Camera Obscurer

If there’s one thing I hate, then I’ve stopped hating a lot of things. One of them being reality television. Yes I know, reality TV is hardly a difficult target is it? Normal people don’t even really watch it anymore, unless their parents or their worst friend has it on (by normal people I mean people who read this blog and a couple of my friends). And it’s so broad now that it must surely have its own subgenres. Reality shows prefixed with the phrase ‘Great British’ are too numerous at more than one, and having not been invented by Brits, there is nothing British about cakes or sewing. Nor are they great, being unnecessary and just about necessary respectively. Any more of these shows will likely culminate in the Great British Switch Off, which cannot happen too soon.

But it goes to show how far reality TV has come. From showing a group of people in a house doing nothing, to a group of people not in house doing something.

We can all say that Big Brother started as a good idea, and that it was a social experiment, showing ordinary people in a unique situation. But if a real experiment is conducted, the scientist usually has a specific hypothesis they are trying to prove or disprove, above just saying ‘we wanted to see what would happen’. What was the hypothesis for Big Brother? Will there ever be a contestant in the Big Brother house that doesn’t say: “I just speak my mind, if I don’t like someone, I tell them to their face”? Will anyone ever be able to say “day three in the Big Brother house” in anything other than a Geordie accent? Is the show now at a point where more people have been inside the house than actually still watch it?

Yes of course there’s also the constant irony of ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother, every year met with cries of bemusement at not recognising a single housemate. Although this is true, this observation is now so trite it is only still said by people who think it’s clever to use the words ‘Primani’ or ‘tinternet’.

What really got me thinking about this topic, was the death of David Bowie, and then finding out his ex-wife Angie was a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother at the time. There was of course the question of whether they should tell her, whether she should leave etc. But never was there the question of, if Angie tells one of the other housemates, will they automatically assume she is referring to fellow housemate David Gest, and run around screaming because there’s a dead body in the house?
It’s interesting to note that Angie and Gest are now only in the house for being linked to famous dead musicians. Perhaps Yoko Ono should be in there next time? ‘But she’s an artist!’ you cry. Do I have to take her seriously because she always wears black clothes and sunglasses? Quite the opposite.

A better way to make yourself famous rather than marrying a musician, might be to film yourself sucking cock, and then marry a famous musician, à la Kim Kardashian. Her reality show is essentially an extended advert for her brand. Does anyone remember a few years ago when everyone thought it was crazy that a car company made an advert that was like a movie trailer? Well now MTV are making half hour long adverts for impressionable people who think sucking cock on video and marrying well is a good route to getting a half hour long advert on MTV. And they’re right. But good luck to her, I couldn’t do it. I’ve lost the charger for my camera.

Next time on the Bandwagon, I look at why war is bad, but does the poetry make it worth it?


Rest and Respiration

It was a double, with two massage tables and two masseuses. They first asked us to select some music together, although the idea of urging a couple to agree on something in under a minute seems the very enemy of relaxation. We chose based on titles alone, and opted for ‘Yesterday’s Breath’, although ‘Transitory Insects’ and ‘Lost Curtains’ also sounded interesting, while ‘River Song’ sounded a little litigious for my liking.

The masseuses (I’m just going to call them massagers from now on) asked us to remove some clothes, while they left the room. We stripped down again to our swimming clothes, and tried to navigate the tables. There was a standard face hole at one end that had a small rolled-up towel round the top half. I pressed my face into the hole and found it incredibly uncomfortable. I couldn’t work out if my face was too big for the hole, or if I wasn’t doing it right, so I adjusted the towel and tried again. Still I found myself with most of my throat pushing against the bottom edge of the hole, but it would have to do. The massagers returned, greeting us with their comically soothing voices.

They got to work, pouring some oil onto my upper back and shoulders, an area that typically produces too much oil of its own. I thought better of saying anything to that effect, especially to someone who would spend the next half hour rubbing and staring at my back. Preaching to the converted. She proceeded to rub my back, but as she worked her way up towards my shoulders and neck, I felt the pressure pushing my throat harder onto the edge of the facehole. It quickly became less than the relaxing experience I had hoped for. Every time she kneaded my shoulders or neck, my eyes bulged and I felt I was going to choke. If there had been a camera underneath the facehole, it would have looked like I was doing an impersonation of Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting to breathe on the surface of Mars. There wasn’t a camera of course, just a confusing bowl of liquid with a flower floating in the middle. I assume it was there as a peaceful image, which became a taunting reminder of the sensation I was supposed to be feeling. Each time the pressure abated, I tried to shift my head and neck, but I couldn’t manage to get it right. And then the hands would ascend once again up my back and threaten to collapse my trachea as a form of tension relief. I was worried my girlfriend might be going through the same experience, assuming this was a design fault of the tables themselves, instead of my own inability to place my face into a hole designed for a face. I would have halted the massage entirely, but didn’t want to ruin the aura of calm in the room, and the longer I waited to say something, the longer it would be clear that I had just simply been lying there struggling to breath without saying anything. It soon turned into a morbid curiosity of how much pressure my windpipe could stand, until finally we were asked to turn over.

