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August 9, 2013 / neiltheseal85

Selling ice to eskimos – Can Lionel Ritchie sell the Tap King?

Australia’s largest brewer Lion has released a new product called the “Tap King” which they claim without too much hyperbole, “is set to revolutionise the way Australians enjoy a beer at home”. The new product is some sort of plastic beer dispensing system which allows beer lovers to “pour their favourite beers in the comfort of their own home” which was apparently something that they couldn’t do previously.

The system is made up of two parts: the first is a permanent dispenser/tap that attaches to the second which is a big plastic bottle filled with beer and pressurised carbon dioxide. The whole thing seems like a lot of fun but somehow seems destined to receive the same fate as the Slap Chop and the Soup Mate Pro. After a brief period of initial interest, people will soon realise that the Tap King is a waste of time – who really needs another useless gadget in their kitchen?

Lionel, that's who

Or on their piano

Is Lionel Ritchie enough to sell it?

Useless gadget or not, the Tap King does have one thing going for it: the (faded) star power of Lionel Ritchie. The commercial shows Lionel wringing out the last drops of his fame to sell a product that is essentially a waste of space.

The commercial shows a man searching inside a fridge looking for an unknown object until the distinctive piano chords of Lionel Ritchie’s classic Hello starts to play. The camera cuts to the inside of the fridge and there is a mythical looking Lionel Ritchie dressed in white and playing a similarly white piano. Lionel pours a beer from the Tap King and hands it to the camera before uttering his famous line:

That's the one

That’s the one

The commercial actually pretty funny and works really well: it made me laugh, piqued my interest, leading me to seek out the Tap King at my local bottle shop and it has had me playing Lionel Ritchie’s classic Hello endlessly on YouTube ever since it came out. While the commercial is absolutely hilarious, I wonder if Lionel Ritchie is enough to make the Tap King successful.

Enhancing the ritual of drinking beer 

The Tap King’s major flaw is the beer that is available for it. Upon release the brands that are available are: Toohey’s Extra Dry, James Squire Golden Ale, Toohey’s New, Hahn SuperDry, James Boag’s Premium Lager and XXXX Gold. With the possible exception of James Squire Golden Ale, these beers are all rubbish.

Tap King varieties

In addition to having a limited supply of generally terrible beers, the Tap King is destined for failure because it is simply an unnecessary product. According to the media release released by Lion “Tap King is borne out of an opportunity we saw to enhance the ritual of drinking beer at home”. I think they are clearly misunderstanding their audience with this statement.

I’m generalising here a bit, but the types of people who drink the beers above aren’t looking to “enhance the ritual of drinking beer at home”. These beers are all tasteless, mass produced rubbish that are generally associated with sporting events. I’m not trying to insult the people who drink these beers, I’m just trying to emphasise that they have already have created their own “rituals” and are not looking to change or improve them.

People who drink a beer such as XXXX would do so in the company of friends, probably while watching a game of Rugby Union and having a barbecue. That is their experience, and having to pour their own beer from some flimsy plastic container isn’t going to improve that experience for them.

Beer snobs – A missed opportunity

The opening selection of beer available for the Tap King represents a missed opportunity. Instead of focusing on targeting the broadest and most profitable demographic like they have, Lion should have instead focused on the demographic that actually cares about beer: beer snobs – or the craft brewing market. These are the people who would actually go out of their way to buy a product that would enhance that beer drinking experience.

This sums it up nicely

This sums it up nicely

While the beer drinking market is falling and companies resort to insulting their clientele, the market for craft beer continues to grow. It is the people who drink these craft beers who are looking to “enhance the ritual of drinking beer at home”. The Tap King system is far too restrictive for this market and is based on an out-dated business model. In order to use the Tap King, consumers have to but the specific cartridges that fit the Tap King. Too bad if you want any variety!

On the other hand, there already exists a product that caters to the craft brewing market, and that is the growler. Growlers are essentially large resealable glass jugs that can be filled with beer. It’s a little bit more complicated than that but essentially they allow consumers to drink draft beer at home and are only limited by the places that are willing to fill up one.

The Growler

The Growler

Doomed to failure

Despite having Lionel Ritchie star in the hilarious commercial, the Tap King is unlikely to succeed.  While it is a genuinely interesting product and a good idea, the Tap King’s limited selection of available beer and ignorance of the craft beer market will likely doom it to failure.  The only hope for the Tap King is to add more diverse and better quality beers to their range, however this is unlikely since there isn’t a decent beer in Lion’s entire catalogue. But if anyone can sell a crappy beer, Lionel Ritchie can – he has done it before.

July 25, 2013 / neiltheseal85

Some things I learned about Che Guevara from the Motorcycle Diaries

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Just hearing the name “Che Guevara” immediately conjures an image into anyone’s mind, whatever their political leanings. This might be because of Che’s fame as a revolutionary, willing to drop everything to fight for the poor, or more realistically because of that that really, really cool picture of him that everyone has on a t-shirt. Whatever the reason, Che Guevara is an important figure – particularly among slightly left leaning university students.

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Also known as “hipsters”

Since I never really knew much about Che myself (despite being guilty of owning a few t-shirts with his face on them) I decided to remedy that by reading one of his memoirs. The Motorcycle Diaries is Che Guevara’s diary of a trip that he took with his friend Alberto Granado in 1951-52. They travelled from Che’s home in Buenos Aires in Argentina to Venezuela together, stopping at various places along the way. As this was written years before Che became the poster boy for socialist revolutionaries, the book didn’t shed much light on his future political leanings. It did however reveal a few interesting things about Che as I will outline below.

His name was not Che

This might not be a surprise to everybody, but many people – and myself included until recently – are under the impression that Che Guevara was in fact called “Che Guevara”. In reality, Che is just nickname and his real name is the far less exciting Ernesto. This is a fact that should have been obvious to me since the name Ernesto “Che” Guevara is written in big letters on the front cover of The Motorcycle Diaries.

Che” is evidently a word that Argentinians use a lot. Because of this distinctive feature of their speech, young Ernesto and his friend Alberto both were nicknamed “Che”. Since giving two people the same nickname was clearly too confusing to many people, they decided to distinguish between the two by giving Ernesto an Alberto the additional monikers of “Big Che” and “Little Che” respectively. Eventually “Big Che” dropped the “Big” from his name and became the household name that his is today.

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“Viva Ernesto” doesn’t have the same ring to it

Che” is a versatile word that loosely translates into “friend” however it is far more adaptable than that. It is equivalent both to the Canadian “eh” and the Australian “mate” and can be used at either the front or the end of a sentence. Che is also used as filler in a sentence in a similar way to the English terms “bro” or “man”, for example:

“Vamos a tomar una cerveza, che becomes: “Let’s go get a beer, bro
Che, Pedro, ¡mirá!” is: “Hey, Pedro, look over there!”, and
“¡Che, que es un burro atractivo!”  would be in English: “Man that is an attractive donkey!”

