Saturday, July 24, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 26

Susan is talking about yoga. This is handy, as oddly enough I've been meaning to talk about this subject for a while or, more specifically, men of a certain age and yoga.

It isn't something that I thought I would ever talk about, but having sheepishly tried it out at the start of the year, I'm pretty much hooked.

Let me explain. If you had asked me a year or 18 months ago I would have, of course, ruled out attending simply on the basis of... well, not for any good reasons, but for lots of deeply held prejudicial ones such as generally (let's face it) yoga is really only intended for hippy chicks and the more spiritually inclined and better dressed male (also known as the gay man, mostly).

Those seemed like quite adequate reasons, besides I have to be honest and tell you that I was kind of concerned by the idea that I might turn into one of those people who carried their yoga mats around with them everywhere they went (and I mean everywhere). Come on you have to agree with me on this one, that's worrying behaviour, right? I'm concerned also that it may be the start of a downward spiral that will lead to me liking Coldplay and telling everyone that they're a great band rather than the dull dinner-party talking point more suited to selling shiny motors that they actually are (OK, so I liked 'Yellow', but so did everyone else on the planet). I'm concerned as well that it might be the first step on the road to some place inhabited by hippy happy clappers -- otherwise known as personal hell ("OMG, you mean you're going to chant every day?").

I'd like to feel I'd be a better person if I could chant, but when it comes down to it, somehow going "om... om... om" and "shanti shanti shanti" just isn't me.

I digress, I'm kind of working my way around to my road to yoga and it really, like most good things, starts at lunch. When you get men in their 30s together, among other things that happen to be true, they like to talk about sporting injuries. This is as true for me as it is for anyone else. If you'll sit down opposite me, I'll happy give you a rundown of when and where. I'll give you a blow-by-blow account with full details. In the last five years or so my sporting activity was mostly related around Chinese Kick Boxing. When I started this, it was as much a surprise to me as anyone else. I didn't exactly fit the mould -- I owned no martial arts videos and did not have a collection of martial arts weapons (you will be pleased to hear that I still don't).

No, for me I was driven to it by the boredom of the gym. I simply could not, no matter how hard I tried, do circuits no matter how loud I turned up my Walkman.

Kickboxing has many advantages. You turn up and for two hours you get told what to do and you come out totally knackered and having worked out any issues you might have had. It's like the testosterone equivalent of "step" or "legs, bums and tums". The downside is, of course, it can lead to a litany of injuries (fractured rib/toe, torn hamstrings and fibrosis in the back), which is not as bad as it sounds because, as I've already explained, being a guy, I like to talk about these at great length.

Obviously, it's even better to talk about when these injuries have been picked up through... well, fighting in a "well I ducked and dived and then he punched me in the face like an express train and I went down like a girl*" kind of way.

I continue to digress. It was the back injury that led me to yoga. Having tried everything from osteopathy (which told me I had a fear of being in a small room with a man who looks like Joseph Mengele), to aromatherapy massages (not really me), to physiotherapy and Chinese acupuncture, someone suggested yoga and I swear it works.

Yoga's funny though, for men at least. The class I go to usually has one, maybe two guys and then 20 women, not to mention the fact that most yoga teachers are a certain kind of women, which brings me back to Susan.

Susan is writing a feature for a women's magazine about men and yoga. She wants to know why they go. She wants to interview me, but after my last appearance in the press this seems, oh what's the phrase? Unwise.

"Not after last time, no way. My reputation is shot through."

"Well, if you insist on calling people plus-sized, I'm really not surprised. Oh come on Gord, I need help."

"I can tell you why I think men go for background, but that's it."

"OK, let's hear your theory."

My theory is very simple and it has nothing to do with modern man getting in touch with his spiritual side. Because, while you could write that, it's just not even slightly true. What it really comes down to for most men (hippy guys who spent too much time chanting in India and will bore your socks off about ashrams if you let them, aside) is that men in their late 20 and early 30s go to yoga for one quite sad and obvious reason: all yoga teachers (and it must be, like, a rule) are incredibly attractive, coupled with the fact that every class has a ratio of about nine or 10 women for every guy.

