Thursday, 30 December 2010

Right path, wrong path, yippety yay

I'm sure many people are familiar with the disparity between their internal and external life. Many will have a decent job, a loving partner, lots of friends, somewhere nice to live, hobbies they enjoy, blah blah blah, but will still feel empty inside, as though life itself has no real meaning. We've all heard of successful people who've gone off the rails, even to the point of suicide, and of outwardly happy and confident people who are wracked with near-crippling insecurities.

Me? I'm becoming more and more aware of the feeling that I'm on the flipside of the coin: I'm working a part-time job and trying incredibly hard to find something else as I have sizeable debts to repay, I'm single and have little hope of finding a girlfriend in the near future (no money = no socialising and therefore no chance to meet anyone), I never achieve any of the goals I set for myself (learning to speak better French, losing weight, getting fitter, etc.) and whenever I do something to try to improve the situation it all tends to backfire and actually make things worse (see my entry entitled "Can't win for losing" for more on that). Everything external/tangible has either gone wrong or was wrong in the first place and has got worse.

And yet...

And yet I feel with ever-increasing certitude that I'm on the right path, that everything is going to turn out well and my current low point is nothing but a minor blip on the way to the top of the mountain. I don't think I'll have much in the way of external trappings of success but I feel I'm on the way to greater things and only time will tell if those things include the house on the hill or the room in the sanitorium...

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Just got back from an entirely wasted evening where I spent 90 minutes sitting in a 'posh' pub/bar/eatery waiting for a friend to turn up to her own leaving do. After 2 glasses of wine (which used up my entire £8 budget) I gave up and caught the train home. 90 minutes of travelling later I get back and I'm still annoyed enough that I'm hiding in the kitchen in case I take my bad mood out on a housemate who doesn't deserve it. What a complete and utter waste of my fucking time.

As usual, when in a bad mood I just think of things that made me angry in the past and that might make me angry in the future. It's rather like the anger enjoys the attention and deliberately keeps itself fuelled for longer than necessary. Of course that also means I've been listening to Slipknot and reading pointless vapid shit on the internet rather than winding down and letting it all slide. I even had an apparently unidentifiable melody going through my head on the walk back from the station but realised after a while it was the tune to Enya's "On the way home" which was so apposite I could have laughed. Also, while trying to calm myself down, I couldn't help thinking about the end of a scene in Fight Club: where they'd just 'robbed' a convenience store and sent the clerk packing, Edward Norton opens the gun to see it's not loaded and narrates the line " let that which doesn't matter truly slide..."

And the vapid shit I was reading on the internet? Apart from a quick glimpse at facebook which had me snarling at the number of fucking sheep who were commenting on the x-factor, I also read an msn article about fashion 'gaffs' that men make which women find a turn-off. One of them was that backpacks, although obviously practical, are boring. As if any man worthy of the title is going to choose a bag BECAUSE HE THINKS IT MIGHT ATTRACT WOMEN?!?!?!??!?! Anyone who does that is such a loser he ought to post his nuts back to the creator and live out the remainder of his days tossing salad for money. As I've mentioned to other people when engaged in similar conversations: if I ever meet a woman so utterly superficial that she doesn't like me because of my clothing/apparel, that shallow cunt can go fuck herself.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Yacky-Moggy Alley

This has all been said before but given the subject matter I think a little regurgitation is permissible.

What is the best way to start your first day back at work after a week off? By switching on the kitchen light, turning around to see you have, by some quirk of fate, completely avoided every single puddle of vomit in the hallway, and then realising the next 5 minutes of your life are mapped out for you. I couldn't tell if the little obstacle course of semi-digested cat biscuits was a catty interpretation of the map of the world or if she'd seen some TV footage of soldiers training and thought to herself “I can make something more challenging than that!”

The big question, as always, is: how on earth does such a small animal produce so much spew? Have they had their stomachs replaced with an organic version of the tardis? Or do they throw up every night but save it for special occasions and when the mood is right just get a couple of bags-full out of sick storage? It wouldn't surprise me if the whole reason the horrible little moggies desperately need to go out into the garden for 15 seconds about 9 times a night is to check that no-one's raided their secret yack stash.

That would explain the awful noises cats make before they start fighting each other: first they create their nightly portion of precious warm chunks and then have to fend off rivals who wish to swipe the spew for themselves. Perhaps cat culture is based on the stomach much like ours is based on the brain: the Top Cats are those that can hurl the greatest volume of vomit over the largest area. That sounds so much like the way most reality TV stars make their money I'm beginning to suspect that the producers of x-factor are actually feline.

Now, I know cats deliberately eat grass to make themselves sick but I had to do a little research to find out why. It turns out they're unable to properly digest everything they eat and it causes them problems to allow the undigested matter out through the usual exit so the self-inflicted regurgitation is actually good for their health. So although the effluvia itself is unpleasant at least a pile of cattus yackus is a sign your cat is healthy, the filthy little furbags.

Monday, 18 October 2010


Twenty Ten Twenty Ten... Auspicious? Portentous? Pretentious? Pointless?
I can't remember when I first realised I was going to have one of these birthdays but I was quite young and 38 years old seemed a long way off. I suspect that in my usual whimsical and daydreaming manner I hoped the apparent pattern of the date would hold some sort of significance. I have since learnt that the only way it'll really be significant is if I write it in the American format (10.20.2010) as that'll almost make it a palindrome. Beyond that - pfft.

But then I am writing this 2 days before the event so perhaps something momentous will happen on the day. Maybe I'll win the lottery that night (I have bought myself a ticket just in case), maybe I'll get knocked off my bike while cycling along the Parkway towards the Tamar Bridge, maybe I'll decide that when I've unpacked all my stuff at J&T's field in Cornwall I'll climb a tree - and then I'll fall out of it, maybe my two nights of solitary camping will furnish me with a moment of revelation. I think it's more likely I'll enjoy the solitude, the fresh air and surroundings, the very basic pleasure of collecting wood and preparing the fire each evening, and reading books under the red LED in my headlamp.