He planned the trip spontaneously

Most people, when planning a trip of this magnitude would not simply wake up one morning and say “I think I will travel 8,000 on a crappy old motorcycle”. I say most people because this was exactly the thought process that Che and his buddy Alberto went through when planning the trip. According to Che himself, this is how the conversation went:

“Why don’t we go to North America?”
“North America? But how?”
“On La Poderosa*, man.”

Perhaps this is why Che is such an alluring figure, everybody dreams about having the freedom like that to just give up everything and try something new. To just wake up one morning and travel halfway across the world not caring about breaking down in the middle of nowhere or being  killed by Columbian drug cartels.

*(La Poderosa was the name of their motorcycle)

He was really bad at planning

For somebody who was instrumental in bringing down governments, Che was surprisingly bad at planning for simple tasks. While Che’s spontaneous decision to travel to North America may have seemed a romantic idea to him at the time, it is clear though reading The Motorcycle Diaries that a little bit of planning wouldn’t have gone astray. According to Che, their priorities were as follows:

“My most important mission before leaving was to take exams in as many subjects as possible; Alberto’s to prepare the bike for the long journey, and to study and plan our route”.

Upon reading, it was clear that Che and Alberto should have added one more thing to that list: “learn how to fucking ride a motorcycle”. On the first day of their trans-continental pilgrimage, Che and Alberto crashed a total of nine times. Let me repeat that: nine times, in one day!

He had no idea about motorcycles

In addition to not knowing how to ride their motorcycle, Che and Alberto also had no idea how to repair them. Their inappropriately named motorcycle (La Poderosa II – or the powerful one) barely took the travellers halfway through their journey, however this had more to do with Che and Alberto than the motorcycle itself. The travellers believed adamantly that any repair could be fixed if they just wound enough wire around it to hold it together. After reading that, I’m starting to see how Che managed to get captured in Bolivia.

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“It just needs more wire, man”

He is really racist

For someone who is held up as the poster child for vague leftism around the world, it may be strange to learn that he was a dirty racist. I’m certain that none of the pinko lefties running around with Che Guevara t-shirts could justify this following description of the indigenous peoples in Cuzco in Peru, written by Che himself:

“The somewhat animal-like concept the indigenous people have of modesty and hygiene means that irrespective of gender or age they do their business by the roadside, the women cleaning themselves with their skirts, the men not bothering at all, and then carry on as before. The underskirts of Indian women who have kids are literally warehouses of excrement, a consequence of the way they wipe the rascals every time one of them passes wind.

 As if accusing indigenous people of smelling worse than cow shit wasn’t bad enough (p.116 in my version), Che later on insists that they also have sex with the pink river dolphins in the Ucayali river in Peru.

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That pink skin is irresistible

Che doesn’t just reserve his racism for the indigenous peoples of South America, the following comparison of Blacks and Europeans (by which he means Portuguese in this context) is…well…enlightening.

“The blacks, those magnificent examples of the African race who have maintained their racial purity thanks to their lack of an affinity with bathing… the black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.”

This seems more accurate

He is actually a good writer

Despite the negative things above, I actually really enjoyed The Motorcycle Diaries and perhaps the most surprising part of the book itself was the quality of Che’s writing. I was initially sceptical about reading this, assuming that it would be full of political ranting and dogma and about as enjoyable as The Communist Manifesto. This was absolutely not the case and Che has the good sense to realise that sometimes hearing about the ruins of Mahcu Piccu or natives having sex with dolphins is preferable to an endless description of life on the road.

A good example of Che’s writing is below in the excerpt from the chapter called Chuquicamata:

“The mountains, where not a single blade of grass can grow in the nitrate soil, are defenseless against attacks of wind and water. They display their gray spine, prematurely aged in the battle with the elements, and their wrinkles that do not correspond to their true geological age. And how many of those mountains surrounding their famous brother enclose in their heavy entrails similar riches, as they wait for the soulless arms of the mechanical shovels to devour their insides, spiced as they would be with the inevitable human lives — the lives of the poor, unsung heroes of this battle, who die miserably in one of the thousand traps set by nature to defend its treasures, when all they want is to earn their daily bread”.

El final

July 5, 2013 / neiltheseal85

The time Australia lost its Prime Minister – literally

Holt jaques cousteau

Running a country can be a dangerous job. For national leaders, it’s a fairly common occurrence to be killed or die while still in power. In some counties, leaders are deposed though violent revolutions and in others leaders are assassinated and mourned for years to come. Unfortunately, life in Australia isn’t nearly as exciting as most places and running the country isn’t such a dangerous job. Nobody cares enough to try and to kill our Prime Ministers although somebody did throw a shoe at one, once.

However, Australia does understand what it is like to lose a beloved leader – and when I say “lose” I mean lose.

Harold Holt

The person is question is Australia’s infamous Prime Minister Harold Holt. Holt rose to power in 1966 and never achieved much worthy of note during his short time in office. While Holt’s time as Prime Minister was largely unmemorable, the way he resigned from the position would be remembered for years to come. You can’t really blame Holt for not achieving much during his time; he was a little…out of his depth. Holt was in office for roughly 22 months before he simply vanished.

“Hey Ladies, want to see how long I can hold my breath for?”

“Hey Ladies, want to see how long I can hold my breath for?”

On 17 December 1967, Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia, went for a swim near his holiday home at Portsea in Victoria. Not long after, Harold’s companions noticed that he was missing and soon the raised the alarm.

What resulted was one of the largest search and rescue operations Australia has ever witnessed. Unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts, Harold Holt was nowhere to be seen. His body had just…disappeared! Australia had just become the proud nation that had somehow misplaced its own leader.

“No sign of him sir, just Chinese submarines”

“No sign of him sir, just Chinese submarines”

Conspiracy theories

The bizarre and sudden disappearance of old Harold – and the fact that no trace of him was ever found – leant a real air of conspiracy to the event. There were various claims that Holt was murdered by the US army for being opposed to US army bases being on Australian soil. Another more outlandish claim was that he was abducted by aliens.

As strange as these theories might sound, Australia was just so confused by Holt’s sudden disappearance that they just sounded like the most plausible option. How does the most powerful person in the country just vanish?

The most famous and widely believed conspiracy was that Harold Holt was a Chinese spy. The story goes that Holt was not actually going for a leisurely swim at the time but instead was having a secret rendezvous with the Chinese on a submarine. Holt was then whisked away as he had clearly accomplished his mission of proving that even a moron is capable of becoming the Prime Minister of Australia.

“Something that has been proven time and time again”

Something that has been proven time and time again

Although, sadly this conspiracy was dismissed by his widow years later when she said:

“Harry? Chinese submarine? He didn’t even like Chinese cooking.”

