Archive for the ‘Humour’ Category

I came across something in our bathroom the other day that has occupied my thoughts off and on ever since. It was a little dispenser of dental floss.

It isn’t the floss itself that is of interest to me but that the container has a toll-free number printed on it. You can call the company’s Floss Hotline twenty-four hours a day. But here is the question: Why would you need to? I keep imagining some guy calling up and saying in an anxious voice, “OK, I’ve got the floss. Now what?”

As a rule of thumb, I would submit that if you need to call your floss provider, for any reason, you are probably not ready for this level of oral hygiene.

My curiosity aroused, I had a look through all our cupboards and discovered with interest that nearly all household products these days carry a hotline number. You can, it appears, call up for guidance on how to use soap and shampoo, gain helpful tips on where to store ice cream so that it doesn’t melt and run out of the bottom of the container, and receive professional advice on parts of your body to which you can most successfully and stylishly apply nail polish. (“So let me get this straight. You’re saying not on my forehead?”)

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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Always having a party

I have very happy hair. No matter how serene and composed the rest of me is, no matter how grave and formal the situation, my hair is always having a party. In any group photograph you can spot me at once because I am the person at the back whose hair seems to be listening, in some private way, to a disco album called “Dance Graze ’97.”

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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In fancy restaurants it is even worse because the server has to take you through the evening’s specials, which are described with a sumptuousness and panache that are seldom less than breathtaking and always incomprehensible. My wife and I went to a fancy restaurant in Vermont for our anniversary the other week and I swear I didn’t understand a single thing the waiter described to us.

“Tonight,” he began with enthusiasm, “we have a crepe galette of sea chortle and kelp in a rich mat de mer sauce, seasoned with disheveled herbs grown in our own herbarium. This is baked in an inverted Prussian helmet for seventeen minutes and four seconds precisely, then layered with steamed wattle and woozle leaves. Very delicious; very audacious. We are also offering this evening a double rack of Rio Rocho cutlets, tenderized at your table by our own flamenco dancers, then baked in a clay dong for twenty-seven minutes under a lattice of guava peel and sun-ripened stucco. For vegetarians this evening we have a medley of forest floor sweetmeats gathered from our very own woodland dell.. ..”

And so it goes for anything up to half an hour. My wife, who is more sophisticated than I, is not fazed by the ornate terminology. Her problem is trying to keep straight the bewilderment of options. She will listen carefully, then say: “I’m sorry, is it the squib that’s pan-seared and presented on a bed of organic spoletto?”

“No, that’s the baked donkling,” says the serving person. “The squib comes as a quarter-cut hank, lightly rolled in payapaya, then tossed with oil of olay and calamine, and presented on a bed of chaff beans and snoose noodles.”

I don’t know why she bothers because, apart from being much too complicated to take in, none of the dishes sounds like anything you would want to eat anyway, except maybe on a bet after drinking way too much.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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It is an odd thing about us. We expend huge efforts exhorting ourselves to “Say No to Drugs,” then go to the drugstore and buy them by the armloads. Almost $75 billion is spent each year in the United States on medicines of all types, and pharmaceutical products are marketed with a vehemence and forthrightness that can take a little getting used to.

In one commercial running on television at the moment, a pleasant-looking middle-aged lady turns to the camera and says in a candid tone: “When I get diarrhea I like a little comfort” (to which I always say: “Why wait for diarrhea?”).

In another, a man at a bowling alley (men are pretty generally at bowling alleys in these things) grimaces after a poor shot and mutters to his partner, “It’s these hemorrhoids again.” And here’s the thing. The buddy has some hemorrhoid cream in his pocket! Not in his gym bag, you understand, not in the glove compartment of his car, but in his shirt pocket, where he can whip it out at a moment’s notice and call the gang around. Extraordinary.

But the really amazing change that occurred while I was away is that now even prescription drugs are advertised. I have before me a popular magazine called Health that is chock full of ads with bold headlines saying things like “Why take two tablets when you can take one? Prempro is the only prescription tablet that combines Premarin and a progestin in one tablet.”

Another more intriguingly asks, “Have you ever treated a vaginal yeast infection in the middle of nowhere?” (Not knowingly!) A third goes straight to the economic heart of the matter and declares, “The doctor told me I’d probably be taking blood pressure pills for the rest of my life. The good news is how much I might save since he switched me to Adalat CC (nifedipine) from Procardia XL (nifedipine).”

