damage. Not just to cartilage but also your tendons and muscle. Can you turn back the clock? No. Go back and read the last paragraph, it should make it clear. If you’re like me, it’s too late. That’s exactly why at a point in time you have to reconsider how you train. You’ve put in all those hours; you made the grade and lifted the weight of a small brown bear. But now the bear’s nibbling your shoulder joints. It’s clawing at your tendons. It’s time to put the bear down. Besides, who the hell lifts bears? Actually, isn’t there a religious cult that does that? I think they’re Scottish – the Press-bear-tarians. I may have lost you on that one. I apologise.

Dropping the weight and lifting something lighter is, for many men and women, the equivalent of that moment in a Hollywood starlet’s life when the phone stops ringing. One wrinkle too many and the jobs dry up, just like your skin. Relegated to playing support roles or alcoholic mothers-in-law—be in no doubt—the glamour days are over. It’s hard to take. Most gym nuts will refuse to accept the truth and keep going heavy. I’ve seen the damage that does. A woman who trained far too hard in her forties, who one day ripped a tendon trying to pick up an ankle strap that had ‘Velcroed’ itself to the gym carpet. All because time had caught up with her arduous days of lifting super-heavy weights. It’s a terrible dawning of realisation: when Velcro is stronger than your connective tissue.  

So, if I lift lighter will I shrink? Yes. To an extent you will. But you’ll not look feeble. I think that’s a fear all lifters have. You have to rationalise what it is you’re trying to achieve, namely, longevity. Sure, you looked beefy as hell in your twenties, all rippling like a skin-coloured tide. Your thirties were spent being well-above average, lording it over your age-peers even as your hair was thinning. Up and into your forties you were still something special. But what do you want to be in your fifties or sixties? How about on crutches, or in a wheelchair? You only have one body with a sub-standard selection of replacement parts. If you want to enjoy the next thirty years, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart with your ego. And to be utterly blunt; steroid abusing pensioners look ridiculous.

You don’t have to give up too much size. Or strength, for that matter. You can lift lighter weights with a slower cadence. Instead of grunting a 1:1 up/down ratio, you can try the oppressively difficult 2:1:4. Pioneered by the guys that brought you Nautilus in the eighties, training that accentuates the eccentric phase of a lift is beneficial to strength but restricts the load you can move. And for those that don’t know about resistance training, basically, it means go slow on each lift. What was once a 100Kg bench press will become a 60Kg load. And it’ll feel harder to boot.

You could also diversify your exercise portfolio. Go mad and try Yoga. By all accounts it’s an excellent system. In truth, I know it to be true but it’s not for me. And I know, if you’re used to lifting anything remotely heavy, something as ‘airy’ as Yoga might be a stretch too far, no pun intended. So just lift light and slow, okay? You can try Yoga in your next reincarnation.

And if you’re young and haven’t yet reached the decrepitude of a 47-year-old former exercise enthusiast, what should you do? Ignore me, of course. You’re young, you’re indestructible—you don’t even make a noise when you bend over to tie your shoe-laces. Just make sure you come back here in twenty-five years so I can say, ‘I told you so.’ Because I will—it’s one of the pleasures of growing old; chastising others for repeating the same mistakes we made. By then perhaps I can be Johnny Silverhand. Who? What do you mean, who? Good grief, I give up.

Combat and Hollywood: Part Two

Guns don’t kill people, scriptwriters do…

But only when it suits the narrative. I suppose, to preface a light-hearted post, I should start with an unequivocal statement: The purpose of a gun is to kill. Whether or not it is used to do so, does not matter. A gun, like the atom bomb, is a weapon with a purpose. Said purpose: cessation of life. Let’s not quibble. I had an online discussion with someone (an American) who said guns were deterrents. They’re not. Deterrents, in the classical sense, don’t work. Nukes work. But only because (a) they’re wielded by governments who understand the consequences, and (b) they’re a tad more murderous than a 9mm Glock. And consider this: if a terrorist organisation ever gets its tiny creepy hands on a nuke, the deterrent argument will become moot. Just watch, or don’t. I will win the debate, right before I’m welded to my PVC chair. Enough depression, let’s get on with the fun stuff. But first, a beautiful unicorn to make you feel better…   

If this doesn’t reset your happy trigger, nothing will.