When I started this entry I thought I had nothing to say - looks like I was right ;)

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Short Sweet Sweat

30-minute cross-trainer workout:

Rollins Band - Get Some Go Again
Slipknot - Psychosocial
Korn - Blind
Megadeth - A Secret Place
Eric B. & Rakim - Follow The Leader
Megadeth - I Thought I Knew It All
Rollins Band - Disconnect

FUCK yeah!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Eavesdrop on a train (2)

Coming home from work this time, on one of those tiny two-carriage trains that seems only fit for struggling between villages on obscure branch lines but are occasionally used for longer journeys. This one was going all the way to Penzance, stopping just about everywhere on the way like a highly predictable mystery tour, and at Totnes a dumpy middle-aged fuckwit got on with a bloke who was either her Dad or the world's worst sugar-daddy. She spent most of the time talking in a too-loud voice about absolutely nothing - another example of someone who talks a lot but says nothing, who just makes noise to hide the utter pointlessness of their existence. Yes I'm being harsh but I do despair of people who've managed to make it to their late forties without evolving beyond the babbling idiot they were in their early teens. Older doesn't always mean wiser, but it does seem to mean wider... As I got off the train I noticed she was showing her companion one of the apps on her iphone and I cringed - not because of who my employers are but because someone who probably feels proud of themselves for getting their shoes on the correct feet on the first attempt can afford a piece of kit like that while I'm struggling to fend off the bank.

Today's enlightening comment was this: "She said she can't leave the house in case it gets done over. I mean, what's she got that's worth nicking?"

To paraphrase Jethro: "Anybody can be stupid but she's abused the privilege"...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Eavesdrop on a train (1)

Sunday morning and the first train out of Plymouth is delayed by over 30 minutes due to a mechanical fault that means the driver can't disengage the brake - cue train manager walking back and forth with increasing agitation until the train starts up and we all get to breathe a little easier.

Meanwhile the two women sat behind me had been chatting incessantly and from their talk I guessed one was much younger than the other. It turned out I was wrong: they were of a similar age, it's just that one was obviously much less emotionally mature than the other. Apart from the usual petty chit-chat about other people, regularly interspersed with criticisms of their behaviour, there was one comment that I found so utterly contemptuous I could have slapped the soppy tart who said it if only I could have stopped myself from laughing out loud at the same time.
They were looking at text messages on a mobile and the comment was "Why does hers have that little blue arrow on it? No-one else's does." The tone of voice implied that the woman who'd sent the message had been showing off by attaching a blue arrow to the icon of her text messages. When the recipient of the text said "Oh, no - that just means I've replied to her" there was a brief pause followed by the sound of rusty cogs grinding into unaccustomed movement and then the tentative and somewhat disappointed reply, "Does it?"
At that point I prayed the useless bitch was sterile.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

I just don't get it - part 1

Yes, part one because there are so many things I just don't get.

This one is about behavioral patterns, so I should imagine there'll be more repetitions of this than anything else. What I don't get is this: the grown woman who behaves like a spoilt child - you know, the one who talks like a gobby teenager mouthing off to her parents or like a petulant idiot who thinks everything revolves around her. The one who's raison d'etre seems to be attention-seeking, who takes her bad mood out on those around her (while claiming that not only does she not do it but other people do) and who is incapable of taking responsibility for her own actions. Then there's the bloke who always has to push things - he likes to wind people up and will joke around as much as possible, even to the point of upsetting others. He's the guy who'll ask if you want a drink and, on hearing 'no', will always ask 'are you sure?' - not because he's interested in buying you a drink, but because he knows the question (repeated if necessary) will annoy you and that's what he likes.

The 'woman' is obviously still a spoilt 12-year-old used to being Daddy's Little Princess, emotionally speaking, and the 'man' maybe around 14 and conversely likes to play power games with Daddy, although I know someone aged 15 who's been a wind-up merchant since the age of around 7 and I know full well it's down to his parents. The questions that arise from this, for me, are: why do some people get stuck in particular behavioral patterns from their childhood? What is it that anchors people to a point in their past? Some people have a traumatic experience that acts as their anchor - maybe all of them (us?) do, or maybe the experience doesn't even have to be traumatic to be the thing that holds a person still, stops their growth, fixes them at a point in time. What happens to people to cause this arrested development? How many people are even aware of that part (those parts?) of themselves that remain unchanged from childhood? How many have even the vaguest clue how little of their potential they're going to fulfil thanks to that one thing holding them back?

For me, the most important question is typically selfish: what's mine?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Eavesdrop - probably the first of many.

Neighbours in the back garden chatting. 2 friends have been to India independently - one loves it, one hates it. One trots out what he knows is a clichéd story of a gifted child who started his education in a hut and gradually rose to become a consultant radiologist. He includes the factoid that at the age of 6 he had to walk 5 kilometres to get to the 'school' for which his family all chipped in as his parents couldn't afford it on their own. The female companion of one of them comes out with the 'kids in this country wouldn't walk to school' bullshit and then my interest disappears as rapidly as the rather cute woman's head buried itself up her pert little backside. It's far too easy to vomit out trite, sneering cynicism, especially when directed at a group you have no direct contact with or experience of. Such a shame; to be unable to avoid clichés even from people who at first glance are intelligent and worldly. Still, as repeatedly pointed out in John Brunner's “The Shockwave Rider”; intelligence can be engineered, wisdom cannot, and it's wisdom we need.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – part 1.

Sunday: As is my custom, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast whilst scouring The Times for interesting tidbits and occasionally closing my eyes the better to hear the melodious sound of church bells drifting through the windows which had been flung open to the London air. During the afternoon I smoked pipe after pipe of a delicate Chinese tobacco whilst perfecting the second movement of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major. A light supper was swiftly followed by early retirement as the previous days had been somewhat taxing.