The idea is that you read the advertisement, then badger your “healthcare professional” to prescribe it for you. It seems a curious concept to me, the idea of magazine readers deciding what medications are best for them, but then Americans appear to know a great deal about drugs. Nearly all the advertisements assume an impressively high level of biochemical familiarity. The vaginal yeast ad confidently assures the reader that Diflucan is “comparable to seven days of Monistat. 7, Gyne-Lotrimin, or Mycelex-7,” while the ad for Prempro promises that it is “as effective as taking Premarin and a progestin separately.”

When you realize that these are meaningful statements for thousands and thousands of people, the idea of your bowling buddy carrying a tube of hemorrhoid unguent in his shirt pocket perhaps doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous.

— Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself

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A cynic might conclude that our policy to wards drugs in America is to send users either to prison or to the Olympics.

— Bill Bryson

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It has to be said that fencing, at least for the inexperienced observer, is an oddly brief and confusing exercise. At a signal from the referee, the opponents lunge forward, go tick, tick, tick with their weapons for literally about two seconds, and then a light comes on announcing a winner and they return to their starting positions to repeat the procedure. When one has accumulated 15 points in this way, he wins the match.

The total amount of action in a match is generally less than two minutes. Now there must be about a thousand ways you could improve on this. You could, for instance, allow or even encourage surprise attacks. You could have tag-team matches or require competitors to fence blindfolded after being spun around just enough to make them wobbly.

You could arm one competitor with a sword and the other with, say, a pikestaff. Almost any change, frankly, would be an improvement.

Even so, I quite got into it. Because there are four matches going on at once, it’s wonderfully lively and chaotic, with various corners of the auditorium erupting in applause or dismay at different moments.

I stayed for two hours, hopelessly bewildered but also captivated by the noise and passion and the mystifying, unfathomable swiftness of each frantic engagement.

Eventually, and with some reluctance, I bestirred myself and moved on to the nearby judo hall. This is another sport I have never paid much attention to, and I had vaguely imagined it to be like a Jackie Chan movie. I don’t suppose I actually expected the competitors to leap into play from awnings or the roofs of passing buses or to loft each other improbable distances with nifty reverse kicks to the solar plexus, but I did expect something a little more vigorous than the sight of two people in leisure wear circling slowly, and indeed interminably, while trying slyly to take each other’s shirts off.

I watched for more than an hour, but I must confess that the appeal of judo entirely eluded me.

— Bill Bryson

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Everybody is fond of Freo, as they call it. So am I normally, though my enthusiasm
was wilting swiftly this day. The afternoon was uncomfortably warm, with no sign of the ameliorating ocean breeze they call the Fremantle Doctor (because it makes you feel better, of course). I had already walked far enough to make my feet smoke when I realized that I still had a good four miles to go, nearly all of it along the busy, charmless, mercilessly shadeless Stirling Highway.

By the time I flopped into central Fremande, it was late afternoon and I was comprehensively bushed. I went into a pub and downed a beer for medicinal purposes.

“You all right?” said the barmaid.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Why?”

“Seen your face?”

I knew at once. “Am I sunburned?” I asked bleakly.

She gave a frank, sympathetic, but essentially deeply amused nod.

I peered past her into the mirror behind the bar. Looking back at me, mockingly attired in clothes to match my own, was a cartoon character called Mr. Tomato Head. I allowed myself a small sigh. For the next four days I would be a source of concern to every elderly Western Australian and of amusement to all else. Then for three days more, as my skin flaked and peeled and I took on the look of someone just escaped from a leprosarium, the mood would change to universal horror and revulsion. Waitresses would drop trays; gawkers would walk into lampposts; ambulance drivers would slow as they passed and look me over carefully. It would, as always, be a quiet ordeal. In another three or four hours I would be in tender pain. Meanwhile, I was already a small wreck. My feet and legs hurt so much that I wasn’t sure that they would ever be of service to me again. I was as dirty as a street urchin and rank enough to be buried. And all of this so that I could see a house I had no actual interest in seeing and then walk on to a place that I was now too tired to explore.

But I hardly minded at all. And do you know why? I had seen a monotreme. Life could throw nothing at me that would diminish the thrill of that.

— Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

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