Geek in the Gym: a prologue

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Loads of people join gym’s, don’t they? Particularly in January after families have gorged themselves on enough meat, vegetables and liquor to sustain the population of a small island off the coast of Costa Rica. Well, it’s British tradition, isn’t it? Consume a volume of food that you wouldn’t even entertain at any other time of year whilst “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” plays in the background. The British do “irony” pretty well, also.

So, you’ve eaten so much food you know how “Gluttony” felt in Se7en, and you haven’t had a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand in almost a week. Your eyes have developed a seemingly natural pinkness and the inside of your mouth feels like it’s coated with grease, matched with a furry tongue. In your guilt from the back-to-work hangover you decide that the best idea is to join a gym and lose the pounds.

Fast forward to February and you’ve probably been half a dozen times. You were given a tour of the facilities by an attractive and athletic person with “trainer” written on the back of their polo shirt and you promised yourself that 2013 was the year that you were going to do something. And then you promptly forgot about the whole thing, because life has a habit of getting in the way of things. If life didn’t demand so much of your time you really would get your flabby arse to the gym 3 times a week

That’s where I don’t have to worry, you see? I don’t have a life. Well; not enough of one to get in the way.

I joined the gym at the beginning of December, and there were a few reasons. I’m 36, which means that I am at that ‘not getting any younger’ stage that’s annoying to other people who think you’re overreacting. Even the people that do it themselves. I am not, and have never been, into any form of exertion. I do not do, like or follow sport. It strikes me as a silly thing to get enthusiastic about, but each to their own. Most people think I’m odd because I collect comics, watch science fiction and have superhero tattoos. Well, those things and others. My obsession with stationary in general and pens in particular, to start with. And the whole correcting grammar and spelling. But apart from those things I am perfectly normal. Okay, so I have specific radiators that I have to put my boxer shorts and socks on, but everyone does that. And staples must be done at a 45 degree angle or I have to pull them out and re-staple. Other than that, I am just like everyone else.

So I am middle aged (the average life expectancy of a bloke in the UK is about 77, so I’d say I’m in the middle of that) and unfit. Already 2 good reasons to get physical. Add to that my new lifestyle and circumstances which basically meant that my entire existence involved getting up, going to work, coming home and going to bed, where the highlight of my day is speaking to my kids at 8am and 7pm, and having them a couple of times a week when my bastard of a job lets me. Other than my kids, who are amazing, it’s wasn’t the most fulfilling of lives. The gym, mainly, is my attempt at doing something new. Something that’s for ME. To keep me sane and make me feel better, and it’s working.

Step A: Join the gym. Step B: GO to the gym. It’s that easy really.

Well, it is when you’ve got a meat head dragging you there by the scruff of your neck. Did I not mention that? No? Another reason that I ended up with a gym membership is because a colleague of mine goes 5 times a week. We had a boring afternoon at work once, so we started measuring body parts (not like that, you filthy swine, you). His thigh was 3 inches smaller than my waist. His bicep was the same size as my head. He’s a big fella. In addition to these statistics he’s also a sadist. After the first week I could have quite cheerfully never gone back again, but that big bastard just kept on dragging me there.

I used to joke about gyms – that the one thing stopping people like me going was the fact that they were already full of people that looked like they belonged in a gym, whilst I… didn’t. I always said that what was required was a pre-gym gym, where people like me could start getting into shape and learn what the fuck they were doing without looking like a complete plank. I imagined a scene like Deliverance, of me walking into a proper gym and suddenly everyone stops what they’re doing and slowly turns to look at the fuckwit that has just walked through the door.

It took me a few weeks to realise that I was completely wrong. Sure, there are men there that look like they spend more hours of the day working out than sleeping but, when it comes down to it, no one gives a fuck what anyone else is doing. Every person in that gym is concentrating solely on doing what they’ve got to get done. They are too busy doing their own shit to be distracted by my matchstick biceps.

