Sunday, 31 August 2014

Middle age spread

The scales must be faulty, I'm sure of it, but if they're not then I've just had a hefty reminder that all is not well with my body and I need to do something about it before it's too late.
I fight a constant battle with my weight these days and I'm increasingly on the losing side.
It's like a tug-o-war with my self control and determination on one end of the rope, and the other end being clutched tightly by beer, biscuits, cheesecake, chocolate, and anything else I have clasped in my arms as I emerge from Tesco in readiness for the standard Friday night slob-out.
It really isn't fair. Twenty years ago my stomach was completely flat and no amount of Jaffa Cake binging made the slightest difference. Fast forward to present day and the dreaded middle age spread is taking hold.
No longer can I indulge in regular pig-outs on stuff that I know I really shouldn't be eating but can't help myself.
No longer is an entire Chicago Town stuffed crust pepperoni pizza with chips, followed by a family size bar of Galaxy chocolate and a bag of Doritos a viable alternative to a plate of chicken and roast vegetables.
The time has gone when I can indulge in an unhealthy blow-out with no fear of reprisal from my body. Although I'm very keen on alcohol, these days I have to give very careful consideration to whether or not a second pint is a good idea, and I recognise when my body is telling me to forget the steak and have a good serving of root vegetables instead.
Yet still I try to rebel against everything I know about healthy eating by munching through yet another packet of Custard Creams washed down with an extra-large vodka and orange juice whilst slouched on the sofa watching a film. I know it's wrong, and stepping on the scales last night proved the point as at 11stone 9lb I'm currently the heaviest I've ever been. I've always been careful to keep myself around the middle of the recommended BMI scale and until now I've been reasonably successful. My current situation puts me right at the top end of the recommended BMI, which in rough numbers means that I'm 128 Jaffa Cakes away from officially being a fat bastard, and that is unacceptable to me.
Granted, the BMI scale is a flawed measure as the average rugby player or body builder would testify, but for an ordinary bloke such as myself it's not too far wide of the mark and I feel like I'm on the cusp of being heavier than I'm comfortable with. Indeed, the warning signs have been there for a while, like finding the waist band of my underpants being folded over by the increasing pressure from the belly, and the last pair of jeans I bought having to be a 34 inch waist rather than the 32 inch I've been used to for so many years.
I know what has to be done. Portion control, and no lapses into the junk-food zone including snacks between meals. In the past I've been able to shed a surplus few pounds within a week by pretty much starving myself which isn't a healthy way to approach the problem but it did get the job done. I'm now banned from this approach as being hungry makes me extraordinarily grumpy and generally unpleasant to be around. So a longer term plan is now required which means an end to the biscuit orgies and not having a beer every night when I get home from work. It's gonna be difficult, especially as there's a new tub of Carte D'Or caramel ice cream in the freezer with my name on it....


London calling

Friday brought with it the necessity to go to London. This activity is a front-runner in any list of things I'd rather avoid doing, along with drowning, electrocution, and listening to Mariah Carey.
Unfortunately on this occasion it was unavoidable owing to a hospital appointment, so having done all my homework to ensure I knew exactly where I was going, and with the wife to help me maintain my sanity (she lived there for a few years) if things got the better of me, we set off.
We only got as far as Cambridge before they somehow broke the train coupling two together, so we hopped onto another which turned out to be the one that stopped at every station on the way.
Arriving at Kings Cross, we had the usual culture shock. The sudden change in tempo from a quiet Fenland village to a huge multi-cultural metropolis like London is a major one and it takes a while to adjust.
First came a visit to Costa Coffee - a familiar oasis in a sea of madness - having managed to negotiate the crowds of tourists who seem unable to carry their luggage these days, insisting instead on dragging it around behind them on wheels to increase their chances of tripping up anyone else who dared get too close. There was also the unusual sight of armed cops around the station - not unusual for London, but it's not something I see every day in my hum-drum little life. The wife found it a bit unnerving, but I felt somehow reassured seeing large blokes carrying AR-15 rifles and Glock pistols wandering around. Far less worrying than someone wearing one of those black bin liners with a slit for the eyes in it. What are they hiding?
Having navigated the underground to Victoria and escaped the crowds, we arrived at our destination far too early as usual, so we walked to the river so I could get a look at Battersea power station.

Pity about all the cranes spoiling the view of
such a stunning bit of architecture...