Monday: Nothing happened so by mid-afternoon I was bored to death and shot up a gram of Charlie.

Tuesday: Still nothing. Another gram of Charlie. Then another as the first didn't take. Then it got a bit out of hand so I did some skag to bring myself down again.

Thursday: Just woke up – must remember never to do the C&H dance again.

Friday: Watson came storming in and declared there was an intriguing mystery with which I could exercise my deductive skills and exorcise my boredom. Spent half an hour explaining the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning to the ignorant twat YET AGAIN. Got him to write it down this time. Jesus, you'd think a doctor would have more brains.

Saturday: A couple of hours training at the boxing club helped alleviate the tedium of the week and allowed some much-needed practice of the overhead lob punch – most useful when having ducked a blow from a powerful assailant. A relaxing afternoon at the Turkish baths ensued - thankfully they were populated only by the regulars who have by now learned that my lack of feminine company is due to being completely asexual and not a left-footer. In the evening I attended the theatre and then met Watson at the club for brandy and a cigar before a companionable stroll along the river during which I solved the 'mystery' he'd introduced on Friday. Jordan is a multi-millionaire because she does have a talent: she's incredibly adept at drawing attention to herself. Simple-minded men like her because she's a caricature of overt sexuality and therefore excellent spank-bank material. Simple-minded women like her for the same reason they like soap-operas – they're a distraction from the tedium and emptiness of their own lives. People of her ilk bloom in the sunshine of public attention so there's no escaping her, you just have to wait for her to become so boring everyone ignores her – then she'll wither away into grateful obscurity.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A train journey

Now that I'm commuting from Plymouth to Exeter anything up to 5 days a week I have stories aplenty of the inconsiderate behaviour of some passengers and I've already amassed a small entry entitled 'twats on trains' that I'll post at some point. However, the train journey that is the subject of this post was a trip away to attend a friend's wedding and visit other friends over the course of a long weekend. The journey itself was one of those long trips that inspired many hours of gazing wistfully out of the window whilst listening to music, allowing my mind to wander over the exterior landscape and thoughts of the people I'd be seeing, some of whom I hadn't seen for years. I decided to note things down as they came to me - they fall into three groups: Sights (S), Thoughts (T), Others (O).

Plymouth to Paddington:

S - Sun rising over the viaduct on the approach to Ivybridge
S - Boats in the Exe Estuary
S - Topsham houses through the morning haze
S - The pond in Tiverton (near Parkway station)
S - Lone tree in a field of slowly ripening wheat
O - Chinese students in my carriage talking quietly - sounds so musical I wish I understood Mandarin
T - I love her
T - East/West? Torn in two directions (London and Devon)
S - The school in Taunton
T - Tori Amos sends me the same way as The Tea Party
T - X, I love you
S - Cows loping across a field
S - Swan floating on a small winding river
S - Yellow-green wheat fields surrounded by dark green hedges, both dotted with dark green trees
S - Field of cows, some black & white, some brown & white, some with collars
S - At a station an Asian man greets a woman with a huge smile and an arm around her shoulders
S - Bowl-shaped depression in a maize field, directly under a tree - less sunlight there?
S - People moving carriages because they want to face forwards
T - I can't wait to see L & C
S - Gentle morning sun on dappled fields & cosy country houses. Welcome to The Shire!
S - Lady cyclist on a B-road
T - Fishing with Dad on Kithira
S - Pigs frolicking in a field of weeds
O - Tori Amos lyric: But I was alone when I knew it was real (song: Crazy)
T - I can't wait to see her
T - I'm constantly amazed by the powerful emotions evoked by beauty

Second train: London Victoria to Herne Bay

O - chatted to some really cool people who were going to fly from Biggin Hill to somewhere in Northern France as a day-trip!
T - Some things are only visible when your eyes are shut.

As I was noting these observations etc. down I also had a rather whimsical series of desires arise. They all begin with the phrase 'I want' so....

I want... walk the empty city streets on a gently rain-swept autumn evening the sun rise over the Georgian houses of Topsham
...drink red wine while listening to flamenco at an outside cafe in Southern Spain, all on an autumn evening after having visited the Alhambra during the day
...look into her eyes and lose myself in the bliss of a kiss
...see New York
...wrap my arms around her and feel her pressed against me

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Can't win for losing

Balls. It's been so long since I wrote anything I'd forgotten that my last entry was a whinge. That's annoying - this one's a whinge too. "Can't win for losing" is a thoroughly self-pitying phrase and that's normally enough for me to avoid it but right now I'm at work, tired, angry and wishing I was asleep instead so I'm indulging myself a little.

When is a 3-month contract not a 3-month contract? When you only get regular shifts for the first month, nothing for the second month and then a total of 11.25 hours in the third month. I'd been looking for another job for over 14 months and in that time had had a total of three interviews but no new job. Having asked for feedback from a few applications where I hadn't even been shortlisted I aimed a little lower so as to get my foot in the door of library-based work. It worked - I landed a temporary job as a library porter where the work was to be done overnight in short (4.25- to 5.25-hour) shifts in Plymouth. The odd hours meant reducing the hours of my 'day' job so that neither role was adversely affecting the other. It then became very obvious that it'd be more convenient to live in Plymouth, thus making the journey into the 'night' work much easier and all the real commuting could be done during those few short days I had at the shop in Exeter. I moved in two stages: one large car-load on Sunday followed by one small car-load on Wednesday. That Wednesday I also came back to Exeter on the train to collect my bike. On the train back to Plymouth I got a message from the temporary staff bank at Exeter Uni offering me some temporary work in their library to help with the usual summer book-movement. At the time I thought the irony of that was quite funny. A day later, when I discovered the truth about my 3-month contract, the joke died.