I'd like to tell the discerning reader something else, you know, some deeper truth but, as so often in life, there isn't one. There is no other way to put it. I hate to come over like a panting teenager about this, but this is the route of many guys I know to yoga.

"That's your theory? Guys go to yoga because the teachers are hot and the male to female ratio is strongly in your favour?"

"Absolutely, if yoga classes were run by a load of hairy East German former Olympians I guarantee you could empty yoga classes permanently of men. It's a sad truth, but it's the truth. And it has terrible consequences."

"How can it have terrible consequences?"

"Well, the thing is when she says 'if you can manage it, put your right hand flat on the floor, rise your left over your ear and turn your head', rather than resisting the urge because it's, well, clearly insane and dangerous, being a guy you think I can do that, no problem'.**"

"Arrrgh, you mean the 'look, watch me, I'm an over-competitive male' thing?"

"That'll be it. My neck is still a bit twisted after last week's class."

"Anyway, feature-wise Gord, you know that our readers don't have boyfriends who lust after their yoga teachers. They're all too cool and their girlfriends are leggy beauties who do not condescend to smile at ordinary mortals."

"I'd always wondered about that."

"The boyfriends of our readers are spiritually enriched by yoga in the same way they are by Helmut Lang and Paul Smith. You know I'll have to write it like it is, don't you?"

I tell Susan that I found out something else rather interesting about yoga this week as well, when a replacement teacher took over from the vacationing Rebecca. She was replaced by the body-perfect and rather far too charming Nathan, who managed to send the 20 or so women in the class into something of what only be described as a tizzy, with comments like "look at you", "Oh, hasn't he got nice eyes", "Oh I really love your teaching style". It was flagrant, I tell you, flagrant.

"Suze, they were cooing, shouting out comments it was like... well, I'm not sure what it was like, but it wasn't yoga."

"You mean that they acted like a bunch of blokes?"

"OMG, you know I think that might be it."

"Well, there's a surprise."

* On the use of the word 'girl' here I (of course) want to make it clear that I am employing it in a gender neutral sense denoting anybody (male or female) who is generally a bit crap at stuff and runs in a manner amusing to others.

** Except if it involves the hips. I have absolutely zero flexibility in this area of the body, which deeply saddens me as it means I am unable to impress my yoga teacher with dumb arse attempts to push my body too far.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The Demographic Shift - 25

It's perhaps fitting that this column should be on ageism. It's absolutely everywhere and I don't mean where you would expect to find it, in the grey market, I mean closer to home. It's true, sadly Generation X is suffering. Apparently we're over the hill.

I'd heard reports of this for a while, mostly from Adam who is convinced he is to be the next victim, but recently it has all come into focus. Not least with the defeat of Andre Agassi who, as he was knocked out of Wimbledon this week, was described as the old man of tennis. Old man of tennis? Andre Agassi is 33.

OK, so it's sad, but maybe not all that surprising in Andre's case. Being realistic, he's a sportsman and, well, a sporting life has always been a short one, but for the rest of us who happen to be around that age and decided against taking up a sporting career, you wouldn't have expected to have been told you were over the hill quite yet.

Well, there you would be wrong. These days, ageism starts to kick in much earlier with people of the tender (well tender-ish) age of 35 and under being told they are over the hill. It's not even just 35-year-olds who are suffering, it is also people barely into their 30s. According to a survey by Maturity Works, 3% of those who had experienced ageism were not even 35.

There are several things to say about this, but most importantly (of course) is that I will 35 in just days, with St Swithin's Day marking my demographic shift (OK, some people call this day a birthday, quite why baffles me) and, well, frankly, it's not all that exciting to find out that I may as well arrive with a sign saying "past it". I did actually consider this (getting a sign), but it would be one of those things that was at the outset meant to be ironic, but instead of being ironic it would just be well... true, which is obviously not so good, not to mention a whole deal less funnier.

I knew that writing about the demographic shift was significant, sociologically and culturally, but I didn't think leaving the 18- to 34-year-old age group would be this momentous.