Of course (perhaps inevitably since it’s me) I fucked up a little on a few details. I was wearing ‘the wrong clothes’, apparently. I figured that a pair of trackies and a t shirt was more than suitable, and I was right (sort of). It was the rest of the ensemble that was the issue. My wide-brimmed hat to start with. Every self respecting geek has a hat like it because, deep down, it makes us feel like Henry Jones Jnr. My hat gets regular criticism from my colleagues, and has for years. They will be happy to know that it is being retired at the end of the month.

My XL cardigan was also a matter for discussion. I am medium build and it can wrap around me at least half a dozen times but, DAMNIT! It’s comfortable! Not very cool, but comfortable. Then there was my footwear. I bought a pair of trainers specifically for the gym (I think it’s a rule, or something, but I’ve never really asked anyone about it), so I wear my boots when I go up there. It’s winter, and a pair of steel toecaps with good grip is sensible. I also have a denim jacket with a fur lining that I have worn day in, day out, for the last 5 years and a seven foot long black and white scarf that frequently makes people shout abuse at me in the street for being a Newcastle supporter.

So, to recap, my gym ensemble was: Indy hat; scarf; denim jacket; cardigan; t shirt; trackies; steel toe capped boots. In short: I looked like a bag of spanners. Even I had to admit that I prematurely looked like I was preparing to sleep on a park bench somewhere. So the moral of the story is that even if, like me, you don’t really care what people think about your fashion sense there’s no reason to go around looking like an incontinent hobo.

My aim in going to the gym is to get fitter, lose the last of my belly and build a bit of muscle. This boils down to Cardio’ and weights. I tend to jump on the Cross Trainer for 20 minutes when I first get there to get my heart rate going, warm up and get a sweat on. If you go on a Cardio’ machine and you’re not sweating like a bastard when you come off then you’re doing it wrong. Also; make sure you have either a towel or you grab some of the paper roll that should be around somewhere. No one looks good dripping in sweat and the person using the machine next will NOT appreciate it.

The gym that I go to is split into 2 main sections (plus a swimming pool). I have no idea if this normal as my experience of going to a gym is limited to the last couple of months. Downstairs are the Cardio’ machines and the weights machines whilst upstairs is the ‘Big Boys Area” where everyone does free weights and the equipment looks like Torquemada himself would have approved of the design. I’m not really comfortable upstairs for a few reasons. I got very drunk last year, punched a wall and broke 2 bones in my right hand. 2 lots of surgery later and I haven’t got the best grip in the world – my pinkie finger is pretty much immobile from the knuckle. This makes some of the exercises (particularly with free weights) a little tricky and a few impossible. I’ve also got to admit that it’s a little intimidating to walk into a room full of muscle freaks where the only other ‘normal’ guy is a skinny ginger fellow with a goatee beard. He looks like Shaggy from Scooby Doo and can lift twice as much as me, the bastard.

The main reason that I don’t venture upstairs that often is the noises that people make. It’s hard to concentrate on maintaining your form when a guy across the room is making sounds that I’ve only heard before on a Norewegian porn movie. Seriously. The guy could make a fortune dubbing those things into English. What made it worse is that when I looked over he was using lower weights that I was. I don’t make noises like that. The chap that first started taking me there (his name’s Jamie, by the way, and he has a wicked sense of humour. He descibes himself like this: “I’m black, 22, don’t drink, don’t smoke, I’m from Oldham and I don’t have any kids – I think I deserve some sort of recognition for that”) doesn’t make noises like that and he can bench press a small car. Not a Smart car, a proper car. Like a Mini or a Beetle. He could do a Robin Reliant with one leg.

