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21 Mar

Obsession:  A persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling

It’s 11am and I’m surrounded by “super freaks” as one of the people I’ve come here with dubs them. Perhaps that’s a tad judgemental. Let me pull back a bit. The people I speak of are the attendees of the IFBB British Grand Prix& Fitness Expo Weekend at the ExCel centre in London.

There are men and they are women. They range from normal-looking to super human, more closely resembling the action figures my brother used to play with, than real-life people.

A man thumps past me. His bald orange head shines from the oil he’s lathered on himself for the body builder competition. His one arm is three times the size of mine. His neck is no longer visible, as muscle joins his shoulders directly to his head.

As for the body builders on stage, they remind me of a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the temporarily insane Willow casts a spell to rip off the skin of her captive, revealing all the muscles in his body.

Body building women dab on some pink lip gloss and force on dresses that accentuate their biceps, triceps, and quads, which have long replaced any more natural effeminate curves.

Most of the people milling about fit into one of two categories:

  1. They aspire to look like the guy below
  2. Or they already do, no doubt thanks to a little…ahem…chemical help.

Companies use body builder “athletes” or “success stories” to flog their merchandise–products such as vile-tasting protein supplements like bread that tastes more like a stale marshmallow than any kind of wheat-based product though one of my friends insists it “tastes so much like bread!”

The message is clear: you could look like me if you use this product. I try not to ask the obvious question. Why would anybody want to strut around with veins popping out and muscles at least three times thicker than the average Joe or Jane Schmoe? Is reverting to walking more like our hominid ancestors appealing?

Perhaps you’re wondering how I even ended up at this convention. My friends asked me if I wanted to go and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I’d obviously never been before and I was intrigued by this strange world and the strange people that inhabit it.

Darting glances at every third man or so who looks like a testosterone-charged gorilla, I can’t help but wonder how many of them suffer from serious conditions such as Orthorexia and Bigorexia (also known as Muscle Dysmorphia).

It was one of those occasions where I was bewildered by the sheer madness of it all and wished I was there to report on the whole event rather than simply to witness it. I wanted to pose questions to these people, to understand what drove them to this life that revolved pretty solely around the gym.

One personal trainer (who I must admit appears more reputable than the rest and chiselled in a more natural-looking way) flogs his book, which details various “I was fat and now my life is so much better now I’m not” experiences. People (including my companions) queue for an hour to receive his signed book for free, after hearing his “inspirational” talk. He writes in one person’s book: “Do what you fear. Don’t fear what you do.”

I choke back a laugh as he looks seriously into the eyes of this person.

And then I leave. I leave knowing little more of truck-pulling strongmen and body builder athletes and their fans than I did when I first walked through the ExCel centre doors.


Everyone Poops

18 Mar

This post is going to be all about—you guessed it—the British obsession with pooping, or rather the enjoyment the Brits seems to derive from a successful bathroom experience.

Picture it: It’s 16 August 2010 (over seven months ago). I’ve just arrived in London, England after the most terrifying seven-hour plane journey of my life to be greeted by relatives I’ve only heard of and seen pictures of on Facebook (who were very nice, incidentally). I’m jetlagged—there’s a five-hour time difference—and emotionally drained. I’m given a tour of the house—kitchen, living room, my room, laundry and finally, as the grand finale, the toilet.

There’s a whole host of literature for your reading pleasure, I’m told. And indeed there’s a thick stack of magazines and a couple of books haphazardly thrown atop the pile. Groggy, I don’t think much more of this encounter until I’m shuffled off to another relatives’ home a few days later where there’s even more literature and in a three-hour visit with my cousins, the bathroom reading is referred to at least half a dozen times. My one cousin remarks that he’s learned quite a lot from the hefty fact book and quotes lines from it.

I later learned from a non-relative that bathroom reading is referred to as “shiterature”. A quick peak on Urban Dictionary defined shiterature as “Any book, magazine, letter, pamphlet, or any other type of literature one may take to read while sitting on the toilet.”

My non-relative informed me that he planned to have an excellent collection of shiterature in his own bathroom one day. A good enough life aspiration I suppose since a UK study suggested that more than 14 million Brits read books, magazines and newspapers while on the toliet. Considering the population is 61, 838,154, that’s a whopping 23% who seek written entertainment in the bathroom.

Another Brit provides me with regular updates of his bowel movements. He’s quite proud of himself when he can come up with unique ways to describe his account on the toilet. The week he came up with “broken babies” I must have heard him repeat it at least four or five times, on the phone to various people.

Now perhaps my eyes have been closed to the pooping habits in Canada but I don’t imagine anyone spends nearly as much time talking about the toilet preferences in my homeland as the people of the UK seem to. Fellow Canadians, feel free to point out if I’m misinformed here, but I’ve also yet to hear of Canadian equivalents to institutions such as the British Toliet Association and the Loo of the Year Awards.

Disclaimer: I apologise if any Brit feels that my post is not truly representative of the approach to the pooping experience in Great Britain. Please consider that this is my own personal account and thus do take into consideration my own biases, which include, among other things, a tendency to interact with men more than women.

Accent Under Fire

14 Mar

If you’ve been reading my Facebook updates, you’ll understand that this post has been a long time coming. I never considered accents much back home in Canada. I knew my maternal Grandparents had thick Polish accents and that my favourite professor had a South African accent but not much else. I hardly consciously noticed these things. And I certainly never gave my own accent much thought. That is until I arrived in England where I immediately felt different from the moment the plane landed on the British tarmac.
Perhaps that’s not true. It was actually the moment I walked into a shop in Heathrow airport, selected some mints from a dizzying array of sweets I’d never seen before and paid using the funny-looking coins. As I opened my mouth to speak, I realised I was afraid to reveal my accent. I couldn’t understand where my deep fear stemmed from as I mumbled an inaudible ‘thank you.’
The following weeks illuminated the situation. In a culture where everyone’s favourite pastime is “winding you up” or “taking the piss,” my accent was/ is something of a target, particularly when people (especially relatives) realised there was no greater insult than to call me American. I was laughed at for numerous pronunciations of words that were “so American” and it didn’t matter how many times I said them. It never ceased to be amusing.
Take for example the word “Awwww!” which is according to my housemate is, “So American and so annoying!” I mean, who says that? You’re basically saying you hate the way someone speaks when they can’t avoid it.
Another word that’s apparently quite humorous is “water.” In England, you either strongly pronounce the “t” sound or pretend it’s not there at all.
And the funny part is that when the Brits imitate the way you speak they always exaggerate the differences so that it sounds all-American. So when their imitation of my pronunciation of water sounds something like “wadder.”
Then there are the numerous terms that are the bane of my existence, causing anxiety at the mere possibility I might have to say them.

  • Tottenham & Birmingham (you better not say the “h” sound)
  • Chancery (this “au” sound is impossible to pronounce)
  • Leicester (don’t make the same mistake I did. Tell yourself, in your head, it’s Lester)
  • Fenwicks (still can’t pronounce this one)
  • Argos (this “os” part is like the holy grail of British pronunciation. One day Maiya…one day…)

And that’s just the starter list!
So, I plead with the Brits, please remember I’m just an ignorant foreigner (which I know you take pleasure in reminding me of anyway) and that I’m still learning to adapt to your confusing speech patterns.


Relevant Links:

A Tale of Two Cities

28 Feb

London (Canada) vs. London (England)