Meanwhile I'd just committed myself to sharing a new house with a couple of friends who of course have chosen a bigger house than they otherwise would have had and won't be able to afford it without me there. I'm pleased to be sharing a place with good friends I've known for years but now I can't just drop everything and disappear back to London where jobs are much easier to come by. I've already begun job-hunting even though I'm currently working two jobs and have been in Plymouth for less than a week as I'm now consigned to asking for more hours at the Exeter job and commuting up there every day at least during June. How funny is that - by moving house to reduce the amount of time and money I'd spend commuting I've inadvertently increased it instead.

So, the initial idea that three months of library-based work in Plymouth to give me some initial library-based work experience, get access to internal vacancies and of course to earn some extra money to help me claw back some of my debt has basically collapsed and now I may well be a lot worse off by the end of June. I know a change was necessary as I was stagnating in Exeter but would have preferred it all to be a change for the fucking better. Maybe next time.

I had a despondent moment earlier when I thought about all the bad decisions I've made in terms of jobs, places to live, and girlfriends, but that's a whole entry by itself and there's been enough bleating for one night. Let's just end with a nice little quote from Fight Club: It's only when you've lost everything that you're free to do anything.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Day Off

A scheduled day off work; time in which to get chores done, run errands, put your feet up and relax. Today ran like this: out of bed, cup of hot water with lemon, checked emails and chose a couple of lines from one of the Japanese junk emails to translate for practice, cup of black coffee as a treat, into town to deposit £6 of change into the bank then to M&S to change a 5 Euro note into sterling (got over £4 and was pleased with that) then did the usual food shopping at Tesco, went home and had something to eat while starting the job-hunt marathon.

Checked job websites of Plymouth Uni, Exeter Uni, Plymouth City Council, Exeter City Council, Devon County Council, Peninsula Medical School, Met Office, the NHS, the Academic jobs website, a library jobs website, did searches based in Exeter, Plymouth and London on, then checked the jobs pages on the websites of every University and Borough Council in London. Found one job worth applying for and the closing date is April 13th so I'm happy to wait until tomorrow evening to fill that in and send it off.

Later in the afternoon I did some more Japanese (3 lines from an advertising email takes up a page of A4 when written out with spaces for translation and generally takes over an hour to do), cooked dinner (and therefore tomorrow's lunch) and decided I'm too tired to go to tonight's beginners Taiji and want an early night as I get up at 5 tomorrow to get into work for 7.

Meanwhile, spent the day listening to Marilyn Manson, Tori Amos and now NIN. Just finishing off re-reading Marilyn Manson's autobiography (the Neil Strauss version from 1998) and found the following phrase highly amusing: Anyone I may have used should feel happy that they even had a use. It's better than being useless.

I feel pretty useless right now. I don't suppose to listening to Trent Reznor repeat the lines “Every day is exactly the same” is helping much but I like the song too much to skip over it. And tomorrow should be better.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Habit (re)forming – a positive twist

The first step in solving a problem is being aware that there is a problem - pure common sense. But suppose you're unwittingly hiding a problem from your awareness – how're you going to solve it?

To explain: suppose you have a bad habit you're trying to get rid of, whether it's picking your nose, staring at someone's cleavage, standing/sitting with bad posture, automatically feeling defensive when you see a group of teenagers getting on your bus, whatever. If your automatic reaction to realising you're doing it again is to get annoyed with yourself you'll probably never ditch the habit.

Why? The mind has a lot of self-protection mechanisms built in so whenever it encounters a 'threat' to its (your) happiness/well-being it tries to stop that threat from recurring. If each time you realise you're doing the 'wrong' thing your reaction is “SHIT, I'm STILL doing that!” your mind will say to itself “Hmm, whenever I notice myself doing that thing I get upset, so I'd better stop noticing it as that means I won't get upset.” and you're then less likely to be aware of the habit. If your subconscious is deliberately keeping things below the radar of the conscious there's nothing you can do to improve the situation.

The trick to solving the problem is this: when you notice you're picking your nose, staring at the woman's boobs, slouching, etc., instead of going “Shit! I'm doing it again!”, you should train yourself to say “Good! I've noticed I'm doing that again – now I can stop doing it!”. You're rewarding yourself for increasing your awareness of the action because without awareness of the action you can't do anything to correct it. The idea is to set up a positive feedback spiral where your mind actively wants to be aware of these habits - then you can do something about them. If you can do this consistently you will over time replace bad old habits with good new ones.

One pitfall to look out for is this: at times you'll feel as though you're doing the wrong thing a lot more than ever before and you'll feel disheartened because it seems you're getting worse rather than better. You're not getting worse; you're improving your awareness of the problem so you're getting a clearer picture of it – it's one of the milestones on the way to eradicating the habit so it's something you should be pleased about! As with anything useful this takes work, so keep at it and don't beat yourself up about the times when you slip back a bit.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Bike Ride

Around 17 miles of steep hills in bright sunshine at around 3 degrees celsius. Took around 80 minutes in total and was tough enough I just want to sleep now.


You know when you're cycling up a hill so long and steep that your throat is full of phlegm but you don't dare hawk it up in case the tension on your diaphragm makes you spew? Me too.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Another avoidable time bomb...

There was an article in today's local newspaper (I get the news digest via email) entitled "Care costs a ticking time bomb" which basically made the point about people having to work longer before retiring otherwise they'll suffer financial difficulties in their old age. One of the quotes was that "Our study found that more than half of professionals aged 35 to 45 said they would encounter financial problems in old age if they did not receive a parental windfall to bail them out", hence the starting point for my riposte. The article ended with the line "The Government must do more to encourage people to think about their future if we are to avoid the massive time bomb currently ticking", which is what evoked the response below.