The Harold Holt Memorial

In all seriousness, the loss of a beloved leader was a tragic event for Australians. As an attempt to somehow mend the gaping hole that Holt’s disappearance had left in the Australian psyche, the nation decided to immortalise its fallen leader in such a way that he would be properly remembered for generations to come. After what was surely a very long and solemn deliberation process, it was eventually decided that the most appropriate way to memorialise Harold Holt would be to build a swimming pool in his honour. Seriously!

“Too soon Australia!”

“Too soon Australia!”

Yes, some genius actually decided that they only way to properly remember our fallen leader would be to put his name onto the very thing that killed him. This is essentially the equivalent of building a JFK memorial shooting range in Texas

Laying the story to rest

In reality, there is no real mystery surrounding Holt’s disappearance. The most likely truth is that he went swimming in a very stupid place and drowned. His body was washed away by strong currents and he was long dead before the Chinese government could extract any information from him. I hope this story serves as a lesson to Australians: we need to take better care of our Prime Ministers in future and try not to lose too many more.

“Not too many more”

Not too many more anyway

July 3, 2013 / neiltheseal85

Poland is secretly terrifying

“Why would anybody want to go to Poland?”

dave 2

Without fail, this is what I heard whenever I told anyone where I was going for my last holiday. This surprised me since I hadn’t really heard very much about Poland at all and couldn’t see what was so bad about it.

And while nobody seems to like Poland, people also seem to reserve a special hatred for the country’s capital Warsaw. I even found an online forum where 413 people all agree that Warsaw (or “Whore-saw” as it is sometimes spelled) is a terrible place. Since that was where I was heading at the time, this particularly concerned me.

warsaw-coat-of-arms

Although it does have the best city symbol ever!

While nobody could sufficiently explain what in particular was wrong with Poland, everyone seemed to agree that it was a terrifying place. After hearing so many negative things I decided to do some research to find out what it was about Poland that filled so many people with dread. And what I found was…well…strange.

The politics

As much as Silvio Berlusconi might disagree, politics and sex are just don’t mix. The thought of middle-aged men and women sitting in a room to argue about tax and stuff just doesn’t get me excited. However in Poland, such a distinction does not exist. In 2011, the candidate for the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Katarzyna Lenart decided that the best way to encourage people to vote for her would be to strip naked and spin around in an office chair.

In what looks more like a commercial for a strip club than for a political campaign, the 23 year old Lenart awkwardly removes items of clothing while seductively looking into the camera. This is until the end where she takes off her bra and just before the crucial moment, the word “Censored” flashes across the screen, followed by the slogan: “Want more? Vote SLD. Only we can do more.”

Surprisingly in an ultra-Catholic nation like Poland, this tactic didn’t go down too well and the aspiring politician got into a bit of trouble from her party’s leaders – but in my (completely biased) opinion, they are just out of touch with the voters. Lenart tried to justify her commercial stating “My campaign targets young people, and young people are only interested in controversial stuff, unfortunately.”

"For the kids"

“I was only doing it for the kids”

Before you think this is an isolated incident in Polish politics, think again! A year earlier, a singer named Sara May (real name is Katarzyna Szczolek) did the same thing when she ran for local office.

She's got my vote

She’s got my vote

The film posters

People generally see movies as an outlet. We see films in order to squeeze one or maybe two hours of joy into our otherwise depressing and meaningless lives. We pay money to sit in a dark room and laugh or cry – or if you’re Pee Wee Herman, to do other things. The Poles however have a different tradition and clearly prefer to leave movie theatres feeling far more depressed and afraid than when they walked in.

Outwardly, Polish people seem normal enough but underneath their bored Slavic exteriors they often hide a seething mess of angst. The antisocial nature of Polish people is probably best expressed through their movie posters which often double as a Rorschach test and can tell you more about yourself then they can about the actual film.

Keeping that in mind let’s play a little game called “Can you guess the following movies?”. By looking at the posters only, can you guess the name of the film or even what it is about?

alien-polish

thefly-Polish

If you answered:

  1. Some movie starring Dr. Zoidberg

  2. Skinny-armed Vomiting man

  3. Hand Muppets

  4. Boobie Love

Then congratulations you are a sane person.

The correct answers are below, highlight them with your cursor to see if you guessed right!

  1. Alien

  2. The Fly

  3. Weekend at Bernies

  4. The Graduate

If you got any or all of the movies correct, then either you have serious mental issues and should seek help immediately – or you are Polish. Congratulations!

Warsaw’s “Old Town”

1369235531_Old-Town

Something that may go some way in explaining Poland’s nightmare-inducing film posters is their strange concept of what constitutes “new”. A lot of cities in Eastern Europe have what they refer to as an “Old Town” and as the name would suggest, this is usually the oldest part of the town. To confuse matters, many of these cities also have a “New Town” which is often rather old. For example, Prague’s New Town, was founded in 1348 which is not new by any definition.

In this sense, Warsaw – Poland’s much despised capital – is not unique. Like countless cities in the region, Warsaw has an Old Town and a New Town, but due to some unpleasantness in the 1940s, the Old Town is not nearly as old as the name would suggest. In fact the Old Town in Warsaw was completely destroyed and the rebuilding was not completed until 1966. Oh the other hand, Warsaw started reconstructing their New Town in 1954 which, despite its name, makes it slightly older than the Old Town!

Above are pictures of what Warsaw looked like after 1945. Looking at these pictures, it’s impressive to see how much effort was put into rebuilding the city. Although you can see why Warsaw was voted the “ugliest city in Europe“.

The festival of Marzanna

In addition to their sexy politicians and frightening movie posters, there are other aspects of everyday Polish life that are also a little strange. Take for example the way that Poles celebrate the end of winter. Many cultures seem to have their own ways of celebrating this period. Americans have (the bizarre) Groundhog Day where people gather around a hole and wait for a small rodent to come out of it. This practice is to predict whether or not spring will come early that year and surprisingly groundhogs have a 75% to 90% accuracy rate.

"What season is it boy?"

“What’s the weather like boy?”

Poland also has its own tradition of saying farewell to winter, and as with pretty much everything else in that grey country, it is utterly terrifying. On March 21 each year, families and communities throughout Poland gather together to celebrate the first day of spring by making an effigy of a goddess called Marzanna. This figure is dressed in bright coloured ribbons, beads and pretty clothes before being dramatically set alight and thrown into a river to drown.

A completely rational response

A completely rational response

Marzanna supposedly symbolises winter and death and murdering her violently is apparently a way of encouraging a prosperous spring with a good harvest. Drowning her may seem to be an extreme response, but if you have ever been to Poland during wintertime, you would probably want to drown somebody too.

Me, ready to throw somebody into a river

Me, ready to throw somebody into a river

Unsurprisingly, in Poland the immolation and violent murder of Marzanna apparently isn’t enough. To make sure that the effigy is truly dead there is one more essential step – this is where children come in. Polish children gather around their drowning victim and chant, boasting over their role in the murder.