But guns do kill people, you say. I know so because I’ve seen it on TV, or that film with the guy that shoots folks till they’re dead. Well, I reply, go back and watch that show. Now, I freely admit I am not the first person to make an issue out of this, and I won’t be the last. But I want to tackle it with the derision and ridicule it deserves. Though, I need a copyright-free example to do it. Time to create a hero. World, meet Lexi Bamharder; a cop whose attitude is as bad as her taste in men. You know the stereotype. She’s mysteriously attracted to high-strung men on the verge of divorce. They’re always going to leave their wives, they’ve promised. But Lexi always gets stung. It’s driven her to drinking neat bourbon at a bar with no other patrons apart from the old guy, we’ll call him… Old Guy. And it’s a weird set-up. She never pays, Old Guy’s always there, and the bartender has a shotgun and a heart of gold. How the place turns a profit, only methanol Jesus knows.

That Old Guy. Every bar needs one. (The Wedding Singer, 1998, New Line Cinema)

But Lexi knows. It’s run by crooks and the bar guy’s let slip they have his family. Oh noes! Again. Lucky for us, Detective Bamharder knows where to go. She finishes her bourbon (her fifth) and jumps in her car. Normally we could dissect the inherent sexism of what car she drives, however, that’s not important. Lexi’s just downed five bourbons and she’s ignition deep in engine rumble. Someone call a cop. No, wait, she is a frickin’ cop. The hero of the story. What the hell? Hollywood blows, really. Anyway, back on track, unlike Lexi, who’d be sucking dashboard in a ditch in real life.

Lexi evades every cop in a city of ten million people, her erratic driving never having once gotten her pulled over. Did I mention—she’s white? We could change that and the film would end here. That’s another story, one I’m not qualified, or brave enough, to write. But cut to the…erm chase. She’s pulled over at the Casino. The lieutenant of the Mascarpone crime family is inside: Toblerone Sureshot. Yup, he’s deadly with a hand-cannon. His favoured weapon is the Desert Eagle. Just like his name, it’s slightly triangular. He’s also not a moron. His hired guns are notorious. Earlier on you’ve seen them shoot a top lawyer in a drive by. One shot, straight through the temple. At twenty yards. But things are about to change. The scriptwriters haven’t got a clue how to make this work. In a panic they revert to type. Guns no longer kill people, stupidity does…

Her car is now clearly parked in the Casino grounds. Somehow Lexi makes it to an unguarded fire escape. Climbing inside, she pulls out her piece. Definitely not a revolver—that’s a man cannon. Bamharder owns a svelte automatic. It smells of peaches and cream. Probably. Inching down the corridor, she confronts her first two villains. They open fire, just pistols for now. Take note, Lexi’s in a corridor. That’s a geometric space with a field of view as wide as a cow. Not, notably, the proverbial barn door. Bad guys 1 & 2 fire off several rounds each. Fortune smiles on Lexi as the FX guys have already popped exploding caps into enough woodwork to carpet a forest. Besides, she’s skilled in leaning slightly into a closed door. I mean, we can see her, Hollywood insisted she has a large bust. She’s totally visible. But those bullets just don’t work. Lexi’s turn; Bam! Bam! She always ‘bams’ harder.

