Those Two People

(or, God, people can suck sometimes)

I went for a run yesterday, as is my custom, and enjoyed it. I ran two miles in my fastest time, didn’t screw with my blood sugar levels too much and only collapsed on the sofa afterwards for a few minutes. However, on the way two people really pissed me off – by being vaguely supportive. One girl shouted ‘Keep going! Never stop running!’, as I bounced past that directionless sack of skin and irritatingly effective life-sustaining organs she calls a body, while the other stood silently and passive, like any living human should. Now, I don’t necessarily hate those two people for what they did, but my anger stems from what they represent: unnecessary encouragement.

Okay, don’t get me wrong, I like being encouraged; being told that my essay is good by my English teacher gives me a sense of achievement and that I’m doing things right. Also, this sort of encouragement is generally quite specific, letting me know exactly what I did well, and that I should continue doing these things. However, the vague and unwanted ‘encouragement’ from that girl offers neither specific advice, or is from a relevant source: is that girl a runner, or knows anything about physical exercise that I don’t already? Probably not, and even if she was, she really didn’t show it; her ‘words of wisdom’ were hardly sentences. Also, the pointlessness of her shouting was compounded by the fact that I was tired and focused on running at the time – I’m hardly a professional runner, but I concentrate on how fast I’m going, how much effort I think I’m putting in and how much energy I’ll have left for the last little bit which is uphill, and so on; cries of ‘Keep going!’ will not help these decisions at all. Even if she was shouting out my heart rate, calories burned and gave me a Tour De France-style update on my current distance remaining and distance run I’d still probably be annoyed, purely because if I’m focusing on anything, not just running, I don’t particularly want random people shouting at me as I do it. I don’t care if you’re any good at English, but standing over me shouting ‘Remember to include language analysis!’ in the middle of an exam won’t really help me.

Now I want to break down what she actually said to me: ‘Keep going!’ was the first bit; okay, that advice is flawed, because it suggests that she assumed I was going to stop running if she had not told me that – the distance I run is a distance I can run (fairly comfortably), and so was in no real danger of stopping halfway through. Perhaps if I’d been running a marathon and was on mile 18, advice to ‘Keep going’ may have been more appropriate, because I may have started to doubt my own ability to finish the damn thing. This is why I said I don’t necessarily hate these girls, because I think they were trying to be genuinely encouraging, I just wish they weren’t so annoying in doing it. Secondly, the verb ‘going’ is strange here; it’s derived from ‘to go’, making it one of the most irregular and annoying common words in the english language, a verb which simply means to move in a direction. In this verb, speed or intensity of motion is not mentioned, meaning that, for all I know, that girl was trying to tell me to stop running, but continue moving, but at a walking pace, which is bad practice when running, I understand, because your body has to stop working hard and then re-start, which is stressful for it. This advice is also pointless, as I was running towards home; I didn’t have anyone to pick me up halfway or anything, so the only way I could have gone home was on my own two feet, either running or walking; therefore, the girl encouraged me to move towards my house, which is the only conceivable thing I could have been doing at that time. It’s like standing over someone every second of their life and telling them to ‘Breathe in! Breathe out! Keep breathing!’; it’s kinda pointless.

The second bit of this girl’s meaningful and profound analysis into my running performance, showing a level of deep thought equal to that of the Dalai-Lama, ‘Never stop running!’ is even worse; I can’t ‘never’ stop running, its physically impossible! (alright, nearly physically impossible) Does this girl want to push me beyond the limits of human endurance and run forever? It’s unlikely, and was more down to a poor word choice, but that just goes to show you need to be careful with what you shout at strangers. Furthermore, this sounds more like a command than her other advice – while ‘Keep going’ can be seen as genuinely supportive, the construction ‘Never stop’ is downright menacing; whether she wants to make me run until I die or not, she sure sounds like she wants to. This statement also contradicts with the first; initially, she told me to continue moving, at a non-specific speed, now it has to be at a run? She’s changed her mind within half a second! Even if her points were actually helpful to me, she shows more indecisive flip-floppery than this guy. Her advice is totally undermined by poor word choices and indecisiveness, meaning that I can’t take anything she said seriously, and it becomes an annoyance; and that’s even if what she was saying was in any way relevant or helpful in the first place.