“Już wiosenne słonko wzbija się po niebie,

W tej wezbranej rzece utopimy ciebie!”

(“As the spring sun rises in the sky of blue,

in this swollen river we are drowning you!”)

Being Australian, I find it hard to associate with the whole idea of celebrating the end of winter. To us, winter is a very short season that we usually just refer to as “Gee, I think I’ll put a jumper on today”. Having said that, I can understand why, after thee long cold months of winter that you would want to celebrate the end of all that misery.

So much misery

So much misery

Final thoughts

So after doing a little bit of research into Poland, I was starting to regret my holiday destination. However, after successfully visiting the country without being murdered or set alight I can safely say that it is definitely worth a visit. Sure, some things might be a little strange and sometimes just plain terrifying, but Poland has had an unfortunate history of bad things happening to it, so it should really come as no surprise that the Poles like to do things differently. And whoever at Trip Advisor decided that Warsaw had some of the worst cuisine in Europe has clearly never tried pierogi.

So delicious!

So delicious!

If you would like to read more about the dangers of travelling in Poland, try reading: A “one-way” ticket to Auschwitz

June 11, 2013 / neiltheseal85

What to give someone who already has it all

My wife’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks and I’m not sure what to get her. To try and think of some ideas, I have been desperately searching the Internet. This has been an entertaining exercise, but unfortunately I still haven’t figured out what to get her. However, my search hasn’t been completely pointless – I did manage to find what is possibly the strangest thing ever invented since the Shake Weight.

No explanation needed

No explanation needed

The Midas touch

The product that I found is the ambiguously titled Gold Pills. For the modest price of $425 you can buy one of these Gold Pills which, according to the description on the website:

“…these 24K gold leaf capsules turn your innermost parts into chambers of wealth. Consume and digest.”

Or to rephrase this in plain English: “These pills will turn your shit into gold”.

Thankfully the website doesn’t show the “after” photos

Thankfully the website doesn’t show the “after” photos

At first I thought that this product was just a joke, but after conducting a very small amount of research, I am confident that these “poo pills” are completely real. What is probably the most worrying thing about this product is according to the website, it has sold out. This means that a reasonable amount of people thought that turning their poop into gold was a good idea – or at least would make a great gift idea.

I can just imagine how  the conversation would have sounded when they came up with the idea for these…uhh…pills.

Executive 1: “We need to create a product for the man who already has everything”

Executive 2: “Sure, do you have any suggestions?”

Executive 1: “How about something made of gold?”

Executive 2: “Like what? They can already buy gold pieces for cakes, gold that you can drink and even gold you can spray onto food. What else could we possibly think of ?”

Executive 1: “I’ve got it! Let’s make something that turns your poop into gold”

And so the idea was born…

This must be the target audience

This must be the target audience

Just in case anybody is interested in buying some of these Gold Pills, you can find them on the website here…you filthy pervert!

June 4, 2013 / neiltheseal85

A “one-way” ticket to Auschwitz

20130530-164539.jpg

Poland is famous for many things, although unfortunately, not many of them are good. Vodka is probably the first thing that comes to mind, as does painfully freezing temperatures and being invaded by neighbouring countries. But more than anything else, Poland is perhaps best known for being the unfortunate site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

The camp is now a museum which attracts nearly one and a half million visitors each year but despite the camp’s popularity with Western tourists, it is surprisingly difficult place to get to. I know this because I experienced it first-hand.

I recently visited Krakow with my wife, and since we were in the neighbourhood, we decided to visit the infamous camp that put Poland on the map. Having put exactly zero thought into the trip we thought that we would ask the friendly staff at our hostel for directions. We were told that we had just missed the free guided tour tat woud have taken us straight there. Cursing our bad timing, we decided to make our own way to the camp and headed towards Krakow Główny (the main train station) to try and find our way.

20130530-164508.jpg

“How hard could it be” we thought, confident that we already knew the answer. According to Google Maps, Auschwitz – or Oświęcim as they call it – is only 68km away from Krakow which should only take an hour or so to drive. “We should be there in no time” we said to ourselves foolishly.

At Krakow Główny we stood in various lines hoping to buy our tickets, only to be informed in a polite yet curt manner, that we were in the wrong line (this is something that I seem to be good at). After asking around for a while, we were pointed to a small booth that did not seem affiliated with the main train station in any way. Since the person had insisted that it was the correct place to go, we did as we were told and stood in yet another line.

After standing outside in the cold for a while, wishing we had woken up in time for the guided tour, the lady in the booth called out to us: “proszę” she said. Using a combination of sign language and broken English we managed to get our message across. “Can we have two tickets to Oświęcim please?” we asked, holding up two fingers indicating how many we wanted to buy. Without changing the bored expression on her face, the lady in the booth just shook her head and said “No, only one way”.

This story was starting to sound familiar

This story was starting to sound familiar

Understandably, we were rather concerned at this statement. My wife and I looked at each other in a panic, “Only one way?” we said to each other silently. We had heard stories of one-way trips to Auschwitz before and they did not turn out so well.

We were about to run away and hide somewhere (maybe Switzerland) when the lady in the booth followed up her statement by telling us that we could buy return tickets at Oświęcim if we chose to. I loved her choice of words “If” we chose to! Who would decide to stay at a concentration camp voluntarily?

What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong?

So, with our one-way tickets in hand, we timidly made our way to the platform that would take us to Auschwitz. After sitting at the station for a few minutes, I couldn’t help but notice that the sign on our platform no longer read “Oświęcim” but now bore the name of another unpronounceable Polish town. Quickly we made our way to the correct platform but, sure enough, after a few minutes the sign changed again!

Panicked, my wife and I ran from platform to platform Benny Hill-style, until eventually the right train pulled into the station. We knew it was the right train since we could read “Oświęcim” on the front very clearly from where we were standing: two platforms away. The train stopped and opened its doors for the whole of five seconds before closing them and speeding off.

A typical train conductor in Poland

A typical train conductor in Poland

We made it onto the train, narrowly avoiding being de-limbed by the ancient train doors. I had heard that while Auschwitz was in operation they used cattle trucks to transport victims to the camp. I can verify this as the train that we caught had clearly not been upgraded since 1945.

For a brief moment I thought that maybe this was all part of the “Holocaust experience”: that the one-way tickets and the rickety old trains with doors that refuse to stay closed for long would serve as a lesson to visitors, like in the Apartheid Museum in South Africa. However, as the train slowly rattled over the greyest landscape known to man I came to realise that this was no act.

All just part of the "act"

All just part of the “act”

After an almost three hour journey on that freezing train, we eventually pulled into Oświęcim, which seemed to be an abandoned industrial town (not quite how I had pictured it). Lost, we walked around that station for some time until we managed to find a sign that gave us directions to the Museum. This sign was extremely detailed, containing useful information about the formation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, an easy to read map and opening hours. In summer, the museum was open from 8:00am – 7:00pm. “Good to know” we thought. Unfortunately we were there during winter so the hours were much shorter, being 8:00am – 3:00pm. Checking our watches, we noted that the time was exactly 3:05pm.