It's like Michael ('Dam Busters') Anderson's 1976 movie 'Logan's Run' has come true -- apart from the bit where you get hunted down and killed. Let me recap. It's the 23rd Century and it's the perfect future. You have everything you ever needed, it's a total world of pleasure, except that no one is allowed to live beyond their 30th birthday. Talk about sucking a lot.

Surely you remember? A young Michael York goes on the run with the young Jenny Agutter (well, wouldn't you?) to avoid being eaten by the nasty AI that runs the future. Eventually, of course, they bring down society and go on to launch a bad spin-off TV series -- but that was everyone's fate in the 1970s.

OK, they didn't get everything right. They plumped for 30 as the year things end when, as everyone now knows, 34 is the crucial turning point in one's life -- well, according to advertisers, at least.

Most of us have heard of ageism before now, but it always seemed to be people in their 40s or 50s being passed over for some younger, faster and, crucially, cheaper option. It's the latter in these ever increasing times of budgetary constraint that seems to have lowered the barrier even further to hit not just those in their 40s and 50s, but those in their 30s as well.

As I said earlier, my friends are experiencing this as well. Adam is convinced it's about to happen to him and that he is about to be culled and replaced by someone younger and more junior. I tell him to run faster, but (strangely) he doesn't find this at all amusing. It's only amusing really because Adam has been convinced that they have been going to axe him for about the last year and it hasn't happened yet. It's always one of the first thing he says when he picks up the phone. It's like his catchphrase. I'm surprised it's not the first thing he says to people when he meets them for the first time ("Hi, I'm Adam, I think I might be made redundant").

It got so bad recently that a few weeks ago at a dinner party at Adam's flat (and after far too much wine had been drunk) I heard him saying this very thing at the other end of the table ("I think I might be made redundant") and out of nowhere I found myself saying "Adam is suffering from Premature Redundancy Ejaculation" after which I rolled around (not quite on the floor, but as good as) in laughter. I have no idea where the term Premature Redundancy Ejaculation comes from (or PRE as I'm now calling it), but like the ageism that it is related to, it's a generational preoccupation. This sent everyone else rolling around on the floor as well, which did not overly impress Adam. To be fair, I think I could have shouted "ejaculation" very loudly and it would have had the same effect on everyone around the table -- I mean, people were (as they say) sloshed.

I digress, a bit, as the other thing that struck me is that lots of people only seem to have got into their stride and worked out where their careers were going as they hit 30 and then, before you know it, just a few years down the line, people are experiencing the terrors of ageism and are finding themselves redundant as firms hire younger and cheaper staff.

I'm not quite sure how this squares with the government's new wheeze to counter all this ageism and make it possible for everyone to work until 70 (gee, thanks Tony).

We seem to spend a lot of time these days talking about the world of work, so it wasn't much of a surprise that I found myself covering this subject with my friend Paul (of France and Alison fame) the other night after his law firm axed a few people in a corporate restructure.

"It's harsh," Paul said, "that's what it is. It used to be you had a career for life and now..."

"Yeah, I know, and now pick a number. I saw some research and it said people of our generation might end up with half a dozen different careers. I really need to get moving. I'm lagging way behind the class."

"Me too, I'm only on my third. I'm trying to work out where the next career will come from."

"Oh, that's easy. After we've all been made redundant a few times, but still can't retire because Tony wants us to keep going until we're 70, we'll end up working in one of those giant DIY stores offering fatherly advice to kids trying to put up new shelves with glue. We'll be able to tell them just how it was done in our day."

"How was it done in our day? I don't know anything about DIY?" Paul says.

"It doesn't matter, we'll be old and grey, and we'll look the part, and that's really all that counts. They'll put you on TV. You'll be in ads and the shooting script will just refer to you as 'Grey man no2', that'll be your new demographic."

"'Grey man no2'? That's depressing."

"Yeah, I know, but on the upside you'll get a discount on DIY products so you'll be able to finish all those little DIY jobs that you spent a life time screwing up."

"Gord, can you stop talking now?"

"OK."

PS. Officially I should just give up writing this now -- having, I guess, shifted, but you know, I've have to see what it's like when I break on through to the other side.