I currently fit into the 35 to 45 age bracket and am struggling to get myself out of debt so that I can be more comfortable as I get older. At this point I don't intend to fully retire from work at all - instead, my aim is to move more into work that I really enjoy so I can keep going for longer. I'm also trying to keep myself in good health so that I can keep working for longer. I completely agree that people ought to put more effort into thinking about and planning for their future.

I have one small question: why does everyone always put the onus on the Government for issues like these? We're not sheep who need to be herded in the right direction and most of us are not children so why must there always be some 'greater authority' tasked with making life decisions for us? The devolution of power is always a topic for debate in political circles and, for those with some exposure to it, in psychological/therapeutic circles. The age-old call for 'power to the people' must carry with it the companion call of 'power to the individual', which means each person must, to the best of their ability, take responsibility for their own life. Instead of whining like a bunch a spoilt children, saying "Why doesn't *this person/group/agency*" do something about *this problem*", it's time everyone understood that changing things for the better begins, like charity, at home. If you want something improved, see what you can do to improve it - sitting around complaining about things not being good enough doesn't change anything, it just wastes time, energy and potential. The Government is not there to tell us what to do, it is there to do what we tell it to. The first thing that must happen is that each individual must take responsibility for their own actions, their own lives, both now and for the future. If everyone did that we wouldn't need the Nanny State. The Government would be in much better shape because they wouldn't need to spend so much time/money/energy on trivial detail so the money we pay in taxes would be better spent and, as the Government would have less power over the individual, we would all have better lives. We just have to stand up and do it.
A few celebrated people have said it well:

Seneca: It is not because things are difficult that we dare not, it is because we dare not that things are difficult.

Michael Jackson: If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make that change. (Song: Man in the mirror)

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Baby got back, front AND sides mofo

To be sung to the tune of 'Baby got back':

I hate fat fucks and I cannot lie
All you other Brothers can't deny
When a girl walks past with a jelly-belly waist
Stuffing doughnuts in her face
You feel sick...

Harsh, unfair, and untrue. But the lyrics hit the music with a wallop and it'd be a waste to ignore it. Seriously though, let's take a proper look at this. I don't know what you think of the fat vs skinny argument; whether the rampant worship of bony bitches has had a backlash effect and created the tubby tarts, or whether one weight extreme is more attractive than the other. Here's what I think...

To be attractive, a person just has to look 'right'. That's all. In my time I've had a major crush on a big woman, a skinny woman, and many others in between. People are naturally built in a particular way and either you like them or you don't. The problem is that so many people go beyond the natural boundaries of their body type and that's where things go awry. What am I on about? Let's take a woman with a naturally athletic build: she could get away with putting on enough weight to be curvaceous or losing enough weight to be slim, but to go further in either direction would look wrong. That's why so many apparently attractive women look awful when they diet down to be skinny – they've taken their body beyond it's natural limits. That's also why so many women look horrible with backsides like sacks of potatoes and guts that hang over their belt - apart from the obvious fact that ANYONE whose stomach hides their belt buckle ought to take the hint and eat less pizza - it simply goes beyond the body's natural boundaries.

We're living in an era of mass media where more people than ever are hyper-conscious of their image and information about health and nutrition is freely available, so why are there so many people who don't take care of themselves at all? The usual arguments sound something like: blah blah sedentary lifestyle blah blah cheaper food blah blah internet culture blah blah blah. No. Those may be contributing factors but I don't think they're the main cause. At this point, someone somewhere will wheel out the old chestnut “What about those of us who can't help it?” Well yes, there are some people who really can't help it. One of the women in the beginners Taiji class I attend is overweight because she has serious problems with her knees and doing anything more strenuous than a 90-minute Taiji session is beyond her physical capabilities. I've also known two people with LMBBS (Google that) and that condition, which is hereditary, means the poor folks would be overweight if they lived on a diet of grilled salmon and steamed broccoli. There are probably one or two other medical conditions which we could comfortably store in the “Really can't help it” box but the rest deserve as much sympathy as David Baddiel displayed during the 'History Today' tour when he said “Oh God, I'm sorry. I forgot all about those of you who can't help STUFFING YOUR FUCKING FACE!”

Back to the point. What do I think is the cause of this run on obesity? Given that it originated in the USA, the home of the spoilt brat and ground zero for the self-obsessed, it's very clearly a strong aversion to two simple words: Personal Responsibility. Yes you heard me right, fatties, you're in that state because you're sitting on your backsides, refusing to take responsibility for yourself, and waiting for someone else to do it all for you. This is one of the by-products of the Generation X baby-boomers who had to go without during the 70's and 80's - they now pamper their kids and spoil them in an effort to give them a 'better life than I had'. Unfortunately, that's only being measured in material wealth and rarely in terms of real quality of life.

Now with reality TV persuading people that anyone can be famous, with Youtube and other websites allowing people to show off to the world at large, people don't do anything without having a potential audience on hand. (Oh the irony: rather than keeping these thoughts to myself I'm writing them in a blog...) And when you're young, who's your audience? Mum and Dad. You get so used to being congratulated on every little thing you do, being made to feel that you're 'special' (Bill Hicks, geddit?) and being able to get what you want by throwing a temper tantrum, that parents quickly evolve from being providers into being servants. Now, some childhood obesity is normal – let's face it there have always been fat kids, skinny kids and kids with all sorts of problems - but those are just normal developmental phases that you grow out of. However, when you've had your parents pandering to your whims for most of your childhood you get very used to the idea that anything difficult can be done for you.

