Thursday, 28 August 2014

Doing the Splits with Arnold Schwarzenegger

Earlier this month I spent some time practicing flexibility in my lower body. I did this whilst reading the shortest book in a huge pile of books that I haven't got around to reading yet. This book was the James Bond novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service. 

I made a fair bit of progress with the splits, although it will take some time before I have Van-Damme-like agility.


Well, you never know when it'll be handy, do you? Hence, I'm going to dive straight back into flexibility- only this time I'll turn to another muscle-bound action-movie icon. The largest book in my to-read pile is Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, the autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I found it in The Works bookshop for £2. Bargain!

20 minutes or so a night should set me in good stead.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Gammon and Parsley Sauce

One of the things I find difficult to convey to people is that when you have memory difficulties, it isn't just “forgetting things” that is the problem- it's sometimes plain “not thinking of things in the first place”. This particularly happens when there are a number of stages to a set task like, for instance, cooking a meal.

My advice if you're in the same mental boat as me: read the instructions from beginning to end before you go to the shop. You'll notice that not every cookbook author thinks through what they're instructing. In their book The Hairy Dieters, Si King and Dave Myers serve their gammon with potatoes- a staple part of most healthy meals- but as they didn't include it in the ingredients list, I didn't write it down. They mention veg right at the end of the recipe, so I bunged on some frozen veg, meaning I had to turn the heat right down on the gammon and simmer it for a ridiculously long time.

The recipe serves 4, but as I was eating alone I figured I could half that and eat it over 2 days. That didn't happen. I halved it and mullered the lot, drowning the gammon in sauce.

The recipe recommends serving with fresh parsley. Tesco's parsley comes in a packet that I knew I wouldn't get through, so I bought a pot of the dried herb and sprinkled that on. Probably not as healthy.

I'd recommend not being a tight bastard and not buying value gammon from Tesco. You'll just end up cutting off the stringy fat. You get what you pay for.

After all that, though, the meat and the sauce tasted quite nice.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Doing the Splits with James Bond

This month I decided to work on flexibility. I wanted to attempt the splits over the course of a few days, and whilst sat with my legs out and open in front of me. I also wanted to get some reading done. I picked out the smallest book out of a pile of unread books: On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a James Bond novel by Ian Fleming.

I've read a couple of Bond books, so I knew what I was in for. And I've seen the dodgy movie adaptation starring the forgettable George Lazenby.

More of the same from Fleming: a professional killer, heartless and chauvinist, tries to look after a beautiful but reckless young woman under orders of her gangster father. She leads him to a criminal mastermind who threatens the world. It's an entertaining read, though, and more believable than a few others. It's also the book in which we see Bond's icy persona- unlike the backdrop of the wintertime Alps- start to melt.

To do this project properly, you will need a doorway with enough wall space on either side of it to place your feet. Sit with your knees straight and feet apart, point your thumbs down and grip on to the door frame. You'll also need a cushion under your backside unless you have an incredibly thick, soft carpet. Wear socks so your feet slide against the gloss of the skirting board. Butt-scoot in as your flexibility increases.

I started at 150cm (4'11) between my heels- the exact distance that I ended up with the last time I attempted the splits. This time I stretched to 158cm (5'2) at the peak of my ability. This was maybe half way through the book. So. If I can stretch 8cm every 250 pages (the length of On Her Majesty's Secret Service), reading another book the same size would give me- in theory- the extra 8cm (3 inches) I need to do the splits fully. But only if I continue practicing with no break...

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

I am going to bench 100Kg.

I've been doing weights since I was 17. About 3 times in my life I've managed to bench 95Kg. Not bad for someone who- at the time, at least, was under 70Kg himself.

Now, I'm older and a little more out of shape. I'm dropping bombs at boxing but my fitness isn't what it was. Fitness will come in time, but for the next few weeks- however long it will take- I will smash the seated chest press until I can get 10 reps on the 20th plate: 100Kg.

In order to do this, I'll need to eat less shit, eat more protein and vegetables, and sleep better. No more reduced items in Tesco. No more Crazy Caramels. More porridge. More meat. If I do all this, I'll hit my target in 2 months. Starting today.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Published: Take Note

This story started life as a warmup exercise at Writers Connect. Leader Oz asked us to close our eyes. Imagine we're stood in a country garden. We follow a garden path through the estate. We enter a large house through the back door. We find ourselves in a kitchen. On the work surface, there's a note. Oz then suggested we continue the story.