Still, I want to re-iterate that I don’t hate these girls as people, nor do I consider them bad individuals – when I’m watching football games on TV, I shout at the players every four seconds – but if you’re going to shout at someone who’s focusing on something in particular, make sure what you’re saying makes sense first. To be honest, I think I was a lot more angry when it happened than I am now (I fell back on micro-language analysis to make a point for God’s sake), which I guess shows that I got over it, and it was ultimately inconsequential; has that girl’s shouting changed my life profoundly? Not at all; if it wasn’t for this blog, I’d probably have forgotten all about it. Overall, this whole episode shows that we can get annoyed at stuff all the time, but that these things don’t really matter, so don’t go mad whenever someone pisses you off for a second, just wait a few days and write a blog post about it – you’ll realise that its kinda irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Also, I responded to the girls by glaring at them like this guy, only without the growling, which I now find amusing. (more…)

Diabetes is a Double-Edged Sword

(or, I’m surprised it took five posts on here to mention my permanent medical condition that is undoubtedly the single most important factor in affecting my daily routine, and whose diagnosis was the most self-defining moment in my life)

I’m not going to go into the biological causes and implications of Type One Diabetes on my body in this post; you can Google that or click here if you want to learn more, but anyone can tell you about that – I’m gonna talk about how this easily-manageable, albeit potentially life-threatening, condition has impacted my life, right up from when I was first diagnosed at seven to the present day, ten years later. And, contrary to urban legend and popular belief, it’s really not that bad.

No, seriously, it’s pretty alright – yes I can’t eat cakes all the time, but who the hell would want to – do all you 57 million non-Diabetics in the UK spend your free time easting sugary foods, and I’m just missing out? No, you do not. Essentially, I need to take an injection of insulin every time I eat foods with carbohydrate (basically sugar) in them. This means that, practically, I inject with every meal, because I’ll eat some kind of carb (potatoes, rice etc.) with every meal, as we probably all should. On the one hand, this does mean I end up with up to five injections a day and the same number of blood tests to monitor the amount of sugar in my blood (the stuff the insulin is trying to control), which can suck at times: ‘Hey James, wanna go get some chips?’ ‘Sure, let me stab a needle into my arm first!’. Obviously this stuff hurts – by its very nature, a needle breaks the skin and so causes pain, meaning that I can ‘get used to’ the injections, but the pain won’t really go away. Furthermore, I end up with weird-looking arms and legs; constant injections in an area cause lumps to form, and after around 28,470 blood tests and injections over the last decade (not counting walking expeditions, hospital visits and illnesses, all of which force me to do more of the damned things), it looks like I have disproportionately large thighs and triceps, compared to the rest of my body. This isn’t really a problem for me, because I could be covered in faeces-stained scales like an incontinent lizard, and still not care about my body image, but this could be an issue for some folks. Conversely, the constant injections do have a benefit – I can maths! The injections aren’t just a matter of slicing my arm open for a blood sacrifice like a Mesoamerican heart-ripping Priest, but are applications of a dosage of medicine, a dosage I must work out the appropriate volume of, based on the size of the food I’m eating, and its carbohydrate content – I will need more units of Insulin for a large portion of fries than I would for a small one. This sounds easy enough, but often those monsters who make the nutritional information tables on the backs of cereal packets only include carb information per 100 grams of cereal, so I’ve got to weigh out the mass of cereal I want to eat, then calculate the amount of carb in that mass by dividing it by a hundred and multiplying it by the mass of the cereal I wanna eat … (honestly, sometimes I’ll say ‘Kill me now’, only to ironically realise that if I don’t do the maths, I will actually die). On a serious note, I’m able to do, seemingly basic, operations like multiplication and division competently – considering I forgot how to do every other mathematical operation a week after finishing GCSE Maths, this is significant – which genuinely helps in daily life, like working out the number of injections and blood tests I’ve done over the last ten years. To be honest, I’ll take the lumpy, occasionally-bruised arms to get an incentive to keep up with practicing maths.