Jamie is a cruel taskmaster. For the first few weeks I only went with him so I could get used to the place, feel comfortable and learn how to use the machines. He also made sure that I wasn’t lifting “pussy weights”, although he describes the face that I pull when I’m struggling as “a ferret having an orgasm”. I’m not sure how he knows this, and I haven’t asked. How does he know the ferret wasn’t faking it for a start? The first time that he had me doing my legs was a highlight of hilarity for him as, when we had finished and were going back downstairs, they completely gave way on the first step. I had to use the handrail the whole way. When I was halfway a couple of guys started coming down behind me and, I have to admit, I pretended that nothing was wrong and tried walking normally. The result was a spasmodic gait that fooled no one and caused J to cry with laughter. I also couldn’t walk properly for 4 days after, which tickled my colleagues no end.

So I’ve been going for the last couple of months and that’s why I feel confident that I can keep up with this new part of SINGLE GEEK DAD because, and I never thought I’d say this, but I really enjoy going. Subsequent posts will be shorter as this has kind of gotten away from me. It’s going to be part diary, part observation and hopefully it will have a couple of funny jokes in each post.

Thanks for reading and GEEK IN THE GYM will continue next week.

Owen

You Might be a Geek if…

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  1. You get excited by the prospect of the finale to a TV show and plan to get up in the middle of the night to watch the simulcast.
  2. You genuinely believe that you’re cool because of your extensive wardrobe of comic book t shirts.
  3. You can name every Captain there has been of the Starship Enterprise, but struggle with the names of family members.
  4. You think movie posters are underrated as modern art.
  5. Bazinga!
  6. Even your children think you’ve watch Star Wars too many times.
  7. You speak to you friends more via the internet rather in ‘real life’.
  8. You have used “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” in an actual conversation.
  9. You can have an actual argument about The Prequels.
  10. You know what ‘The Prequels’ means.
  11. You know Buffy’s middle name, and it makes you smirk.
  12. You cried when Spock died in The Wrath of Khan.
  13. You learned everything you need in life from Sam Beckett, Jim Kirk, The Doctor and Batman.
  14. You read the book before the movie was even made.
  15. You complain that a movie wasn’t faithful enough to the source material.
  16. You complain that a movie was too faithful to the source material.
  17. When you read an article about “Spiderman” you feel the urge to write a stern letter to point out the mistake.
  18. You assume Trekkers don’t hike.
  19. You donated money to the Elite Kickstarter campaign, rather than to help starving African children.
  20. You spent hundreds of pounds on a new PC because your old PC wasn’t quick enough to play a game that cost you £30.
  21. You feel jilted by your love interest in Mass Effect.
  22. You can spend the better part of an evening debating which order to watch the Terminator movies in.
  23. As above, but with the Indiana Jones movies.
  24. You can spend an enjoyable couple of hours looking up obscure entries in the Doctor Who Encyclopedia.
  25. You have a blog dedicated to how geeky you are.

Thanks for assistance must go to the following people: Ollie Pietruch, Nick Reeve, Helena Hancock, Russ Whitfield, Troo Topham, Alex Cook, Liam Barrett & Lee Medcalf.

There will, more than likely, be a part 2…

RESURRECTION MAN: Volume 1 – “Dead Again”

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Resurrection Man Vol 1An amazing friend of mine that goes by the name of Troo (and who herself has 2 great blogs: Troo Adventure about her amazing adventures around the globe and Troo Grit about her healthy obsession with gaming) has been lovely enough to send me Amazon gift cards for my birthday and Christmas (despite me being an utter swine and not even getting her a card). When I’m buying graphic novels out of my own cash I tend to go for stuff that I know I am going to like. It’s a fair bet that when take a trip to the Waterstones or Forbidden Planet I’ll be buying a Superman collection or the latest volume of The Walking Dead.  When I was perusing Amazon for something to buy I was looking at the usual stuff; characters that I already knew and loved, authors that I respected and artists that I admired.

