The Receipt

This is an excerpt from a piece I’ve been working on. Feedback is most welcome and I hope you enjoy reading.

Words by Phillip Cogger

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This glimpse of a life took place halfway through a conversation between Mrs Annabelle Jackson of no obvious profession and Mr Winkler from the Association of Unusual Actions. The following discussion traversed two reasonably priced telephones.

“You may or may not be able to tell a man by his shopping receipt,” said Winkler down the receiver of an unclean, lavender phone. He held the phone away for exactly two seconds to inspect the receiver for remnants of a messy lunch. He heard each second pass on the watch that bound his wrist, spying the traffic from his yellow-walled office.
“Can I ask why you’re calling?” replied Mrs Annabelle Jackson, her hair in curlers and the evidence of a Waldorf salad on her bottom lip. “Hang on. I have a good mind to put the phone down.”
“This may seem a strange call Mrs Jackson. But I have nothing against your husband. Nor do I shun the free and democratic world we all expect to inhabit when we push the sheets back of a morning. None of that is the question.”
“You are a strange and baffling man Mr Winkler. And what is the question?”
“The question is the list.”
“Oh that again. Run it for me one more time.”
“Cookie dough; 12 triple A batteries; National Geographic (x 1 copy); 1 set of Prestige kitchen knives; 5 boxes of long-stemmed matches; 2 erotic novellas (purchased just before a weekend double-bonus lottery ticket); 2 organic chicken breasts with slight discolouration (probably down to temperature fluctuations during carriage).”
“I want to put the phone down.”
“Then why don’t you Mrs Jackson?”
Mrs Jackson looked at her husband’s certificate of excellence from the Institute of Pristine Acquisitions. She breathed deeply and settled herself into her pea green sofa. For a split second she had a sense of belonging to something beyond her surroundings. “Let’s start again,” she said. “You tell me what you know about my husband, and I’ll sit and think about what you’re saying. Then I’ll decide where this conversation is going.”
“Very powerful of you Mrs Jackson.”
“I suppose you could say it is.”
“But who really has the power in these situations Mrs Jackson?”
“Is that a question?”
“Let it breathe.”
“Tell me what you know?”
“Mr Terry Felix Jackson moved with above average caution up and down the aisles of the Fresco Metro adjacent to Frippinden Hill council estate in Locksbridge. He had clearly decided that over-packing wouldn’t be the same problem for him as it usually is for others I have witnessed in similar scenarios.”
“Mr Winkler. Terry has always been a careful man.”
“I’m just delivering the facts Mrs Jackson.”
“Proceed.”
“The time was a month ago in March when the light has a way of not knowing quite what it wants to do.”
“Ethereal?”
“You may be right.”
“It was the 25 March exactly when your husband acquired what is currently being processed as a code 64.”
“64?”
“An abundance of suspicious contents.”
“Do you dislike my husband?”
“I am neither here nor there on the matter.”
“So why are you calling?”
“Because your husband’s method of domestic replenishment seemed highly irregular.”
“Please clarify.”
“He bought some strange shopping.”
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t. But subsection fifteen of the customer operations act of 2010 clearly states that any customer who is carrying suspicious items in relative abundance in a manner deemed to be antisocial must be brought to the attention of the authorities.”
Annabelle Jackson drifted off to a time her husband wouldn’t stop kissing her while she tried to cook.
“Mrs Jackson are you there?”
“Skin.”
“Pardon Mrs Jackson?”
“Do you believe in the Sabbath Mr Winkler?”
“I think it is a day like any other.”
“Do you know what the world is missing Mr Winkler?”
“What is the world missing Mrs Jackson?”
“Solace Mr Winkler.”

The next day

Mr Winkler is helping Mrs Jackson into the passenger seat of his recently renovated car, a vehicle for which he is known and at times, envied. They head into a sunset with strokes of purple in it. Winkler listens intently to Mrs Jackson just as his profession requires, enough to get the bare bones of the life she has lived and the way she has lived it. He appreciates that she has never been in a situation like this before.

Mr Jackson is still being held until the Association of Unusual Actions can decide how to proceed next. Mrs Jackson is being watched in private accommodation for her own safety.