Diabetes can mess with your health – when I’m playing sport, there is a genuine concern that my blood sugar will fall so low I’ll pass out, because I can’t regulate that myself naturally, and it’s difficult to do a blood test while keeping goal. Furthermore, I will have to drink energy drinks every four seconds when playing, to keep my sugar levels up – if in doubt it’s better to be too high than too low – which can also be inconvenient. However, this is a minor problem in reality – I’ve not had any real complications from Diabetes with exercise, and I do sport fairly regularly (I started running five days a week last month for no particular reason, and on one of the ‘off’ days I play football) – perhaps this would be an issue with more high-endurance sports, like long-distance running, where you can’t stop to do a blood test for several hours on end, but the diabetic cycling team, Team Novo Nordisk, suggests otherwise. I’ve found that, like the maths thing, having Diabetes has forced me into good habits: drinking regularly when exercising, paying extra attention to how I’m feeling during sports, and so forth; it’s similar to the maths work in that it may be difficult to do initially, but it gives you good habits, which ultimately outweigh the negatives. One major problem (relatively speaking – I’ve never been hospitalised with Diabetes-related illnesses or anything) I’ve had with Diabetes was on my Duke of Edinburgh’s expeditions, a scheme involving 3-, 6- and 12-month voluntary commitments in the local area, culminating in a walking expedition; on these, I’ll be out walking for eight hours or so a day for up to four days, meaning that managing blood sugars is impractically frequent – it’s hard to not be an hour behind where you thought you would be because you’ve spent 45 minutes waiting for your blood sugars to rise up to a non-dangerous level. With my final, end-of-season-finale-esq expedition in just three weeks, my current plan is to eat chocolate hobnobs throughout the walking, where the chocolate will give me short-term energy for walking, and the hob-nobbiness will give me the long-term energy I need for the duration of the trip. Again, there are potentially serious medical dangers that can arise from walking without a functional pancreas, but the presence of several trained members of staff in a mini-van full of spare hobnobs and 7-Up bottles means that I should be safe (I have been so far); like with the maths again, this danger is worth it for the genuine fun and sense of accomplishment that this, frankly awesome, scheme give you.

Thirdly, there is a weirdly social element to Diabetes, as there is for, I presume, all long-term medical conditions – while some people may be understandably opposed to sharing their condition with people, like that dyslexic guy in the show Britannia High, who doesn’t want anyone to know that he struggles to read words (I promise I only know this because I was re-watching old episodes of Screenwipe. See?), I kinda use my diabetes as the basis of all of my conversations with people. Seriously. Like I said a few days ago about Sport being a great ice-breaker with people, its much more interesting to talk about a medical condition that you’ve got than stand around leaning on the wall of a Hollywood Bowl for your first time going to a youth club where you don’t know, or want to know, anyone else there. I understand that problems like terminal or embarrassing conditions might be harder to talk about with strangers, or even friends, but personally, I find my lack of ability to eat Mars bars when I want a source of pathetic jokes, aimed at myself, rather than something to be hidden: ‘Hey you got that question wrong,’ I’d say, pointing out the inadequacies of another human being, ‘that idea doesn’t work here’. ‘You know what else doesn’t work?’ my friend would quip, ‘Your pancreas!’ There would then be universal high-fives and gasped laughter from around the room like they’d beaten me in an Eminem-style 90’s rap battle. Ultimately, the only difference between your friends and your enemies is that while the latter will laugh at the stuff you consciously choose to do, your mates will light-heartedly take the piss of the inherent bits of you that you can’t change – why not give them a bit more ammo and talk about your Diabetes? Hell, you could even turn it on yourself and say someone’s logic is as flawed as your pancreas, as I have done many a time.

Like all long-term factors of life, from romantic relationships to Football Manager addictions, Diabetes has its ups and downs; I feel that medical problems in general get a bad press, and are all seen as social taboos that we can’t discuss openly in public, for fear of offending either a real sufferer of the disease, or just because its ‘politically incorrect’ in some vague sense. Diabetes is by no means representative of all medical conditions, in that some are much more dangerous and traumatic for those that have them, but my pancreas’ early retirement is easily manageable, and has taught me a lot of things – I attribute getting diagnosed and spending a week in hospital alone with nothing but medical books and an old PS1 to my current love of reading, and Crash Bandicoot games. Saying there are jokes to be had at my expense is an idea that isn’t applicable to everyone with a long-term illness, or even every Diabetic, but just remember that not all Diabetics wanna be given apples in place of birthday cake, because you didn’t even ask us first so as not to offend us.

