I could have been Mr. Universe.


I was a skinny kid. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw me today. But I was  real skinny, a proper seven stone weakling. I was forever getting sand kicked in my face. Even in kindergarten, in the sand pit, the other kids would kick sand in my face. And when we lived in Blackpool, well you can guess what happened on the beach. It was the same at Southend on Sea, and Skegness. We lived in Libya for a bit, it was painful in Libya.

Got to the stage I avoided sand, avoided going to the beach. It was too traumatic. Reckon I was suffering from Post Traumatic Sand in the Face Disorder.

When I was about 13 or 14, I saw this advertisement, probably on the back page of one of my comics, or maybe in the Reader’s Digest, but wherever, it seemed to me to be the answer to all my traumas. I clipped the coupon and sent off for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. Many a youth did the same, thousands in fact. . Me and Arnold Schwarzenegger for example, who was about the same age as me, and probably clipped the same coupon in the same comic, although, to be fair, he probably took it a bit more seriously than did I.

But the course cost something like Twelve guineas and I didn’t have 12 guineas. I was as weak in the pocket as I was in the body. Of course, these advertisements played upon and exploited all the inadequacies and lack of confidence so common amongst teenage boys, and they knew that somehow such teenagers would find the money, without telling their parents, and take up the offer. So it was that after some diligent saving which included searching for and gathering empty bottles and collecting the 3d refunds thereon, I raised the money. Only by that time it had gone up to 15 guineas.

Charles Atlas claimed that he himself had been a “scrawny weakling” before he discovered the secret of “dynamic tension” and “isotonic exercise”. I never fully understood dynamic tension. Or isotonic exercise. It involved putting your muscles under some stress, pretending to push a wall down, for example, or lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. In fact, I was pretty good at lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. Was a bit disappointed I did not quite develop a Mr. Universe physique by lifting such a stick. I ought to have checked with Arnold Schwarzenegger to see what kind so sticks he was using.

The course was supposed to last about 30 days and there was a money back guarantee. I suspect the guarantee was a bit of a scam. The course did not work for me. I was still getting and kicked in my face after 28 days and I reckon that if I had asked for my money back I would have been told to “Piss off!  year weakling punk, ask for yer money again and I’ll come round and kick sand in your face” Consumer protection laws were not very strong in those days. Yeah, it was probably a scam.

There were other entrepreneurs exploiting teenage boys feelings of angst and dread, their unfocused fears of their inadequacies and the state of the world in general. I clipped a coupon, in the superman comic I think, to stop my hair receding prematurely. And there was a book coupon I clipped for a book on “How to Develop a Super Power Memory” Only thing I can remember about it is that I left it on a train. Can’t even remember where the train was going too. And when I was in the army, training as a recruit, I sent away for a book on “How to win Friends and Influence people”. Someone in my barrack room stole it from me. I know who it was. It was easy to tell. He became the most popular bloke in the regiment.

They all had money back guarantees. All a scam.

I kept up the dynamic tension isotonic exercises for most of my life. The sticks with pretend weights might have become shopping bags that I pretend are quite heavy, but I still try, now and then. And it still hasn’t worked. True I am no longer a seven-stone weakling. More like a 15-stone lazy old git. Had sand kicked in my face in Torremolinos last year. I wonder if that guarantee is still valid?   “Dear Mr Atlas, kindly return my postal order as I am still getting sand kicked in my face”

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