Since we were not going to be able to see the museum, we decided it was time to start heading back. We walked to the train station to buy our one-way tickets to Krakow and – alarmingly – found the station completely deserted. Evidently the train station also closed at 3pm winter. Poland starts to get dark very early during the middle of winter and Auschwitz is not the type of place that we wanted to be hanging around at night.

Franticly we ran around looking for a sign of life but there seemed to be none. As it grew darker, it seemed that our greatest fears had come true. It seemed more and more likely that we would be spending the night – and perhaps far longer – in Oświęcim. We could practically hear the jackboots coming.

Aushwitz

Here is the photo that we took to “prove” that we went there

After all that, we never did get to see the camp, although we did manage to get out. After what felt like an eternity, a train came (much newer this time) to take us back to Krakow. I have never been so happy to leave a place in my life. I hear visiting the museum is a terribly moving experience but it looks like I will never know. I can’t imagine what It must have been like to have been an inmate of that camp. This experience was enough for me.

May 17, 2013 / neiltheseal85

Why Looper was a terrible film

"It's true, he was"

When you really think about it, Looper was a terrible film that made absolutely no sense. It was a confusing story about time travel and telekinesis set in the future that is strangely reminiscent of the past.

I’m not the first person to write about the problems with Looper, the Internet is littered with articles outlining why the film is confusing or inconsistent. A few reviews even focused on the fact that, even with his terrible prosthetic face, Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks exactly nothing like a young Bruce Willis. Since these issues have already been covered, I will focus on an aspect in Looper that has been shockingly overlooked: the absolutely terrible ending.

An uncanny resemblance

An uncanny resemblance

The stupid ending

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Looper was an entertaining movie and if I travelled back in time I would tell the younger me to go and watch it – right after I begged him not to kill me, that is. The concept, the acting and even the design of the film were all excellent, but the ending was an absolute mess.

(Warning: spoilers)

At the end of the film a really confusing situation arises. The main character of the film Joe (played by the conveniently named Joseph Gordon-Levitt) kills himself which prevents the future him (Bruce Willis) from travelling back in time and killing Emily Blunt. Joe suddenly realises that if the young child sees his mother die, it will cause him to eventually become the ruthless crime boss “the Rainmaker” in the future, who is the reason that Bruce Willis was sent back in time to be killed in the first place. After some quiet reflection on this, Joe does the only logical thing and shoots himself in the chest.

Instructions not clear

Instructions not clear enough

Why did Joe sacrifice himself?

After establishing clearly to the audience that Joe isn’t the nicest person in the world, Looper tries to tell us that he has had some sudden epiphany at the end of the film, realising that his own suicide it the only possible option. This makes absolutely no sense because Joe is a man who kills people for a living. Literally he is paid to shoot people and not ask questions. He does this willingly and one can assume by the number of gold bars in his personal safe, that he has many, many people.

Joe is the kind of person likely has very little empathy for others, which is why his suicide is just plain stupid. I understand that the directors were trying to make Joe more likeable by showing us his redemption, but this behaviour is just out of character and isn’t even necessary in a movie. Scarface is a good example of a great and popular film with a completely unlikeable main character. This isn’t a new idea either, tragedies have had unlikable characters for thousands of years, Macbeth was a bit of a douche and Oedipus was a real motherfucker at times.

"It's true, he was"

“It’s true, he was”

Why didn’t he just shoot Old Joe (Buce willis)?

This final scene of young Joe’s ultimate sacrifice is a perfect example of why Looper is just silly. There were so many alternatives to suicide that would have made far more sense to the story. If killing Emily Blunt would accidentally start a long and confusing chain of events that would be bad for all involved, then why not just shoot Old Joe in the first place and stop it happening?

I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love to shoot Bruce Willis

I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love to shoot Bruce Willis

This would have fixed literally everything for Young Joe. The entire premise of Looper (except for some telekinesis and stuff) is that Young Joe accidentally let the older version of himself free. He spends a good part of the film chasing and trying to kill the old version of himself but for some reason he suddenly decides now isn’t a good time. This would have been the most logical solution to the film. As well as Bruce Willis inadvertently creating the Rainmaker, Joe’s gangster employers would probably stop trying to kill him for not “closing the loop” once he had killed the old version of himself. Two birds, one stone.

Why didn’t he just kill the kid?

If, after spending half of the film trying to kill the old version of himself, Young Joe had a sudden change of heart, there were still other avenues that he could have chosen short of suicide. One that comes to mind is killing the kid that will eventually become the “evil” Rainmaker who can explode people with his mind. Looper already established early on that Joe is a bit of an arsehole with no morals. He clearly has no problem killing people since he does it for a living. Also, the movie made it very clear that this kid was going to grow up and kill a lot of people in the future – Joe included – if he was left alive, so what possible reason could Joe have for letting this dangerous person live? Sure there was the implication that maybe this Rainmaker fellow wouldn’t become an über crime lord if only he didn’t have mummy issues, but this is still potentially the most dangerous person in the world, why would he take that risk, especially when his own life in the future is at stake?

It’s like that old “what would you do if you could go back in time and meet Hitler” scenario. When asked what they would do in this situation, most people would probably say “kill Hitler”. But no, not our friend Joe the amoral contract killer, if he was put in this situation, it seems he would just tell Hitler to “behave” and hope for the best.

hitler

Now play nice with the Goldsteins

Why didn’t he just shoot his own hand off

If for some reason, Young Joe decided that killing a young child or murdering Bruce Willis was just a step too far, then there is still another less severe alternative to suicide: he could have just shot off his own hand. Though this may seem illogical to normal people, in the Looper universe, Joe shooting off his hand would make perfect sense. The film showed us very clearly that what happens

in the past has a direct impact on the future (or present, it’s not really clear). When Joe’s fellow looper Seth lets the future version of himself escape, we are treated to a very gruesome scene where limbs and appendages magically disappear on Old Seth because, presumably because the Young Seth they is having them surgically removed. Yes this scene itself just raises further questions (like why would a paraplegic be driving a car) but we can accept this because, hey it’s a movie, don’t ask questions!

Hermes Conrad on "Looper"

Following Looper’s logic, if Young Joe just shot off his own hand then Old Joe’s had will magically disappear too, and the gun it was holding would fall to the ground or disappear. This is essentially what happened anyway: when Young Joe shot himself Bruce Willis magically disappeared (just like his hairline in real life). Sure maybe this one-armed Bruce Willis could shoot Emily Blunt with his left hand but this would at least give her some time to run away or something. Losing a hand might not be ideal but I’m sure it’s far better than suicide.