And hey, even if you think this article is unnecessary because Diabetes-discrimination is hardly a widespread problem in society, just remember that it’s not as pointless as my pancreas.

(more…)

Bottles Versus Cups

(or, I really tackle the big issues in our society on this blog don’t I?)

In a World in which the vast majority of us will do absolutely nothing significant enough with our lives to warrant the attention of others for any more than four seconds, our society has evolved to empower us with stupidly arbitrary decisions to make, that make us feel relevant to the development of our species, and not the proverbial teardrops in the murky puddle of humanity that we are. There’s democracy, where deeply-held beliefs in one party or another can render most votes pointless; the card game ‘Twenty-One’, in which players are forced into decisiveness over whether to ‘stick’ or ‘twist’; or this thing (perhaps the best example that human beings should never be allowed to choose anything ever).

But today, I propose a new decision for you to make: which is the better vessel for holding drinking water: bottles, or cups?

Personally, I’m going with bottles, a decision that has caused great controversy in my house. As far as I can see, bottles are better in that they are, generally, larger; I don’t know the volume of the glasses in my cupboard, and you might have two-litre plastic tubs in your house that you drink out of (…somehow), but I tend to go longer between refilling the litre bottle on my desk than when I fill a glass with water. This is a good thing from the “I’m an inherently lazy person” perspective – the less my vessel of water is empty, the less I have to fill it up, and so the less I have to walk around my house (shut up this is the first world). Furthermore, bottles are generally resealable, meaning that on occasions where I hit my drink with an elbow, bottles are less likely to cause spillage than cups, and spillages mean getting up to get toilet paper and dry my desk (I’m not really this lazy – I go running, I promise). There is also the issue that my desk is full of electrical doo-dads, and although a computer is unlikely to be destroyed by a small puddle, unless I happen to be drinking hydrochloric acid, as I do from time to time, it’s just another worry I could do without. On a more serious note about spills, the fact that glasses are made of glass (such insight is why I’m applying to Cambridge) means that if i do drop a cup or knock it onto the floor, it may splinter into pieces, which can be dangerous; especially for me, as I once stepped on a piece of glass broken off of a milk bottle. Conversely, if a plastic bottle falls, all it will do it let water out and make a funny sound like an incredibly slow whoopy-cushion rasping, or a frog deflating. Bottles are also more fun too; does anyone else like taking the stickers off one brand of bottle and applying it to another? Probably not, but I once had a Powerade bottle with an Evian label and a Buxton one stuck to it, and found it highly amusing.

Bottles are also much more practical than cups outside of your home – ever seen a football player run over for a glass of Lucozade during that bit in the second half where one guy’s pretending to be injured for about three minutes and everyone seems to agree on an NFL-style timeout? No, they drink from bottles – they are sturdier, easier to drink out of due to their funnelled tops and have all the other advantages I outlined before. Personally, I don’t see a point in changing from carrying a bottle around in your bag when you’re going out, to a glass when you get home – just take the bottle from your bag, and hey look, water! A cornerstone of the pro-cup argument is that water in bottles stays there forever, and ends up all bubbly and weird, and probably isn’t the best thing in the world to drink; however, if you leave your bottle in your bag, only to be used when you’re going out, the half-full volume of water in there will sit there for literally days on end (if you spend little time outdoors). And then once you’re actually outside, you won’t want to drink that water because it’s all hot and old, and you’ll act like the rest of us and flood caffeine down your bloodstream from a coffee or some Godforsaken soft drink; I would propose that drinking water out of cups at home and bottles when you’re out is actively unhealthy for you. It’s also unhealthy for your wallet; a 500ml Coke in London costs, apparently, about 85p (although I’ve seen them sold for £1.50 in places), whereas filling up a 500ml bottle of water at home is free – this is literally one hundred percent cheaper. Also when you’re out, having a bottle of water gives you the chance to help someone out and give them a drink, a bit like if you’re the guy who always has the chewing-gum, although to a slightly lesser extent; everyone will be happy to drink some water if they’re thirsty, it’s an evolutionary trait designed to keep us alive, but not everyone wants your ridiculously-flavoured ‘KA’, or ‘Cherry Coke’, or ‘Mountain Dew’ (a drink whose name is only accurate in the sense that it is about as good for your health as throwing yourself off an actual mountain). Hell, even the Tube’s got the right idea, and if it can fit the entire population of the Earth onto a few Victorian-designed trains for a month of Sporting Events, surely we can trust it when it tells us to have a bottle of water?

