She-Hulk Massage!

There are massages where your tired muscles are kneaded into doughy bliss, and you find yourself drifting off to sleep as the rain-forest music plays in the background.  Then there are massages where you need to maintain a tight hold on your core body strength, compressing your muscles around your spine, because if you don’t then there’s a good chance one or more limbs will be torn free from their sockets, and your spine will be cracked like a bread-stick.

I recently had one of those, the second kind.

I’m in Thailand with the family this week, enjoying a lazy beach resort holiday.  As part of our package, we have some free sessions in the hotel spa.  I used one of those sessions on around day three, an “aroma-fusion” massage, which meant the masseuse went easy on me and my moronic sunburn which I’d managed to inflict on myself after only one day in the sun.

As my tender, rare skin faded to a more acceptable medium/well-done, Nicole and I decided to give one of the beach massage services a try.  These are not part of the hotel, little shacks offering great value massages.  We picked one which was 300 baht for an hour.  For context, I’d pay that for a beer in a lot of Sydney bars.  How could we not have one of those every day?  Or two?

We couldn’t.  I soon discovered why.

The massage started well.  Nicole and I were face down on a platform built for two, and the masseuses began to work on our backs.  Firm pressure, hitting the knots, but overall not too painful.  I think my masseuse sensed my complacence, and decided to kick it up a notch.  She positioned herself so that her whole body weight was channeled down her arms, through her fingers, and directly into the back of my shoulder.  I’m pretty sure my shoulder isn’t supposed to rotate backwards, like some toy action figure.  My masseuse — let’s call her She-Hulk — disagreed, and tried to make it so.  I could hear tendons straining, muscle fibers snapping.  She must have registered my silent weeping, because she let off before she could do any permanent damage.

The worst part about a painful massage is knowing that a terrible symmetry must be achieved.  If the masseuse tries to practice some outlawed Twister moves on your limbs, and you survive it, you can’t relax because you know the whole process is about to be repeated on the other side of your body.

After attempting to destroy my other shoulder, and thereby leave me as a disappointing hole in any future Mexican waves, She-Hulk moved down my body to the buttocks area.  I thought, I can handle this.  There aren’t too many nerve clusters or tendons in my arse, are there?  She planted one knee against my right buttock, reached back to grab my foot, and then proceeded to ever so gently massage the back of my head, with my own heel.  I think it was a local technique which roughly translates to “screaming broken white man”.  What followed was a series of manipulations which must be violating some kind of humanitarian convention.

She-Hulk snap!

She-Hulk massaged the front of my legs while I was face-down, because apparently my hips can rotate 180 degrees.  Who knew?  Maybe I am an action figure.  With both feet planted in the middle of my back, she would grab different sets of limbs and then see if she could get them to swap places.  At one point I found myself reaching for Nicole’s hand, the way you might grab a fellow passenger’s hand if your plane suddenly goes into an uncontrolled nosedive and you think you’re all about to die.

Then, after the customary double-fisted blows to the back, an uncharacteristically meek voice said, ‘Finish.’  That was it, I survived.  I hobbled away from the massage table — I think She-Hulk did manage to sprain my ankle when she tried to knock me down from a size twelve to a nine — thankful to have my life, and about eighty percent use of my legs.

We leave Thailand tomorrow, and I have to admit, I am giving serious thought to another hour-long massage in the hut of pain … because it’s the cost of a freaking beer!


Therapy for a Mithril Addict

I woke up early on Sunday morning when my phone buzzed on the bedside table.  It was an incoming email.  I wish I could ignore these things, but I’m an early riser, a light sleeper, and a smartphone notification addict — so I really had no choice.  I checked it.

It was an iTunes invoice.  I opened it up, and it showed me what I expected to see: an in-app purchase against store credit.  Our seven year old son, C, had received a $20 iTunes voucher for his birthday, and I finally relented after months of pleading to let him use the credit for an in-app purchase, rather than buying an actual game.  Or an album.  Or a movie.  Or, god forbid, a book.  So I flipped the switch to allow in-app purchases, and forgot about it.

I can hear you groaning now.  Yes, I know.  This was a mistake.

I didn’t think it would be a problem, because I watched him make the purchase and play the game for at least ten minutes or more.  I knew there was a fifteen minute window where the iTunes account wouldn’t need to be re-entered for further purchases, and I was pretty sure I was clear of that.  After all, C didn’t know the password, he came to me every time he wanted a free game downloaded, so I could enter it for him.

My phone buzzed in my hand again.  Another email from iTunes.  This one, however, wasn’t against store credit, it was against my MasterCard.  $12.99 for a 168 Mithril package on Star Warfare Alien Invasion.  Was that a good deal?  How much does a Mithril normally go for in the real world?

The answer, of course, is not a fucking thing.  It’s like paying someone money for them to fart.