I understand some people like to choke themselves in order to enhance orgasm, and I also understand that some people expect to be brought to orgasm at the end of a massage, but I think it would be a lot to expect my massager to have deliberately conflated these two ideas into a choking massage, although if she had been working there a while, it would explain the lengthy forms we had to fill out at reception.

Laying on my back, we ended with a facial massage and treatment. I was glad to have the opportunity to relax, but felt the pressure of now having to get all my relaxing done in a shorter period of time. That problem quickly disappeared though, as the solution smeared onto my face was nothing short of expensive acid, meaning I wouldn’t have to relax at all. Once again I lay there silently, choosing to trust the massager and her cream rather than suffer the embarrassment of admitting my face might be melting off. Five burning minutes later, the cream was wiped away, and a soothing agent applied. I later suggested to my girlfriend that if they recognise the need for a soothing agent, perhaps the non-soothing agent isn’t soothing enough to begin with.

We dressed again, and left, meaning my chance for relaxation had ended. I decided to do my best to relax on the car drive home, but the memory of the morning’s car trouble was more than enough to keep my eyes wide and my grip on the steering wheel tighter than ever.

So ends my odyssey of self-discovery. In one day I realised I would overcome my introvert nature to ask strangers to help jump start my car, but dare not speak up as I paid for an expensive massager to almost collapse my trachea for half an hour.
My social ineptitude apparently allows me to save my car’s life, but not my own.


Next time on the Bandwagon, can’t we just have a nice meal as a family for a change?

Tales from the Spa

Picture the scene, because this is narrative prose, not a comic book. It was last summer, I had been with my girlfriend for two years to the day, and as is customary, we decided to celebrate by exchanging money for goods and services. Not with each other; paying for services rendered by your partner would suggest a different kind of relationship. The kind that, if continued uninterrupted for two years, would hardly be a cause for celebration. Although a voucher would probably be appropriate.

(Ah digression, that beckoning temptress I trained myself to resist only for the essay-writing days of university. It’s good to see you again.)


We exchanged gifts on the morning, and had booked the day off work in order to go to a spa together for a swim, a sauna and an oil massage – easily the most popular liquid-based relaxants aside from alcohol. We got into my car for the journey from Bristol to Cheltenham, only to realise that my car battery was entirely flat. I wandered around helplessly for a while, soon finding some nearby builders who agreed to help try a bump-start. All the while my girlfriend stood watching at the side of the road, on the phone with the spa trying to reschedule our massage appointment. The bump-start failed, but I found a highway maintenance van up the road with some highway maintainers more than happy to lend some jump leads. I carried these to my new builder friends who maneuvered their big white van front bumper to front bumper with my little red Yaris, and connected the cables. We successfully jolted my car into life, just in time to deter me from making the observation that it looked like our cars were kissing.

The massage had been rescheduled, we could make the appointment, and after a tearful goodbye to the jump leads, and firm handshake from the builders, we left Bristol an hour later than planned.

We arrived at the hotel spa, recounting our story to the reception staff who laughed politely while nudging forms toward us. “Oh that sounds awful! Yeah, I bet you were panicking. Do you have any medical conditions?” The forms seemed unnecessarily long at the time, but with that much liquid around I’m sure there’s plenty of opportunity for slips, trips and drownings. We had some time to kill before the massage, so went for a swim in the hotel pool. If there’s one thing that dampens the intimacy of a romantic swim with your partner, it’s the concept of ‘lengths’. Since it was a hotel pool, not just for spa users, there were old ladies paddling up and down, staving off death for another day, while making the whole experience feel like an aquatic version of Frogger. You wouldn’t need to change the name of said version of course, since frogs are amphibian. One-nil.

A short sauna later (with me delivering the well-worn yet obligatory line of ‘it’s like a sauna in here!’) and we went for our massage.

The receptionist led us up some stairs and through some glass doors to the massage waiting area. They’d obviously gone for a mix of eastern mysticism with a dash of woodland cabin décor, and a pinch of capitalism. Lotions, unctions and oils were all on sale under the counter, as if daring people to try and recreate the experience at home, knowing that without the addition of whale song and the added frisson of just being out of the house, they would likely fail.