I guess the debate comes down to practicality or, for want of a better word, style; yes, bottles look like fat pencils, and the presence of attractive young women wearing t-shirts on Evian bottles with babies’ bodies on them is more disturbing than anything else, and I accept that glasses are much smoother to hold, and fun to look at – the McDonald’s Coke Glasses look frankly awesome, with the drops of water imposed on the sides and stuff. But, I don’t care about looks; for me, the size, safety and functionality of bottles trumps cups and their mad swag any day.

(more…)

Printers are the Scum of the Earth

(or, lateness! But still daily!)

Printers are the scum of the Earth, both in the sense that their initial purpose of producing physical copies of word-processed work is obsolete, due to the fact that everyone and their cat has an email address these days, and in that my own experiences with them has been, frankly, harrowing. Anyone else remember trying to print your 104-page ICT coursework piece the day before the deadline and failing miserably? Yeah, I wish I didn’t too. More broadly, intolerably frequent paper jams, non-existent wi-fi connectivity and stupidly expensive, but annoyingly necessary, ink refills show clearly that printers have no place in society, apart from being elaborate door-stops.

Also, I realise at this point that this is the most first-world-problemsy post I’ve put on here, but what did you expect from a piece on printers?

Okay, society first – I said that the purpose of a printer is to provide a physical copy (a ‘print-out’) of a piece of work produced on a computer, so it can be easily distributed to large numbers of people, who either cannot view the work on their own computer, or are spatially too far away from the producer of the work to see it on their screen. Regarding these points, printers are obsolete, as there are literally four people in the developed world with no access to an email account: that guy who works at the Church, that guy who lives in a tent on an island, that guy who nobody likes, and the bloke who runs Top Gear’s ‘Viewer Complaints’ department. The need to print out work to distribute to people is unnecessary if they can all see it online. Furthermore, within an office environment, it isn’t really necessary to print out a copy of a document, then shove it into a copier (another one of the Devil’s agents working under our noses here on Earth) to give it to everyone, you can just type in multiple email addresses to your hotmail account! Take my school, for instance: teachers communicate to us outside of lessons largely through a messaging service that runs through our users on our school’s computers – its basically email but with a terribly brilliant pun for a name – and that works fine; obviously print-outs are needed for permission letters and such, but in the year 2013, surely using a hunk of plastic in the corner of our rooms should be the exception, not the rule, in finishing off work.

Personally, I see printers as fundamentally stupid because they’re a clunky way to finish an otherwise polished process; as word processing has evolved to include such highly necessary features like being able to underline in separate colours to the letters they emphasise, printers have been coughing up the same old ‘replace toner’ message since about 1365. What this means is that as working becomes even easier, obtaining a physical copy of that work is comparatively harder – printers aren’t regressing, they’re just not developing at the same rate as computers (and with good reason – they suck, remember?). This led me to actively put off printing because it was such a hassle; I’d work on Saturday morning, then print it on Sunday afternoon because I didn’t want to go through the rigamarole of printing it out. And this isn’t just for me, but at school; when looking into the computer rooms, I see twelve-year-olds punching printers as far as the eye can see, and wailing to the nearest teacher that, once again, the printer wants us to ‘replace toner’.