It was about the time that DC began releasing the collected editions of The New 52, and I was looking at the Justice League, Batman, Teen Titans, that sort of thing… the titles that take up most of my collection. However, the reason that I was able to buy these comics was because of a person that I greatly admire (and who, frankly, scares me a little bit on an intellectual level, although she could kick my arse physically as well) and is always up for new experiences and expanding her horizons. On some level I wanted to reflect that in my purchases, which sounds a bit daft when I write it down, but there you go.

The Resurrection Man in question is called Mitch Shelley and, as far as I can tell, has a unique super power. Whilst there are plenty of heroes that can fly or have super strength Mitch keeps returning from the dead with a new power each time. That sounded pretty cool to me.

The point in the New 52 was to get new readers on board for characters that have been around for a long time and writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (who also created the character back in the day) grab the opportunity with Mitch. Despite reading comics for the vast majority of my life I don’t think I’ve ever come across the chap before. My lovely new DC Comics Encyclopedia that I got for Christmas (who says and ex-wife can’t buy you a thoughtful gift?) tells me that he’s fought alongside the likes of the Justice League of America and Supergirl, so he’s probably been in at least something I’ve read but, y’know, if you need an encyclopedia to keep track of them all then you’re bound to forget a few of ’em.

As you’d expect the story starts with Mitch coming back to life. The New 52 wasn’t really about doing the origin stories again so Mitch has already been living this life for some time, but in the great tradition of fiction he has amnesia as well. He knows who he is, and he knows he has this power, but that’s about it. As a jumping on point for a new reader it’s not bad. It’s fairly basic storytelling but there’s a reason that it works – it allows the reader to learn at the same pace as the character. It creates suspense and empathy and, when it’s used well it’s a brilliant device (the film Memento is a great example of this). The question is: Does Resurrection Man  do it well?

The series lasted 13 issues before it was cancelled, but this isn’t indicative of quality (Firefly lasted 13 episodes and is regarded as one of the greatest genre shows of all time, after all) and, after reading the first volume, it’s a shame that it didn’t last longer but with 52 different comics all being pumped out at the same time it’s no surprise that some of them fell by the wayside. The popular ones were always going to be popular, but it’s ones like Resurrection Man that don’t get the readership they deserve.

It turns out Mitch is very popular, in a “being hunted by different people” kind of way. There’s an angel called Suriel trying to collect his soul and a couple of ladies called the Body Doubles trying to get their hands on him as well, while Mitch tries to figure out who he is and why he keeps returning from the dead. Heaven and Hell want his soul as his inability to die is causing ‘bookkeeping problems’, which is a tidy little idea with both sides warning that Mitch’s constant returns are beginning to cause a problem in the grand scheme of thing.

There are a couple of great little scenes that inject some nice humour into what is, essentially, a very dark story. The Body Doubles attempts to retrieve Mitch by repeatedly killing him (it makes their job a lot easier) raised a smile, as well as Suriel using a mobile phone to call Heaven and ask them to look out of the window to see if Mitch’s soul is heading up there.

In fact the only problem that I have with Dead Again is the Body Doubles themselves. They’re unkillable ‘retrieval experts’ as well as being in a lesbian relationship. Their dialogue is great and they’ve got the partners in crime quipping down to an artform. The issue that I have is their physical portrayal. Our introduction to the characters is of them lying in bed wearing lingerie and surrounded by guns. It’s pure fanboy wank fantasy and completely unnecessary to the story. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud. Bonnie spends the rest of the story wearing an evening gown that has a habit of getting ripped and Carmen… she wears a schoolgirl outfit where her tiny tartan miniskirt has a habit of flapping up to reveal her underwear. It’s exploitative and degrading. Don’t get me wrong – it looks great to see a sexy couple of chicks shooting and fighting, but there’s just no need for it in the story. As titillating as it might be it’s hard to read a mature comic like this and not see it as the basest exploitation.