I was really awake now.  C was in for a bollocking.

My phone buzzed again.  Another email from iTunes. this time an invoice for a 666 Mithril package for $37.99.

Something inside me went cold and travelled from spine to stomach.  Oh no, I thought.  Oh no.  My phone buzzed again.  Another 666 Mithril for $37.99.  And again, a chest of coins for Pixel Gun 3D, $24.99.  Then another, and another, and another.  Invoices continued to trickle through, and by eleven o’clock there were fourteen of them, totaling just over $420.

I had the restriction lifted for about half a day, and he managed to clock up over $400 worth of empty crap.  It’s not that hard to do, when you look at some of these games and what their in-app purchases cost.  Q: Who would spend $50 on a box of bullets to use in an iPad game?  A: a seven year old boy.

This all came to my attention on a Sunday, which meant I had to wait until Monday to call Apple support to try and sort the mess out.  Fortunately, when I eventually did find a way through the support maze, the girl on the other end of the phone was very helpful and didn’t once call me a moron.  Can’t say I’d have had the same degree of self-control if our positions had been reversed.  C is now enjoying a lengthy (possibly permanent) ban on all forms of electronic devices, and Apple refunded all of my unplanned Mithril purchases — though we’re not telling C that, not until his 18th birthday.

You know what shook me the most about this experience?  It wasn’t the sheer gall of games creators like Alex Krasnov, Glu Games and iFreyr Games, who seem to think it’s perfectly reasonable to charge fifty bucks for shit which only exists within their games, shit which is only ever going to be purchased by the very young and the very stoned who don’t realise what they’re doing.  That pissed me off, still does, but the thing which really threw me was C pretending for all those months that he didn’t know our iTunes password.  Dad, this game is free and there’s no guns or blood.  Can you download it for me?

He was pulling a long con, and he’s only seven.  And I fell for it.  I’m both frightened and impressed.


C in A&E

C in A&E

I fainted a few weeks ago, but I’m not a fainter. Really. Okay, so there was that one other time in Amsterdam, but I had some very good reasons for losing my grip on consciousness on that occasion:

1. I’d just moved into a new house, and that was back in the days when moving involved carting a lot of your own gear around in a rented van until you fainted, so passing out was kind of expected;
2. N was pregnant;
3. I was sitting in the Bulldog Cafe with my head in a smoke cloud thicker than honey.

I actually went down twice in the Bulldog. I got straight back to my feet after the first time, then had a very pleasant dream from which I was roughly shaken by some very concerned Amsterdammers, who gave me sweets and sent me outside. I was more than a bit spooked by the episode, but my colleague — call him Frodo — thought it was hilarious. He told everyone he knew about it. As it happened, Frodo was somehow at the nexus of all my working associations in the city, and at every job I held there was someone else who knew Frodo; and soon after that link was established, they knew about the Bulldog. So here I am, now, telling everyone who’s interested about my second fainting episode, because if I don’t do it, I know it will come out through Frodo, somehow.

Here’s what happened:

I was sitting at work, merrily doing whatever it is I do in working hours, when N calls me.

‘Can you leave work now?’ she said. ‘You need to come to the hospital. C has cracked his head open.’

My heart, at that point, stopped. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating that, it actually stopped beating for a good three or four seconds.

‘Is it … is it serious?’ I asked.

N, apparently with no interest in fucking about with careful messaging, said simply, ‘Yes.’

So there it was. My son had cracked his head open, and some or all of his brains were protruding from a fist-sized rent in his skull. I grabbed my bag and hailed a cab off the street, and I held my breath for the twenty-two minute journey to the hospital as I imagined exposed grey matter and life support and steel plates. Then I passed out.

That’s the brief version. The slightly longer version involves me waiting as the ambulance rolls up, the rear doors opening, and the worried yet sheepish expression of my son peering out as he sits on a gurney with ten metres of gauze wrapped around his head. His hair is sticky with dried blood, his face is grey. A nurse uses a squeeze bottle to wash away some of the blood and locate the wound, so naturally I lean in close to assist. Why would I be worried by a little blood? I’d attended the births of both my children, neither of which was a dry experience. C is shaking, and very visibly distressed, and this is what I find to be the most upsetting aspect of the ordeal: his distress. I soon spot the source of all the blood, and it’s not as big as everyone thought it would be.

That’s when everything starts to go a bit wobbly. My head feels heavy, and the light in the emergency room seems to dim. Breathing becomes an effort.

I thought: No. Fucking. Way. I suspect a black-out might be coming, the memory of the Bulldog waving at me from somewhere far back in my mind, so I step away from C and try to get some air. I’m not feeling any better, so I clear some space at the end of the bed he’s sitting on and push myself up onto it.