Printers are also immoral – we’ve got to cut down acres of woodland just to feed these greedy monsters! It’s like having kids, except kids don’t eat paper and come with a pull-out drawer on their faces (usually anyway). With us burning fossil fuels faster than ever before, it’s not just preferable to keep the World’s forest around, but it’s becoming necessary for our survival as a species – seriously, soon we’ll all be drowning in singingly hot waters, and it’ll all be the fault of ICT coursework; I don’t know about you, but if I’m gonna die in an apocalypse, I want it to be awesome if nothing else. People also make this flawed system even worse; think about all those sadists who only print on one side of paper, the fools that don’t check their titles for typos and end up reprinting the same 6-page document three bloody times, and those damned souls who print black-and-white documents in colour, which confuses the printer, forcing it to drain some of its expensive coloured ink (by the way, I’ve fallen into all three of these categories at one point or other in my life – doing this stuff once is understandable enough, but don’t do it again now that you realise what you’re doing). Fundamentally, printing creates a culture of laziness, where we say ‘it’s just printing, it’ll take five minutes’, and the revelation that it will take closer to an hour makes us stressed and angry, leading to most of the mistakes we make when printing.

Overall, printers are evil – they are not just inconvenient, but their incredible ability to fall apart *just* when we need them both shows a sense of timing sadly lacking in all other parts of society, but also suggests that printers are consciously viscous. This inconvenience affects everyone I’ve ever seen to use a printer, and when you consider all the environmental problems of these sinful cuboids too, you’ve gotta admit that printers are the worst thing in our society today.

And the worst part? They look like fridges, which are sources of food and therefore happiness; the flaws of printers are compounded by this relation to the happiest thing in my house.

Why Sports are Stupidly Cool

(or, yes, I’m on the Internet and I genuinely like sports – kill me)

Sports are a thing of idiotic beauty; objectively, there’s no reason for twenty-two grown men to roll a sphere around a lawn, and get paid more money than they can actually count, but there’s something awesome about it – The Economist says that the 2012 Premier League season was shown in 800 million homes throughout the World, an amazing feat considering there are around 1.4 billion households on the planet. Now, I’ll try to show you why they’re so cool.

Firstly, they offer a sense of community – not in the crappy way that GCSE RE lessons offer it, but sports can create genuinely close groups of people; take the recent controversy of Spurs fans chanting ‘Yids!’, a racial slur directed at Jews that Tottenham’s Jewish population coined as a means of mocking those who use it seriously. The debate as to whether the fans are right to do this is irrelevant here, because there are around thirty thousand people who show up at football matches every week, and proudly chant this with strangers. The UN’s Right To Play campaign, which ensures that children around the World have the opportunity to engage in regular physical activity, has reported that in 2003, whole communities of people in Zambia, including national football star Kalusha Bwalya, came together to promote anti-measles vaccinations; children would rotate through a series of sport-themed activities, and receive their vaccination at the end. A reported 18,000 children were vaccinated in one week alone as a result of the scheme, providing clear evidence for the power of sport to draw people together for a legitimately awesome goal.  Furthermore, it’s a great ice-breaker with people. The world-dominating popularity of sports like football means that any conversation can be started with a simple “Who do you support?”, which can lead to a debate over who is a better Regista, Xabi Alonso or Modric (the latter), or any number of things. To be honest, a lot of people on the planet are shy, nervous or unconfident; the ability to be able to strike a conversation with someone is a great relief to a lot of people (eleven-year-old me included). Furthermore, the inherent stupidity of sports, in that they have absolutely no impact on the ‘serious’ issues of World politics, religion or economics, means anyone can discuss them freely; you can either start debating the existence of someone’s God, or the existence of hope for the England national football team, and from experience, I can tell you that the latter will give people much better first impressions of you.

Another great thing about sports is their simultaneous distance and closeness to us plebs; on one hand, anyone with feet (and even those without due to the recent boom in disabled sports) can join a Sunday League team, giving us all the feeling of being a part of a sports team. This feeling is also great, considering that so many young kids have dreams of playing sports – the endless and mindless energetic running about appeals to children (and myself), and so setting up an amateur team with your mates gives you a taste of ‘living out your dreams’ (which, by the way, is an awfully cheery phrase to use in any context other than childhood memories). Conversely, the world of professional sports can be unbelievably far off: watching an NFL game is more like watching a futuristic sports simulation from 1982, complete with unnecessarily detailed statistics and rules no-one understands, and aren’t explained until someone breaks them. This creates a sense of wonder around professional athletes; to the extent that watching them becomes more like following the narrative of a long-running drama, and rooting for your favourite characters in the-end-of-season finale (or end-of-the-week game, but hopefully with less tasteless death that most shows chuck at episodes to make them ‘dramatic’). Some people might dislike this almost Stalin-esqu cult of personality that develops around some athletes, but again, the broader pointlessness of sports means that no real harm can come of idolising these guys – the worst conceivable outcome of collecting all the Gareth Bale stickers to fill your album is that you’ll think that you were a loser when you later go looking through your old stuff when you move out to go to University. Sport is perhaps the one thing in our society that simultaneously allows us to be a part of it, and idolise those better than us; and let’s be honest, we’ve all got to have a hero somewhere.