Doors. Incredibly good at mesmerising bullets. (The Way of the Gun, 2000, Artisan Entertainment)

Next up, the casino floor. No more pistols. SMG’s abound. Possibly some machine pistols. Maybe a rifle or two. There are a dozen guys. All hired because they presumably have experience in killing people. But today’s not their day. As bullets drop like shiny metal rain, Lexi moves from bandit to bandit. For sure, one round will hit the jackpot and you can giggle as the cash pours out. It’s actually a metaphor for Hollywood. Shoot enough crap and one day it’ll make money. To hell with art. On the balcony she’s getting flanked. One goon leans over, stops, gives Lexi enough time to look, puff her glossy (non-alcoholic) hair from her face and squeeze off two rounds. Rather than obey physics and crumple in a heap, where he could have waited for medical assistance, he takes great pains to vault over the railing. A four-foot railing. A six-foot man. How does that work? Even when I’m not being shot by a drunken cop, I know which side of a railing to fall on. Seriously, where’s he going? What’s out of camera view? A pool of morphine? Maybe he saw Willy Wonka’s last golden ticket.

One by one the goons fall. Lexi takes cover behind the machines, an upturned roulette table, a plastic cactus, and a clear window. Nothing hits. Not even a fleck of shrapnel. Now of course, in some films and shows they do take a hit. But is it ever serious? No. They never get popped in the eye, ear, or face, and damned if any major blood vessels get hit. Always somewhere medics call ‘sexy superficial’. Where scars look cool.

It’s nearing the end of the gunfight, Lexi ascends the stairs, her outfit pristine. Now, of note, if this was a fistfight between two women, clothes would be gone. But gunfights have their own rules, and those rules are: they’re more effective than dry-cleaning at keeping denims fresh. Because Lexi still looks hot in those jeans. Me, I’d have wet myself by now. Powering to the final door, she goes in, where Toblerone Sureshot awaits. He could shoot her as she comes in. But Sureshot doesn’t kill like that. Except he does, he’s a cold-blooded executioner that never misses. Oh dear. Today’s going to be a first. Cue obligatory speeches about morality, where we’re forced to side with a drink-driving murderer who didn’t read the Miranda Rights to a single soul. Whatever, we forget why Lexi came here, assume the family is safe in a freezer truck, eating their way through frozen falafel. In that room though, where Lexi faces Toblerone, you know what happens. The outcome was inevitable the minute she downed her bourbon. Inebriated, hard-drinking, tough cops kill. Everyone. Farewell, Sureshot, today your luck ran out, today, you were created by a scriptwriter.

Combat and Hollywood: Part One

One at a time please (the enigma of group combat)

True, there are rare occasions where carnage ensues in a grand melee. But there is an unspoken rule of film etiquette that all ‘barnies’ are settled with decorum and civility. In essence, this is an extension of Lazy Writing.

Picture the scene. No, don’t bother. Pictures misrepresent the emotional and tumultuous aspect of a brawler’s mind. As Atticus Finch said, you’ve got to wear someone’s shoes to get a feeling for who they are. So, step into the shoes of the antagonist, one of twelve. They’ve encircled the hero. Let’s call him (or her, or them) Jackson Hammerstrike, the meanest PI in Sewer City. Jackson’s a legend. All the crime bosses know of their antics. (Strangely, none had thought to assassinate them with a sniper rifle, or a car bomb, or poison). Anyway, Jackson’s the centre dot of a clockface and every hour mark is a leering psycho waiting to rip out some guts. You know the ensemble. There’s the big bald guy, built like a Bentley, IQ of an Oxo cube. There’s almost definitely a token oriental. There shouldn’t be. That guy from Kyoto should be a maniac on Nintendo, not knives. Give us a break Hollywood. There’s maybe a chick. One of two moulds. Horrifically stereotyped; manly and butch, or super-sexy and oozing duvet appeal. And you know at some point hers and Jackson’s eyes will meet in a pointless moment of ‘will they, won’t they?’ – NO! They won’t. He’s going to kill her; Jackson’s a problem drinker and unadulterated mass-murderer. But it’s fine, It’s Hollywood.