It worked for Enrest Hemminway

It worked for Enrest Hemminway

How can Young Joe be the narrator?

The last piece of utter stupidity in this otherwise great film is the narration by Young Joe. In a film full of nonsense about time travel and telekinetically exploding people, this voiceover seems to be the most stupid. Looper uses narration as a way of explaining the unexplainable but it reality it is just confusing and actually impossible.

Young Joe explains his rationale to us throughout the film and at the end he tells us that he “changed it”. This means that, by killing himself, he stopped the future from happening and preventing the kid from becoming the Rainmaker. This moment is clearly supposed to be dramatic, but actually it’s just stupid; how the hell could he be narrating the movie if he had just shot himself?

“So I pulled the trigger like this… and then I was like so dead”

“So I pulled the trigger like this… and then I was like so dead”

 

April 29, 2013 / neiltheseal85

“Cancer sufferer” and other strange Dutch insults

joseph ducreux

“There are two kinds of people I can’t stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.” – Nigel Powers in Goldmember

Holland, the Netherlands (whatever it’s called these days) is famous for lots of things, notably windmills, marijuana, dykes and prostitutes (and sometimes at the same time). This is a narrow view of the Netherlands and few people realise that the country has far more than just this to offer. For example, the Dutch language is absolutely hilarious. It is an absolute gold mine of funny words, although when pronounced correctly many sound like the speaker is choking to death violently. In fact many tourist guide books recommend wearing a raincoat or at least having an umbrella ready whenever speaking to a Dutch person (citation needed). Many Dutch people are aware of this phlegmy aspect of their language, and some of them in Belgium even named their own dialect after this characteristic.

How to correctly pronounce Dutch words

How to correctly pronounce Dutch words

“You just think Dutch sounds funny because you are an ignorant Australian” I hear you say. “Sure many of the words sound funny in English (groening, dyke, vaart, hoe) but these are just everyday words that only sound funny to you”. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment there, I will now demonstrate why Dutch is such a funny language by focusing on some Dutch insults.

Kanker

This word is supposedly the Dutch equivalent of “fuck”. Kanker is a very versatile word that can be used in a variety of different forms and added to other words to make them even better. Like its English equivalent, kanker can be used as an outburst when you stub your toe, as a way of insulting somebody’s mother or even as an expression of admiration.

Oh, and kanker also translates into “cancer”, which is a very strange thing to say to someone.

Go cancer yourself

Go cancer yourself

Kankerlijer

As I said above, kanker can be added to other words to form exciting new combinations. Kankerlijer is one prime example of the Dutch peoples’ misguided attempts at forming insults. This translates into “cancer sufferer” which clearly demonstrates that the Dutch have no idea what an insult is.

“Cancer sufferer” sounds more like an observation than an insult and I have no idea how anybody could consider it to be one. Imagine saying to someone: “Hey you’re such a cancer sufferer”, they would probably be more confused than insulted. There are really only two possible responses to this statement:

  • “Uhh, no I don’t have cancer but thanks for caring about my wellbeing”, or
  • “Yes I do have cancer, thanks for telling me what I already knew”

Although it may sound like an innocent (but strange) thing to say to somebody, kankerlijer is actually one of the strongest insults in Dutch. I learned this from a drunk Dutch guy who thought it was hilarious to hear foreigners mispronounce rude words. I can verify that kankerlijer is insulting, as I have received a few strange looks when saying it in public in Belgium and the Netherlands. Anybody who has read my previous posts will probably realise that I don’t have a very good sense of boundaries.

Kankerlekker

Another example of the Dutch formula of kanker + other word = swear word is kankerlekker. While this isn’t really an insult, it’s still not something that should be said in polite company. I had to include it in this list because of the sheer absurdity of the term. “Lekker” is a Dutch word meaning “tasty” and adding that to the word “cancer” just seems nonsensical. I can imagine eating dinner at a friend’s house, and after eating the meal that they had cooked for me, telling them: “That was great, it tasted like cancer”, I don’t think my imaginary friend would speak to me again.

Thanks Mrs Van Houten, this tastes like cancer!

Thanks Mrs van Houten, this tastes like cancer!

Kankerhoer

Another one of these baffling kanker words that the Dutch seem to love is kankerhoer. This word means exactly what is sounds like: “cancer whore”, which is really not a very nice thing to say to somebody. I have no idea what possessed somebody to add those two words together and use it to insult another person. What are the whores like in Holland to earn a reputation for something like this?

Oh...

Oh…

Kanker aap

Dutch people are very inventive when it comes to creating insults, especially when it comes to adding words to kanker. Kankeraap  is a good one which translates into “cancer monkey”. I actually really like this one, I imagine it would be a great trump card for winning any argument. Calling somebody a “cancer monkey” in the middle of an argument would surely cause the opponent to realise that they are
speaking to a crazy person and would most likely end the argument immediately, fearing for their own safety.

Kutaap

The Dutch seem to love using monkeys as insults almost as much as they love diseases. Kutaap apparently means “cunt monkey” which has such a lovely ring to it. Dropping a c bomb, is pretty much the strongest word to use in English, but somehow following it up with “monkey” just makes it sound adorable.

What a cute little kutaap

What a cute little kutaap

Other diseases

Before you go ahead and accuse the Dutch for having a strange obsession with cancer, it is important to realise that not all of their insults are related to that condition. While kanker does seem to form the basis of most of their insults, they do branch out occasionally into other diseases. Words such as, tering (tuberculosis), klere (cholera) and tyfus (typhoid) can also be added to words to form interesting new insults. To me, these words have an added level of humour since I had no idea that these diseases still existed, at least not in a developed country like the Netherlands. Calling somebody an old-timey disease just sounds strange, it would be like saying to somebody in English “I hope you catch the black death”.

This is funny in Holland

This is funny in Holland

Teringeikel

I don’t want to laugh at the Dutch too much as I am aware that English insults probably seem strange to foreigners too, especially since everything in English seems to revolve around sex. However, not wanting to feel left out, the Dutch do have a few sex-related insults of their own, although sometimes they just can’t resist the urge to throw a disease in there now and then.

Teringeikel is an interesting one. Tering, as we learned just now, means tuberculosis and eikel means “acorn”, however this does not convey the real meaning of the term. In this context the acorn in question is actually the head of a man’s penis. Putting these two words together sounds like an interesting combination. Calling somebody a teringeikel, sounds like you are saying “I hope you get
tuberculosis on the head of your penis” which is both nonsensical and probably impossible. Apparently this word roughly translates into “dickhead” in English which makes more sense but I still prefer “tuberculosis dick” as an insult.

Klootzak

Klootzak is a great insult that we need to introduce into English right away! Klootzak translates into ball sack or scrotum which is just hilarious. Telling somebody that they are “such a scrotum” will certainly make the person wonder what they had done for such a connection to be made between them as a person and their testicles.