Sports also offers genuine health benefits for those who participate in them; obviously devoting hours of your life to stuff like darts is unlikely to help you run a mile, but the majority of sports involve some form of physical activity that will improve your cardiovascular fitness. It will also make you thinner. This can be very beneficial (because society hates people that are large of body, but loves people that are small of mind). Regarding mental health, The UN’s Right To Play scheme also conducted research into the impacts on anxiety issues of regular exercise, concluding that ‘Engaging in aerobic sessions lasting 20–40 minutes can result in reduced anxiety lasting 2–4 hours’. Now, I’ll admit that stressing over shaving seconds off your 100m time will not help you calm down, but exercising in a more relaxed atmosphere can really help; for instance, I break up my schoolwork and the excessive amounts of further reading I’m doing in preparation for my English Degree with two-mile runs; these leave me tired, yes, but I can rest my mind for a bit, while doing something that’s actually beneficial for my health. Think about it: you could either take breaks from work by watching Minecraft videos on YouTube (which will probably harm your ability to construct a mine in real life more than anything), or you can give your mind a break, and choose to work your body instead.

However, sports are not perfect: the entire sporting industry seems to have gone Capitalist mad in recent years, with the average Premier League Season Ticket (a single ticket that reserves you a seat at all of a club’s games that season) rising in price by 4% on last year, with Arsenal charging £985 for one such ticket. Say you’re a father who wants to take your young, particularly football-mad, son to see the Gunners play at the Emirates this year; you’d be shelling out almost two grand. Most clubs aren’t much better – Spurs charge over £700 and the Premier League’s cheapest ticket is still £299; Manchester City’s price is the top flight’s only ticket under 300 quid. More broadly, there’s stupid money in sports these days, especially in football; I’m gonna have over £30,000’s worth of debt by the time I leave Uni (probably closer to 40,000 due to the tragedy that is the rising price of tins of Morrison’s baked beans), which is just under one day’s wage for Gareth Bale (a very good player, mind). This division seems to further the rift between the fans, and their idols, creating an almost them-and-us culture; I said that having an idol is not a bad thing, but when that idol makes more in a week than you will in a year, it makes the dream of reaching the heights of said idol impossibly unreal.

But, this is capitalism; I reckon I’d rather live in a world where I can buy TVs and PS4s if I want and be rewarded for my professional efforts with a form of universally-accepted currency, and suck up the fact that football players are overpaid, than live in a hovel in a ditch working for the glory of some ‘Great Leader’, who kills more of their people than they protect. Yes sports are largely dumb, often violent, always temporary and stupidly unrealistic, but they can be great fun too, in that they appeal to the childish bit of our brains that gets insanely excited when England scores a goal. Sports aren’t for idiots that don’t care about the bigger problems of out world, they’re a form of entertainment, designed to distract us from the total crappiness of our society, which is by no means a bad thing. (more…)

How To Smell Colours

(or, the devolution of human senses)

There is a disc of soap in my bathroom entitled ‘White Scents’, proudly declaring to the World that you can ‘gently unwind’ in this product’s ‘soft light’ of hygiene and all the rest of it, avoiding the obvious question: what the hell does ‘White’ smell like?