John Wick gets a free ride; don’t diss Keanu – They killed his dog, man! (John Wick, Summit Entertainment, 2014)

I’ll fast forward. It’s necessary to point out the absolute nonsense of the scene. In the next five minutes of (admittedly comical) fight choreography, someone will throw something at the hero. Hell, it might stick. A hefty pole will be wielded. Again, it will likely make a comedy ‘boing’ sound as it hits Jackson. But Jackson won’t stay down. Ding, ding, round two. Point is, none of these actions will happen until an obscene amount of fist-waving and foot-flailing has taken place. You know the sounds. Go get a steak from the freezer. Defrost it, half way. Start punching it. That’s a good noise right there. That’s knuckles humping face meat. Of course, you won’t hear Jackson scream as the metacarpals shatter under the relentless grind of baddie beating.

Ouchies (courtesy Handandwristinstitute.com)

Now, all these seasoned serial killers and professional hard-guys know the score. Jackson’s tough as a squirrel’s nuts. So, they’ve got their guy surrounded. All they need to do is advance, close the space, and BLAM! Jackson’s heroics end under a barrage of nastiness not seen since Westlife covered Manilow’s Mandy. So, they win, right? No, they don’t. Why? Because Hollywood dictates one simple mantra: Bad guys queue.        

Squirrel Nuts. Don’t be offended. Nature is beautiful, or not.

And so follows a scene of predictable, meat-slapping nonsense. Strangely, it will also mimic the abstract progression of a PC game. You know, the weakest fighter attacks first. Their mode of attack is universal: an overhand slice with a kitchen knife or a tyre iron. Jackson either catches the weapon and knocks opponent #1 out, or, sidesteps and sends them into a convenient pile of clattering objects. The scenario will dictate whether it’s an improbable display of canned beans, or a pile of scrap metal. Either way, it will be noisy.  And silly. You need some comedy to lighten up death.

We can give Hollywood plaudits for one thing. Whether Jackson is a man or a woman, their top will be ripped off. Cue rippling abs and either (A) well-defined pecs, usually clean shaven, or (B) a sports-bra Jackson bought at fifteen, now positively oozing flesh. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t date either of these narcissistic maniacs. You would? Weirdo.

Bet your bottom dollar, this shirt’s coming off. (The Transporter, Canal+, 2002)

Cue the final battle. It is Donkey Kong. This guy is the same, or a bigger version of Bentley-Oxo (let’s call them BO). Jackson throws a punch. BO grins. I imagine it’s because after so much punching, Jackson’s hand is a jelly mould of pain. Any bone they once had has turned to dust, floating in a puffy fist-sack of blood and apathy. BO grabs Jackson and throws them across the room. Choose your target: another pile of cans, or more scrap metal. Our hero recovers (do they have to?) and thus begins the five-minute boss-battle. That guy from Kyoto would kick ass here. This is console heaven, a Tekken-esque fight of supreme silliness. Toward the end, both combatants are weary. To bring in science, this is probably a lactic acid build up. After five minutes of fighting, a heart-pounding activity, the system can’t keep up with demand. Lactic builds up, limbs feel heavy. There’s no respite. Adrenaline won’t work, it’s already been spent. Only rest can solve this dilemma. Rest and carbs. But Jackson doesn’t need science. He’s a figment of some nerdy dream. He starts to slug faster and faster. Hitting BO enough times in the face to make pumpkin soup. But it’s not enough to knock him out. This is end of level bad guy. Hollywood requires stupidity. Searching for the options: a chain, a spike embedded in the ground (who risk assessed this room?), a hook on a wall—Jackson finds his mark. There’s an open electrical box that’s clearly failed its annual safety inspection. With a leaping, flying roundhouse, Jackson shows Atticus Finch what shoes are for. His size tens plough into BO’s braindead face, sending him into a lightshow that goes on long enough to imply the fuses are redundant and the place had no RCB’s installed.  

Jackson wins. Quips something cool. Hollywood rubs its hands. The main casualty (apart from your brain) is the owner of the place where the fight happened. Several dead bodies and enough health and safety breaches to bring down Jupiter. Yeah. Maybe I’ll write a real-life version of that fight. That’d be cool… and short. Chop chop, Jackson—times up.

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