I think Darren said it best: “These Surrey Girls, it's all 'Daddy do this and Daddy do that'” That was in a very different context but the message is the same. The problem is, my chubby chums, that losing weight and getting in shape is not something that can be done for you. Even more unfortunate is the fact that the actual physical act of exercising is the easy part! Eating healthy food is more difficult, due to the addictive nature of bad food, and worst of all is devising a realistic food & exercise plan and sticking to it. If you've ever had this experience you'll know what I mean: It's a new year, you join a gym (or go back to one), get a workout plan drawn up for you, leave buzzing with excitement at the progress you'll make, and then decide you'll do the workout at least 4 times a week until the summer. Meanwhile, you decide to go cold turkey on your bad diet, kick out the jams (and the doughnuts they're wrapped in) and eat 'healthy' foods in small portions from then on. And what happens? Within a month it all backfires, you feel so bad it's like you're actually ill, you're tired all the time and absolutely every little thing makes you angry. So you go back to the old routine, hating yourself for failing and resigning yourself to another bout of several months of feeling like the 'ugly one'.

What did you do wrong? You tried to do it all at once, your body rebelled and you burned out. You cannot make huge changes all at once, the body simply can't cope. Your body takes several weeks to get used to something new so give it that time! Going to the gym? Good, go twice a week for the first month and if you can cope with that take it up to 3 times a week the following month – no more than that: you need a full day between workouts as recovery time is vital. Eating healthily? Good, cut out 1 major 'bad' food group (sugar or dairy first as they're the big 2) – cut it out completely – but make sure you're still eating the same volume of food so you're not going hungry. Example: if I eat a plate of tuna & pasta then fancy something sweet, I eat another (smaller) plate of tuna & pasta so I'm full up – the sweet craving goes. Try this regime. It works. But you have to do it yourself as no-one is going to do it for you. Read that last line again. And again. Until you get it.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Number check

Very briefly, as there's nothing special to mention at the moment, here's the bodyweight numbers update for January.

I started the month at 13st (82.5KG) and ended it at 12st5lb (78.5KG) with a brief interlude where I was 12st3lb (77.5KG). That was the morning of the day of 'freedom' for January and the additional 2lb went on that day!

To break the diet for the day I started with a latte and two croissants, my tuna & rice lunch was supplemented with a bottle of coke zero and 4 choc chip muffins (£1 from Sainsbury's!) and I ate a lovely meat/veg noodle dish for dinner at Tyepyedong along with a beer. Later on I stopped off for a pint at the place near my house, bought a double decker from the corner shop with the last of my day's £20 budget, ate some more chocolate and a couple of cereal bars at home, then finished off the day with a couple of pieces of toasted pitta bread and some cheese. Lovely!

The following day I felt a little rough and when I did the workout DVD my legs hurt like hell during the hindu squats but thankfully I'm back to my version of normal now...

More interesting stuff next time. Promise.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Lazy entry: second-hand Q&A

I'm on the mailing list of a few websites and was just sent a questionnaire by a fellow member of one of them as my profile mentioned an interest in martial arts and he's doing some preliminary research for a project. I've removed the gumph about 'have you used your skills in a fight' because the answer is 'No', but the rest is a tidy version of what I sent him.

Q: What is your age and physical condition?
A: 37 years old; condition isn't bad, by which I mean I'm one of the fittest in my peer group but I am not now nor have ever been in what I would call 'athlete level' condition. Being single gives me an advantage: I don't have to devote time or energy to anyone else

Q: What is your level of interest in martial arts?
A: I've been training for over 17 years and I can't imagine life without it.

Q What arts do you practice? Why? Was it what's available or does it fit a particular need?
A: I currently only practice Taiji - I feel very lucky to have found the system I train in as it has a clear and direct lineage straight back to the Yang family.

Q What arts have you practised, and which did you start out in?
A: My first martial arts practice was approximately 3 months of karate at the age of 12. I stopped because the class moved to a new room in the sports hall - one with a wall of mirrors - and it became immediately obvious that I would never be able to manage the postures or kicks properly (I have problems with both hips, the left being more severe, for which I spent a couple of years on crutches as a kid). I also took ju-jitsu during my first year of University, then switched to ki aikido in my second year and stuck with that, off and on, for 10 years. I also took one or two introductory classes in kendo and in 2-3 variations of wing chun. In my late 20's I developed a fascination with bagua zhang and attended a 2-evening seminar lead by a pupil of B.K. Frantzis, who told me I needed to do some chi gung to 'open the energy gates' before studying bagua zhang properly. I enrolled in a qi gong class a month later and after a year of that I reached a plateau, which is when one of the other attendees recommended the Taiji class. I started the beginner's class and within 3 months had dropped the qi gong. Over the next year or so I allowed the ki aikido to tail off.

Q: If you switched arts, why? Was the first not what you were looking for, did you move and had to switch to what was available, etc?
A: I answered some of this above! I started the karate because like a lot of kids I felt small and weak and was afraid so I wanted to learn to fight. I started the ju-jitsu because, having watched a Steven Seagal film and seeing that a person could fight effectively using a 'throwing' art that didn't require hip flexibility I could never attain, it seemed like a good chance to finally do some 'real' practice. It was also one of the martial arts on offer at University. I switched from ju-jitsu to ki aikido after the first year because I was tired of feeling like I'd been beaten up twice a week by people who were unnecessarily rough in their practice. After a few years (basically after attaining my first black belt) the ki aikido got to be less and less satisfying: the head instructor wasn't learning from anyone better than himself and he wasn't doing much personal practice apart from general fitness work, so we were all heading down a dead end! It seemed to try to be spiritual and practical at the same time, thus watering down both aspects so much that neither was properly worked on. The senior students fell into two camps: those who followed the teacher unquestioningly, thus learning his skills and also taking on his insecurities and faults; and those who could see the faults and became more uncomfortable with the degradation of the quality of the practice. I was in the latter camp. The qi gong impressed me in the first class and within a month of practice I began to notice improvements in the aikido due to its influence. However, after a year I realised that even if I kept going for a much longer time I wouldn't derive much more from the practice as it wasn't focused or disciplined enough to encourage further development. Within a month of starting the Taiji class I found another noticeable improvement in the aikido and dropped the qi gong class entirely. Gradually, the depth of the taiji practice became clear, as did the benefits of practising a system with a clear lineage and a teacher who is still learning from an even better teacher himself.