Pisvlek and trekvlek

Before I finish, I would like to mention a couple more words that are definitely worth noting. Pisvlek is a great little word that means “piss stain”. I think this is a great way of putting somebody down as it really emphasises your opponent’s worthlessness in your eyes. “You’re nothing to me, you little piss stain”.

In the same vein, there is trekvlek, which I’m sure is a very useful word to have in your Dutch vocabulary. Similar to pisvlek, trekvlek apparently means “cum stain” which I’m sure is a really wonderful thing to call to somebody.

Concluding comments

Hopefully you have learned a lot from this article. If you are ever planning on visiting the Netherlands (or even Belgium) then maybe you can try to impress some locals by calling them some of these weird and wonderful insults, you’ll be sure to fit right in. And if you put what you have learned here to good use, who knows, you might even make some new friends?

BFFs

BFFs

April 19, 2013 / neiltheseal85

Belgium, the country that can’t take a joke

I'm sorry guys

Me with some appropriate street art in Antwerp

I wasn’t planning on writing about Belgium again but after thoroughly insulting the entire nation with my last post, I thought I would try to set the record straight – especially since I am probably no longer welcome to enter the country. I don’t hate Belgium, I actually really love it. Having said that, Belgium really is a weird place and the people there should really know it by now.

So many angry Belgians

So many angry Belgians

But seriously, I have been to Belgium – three times – and I actually do love it. I’ve been to Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges and it is probably the country I would choose to live in if I had to leave Australia. Anyway, here is a list of things that I do like about Belgium:

The art

Image

Nobody can deny that Belgium has a rich history of art. From the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, Belgians have been at the forefront of the art world. Names such as Reubens, Breughel, Magritte and Van Eyck are practically household names. Well there is another name that should be added to that list: Wim Delvoye.

“Who?” You might ask. Well to provide a little bit of background, Wim Delvoye is a Belgian neo-conceptual artist who “is involved in a way of making art that re-orients our understanding of how beauty can be created”. His most famous piece is a “comment on the Belgians’ love of fine dining” which, obviously in Belgium, means a machine that makes poo. I’m not sure what made Wim wake up one morning and decide “what the world needs is a machine that makes poo”. Anyway, the poo machine – or “Cloaca” as Wim prefers to call it – is a real thing and apparently he even sells the “smelly” turds for $1,000 each.

“Cloaca” in motion

The Beers

Charles de Gaulle once famously said about France “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”. If what he says is true, then it’s no wonder Belgium is such a shambles. How does one govern a county with over 1,000 types of beer? If you read my last post, then you will know that the answer is, not very well at all.

Belgians and beer go together like Russians and vodka. In fact, Belgians love beer so much that they even used to serve it to children at school. While Belgium may be world famous for Stella Artois (AKA “wife beater”) I have to admit, the place does have some amazing beers. My love affair with Belgian beer started with Hoegaarden (which frankly tastes a little like soap) and continues today. I would drink Belgian beer exclusively if I could, but it’s pretty expensive here.

An interesting beer is called Gueuze which is brewed in an open vat during a certain time of year when wild yeasts are floating around. The end result is a sour and pretty much undrinkable beer that most people would throw away – most people that is. Some of these beers are infused with fruit like cherries or ninkeberry (whatever that is) and given ominous names like “Sudden Death” (Mort Subite).

The supposed “world’s best beer” Westvleteren 12 is also brewed in Belgium, and the people who run the brewery sound like they have modelled their business plan from Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. To buy the beer you have to reserve it beforehand on their designated “beer phone”. When somebody calls up they are told the type and quantity of beer that they are allowed to purchase. People are even restricted as to how frequently they can buy the beer. Sales are limited to one order every 60 days, per person, per license plate and phone number.

Beer glasses

The Belgians take their love of beer to a new level. Other countries like Germany and the UK are also famous for beer, but they are generally not too fussed about the presentation. As long as it’s cold and fizzy (or in the UK, warm and flat) then that’s enough for them. The Belgians however are a different bunch. For each of their 1,000 or so different styles of beer, there is a glass that is specifically suited to enhance its flavour. There are far too many of these to list but my personal favourite is the one for the beer Kwak

Image

Apparently this strange design came about to allow coachmen to have a drink even though they weren’t allowed to leave their coach. To get over this hurdle, Pauwel Kwak had a special glass blown that could be hung onto the coach, enabling the coachman to drink without getting off. This is true Belgian ingenuity, most countries would have just accepted the fact that they couldn’t have a drink and carried on with their job. But not the Belgians, you can never get between a Belgian and their beer.

This obsession with glassware goes deeper than simply serving a beer in its own special glass. If the correct glass isn’t available, I suspect that most Belgians would refuse to drink it at all. I stayed at a hostel in Ghent where the owner apologised profusely when I ordered a beer from him that he he didn’t have the right glass for. Having to drink an Orval from a Liefmans glass really didn’t bother me but clearly this is a sacrilege in Belgium. The owner of the hostel (Hostel Uppelink by the way, which is an amazing place) nearly didn’t sell me the beer, just because the correct glasses were in the dishwasher at the time.

Another example of this strange obsession with glassware happened at a bar in Ghent called Dulle Griet (which is presumably named after the cannon of the same name that has a soft toy stuffed inside). The bar had a sign outside advertising a beer served in an oversized Kwak glass. When the waiter came to take our orders, I pointed to another customer who was drinking out of one of these abominations and said in my best Sleepless in Seattle moment, “I’ll have what he’s having”. The waiter smiled and replied, “Ok, and as a deposit, I will take your shoe”.

Image

Seriously why is there a soft toy in there? Could somebody please tell me?

The waiter’s reply confused me – I have never been asked to remove a shoe in a bar before – So I asked “My shoe? Why do you want my shoe?”. The waiter replied casually, as if he had made a perfectly reasonable request “So you don’t run away with the glass”.

I gave the waiter my shoe who then placed it gently onto a serving tray and carried it delicately away. I then looked around the room and noticed that hardly anyone in the bar was wearing two shoes. It really was something to behold, a room full of people missing a shoe with huge smiles on their faces. The shoe thing really is a genius idea, who is going to steal a glass if it means having to walk around in a sock all day? Not me, especially since it was the middle of winter at the time.

Image

The cost is one shoe apparently

The people

There are a lot of things that makes Belgium such a fun place, but the main thing really has to be the people. I’m not trying to suck up, they are (generally) really nice people and they are also just damn hilarious. For example, in my last post I copped a lot of flak for not getting my facts straight. I’m prepared to own this but it seems that not even the Belgians can agree on what the “facts” are.  Some commenters even got into an argument about whether or not Antwerp was the capital of Flanders. Come on guys, if you don’t even know what the capital is, how the hell is anybody else supposed to work it out?