On the 100 push ups challenge

As a skinny man with less fat to burn than some of my beefy friends, I have taken to completing regular push ups. This exercise regimen is not new for me. I have used push ups as a method of fitness-building for over a decade, and most of the time I haven’t had too much trouble with weight ratio exercises. With all of this in mind, I decided to take up the ‘one hundred push ups’ six week training challenge.

Despite the fact I’ve been doing it for a little over eight weeks, I have not yet completed the challenge. The truth is, my strength has been yo-yoing. There have been some positive results in the core body strength department, but generally I have not started to look like Dolph Lundgren. Maybe I should be tipping banana flavoured muscle dust – otherwise known as whey protein powder – into a plastic container full of water and downing it like magic beans? I accept I’ll never bench press an oak tree, carry an elk on my shoulder or reinvent the very nature of masculinity, but damn it all, I’m going to get to 100 good form push ups; eventually.

Now what exactly is a ‘good form’ push up? It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, but for the purposes of this blog I’m going to stick with focusing on the chest muscles. As you may already be aware, push ups are a good way to improve overall strength, with particular benefits for your shoulders, triceps and to a certain extent your abdominal muscles (or ‘abs’ in text message speak). There are certain rules of thumb when it comes to getting maximum results from a push up. They are:

1. Keep your back as straight as an ironing board. In fact your body should be straight from your shoulders to your heels. If you need to further guarantee the correct position here, clench your ass cheeks and tense your abdominal muscles. These measures will go some way to preserving your form.

2. Make your arms do the work. I remember Physical Education at school. I’ll never forget having to exercise at the behest of some overweight, underpaid beef head thrice my age. PE was the first time I saw a push up demonstration, but there was one quite serious problem. I now realise that most of my PE teachers were doing it wrong. In fact, it often looked like the demonstrators’ in question were deliberately attempting to inseminate the floor by thrusting their groins downwards. My old science teacher – who deserves the credit for coining the term – called it ‘The Saturday Night Move’. It’s not necessary, plus it looks foolish. Any movement that happens should come from the arms.

3. Pick a spot and look at it while keeping your head raised. This will help you to preserve your form, and will look less like floor sniffing.

4. Try to get your chest to reach the ground. If you find it painful or uncomfortable to go low, don’t do it. You’ll discover your threshold as you progress with your workout. Bare in mind, there is nothing to stop you testing the pain barrier as you improve, so there’s no harm in challenging yourself along the way.

5. Don’t flare your elbows. This won’t improve your chest, but is more likely to increase shoulder strength. You can see a flared-elbow push up below being carried out by a person who is not me. It also appears that the guy has his fingers pointing in, thus piling more wrongness on an already curious technique.

flared push up 2

6. You can keep your hands shoulder width apart. I have seen people bring them in closer to the chest, which through repetition I have found also works.

7. Breathe in when you go down and back out as you push up. Try and time your breathing with the push up motion.

8. The world as we know it will not be a permanent fixture, but for the sake of the workout imagine it is. In short, don’t panic when doing push ups. There should be no racing involved. Keep a steady pace as you lower, then either spring up, or go slowly depending on preference. Going slower is also more challenging than pounding out push ups.

9. Try to keep a cool head. One thing I’ve discovered about the ‘100 push ups challenge’ is to start small. For example, at the start of the challenge I had to do a progress test to see which table column I should start with. I fitted comfortably in column two (6-10) push ups. The third column is 11-20, and I caved at 11, so I decided to play it sensible. I found that just because I started in column two, I didn’t manage to keep the numbers going through weeks two and three. This is because the push up count increases a lot in a short space of time, so suddenly I was daunted. I had to repeat week two. Then I had to shift back to column one when I got to week three. Then I discovered my form was only so slightly off. Not as off as the above picture, but incorrect nonetheless. Now I’m currently at week two column one, keeping the good form.

If you do decide to take up the challenge, make sure you check out the correct form first. Give it some practise, then when you feel you’ve nailed it, try the challenge. If you’ve not had much experience doing push ups, start small on the table. Otherwise the whole thing is going to seem like a core body strength avalanche. One more thing, don’t use the images in the 100 push up challenge guide as a reference. In terms of good technique they’re incorrect, as the skinny guy in the orange shorts is promoting the flared elbow approach.

Here is a link to the challenge – happy exercising: http://hundredpushups.com/#sthash.vtqXUbLm.dpbs