Q: What is the level of intensity you practice? I.e. how many times a week, in a class, seminars, or solo training?
A: I attend 1-2 classes a week (2.5-4 hours), do 1-3 solo practice sessions of 20-60 minutes per week and attend weekend workshops and other seminars as they become available (and as work and money allow) so that can be 1 weekend workshop in a year or 2-3 weekends plus an 8-day seminar with the head of our system.

Q: What martial arts would you like to practice if you had time or they were available where you live? Why?
Q: There is a bagua zhang school nearby where I intend to participate in one of their monthly Saturday classes to get a better feel for the art and to see if the martial aspects are stimulating (the taiji is not martial at all even though the push-hands practice is an important part of the class so an occasional workshop where I can allow my ego free rein would be fun!)

Q: Do you study weapon arts? As an adjunct to an unarmed art, or as a weapon-based art (Escrima, Kobudo, Kendo/Kenjutsu, Western fencing etc)?
A: I used to work with bokken, jo and iaito as part of the aikido as we had to learn some weapons kata, including iaido kata and partner exercises, as part of the syllabus. The taiji practice does not include weapons as the taiji is not a fighting system and weapons are therefore irrelevant.

Q: What other sports or exercise do you practice, and how do you feel they relate to your martial arts practice?
A: I go cycling once or twice a week for cardiovascular fitness and have just started following a callisthenics workout DVD 2-3 times a week as the taiji and cycling don't work the upper body at all. The cycling and callisthenics (and swimming and hiking during the summer) give me cardiovascular fitness, endurance, strength (especially in the upper body) and definition that the Taiji doesn't. My Taiji skills are not yet good enough to allow Taiji to be my only training - hopefully that will come in 10-15 years.

Philosophical questions:

Q: Do you feel there is a philosophical/spiritual component to your martial art?
A: Yes, very much so.

Q: Could you describe it briefly?
A: It's a little difficult as the system is a true system of inner development. My teacher reminds us that the form is there only as the foundation - he says it is (as is all real taiji) simply 'a framework within which to engage with the process of change'. The practice begins with work on the body, gradually brings in work with the mind, and encourages work with the emotions. We are aiming for a 'higher state' which can be achieved through working on any of the three aspects deeply but which is better when all aspects are worked equally. We constantly aim to go deeper so the practice starts with the external choreography then moves through muscle state, forces within the body, then the energy in the body, all the while working on deepening the mind. Before all these stages are completed, talking about anything 'spiritual' is mere lip-service, and these stages take several years to work through.

Q: How does it relate to your understanding of Objectivism/libertarianism?
A: The ultimate aim of taiji is to aid the individual in their progress from physical to spiritual, from profane to divine. As you are working on yourself, constantly challenging yourself, building on your true strengths, eradicating weaknesses, aiming for perfection, the art truly is about freeing yourself from the constraints placed on you by the conditioning of your early life and the society you live in. Taiji is about freedom.

Q: Where in the four-five focuses of the Martial Arts does your interest lie? (More than one choice is OK.)
1) Self-defence/professional use of force
2) Tradition/physical art self-discipline
3) Spiritual/health
4) Sport/tournament
5) Demonstration
A: 3, 2, 1 in that order. 4 and 5 are superficial nonsense

Q: Is there anything you'd like to say about the place of martial arts in your life?
A: I can't imagine walking any other path.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

In defence of Robbie Williams

This is a riposte to a comment made about Robbie's latest and greatest BRIT award. The commentator said something like “Robbie Williams being given a lifetime achievement award? What is the world coming to!” Well, let's see.

First of all he's being given an 'Outstanding Contribution to British Music' award, not a 'Lifetime Achievement' award, so if you're going to take pot-shots at someone at least get your fucking facts right. Secondly, he is in fact a highly successful singer and recording artist who has had a career in pop music since he first appeared with Take That in 1990 at the age of 16 . That's nearly 20 years of making a good living and constantly working at what he does, which is much more than can be said for the purveyors of rampant mediocrity that are wheeled in front of the masses on hideous reality television shows like X-factor. I had the severe misfortune to catch about 30 seconds of one episode of the last series and witnessed the Jedward twins ruin an already bland Wham song with a display of ineptitude that would have had them booed off the mic at a karaoke party in Butlins.

Now, I'm aware that not every participant in talent shows is a useless wannabe with delusions of competence and there are some people who do deserve the attention they get - if you sieve through enough turds you will eventually find a diamond so by sheer weight of numbers you're going to get someone who can actually perform. Shows like X-factor are only superficially there to find that diamond, polish it and let the faceless herd enjoy the fact that their favourite won the competition. The existence of these shows is really a combination of other factors, the most important being that they're basically very cheap soap operas. They appeal to the same crowd for the same reason: the audience get wrapped up in the emotional 'journey' of the participants and it is that emotional connection that keeps people's attention, not the talent of the performers. In the case of the Jedward boys (and probably many others who I've never heard of as I'd rather make a sock-monkey out of my foreskin than watch that drivel) it was clearly the rather limp British version of under-dog worship that got them so far.

The Japanese love an under-dog too: the strength of will to keep going in the face of insurmountable odds is an attribute to be admired even if the protagonist loses the 'battle'. In the UK it's more of a voyeuristic schadenfreude where the public likes to see someone who's useless so they can point and laugh at the competitor, applaud in patronising fashion when the talentless turd fails, and sit back smugly thinking that they (the audience member) could probably have done better if only they had been bothered to try. It's typically British to want to drag down successful people – look at just about any tabloid newspaper article for evidence of this – as it's much easier to take a bite out of someone else than it is to face your own insecurities, get off your backside and make a fucking effort to do something good.