The next thing I remember is being shaken awake from a dream I instantly forget, surrounded by frowning faces in paramedic uniforms. They make me stay where I am for a while. Someone brings me a juice-box.

It took a few moments for the realisation of what had happened to make it through to my brain. I had fainted. C thought it was entertaining — it certainly took a lot of attention away from his bandaged head, which didn’t even need stitches in the end, not even glue. So N’s “C has cracked his head open” was revised to “C bumped his head and opened his scalp a tiny bit and bled like a motherfucker”.

The medical term for fainting is syncope, which I think sounds a hell of a lot cooler than fainting. It is caused by global cerebral hypoperfusion, or low blood flow to the brain. I didn’t faint, I suffered an episode of syncope. It wasn’t the litres of blood streaming from my son’s head, it was that damned global cerebral hypoperfusion. I found this out after I hit the Googleverse, because I really wanted to know why it had happened. For anyone who’s experienced this, it’s some weird and scary shit. It’s not like you get really tired and nod off to sleep. It’s not a gradual decline into a light unconsciousness. It’s a sudden and complete transition from conscious to unconscious. If falling asleep is a slow descent from cruising altitude to landing, fainting is being teleported Star Trek style from 40,000 feet to sea-level in a tenth of a second. You’re thinking: “I really want to go outside for a minute, get some air, clear my head.” Your brain says: “Sit the fuck down. Now.”

I was also hoping, in my Googling, to reassure myself that syncope wasn’t a precursor to something fatal, that I wasn’t about to die horribly. Google, as it turns out, is not a very reassuring search engine. It might have been the blood, or the stress of C being in pain, or a tumour the size of a tennis ball just letting me know it was there. I’m really hoping it was the blood.

Fentonton. Population: 1

The prize for most rubbish New Year’s Eve ever goes to this one, 2011.  It’s only 2pm on the 31st, and I already know this new year “celebration” (yes, fucking air quotes) is going to suck worse than a Christmas without gifts.  Worse than dental work.  Worse than another Twilight film.

How can I know it will be so bad?  Well, I’m sitting in the kitchen of an otherwise empty house in Kent, stone sober, eating breakfast cereal.  My family, my dear beautiful wife and children, are at this moment working their way out of Brisbane airport.  That’s how I know this New Year’s will suck like a Justin Bieber/Jedward collaboration.

If it was a separation of only a few days, or even a couple of weeks, that wouldn’t be so bad; but the solitary stretch I’m looking at is stretched out four long months.  That’s so far past the horizon I can’t know where it ends.

So, boo-hoo for me.  I shall celebrate the entry into 2012 (and yes, I nearly forgot: fuck you, 2011) by having a couple of beers, eating some ribs, and trying to be productive for the last few hours of the year.  Finish as you mean to go on, and all that.  And while I’m eating my Waitrose sad bastard meal for one, I will attempt to distract myself with activity, because if I keep staring at this gaping hole where my life used to be I might fall into it.  I come across one of the kids’ toys, under the sofa or behind a door, and I feel my throat closing up.  I used to think “getting all choked-up” was just something people said, but it actually happens.  These human emotions, they also suck.

Where’s that beer?


Tactics for Keeping Children in Bed

1. Rewarding good behaviour, e.g. “If you stay in your bed ALL NIGHT, we’ll buy you the toy of the minute, as determined by Nick Jr.”
RESULT: Fail. Children are incredibly stubborn and self-assured liars. “So are you going to buy me the toy today?” “No, you didn’t stay in your bed.” “Yes I did.” “No you didn’t, you’re in our bed right now.” “No I’m not.”

2. Threats: “If you don’t stay in your bed all night, you won’t be going to that party tomorrow.”
RESULT: Fail. Common response is, simply: “OK.” But they don’t stay. Damn.

3. Hostage-taking: “Stay in your bed or Mr Puppykins gets it .”
RESULT: Epic fail. Results in a lot of apology and begging for the child to stop screaming, and usually a trip to the shops the next day to buy the toy of the minute, as determined by Nick Jr. Bad parents.

4. Guilt Trip: “If you keep getting into our bed, Mummy will get sick because she won’t get enough sleep to stay healthy.”
RESULT: Fail. Kids really don’t care.

5. Guilt Trip Extension: “And if Mummy gets sick, she won’t be able to go out and get you the toy of the minute, as determined by Nick Jr.”
RESULT: Fail. They still don’t care.

6. Santa is watching.
RESULT: Fail. Despite pretence to the contrary, deep down, kids know where the presents really come from.

7. I’ll tell your teacher.
RESULT: Fail. What the hell are you thinking? You know this is going to come right back to you via the teacher whose authority you’re trying to hijack.

8. Strap them to the bed.
RESULT: Untested.

9. Vodka in the bedtime milk.
RESULT: Untested.

I am WIDE OPEN to suggestions people. Wide open.