Overall, despite this quibble, Resurrection Man is a decent read. Fernando Dagnino is as polished an artist as you’d expect from a DC Comics publication and he illustrates the pain that Mitch feels upon his returns very well. Whilst Mitch might die a little too often in order to progress the story (9 times in 7 issues? That’s a bit much) he gets some fun and varied powers to play around with. The downside is do you really want to spend £10.99 on a series that you already know got cancelled?

The 100 Movie & Book Challenge

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This is not my idea. A good friend of mine called Nick Reeve came up with it.

The general idea is pretty simple. I’m going to attempt to watch 100 movies during 2013 that I haven’t seen before. A little over a decade ago this would have been easy. Back then I could probably have done it in about 4 months, no problem.  This was in the good old days when you could get three videos for £20 from HMV. Ah, HMV, how I loved thee. Wandering your displays, trying to find something worth watching. Actually having a disposable income to buy movies with (how come I earn twice as much now, but I’m always skint?).

On a side note I’m not too sure my 6 year old daughter even knows what a VHS tape is. She’d probably stare at it with the same “what the fuck is that?” look on her face as when she saw a Game Boy.

100 new movies in a year should be a doddle, shouldn’t it? That’s about 1 every 4 days. Anyone can do that, can’t they? Well, not so far. In order to keep up with the average I should be on at least 2 films so far this year, and I’ve only watched one: the 2012 version of Total Recall, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be (but more about that later).

The same goes for the books – 100 books that I haven’t read before. This one might be a bit more of a struggle, but you’ve got to set yourself goals in life, haven’t you? Since I’ve always got my Kindle with me I’ve really got no excuse not to be dipping into fiction whenever I get the chance.

Yes, I know that I should be setting myself slightly more exciting challenges for the year but, damnit, I WANT to do this!

Owen

The Usual Yearly Resolutions…

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1) Join a gym.
2) Give up smoking.
3) Get a life.
4) Write more.
5) Stop drinking (as much)!
6) Stop correcting grammatical mistakes.
7) Start a blog and keep it going.

These resolutions are pretty much the same every year. Apart from the first one. I never really saw the appeal of a gym. Now that I’ve joined one I still don’t see the appeal of them. Other than the fact that there are some rather attractive ladies that frequent gyms there are also a large proportion of truly huge blokes that have memberships as well. Although I’ve lost a fair amount of weight in the last 12 months (who says you can’t take something positive from the end of a marriage and depression bordering on suicide?) it has served only to emphasise the fact that I have the upper body strength of an eight year old girl with bulimia. I would probably lose an arm wrestling contest with Stephen Hawking. These are not embellishments. But join I did, and for the privilege of having £40 per month whipped out of my bank account I can now put myself through so much trauma that I have trouble doing something as simple as getting off the toilet.

I used to be double jointed in my arms. At least; I thought that I was double jointed. It turns out that the reason I could bend my arms backwards was because I didn’t have enough (any) muscle in my biceps to stop them from going that far.

As for the other resolutions… I’m smoking as I write this; getting a life is an ongoing and troublesome ambition as people are generally annoying; I’ve not written anything so far this year; the drinking seems to be successful so far, but it’s only been 10 days; I have corrected only one person this year and that was a pre-conditioned response to someone saying “innit”.

Then there’s the blog. This is the first post. It is not unlike the first posts that I have written before but, hopefully, it will be the last. Since I can talk at an Olympic level whenever the need arises (and often when it doesn’t) this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for me. But then again I have tried and failed before.

Should everything go to plan I will be regaling you all (at this point – no one) with my geekly opinions on TV shows, films, books and comics. I shall probably go on about my amazing kids so much that it becomes annoying (they’re REALLY cool, you understand). I will probably not talk about fashion or reality TV. I will, most likely, go on about shit that annoys me. There’s a lot of shit that annoys me. Old people in particular.

To be continued (after I pick the kids up from school, make their tea, take my daughter to Rainbows and ship them back to their mother).

Thanks for reading,

Owen

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