But I digress. Rather than allowing the 'does he deserve the award' argument to be made on the fan/detractor level of “I like his music so he does deserve it” versus “I don't like it so he doesn't”, let's take a look at a few facts.

Robbie started in Take That in 1990 at the age of 16. With Take That he shared the success of 3 BRIT awards (they won a fourth for a song recorded when he was in the band but he'd left by then) and record sales of over 19 million. Since going solo he's won another 10 BRIT awards (not including the OCBM which gives him a record-breaking total 15), six ECHO awards (another record) and many others from the UK as well as France, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands, Mexico, Hong Kong and other places.

His first solo single was a cover of George Michael's 'Freedom' which charted at number 2, twenty-six places higher than the original, and his first album went double-platinum. Since then all of his albums have been multi-platinum selling and his total album sales to date are over 55 million. He's had more number one albums in the UK charts than any other British artist, which makes him the best selling British artist in history, and when tickets were released for his 2006 tour he set a world record by selling 1.6 million tickets on the first day. His most recent record was set last year when his BBC Electric Proms gig was broadcast to 250 cinemas in 23 countries, netting him the world record for simultaneous screenings of a live concert. It was also transmitted live to various radio stations around the world for an estimated total audience of 33 million people.

Any negative comments will simply be someone's opinion of his music, not his achievements, or more insipidly their opinion of his character, looks, sexuality, or any other nonsense which doesn't actually bear any relation to his work. Is there anyone who deserves this award more than him but hasn't yet won it? Maybe, but if so they'll get it next year so no-one's actually lost anything.

Does he deserve the award? Yes, he does. It doesn't matter if you like it, if you like his music, or if you like him as a person; he's done the work, he deserves the reward.

Robbie Williams
A British success story
Fucking deal with it

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Twin town: Auburnville

Lee just popped in for a visit as he was in town anyway and of course a lot of our conversation was about writing, mainly his - see "Explore Auburnville" for more information and to sample the writing yourself. Something he said triggered a memory and I showed him a couple of pieces of flash fiction I'd written ages ago but with which I'd done nothing. He liked them and, quoting the phrase "Don't apologise for your work", suggested I put them on my blog rather than leaving them hidden on my laptop. So, here they are.

Setting Sun
The Sun was just starting to set, so he took the pan off the stove and turned off the heat. The trick was to get the Sun right – after that everything else would fall into place. The last batch was so half-baked one of the planets developed an infestation that eventually destroyed the whole system. Such a waste of a Sunday afternoon. He put the pan on on the ledge of an open window and smiled as he watched the explosions gradually building into chains of fusion reactions. Yes, you had to get the Sun right.

The Punch
This would teach him – nobody spoke to me like that and got away with it. I could feel muscles tensing in chains starting at my feet and rising through my body, building power that would erupt through my fist and smash that smug grin of his right through the back of his head. My eyes closed involuntarily in preparation for the impact which, after an eternity of waiting, simply never came. I opened my eyes to see ... nothing. Just as his bunched fist crashed into my now exposed ribs I realised what had happened. He'd ducked.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Don't trust the numbers...

So here we are again: same shit, different decade. As before I've jumped into the New Year by embarking on a strict diet that gets more restrictive but slightly easier to cope with each year. As well as the usual avoidance of anything milk-based or containing sugar, wheat, yeast, alcohol or caffeine, I've also added fizzy drinks to this year's 'banned' list. That's because last year I ended up drinking lots of caffeine-free diet coke as it was a 'naughty' item that I was actually allowed. Daft. And as before I have a lofty list of goals to achieve this year but this time I'm more sure of what I can realistically achieve so although there's a lot to attend to (of that, more later) I'm aiming for targets that will stretch me without going too far.

For whatever reason, the diet is easier this year. I suspect this may be a combination of several things including: a more positive attitude to this year as a whole, deliberately getting more sleep so I'm properly rested (and of course you don't feel hungry when you're sleeping), and the simple fact that I did something very similar last year so there are no surprises this time around. I weighed myself on January 1st: 13 stone exactly (83KG) and again on January 11th: 12 stone 7 pounds (80KG). As I've done less exercise than expected (no cycling due to the bad weather) and have therefore only been doing the "15 Minute Hell" calisthenics workout twice a week as well as attending Taiji classes twice a week, I suspect 6 of those 7 'lost' pounds were just junk food working its way out of my system and there's only been 1 pound of actual fat lost. That means the weight loss ought to slow right down now and be a more gradual pound per week or thereabouts. If I hit the target of being under 12 stone by June that'll be a good boost.

So, when the ground is properly free of ice and therefore safe to cycle on again, the aim is to build up to the following weekly schedule by mid-February and then just increase the intensity and/or duration of each activity:

2 Taiji classes plus 2-3 personal practice sessions of 20+ minutes
2-3 calisthenics workouts
1 bike ride of 60+ minutes
Stretch after every workout (ideally aiming to be able to sit cross-legged comfortably)
Maintain diet, apart from 1 day a month of complete 'freedom'

Languages: 2+ hours of learning/practice each week (In descending order that will be French, Greek, Mandarin, Japanese. The Mandarin & Japanese will cross over with Kanji practice) and yes I am allowing a cheat: watching a foreign-language film will count as one of those two hours.
Writing: add more to this blog and see what else I can do in terms of articles/essays.
Handwriting: work on my usual handwriting and also learn/practice more kanji
Reading: continue working through book list.
Technology: Make further progress with Apple software, learn to touch-type.

Emotional: use Sufi "evoke/observe/analyse" work as learned at Taiji.

Right, that's enough lofty ponciness for one blog entry. So far I've lost more weight than expected, kept up around 2/3 of the physical stuff, some of the intellectual and some of the emotional. I'll update progress as the year goes by. Finally, I REALLY need to get a new job so I can afford to start paying off my credit cards. I have a 3-month window in which to do this before the money situation gets very serious...