While we stood there, a foreign tourist came along and asked me to take a photo of him with the power station in the background. It made more sense when he said he was a Pink Floyd fan, and wanted a picture of himself with the subject of the 'Animals' album cover. I admit I thought that was kinda cool.
Back at Kings Cross, the wife was surprised at the complete absence of rubbish bins when trying to dispose of our empty sandwich wrappers. I suggested it was probably because bins have been used in the past for convenient bomb storage, and picking up the odd bit of dropped litter is probably preferable to picking up large quantities of charred and mangled body parts as a result of some zealot trying to make a political or religious point.
The return journey was surprisingly easy. We managed to secure seats which is more than a lot of people did, as by then it was the beginning of the commuting period.
Despite the obvious overcrowding there were still idiots trying to force their way on to the train with bicycles - not even folding ones - and it made me wonder what would make someone choose to travel in this manner regularly. One can only assume they have little choice in the matter.
Disembarking at Ely and wandering back to the car, a feeling of serenity descended. Being in London heightens your senses, leaving you feeling exhausted. If nothing else, when life starts to feel dull and tedious, a trip to the capital makes you realise just how nice a calm and quiet life really is.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The power of boredom

A few weeks ago the wife announced that she was fed up with doing the food shopping, planning meals and cooking. This information didn't bother me in the slightest, because I saw this as my opportunity to take the reins and try to inject a bit of variety and creativity into mealtimes.
Don't get me wrong, it's not as if I don't participate in the whole cooking thing, far from it; I'm very enthusiastic about it and usually make dinner about half the time.
The added excitement for me is that it gives me something different to focus my mind on during the times when boredom has led me to moping about the house before giving up on finding anything interesting to do and resorting to looking at T&A on the internet. Now I have the inspiration to research recipes and ideas, plan a few different meals to supplement the usual suspects, and exercise the previously underused creativity.
A side effect of this newly enhanced enthusiasm has been an unhealthy interest in kitchen gadgets and gizmos, with any outing to the shops ending up with the need to find a home in the already crowded kitchen cupboards for a pasta machine or whatever.
Luckily, the success rate since the inception of the new regime has been pretty good overall, using the boy's rate of progress and emptiness of plate as a useful barometer.
Caution has to be exercised when it comes to desserts though, as excessive creativity results in the wife complaining about an expanding waist line. Therefore I have to limit having calorie-laden puddings to just once or twice a week because frankly it's easier than exercising portion control.
Yesterday I made a new variation on my ever-popular Mars bar cheesecake recipe, using crushed ginger-nut biscuits for the base, with the topping containing cream cheese, white chocolate and lime. The benefit of my cheesecakes is that they're usually on the rich side, so it's possible to make them last two days provided I hide them at the back of the fridge behind the machine gun nest.
Another result of actually getting off my arse and doing stuff is that I've been inspired to have a go at craft-type stuff that I'd never been bothered to try before. A quick look on the web gave me the idea to investigate 'decoupage', so having liberated an old wooden school chair from work that was destined for the skip I set about it with only a vague idea of what I was doing, but the end result can possibly be described as 'interesting'.  The seat and backrest are now a decoupage of black & white pictures of hot (in my opinion) actresses, with the frame contrasting in bright red, and I think the finished product is quite striking even though it won't to be everyone's taste. Unfortunately it would appear that finding somewhere I'm allowed to install it may be a problem.
I wonder how many other things I can ruin before I'm told to go back to being bored......


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Driving songs to keep your license by

Quite some time ago the Top Gear programme conducted a poll to find the best ever driving songs.
The kind of songs that made the final list were all energetic numbers that really would be great for those times when you find yourself alone on an open road with good visibility, no cops and no cameras. A road with lots of twisty bits to push the limits without coming up behind a pensioner doing 35 in a Toyota Verso.
Buttertubs pass in North Yorkshire is a fantastic road for this sort of thing (see YouTube link below if you're not familiar with it) although due to its popularity it's also a magnet for traffic cops, and the last thing you want to come across when you're enjoying yourself is PC Plod pointing his hairdryer at you, and you finding yourself in front of the judge trying desperately to think of an excuse he'll buy for why you were doing 140 in a 60 limit.
Admittedly, when I drove this road I did it within the speed limit - partly because I was unfamiliar with it, and partly because the wife was virtually crapping herself in the sections that had little more than a bit of wire fence as the only thing between the road and a very long drop to certain death.
It would be wonderful if these opportunities presented themselves regularly enough to not feel the need to blow off steam by doing a track day or, failing that, having a mad session playing Forza.
However, the reality of driving for most of us is being stuck in a queue of traffic doing 40 or 50 if we're lucky, or going nowhere at all if we're not.

Listening to heavy rock in these situations is a recipe for disaster. The music gets you going and you're far more likely to end up angry and frustrated by your lack of progress, and more likely to make a risky manoeuvre to pass someone.
What's needed then is a selection of music that soothes the soul and mellows you out so that you're better able to cope with the tedium of driving. Everyone will have their own preferences for this, but it's a good idea to be open minded - what you'll happily listen to in the car is not necessarily the same as you want to sit and listen to at home. Experiment with different things to find what does and doesn't work for you. I once tried some Bob Marley, thinking the cannabis-fuelled Jamaican vibe would induce an appropriately chilled out state. Unfortunately, it just irritated the hell out of me and consequently I drove worse than if I'd been blasting out Judas Priest.
So here's ten of my personal top choices (in no particular order) of driving songs for those who want to keep a clean driving license and not have other road users think they're a complete twat.