Does this mean that it will smell of white things? Because that means that due to the vagueness of the smell of ‘White’, that it must smell of all white things, and packing the smells of every white thing in the planet into a single disc that’s more easily obtainable than human companionship is no mean feat; the amount of smell-based collecting, research and chemical production should make such a product more expensive than gold. Fortunately for everyone, however, soap is cheaper than gold. Furthermore, what if the developers miss out a smell? What if they do not take into account the odour of a particularly obscure local newspaper, printed on white paper? Does this mean the soap is falsely advertised? Could said local newspaper take legal action against the manufacturers for not including their smell? Also, the colours of things change; to make my theory correct, the researchers for this soap would have to record the smell of my computer screen when writing this post, as the background is white, before I finish, because my computer’s normal background is largely black and blue. This all seems impractically problematic, so perhaps the soap does not smell of everything that is white.

Another idea is that the soap smells of things we associate with the colour white; the fact that the soap’s casing promises a sense of ‘cool light’ would support this argument, that we think of light when we see white, so we will think of light if we use this soap. But does this mean we would smell ‘light’? Because that’s even harder to define the smell of than white itself. Even the, seemingly, plausible advertisement of a ‘cool fragrance’ is confusing – not only does white not make me think of cool things (light blue does, as that’s the colour of every Ice-type Pokémon ever), but ‘coolness’ is a temperature, not a scent. Perhaps I’m too narrow-minded here; these descriptions may refer to the general ambience of a ‘White Scents’ bath; that to use this product is to be immersed in light and relaxation. Like falling asleep in a fridge. But even this idea isn’t consistent, as the soap is defined as a ‘bath fizzer’. So what, I’m meant to be relaxed and peaceful, but also fizzy, which suggests action and excitement? Maybe a better analogy is falling asleep not in a fridge, but in a blender with a white lid?

Trying to smell a colour is conceptually difficult, yes, but its also physically impossible – our nose cannot detect colour, and colours alone give off no scents that our nose can register. Despite this, advertisers in general keep trying to invert our scenes like this, providing evidence for the idea that we humans are now too old-fashioned for our own culture – it happened with that iPhone you couldn’t hold, now it’s spreading to minor hygiene products! Oh the humanity! (or lack thereof).

Another example of this is an air freshener I used to have in my house (do we no longer buy it because we’re perplexed by its impossible advertising schemes?). It was the fragrance of ‘Purple Mountain Flower’, because I’ve smelled blue mountain flowers, and let me tell you they suck compared to these purple ones. Although this is perhaps clearer than the smell of white, in that you can Google ‘purple flowers that grow on mountains’ to at least get an idea of what you’re getting into, the fact remains – no-one has smelled a mountain. And even actual mountaineers would probably not be reminded of that giant rock spire they climbed, with nothing but a Nepalese phrase book and some goggles, and could have died on, either by falling, cold, starvation, insanity, fatigue, landslides, snow-slides or sheer bad luck, at any point. Furthermore, mountains are rock. They smell of rock. You ever smelt a rock? Nope, because they smell of nothing.

The most troubling thing about all this idiocy is that someone thought it was a good idea. These examples aren’t improvised ideas flung together in five minutes, but are ideas worked on for weeks and months, by professionally-employed individuals, whose careers, and maybe even lives, revolve around knowing what stuff to sell us, and then packaging it in an attractive way. This is worrying in two ways – either the advertising industry is run by fools, and judging by the long-term competitiveness of ad slots around major music and sporting events, it is not, or that we, as a society, suck. It’s a sorry state of affairs when ‘attractive’ smells are things we can’t actually smell; for all our ‘civilisation’ and ‘modernity’, hunter-gathers knew how noses worked, so why the hell don’t we? Furthermore, we are paying money for this stuff – capitalism works when we exchange money we have earned for goods of an equal value; it does not work when we buy a scent that smells of absolutely nothing – we are losing money and gaining nothing for it.

It could be said that this is all one big placebo effect; the soap disc doesn’t smell of ‘soft light’, but we think it does, and that’s why we ‘gently unwind’ when we use it. I’ve played over 500 hours of Football Manager 2013; am I happier as a result? Largely, yes. Has it made me skilled in any meaningful way? Not at all. Maybe consumerism has changed from us buying stuff that makes life better, to buying stuff we think makes life better. And I guess that if we’re gonna argue over everything nowadays, right down to the physical impossibilities of coloured smells, getting stuff just for the hell of it might not be strictly a bad thing.