Image

Maybe it’s the cat’s fault

Concluding comments

A lot of people accused me of cherry picking ‘facts’ to make Belgium look silly and that you could do this with any country. I promise you that this is not the case. Belgium is just one of those places that is full of surprises – and it’s just plain strange. Belgium is like that kid at school who used to sit at the back of the class and eat glue. You couldn’t stop him from doing it, you just had to sit there and watch as he went for another bite.

Enough of being an arsehole, I do really love Belgium, even though I am just a silly Australian. But before I finish I have one parting comment: Gotye, who is everybody’s favourite Belgian musician, is actually an Aussie. So suck on that!

Image

Or maybe this is everyone’s favourite Belgian musician

April 17, 2013 / neiltheseal85

What not to do in Paris

i-hate-paris

Or: The most traumatic experience of my life

Everyone knows that Paris is a huge city with an almost endless number of things to do. The internet is full of sites with lists telling you all of the things that tourists MUST do. These are all very helpful and all but how does an unsuspecting traveller know what they should avoid when visiting Paris? Well, hopefully I can help out there.

For anybody planning on using a swimming pool in France, my advice to you is simple: DON’T! Like almost everything in France, going to a swimming pool is a stressful and humiliating experience not worth the risk.

Young people – especially travellers – are renowned for being adrenaline junkies and for doing stupid things. Some people get their kicks by jumping out of aeroplanes or by swimming with sharks, but I get mine by unintentionally annoying French people (an extremely dangerous hobby). In the summer of 2010, my (now) wife Flick and I travelled to Europe, as is compulsory for all good middle class Westerners. Over this period, Europe was going through what was considered to be a heatwave, with temperatures in the high thirties. As an Australian I would consider this amount of extreme weather to be simply “summer” but I am told that this weather was abnormal for Europe.

After a few days of walking around a sweltering and busy Paris, Flick and I decided to cool off and have a swim. We had noticed a swimming pool that was near our hostel so we stopped to get our bathers and then went to cool off at la piscine. On the way there I entertained Flick with interesting and humorous anecdotes: “Did you know the call it la piscine because so many people piss in there? Are you going to piss-in la piscine? HAHAHA”.

 Image

Upon entering la piscine we were greeted with that famous French hospitality, the staff busily read their newspapers or continued whatever it was they were doing, concentrating hard on not making eye contact with anyone. The French are famous for many things, but making foreigners feel welcome is not one of them. If you have never witnessed the French warmth then you really should, it is something to behold. No wonder the Germans abandoned France so readily after the D-Day invasions.

Eventually Flick and I walked up to one desk and I asked the person there, in my very best schoolboy French, if we could both have a swim. He gave me that look that all Parisians seem to have. The only way to describe it accurately is to imagine yourself walking barefoot and stepping into a dog turd. Imagine the poo getting stuck between your toes and you have to grab a stick and try to scrape it away. You’re not impressed are you? Now think of the look that you have on your face: that’s the look that every Frenchman will give you when you ask them to do anything.

 Image

Although my grasp of the language is basic at best, the response to my query was abundantly clear: we were at the wrong desk. This was communicated by an outstretched hand pointing towards another desk. I was impressed that this person could respond to our query so effectively without breaking their concentration or removing their eyes from the newspaper.

After following those instructions, Flick and I eventually found ourselves at the correct desk. I told the man that we would like to swim and asked him how much. He told us the price and a small transaction took place. He handed us a receipt which seemed somewhat unnecessary. As we walked away from the counter firmly grasping our pool tickets, the man at the desk shouted something at us. We turned around to see him repeating ad nauseum the phrase “la bonnet, la bonnet”. This word wasn’t in my vocabulary, but since the guy was pointing violently at his head I assumed that he was asking whether we had swimming caps. I told him that we didn’t and we were informed that they were “obligatoire”. After some more money had changed hands we were given two of the most unflattering swimming caps in existence.

Swimming cap

Artist’s depiction.

Our desire to swim was gradually decreasing but we were committed, so dorky swimming caps in hand, we walked towards the changing room when our friend behind the counter shouted and pointed at us again. “Les chausseurs” he said this time. Although the man was clearly above uttering complete sentences to stupid foreigners I did understand that he wanted us to take off our shoes before entering the change room. This seemed a little strange to me since the only thing protecting my feet from the orgy of foreign fungi and bacteria on the ground was my shoes. But since I was a guest in this country I complied, risking gangrene and who knows what else, by taking off my shoes and instructing Flick to do the same.

By this time we had absolutely no desire to swim, our shame was too great, and the only that prevented us from walking out was the determination to not let Paris get the better of us. Barefoot, we made it into the changing room without our friend behind the counter grunting any more commands at us. Success! Or so we thought. The changing rooms – or should I say room – was unisex. Old men and women walked around completely starkers showing no attempt to hide their shame. The few who did carry towels slung them over their shoulder in such a way that it concealed barely anything. Stunned, I averted my gaze and found a locker to put my clothes in and get changed myself.

How to use a towel apparently

How to use a towel apparently

When we had changed into our bathers we locked up our lockers, inserting a euro coin into the mechanism. My locker however decided that one euro wasn’t enough and promptly ate the coin and absolutely refused to lock until I inserted another one. This was starting to become a rather expensive exercise, but we soldiered on towards the pool since we were so close!

Between the changing room and the pool was a tiled room with shower heads embedded into the walls. Surrounding the room were signs that said threateningly “Douche obligatoire!”. For those who don’t know, “douche” is the (hilarious) French word for “shower”. The word “obligatoire” should be obvious. Not wanting to break any more rules, Flick and I yielded and had our obligatory showers before continuing our Kafkaesque journey to la piscine.

doucheThe next room brought us one step closer to our destination and like the shower room, this room had threatening signs pasted all over the walls. This time the signs read “Bain obliagoire!” which like the signs in the other room, told us that we must now have a bath to wash our feet. As the signs promised, there was a shallow basin filled with tepid water and most likely human genetic material. The puddle was far too large to jump so, going against every instinct that I had, I did what the sign said and I walked through the disgusting bath exposing my feet to every bacteria known to man.

When we walked through the final hallway we were greeted with a beautiful sight: an actual swimming pool. At this point Flick and I knew what the Jews must have felt like seeing the Promised Land after walking through the desert for forty years. Almost in disbelief, we edged slowly toward the water. Pinching myself to find out whether or not I was dreaming I dipped my toe into the water and, to my relief, it was real. I looked at Flick with a big smile on my face and she looked back at me. We had been through so much but finally it had come to an end…

…or so we thought. We were interrupted yet again by an angry lifeguard who shouted at us in what sounded like complete gibberish. We stared at him blankly in confusion until he asked us “do you speak English?”. We nodded a silent approval before he repeated in English the gibberish he yelled at us earlier: “Your shorts are too long. You cannot swim here in those shorts”.

And here ends my story. After all of that, I never even got to swim because MY SHORTS WERE TOO LONG!

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This is Flick at the actual place where these events occurred. I was too traumatised to have my photo taken.

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