Moby - Porcelain
Coldplay - White Shadows
Roxy Music - Don't Stop The Dance
Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy
Diana Krall - Stop This World
Jamiroquai - Feel So Good
The Heavy - Short Change Hero
St Etienne - You're In A Bad Way
Wang Chung - Space Junk
Morcheeba - Aqualung

Buttertubs Pass - you know you want to play too



Sunday, 17 August 2014

What not to (sports)wear

The other day whilst out for a cycle ride I passed through the nearby town of Soham. There were the usual people out and about as you would expect - mothers with babies in pushchairs, harassed looking individuals hurrying to the bank, and little old ladies shuffling to the supermarket to stock up on cat food and incontinence pads.
There was one sight, however, that caused me to do a double-take as I passed, just to make sure my eyes had not deceived me. A distinctly overweight bloke in his late fifties with a buzz-cut, wearing an awful blue tracksuit with white piping and covered with enough gold chains and signet rings to give the average gangsta rapper an inferiority complex, was leaving his house and getting into a Chrysler 300C. It looked like a marriage made in heaven between these two prime examples of everything naff and tacky - a tribute to chavdom in all its glory.
The 300C is basically an off-the-peg pimpmobile with its garish overbearing looks set off by enormous shiny wheels. It's the car for those who aspire to a Cadillac Escalade but haven't quite managed to deal sufficient narcotics to afford one. This I don't really have a problem with. If someone wants to go around trying to look like a tribute to Puff Daddy then that's up to them. It gives me something to laugh at.
The thing that gets to me is the sportswear. If you're playing tennis, doing a marathon, or riding the Tour De France then sportswear of the appropriate nature is to be expected. But most sportswear seems to be bought by ageing fatties who wouldn't know which end of a cricket bat to hold. These are the people that are permanently accompanied by a lingering odour of stale tobacco and fried food. Not exactly the target audience Nike had in mind, surely?
The big name manufacturers of sportswear spend a fortune on advertising, with professional athletes appearing in magazines and on billboards promoting the latest in running shoe technology or whatever. We all know that the sort of person they're trying to sell their products to looks something like this:


Unfortunately for them, the sort of person who actually ends up buying clothing with their brand name or logo splashed across it is quite likely to look more like this:


Not exactly the image they were hoping to portray, now is it?
These people, who's idea of exercise is walking from the sofa to the fridge and back really need a good talking to. They're either seriously in denial, or stretchy tracksuits are the only thing they can squeeze their monstrous bellys into. If it's not some beer-and-burger-bloated epsilon holding a cigarette and with drool running down their chin, then it's a wobbly thirty-something woman who hasn't seen her feet since she was eleven that feels the need to squeeze her revolting body into leggings and a 'Just Do It' vest top. It's grim. Can these people really not understand what they look like? Do they really have such low self esteem that they feel this is all they deserve?
I own three pairs of tracky bottoms. This is bad. One pair is for slobbing around the house in comfort, but I would never venture into the outside world wearing them.
The other two pairs were bought when my knee was wrecked and they were the only thing that I could get on over the leg brace. The shame I felt when I had to go out, even to the hospital, was terrible. I'm not someone who feels it necessary to go around in expensive designer gear - I'm usually to be found dressed in jeans and t-shirt - but even I have to draw the line somewhere.
The one good thing about all this is that in a world of dull grey bleakness, people like Chrysler Chav Man do at least put a smile on my face.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Rampant mastication at the dining table

We've been making a concerted effort recently to break our bad habit of scoffing our dinner on our laps in front of the telly. The dining table, for so long little more than a convenient oaken dumping ground for the random collection of knick-knacks that nobody can be bothered to put away, is finally back in use for it's intended purpose. The previous residents have been tucked away in assorted locations, soon to be forgotten.
I admit it really is far preferable to eat at the table, but it does seem odd to me that tradition dictates that the evening meal should be a time of family togetherness where everyone talks about how their day has been and suchlike.
However, I was always taught that it was bad manners to speak with my mouth full, and given that from the moment I pick up my fork and commence shovelling to the time when my plate is cleared, there are very few seconds where there isn't food in my mouth. Clearly this doesn't leave much time for intense philosophical debate.
As my fork returned to it's final resting place on the plate this evening, we began to discuss this matter. My son tried to contribute through a mouthful of stir-fry and noodles, coming out with an indistinct mumble that even my practised ears could not decipher. I pointed out that it was hard to understand speech through a veil of soggy mastication, and was met with the usual look of bewilderment which indicates that Mr Dictionary has once again departed on an extended vacation. Having sorted out the confusion by use of words with the minimum number of syllables I suggested he refrain from talking while stuffing his mouth like a Gannet. Not wanting to complicate matters further, my explanation (brought about by his extremely limited ornithological knowledge) was simply that it's a seabird with a voracious appetite. This didn't help, so in an attempt to clear up the meaning of 'voracious' I figured an appropriate synonym would be 'rampant'. When he questioned this word I gave up with the conversation, his lamentable vocabulary, and the entire school system. I said a rampant was a small fluffy animal with long ears, and left the table to do the washing up.
If the younger generations don't get their head out of their video games and spend some time reading books, the English language is going to wither and die.
I'm no Stephen Fry, but I still get frustrated at the atrocious standard of spelling and grammar that I see and hear every day.
The only conclusions I came to after this evening's episode are that whoever said about the whole conversation-at-the-table thing must have eaten a lot of cold meals, and that the time for talking is after the meal when you're sat on the sofa with a large glass of wine and a contented smile.