After sitting for a while, I noticed a pinboard on the wall to my left, with pictures and mini profiles of all the masseuses. The revelation that none were male was a source of no surprise, but slight relief to me. The lack of surprise was because I referred to them all as masseuses, not masseurs, only two sentences ago, and I assumed the relief was due to some latent homophobia or fear of my own sexuality. I mentioned this to my girlfriend who agreed that she also wouldn’t want to be massaged by a man, but obviously not because of an aversion to homoeroticism, more that she would be worried it wouldn’t be as gentle or relaxing. While I couldn’t decide whether this was the actual reason for my own relief, it became clear that both of us would prefer it if only one gender would work in a profession in which gender was largely irrelevant and that we know nothing about. While sitting there, feeling like a stupid sexist, I started reading the masseuses’ profiles in lieu of any stray copies of Good Housekeeping magazine or leaflets on STIs. I noted that all seven or eight of them had massaging qualifications, but found myself more drawn to each profile’s ‘Hobbies’ or ‘Personal Interests’ section. Stereotyping again, I decided not to expect interests such as ‘the works of William Blake’ or ‘quantum entanglement’ to crop up, but was hoping for something more than ‘going out’ or ‘going for meals with friends’, which unfortunately did crop up a number of times. I thought it odd that the concept of simply ‘leaving the house’ was a special enough occurrence as to mention it on a personal profile, while ‘leaving the house and then eating while not alone’ seems only slightly less odd. My girlfriend pointedly mentioned that ‘travelling’ also came up a lot, perhaps rushing to come to the rescue of her gender, fuelled by the guilt of her earlier sexism. “Travel broadens the mind,” she reminded me. I countered that, while ‘travelling’ did come up a lot, that was a very generic term, and that perhaps the corridors between massage rooms were particularly long, interesting, and mind-broadening.

Minutes later, we were finally called in to the massage room.

Next time on the Bandwagon, is it too late for you to make it as a chef? Plus the thrilling conclusion to our story.

New Year, New Platitude

Lose weight! Go to the gym more! Be more assertive! Read more broadly! Get famous! Stop fucking swearing! Use fewer exclamation marks! Stop being tediously self-referential! But for god’s sake wait until January 1st!
New Year’s Resolutions can be a useful benchmark for goal-setting, but part of me thinks if people were really serious about making these changes, they would have done it already.

The idea of a new start in any sense can be appealing, a new relationship, a new house, a new job. It makes you think something will change, that if you just had that new TV, your life would be complete. Or if you just had that half a million pound house, you might finally be able to get your life in order. Obviously that’s nonsense, the idea that one specific thing will flip the switch on your life and give you the motivation you need to change everything.

It’s an acceptable form of procrastination, which comes with its own culture of knowing you’re not going to keep your promise. What was it about 2015 that stopped you from doing what you’re planning to do this year? Was it the odd number? Was it the discovery of water on Mars? Was it the confusing spelling of Terminator Genisys? You better hope they don’t bring out another Terminator film this year, you might end up losing your job. Terminator: Evylewtion could spell the end of Western Civilisation. At least working out how to spell the title nearly counts as reading more broadly.

So what’s so great about a new year? I imagine if I was alive before Christ I would have freaked out that years seemed to be counting down to something. January 1st in 1 B.C would have made me very anxious (I’m assuming the months and dates would go backwards as well), let alone the fact that everyone would somehow be getting younger every year.
In our enlightened time of numerically ascending calendars, the only the thing the next year can practically bring is another round of Christmas, birthdays and other date-based celebrations, as well as another excuse for millennials to freak about how long ago the 90s was.

But still, years are useful. Without them we wouldn’t know how long to wait before we’re supposed to care about the Olympics again. And obviously measures of time are indispensable, so how will 2016 be remembered?
It could be the year we agree on a solution for climate change, or it could be the year we find out kale is a very slow-acting poison. It could be the year you turn your whole life around, start playing an instrument, continue writing an excellent blog, finally escape the indignity of your teen years by growing out of your acne and into distinguished facial hair. Or it could be the year you go viral for shitting yourself on a train. That’s the fame sorted.

Years are a practicality, an arbitrary measure. Without resolutions, everything that’s been done will still have been done, but maybe sooner and with less guilt. If you want to change something, just do it. Telling people about your big plans can to some extent satisfy the urges to actually carry them out. So get cracking, tell no-one and throw away your calendar (you’ve probably got one on your phone anyway).

Don’t let 2016 be an excuse to create a ‘new you’ in the sort of way that gyms, slimfast and the kindle store can commodify. If you need the last number on a calendar to change in order to motivate yourself to do something, then you’re in luck, it’s a new year. But don’t pick something just out of ceremony or something meaningless. Go big, and mean it. That was assertive enough wasn’t it? F**k it, I’m off to the gym.

Next time on the Bandwagon, can cabbage be gay?