Friday, 8 August 2014

Careful what you wish for

The seemingly endless parade of hot sticky days has been taking its toll. The lack of sleep, poor appetite, and heat-induced irritability have combined to make me pine for a bit of coolness; a bit of rain to take the edge off the oppressive humidity that weighs me down in these conditions.
Obviously mother nature got fed up of my constant bitching about it all and decided today to give us about a year's worth of rain in the space of two hours. To say the journey home from work was interesting would be a serious understatement.
With my usual routes appearing to be at a standstill I took one of the back roads in the hope that the traffic, even if slow, would at least be moving.
What I didn't reckon on was the havoc caused by such a biblical downpour. The roads were quite literally like rivers in places, needing first gear and slow progress to prevent pushing a bow wave ahead. More than once I was caught out and the water piled up over the bonnet and windscreen making me paranoid that the air intake might ingest a slug of water, bringing the engine to a sudden halt leaving me stranded to await the imminent arrival of Noah, looking smug.
Luckily the old girl kept pushing on despite the clutch getting wet and juddering, and the ever-present danger of suddenly finding myself afloat, which would be bad news because whoever bought the car new neglected to have the optional outboard motor fitted. Hope the cat survived the sudden cooling whenever it got immersed because I really don't fancy the bill for a new one of those.
Arriving home after seventy minutes of nightmare driving through pounding rain and flood water, with manhole covers being pushed up by the water pressure in the drains and spewing torrents of god-knows-what back to the surface to mingle with the rest of the rainwater that had nowhere to go, I finally breathed a sigh of relief.
Should have been off to do the grocery shopping, but there was no way I was going out again if I didn't have to, so it was a quick walk to the local Chinese for a good old-fashioned MSG-laden blowout with the added bonus of successfully function-testing the wellies.

With the belly satisfied, I can now sit back and ponder the best way to approach my main job for this weekend - for tomorrow I'm going hunting. Unfortunately this expedition doesn't involve going very far, and there's no need for any sort of firearm because on this occasion my target is the annual influx of arachnids.
We back on to farmland, and every time the harvest is gathered, the entire spider population of the field makes it's way to my house in the mistaken assumption they'll be safer there than taking their chances in a straight-up fight with a Claas Lexion 600 combine.
Apart from cats I actually like most animals. I'm just as happy cuddling a rabbit as I am converting one into a nice casserole, I find meerkats adorable, and I even felt sorry for the two muntjacs (looked like mother and baby) who were driven from their hideout in the field of rapeseed when it was being harvested, and ran off in separate directions. Wonder if they found each other again.........?
I do however draw the line at certain bugs. I can cope with them if they're in their own bit of the world, but when they decide they want to invade my little patch then it's all-out warfare.
Few things freak me out more than the sight of one of those big hairy black spiders scuttling across the floor when I'm sitting there cringing at some poor unfortunate on the telly getting the 'Embarrassing Bodies' doctors to look at their disfigured intimate bits that really should have had medical attention a long time ago. I'm getting better though, because whereas I used to waste time looking for a suitably weighty book to drop onto the intruder, now I just splat it with my hand and worry about cleaning up the gunk once I'm sure it's not going to get up again.
The only good thing about these things is that they're generally easy to spot, but the same cannot be said for the ones that come out at night and run around the house with the specific intention of creating as many cobwebs as possible for me to walk through when I get up for a piss at 3AM.
These buggers are this weekend's targets. It's a search-and-destroy mission on the scale of one of those Tom Cruise films where he runs around and dangles from the ceiling a lot. Although my effort will involve less machine guns and C4 explosives, and rather more Henry vacuum cleaners, feather dusters and a great deal of furniture moving, the spirit will be very much the same.
Brace yourself, spiders. The Terminator is coming.

A Claas act no doubt, but it's the sign of impending invasion...