The story went through a few drafts, again through advice from Writers Connect, then ended up in the form you will see it / hear it in now. The Open Road Review is an audiovisual magazine. The editor asked me to record a readout of the story to go alongside the text, which was fun to do. I hope you enjoy it whether you read or listen! Check it out here.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Repping Out Review

I decided to mix up my gym routine this month. Instead of relentlessly smashing the heaviest weights possible, I spent the last 5 weeks performing as many reps as I could, using my own body weight, to increase endurance. I focussed on 6 movements, with some improvements:

10-minute cross-trainer: no new personal bests.
Bicep chinups: 1 rep added to PB
Dips: 2 reps added to PB
Cable crunch with metal handle lifting 50Kg: 60 reps added to PB
Cable crunch with rope handle lifting 50Kg: 50 reps added to PB
Wide grip chinups: no new PBs.

I could possibly have done better was I not a chronic insomniac. Well, you can't have everything. Also, 6 movements is a very broad selection considering I was trying to hammer the same muscles to see an improvement. Next time I do a project like this, I'll not just eat healthier but try to focus on eating more protein.

Monday, 11 August 2014

And the Award for Strangest Toilet Graffiti Goes To...

The Gas Lamp, a bar I found listed in I Love Manchester's “Hidden and Secret Bars” article.

It also has an impressive top row for all you whisky lovers- and quirky suit-wearers- out there. Not normally the type of bar I'd leap at going to, but it's certainly original, a compact den but spacious enough for everyone to sit down. The toilets were clean enough; old fashioned but with new wave ideology scrawled on the painted breeze block.

That's “Greek arse products”, “I am bread” and “Elvis lives”.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Here's Kevin Sinfield playing Joseph aged 11

The England and Leeds Rhinos rugby captain Kevin Sinfield MBE playing the title role in a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Sinfield attended St Agnes Knowls Lane between 1985 and 1992, the latter being the year of the photograph's origin.

I expect he was picked to play Joseph as he was the only person brave enough to sing the solo, Close Every Door.

If I remember rightly this production was filmed by an amateur cameraman. I'd be interested in seeing it, partly because I was in it. I played one of the slave traders who bought Joseph off his brothers at the start of the play, and- in the second picture- the Pharaoh's slave furthest screen right.

If anyone still has this footage, get it uploaded- there are a lot of curious people out there.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Ten things to do before I'm 33

  1. Stop saying “well yeah”.
  2. Rewrite my feature screenplay, Once Upon a Time in Great Britain. Show it to other writers / film people.
  3. Travel.
  4. Tone up abdominals.
  5. Write something that helps people. I've written plenty of blog posts about Z-list celebrities and quirky things you can do on Twitter, but can I actually write something that sheds light on a subject and helps other people to move forward? I have some ideas.
  6. Get known through writing. I'm never going to succeed in anything else, so I HAVE to do something involving words. I'd like to write for a living, but before that, I'd like to do provide information for free online first.
  7. In the last few months I've made some huge steps forward with confidence. I need to make more.
  8. Cut down on social media. If I'm going to write something worthwhile, the time I spend at the computer needs to be dedicated to my goals.
  9. Be bolder and braver.
  10. Get more sleep.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Life for Sale

This week's prompt at Writer's Connect was the phrase “life for sale”.

It started with an old VHS tape of Robin Hood, the first one he'd been given. He made a few pence after the cost of packaging. He sold the rest of his videos in bulk to make a better profit. He soon realised he didn't watch films at all, and put his DVDs up soon after. It took a month before he made his first sum, after the bidding had finished.

The pleasure of seeing his bank account increase was better than any retail therapy he'd ever allowed himself. He started to look around his house.

I buy pre-sliced bread, he thought. Why do I need this bread knife? Or this board, even? Or this bread bin?

He started the bids low and with long bidding times. His outgoings after bills were only the costs of postage and packaging. He felt a strange relief to see his walls again, his shelf space, his bare carpets.

I sleep to relax, he thought. I don't need this couch. So he sold it. It wasn't a bad couch either. He was so eager for the rush he got from being paid that he shortened the bidding time. The young couple that bought it were pleased with their bargain.

He planned holidays, although when and with who he'd not thought through. One day at a time, his home emptied.

He'd sit at home, thinking of the European cities he wanted to see. But he was so stingy that nobody would come with him- they knew he wouldn't spend. So these days he trawls Ebay again, trying to make his home a comfort to others, never having traveled, buying back the wares he'd sold, the life he'd had, reversing every plan he'd made.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

London July 14


Drove down to London this week with the family to see the sister and to see a bit more of London. I've got a “to do” list that I'm gradually ticking my way through with every trip south I take.

Ate in a Big Red Bus converted into a restaurant. Delicious pizza. Quirky surroundings.

Watched the sunset from the observatory at The Shard, the highest building in the UK. The highlight of the trip. It's not cheap but it's worth every penny. Absolutely beautiful views. If you're wondering what the draft is, it's because you're technically outside, although with the tall glass windows in front of you it doesn't feel like it. It's an open roof. I wonder how they maintain the place when it rains. Thankfully, it was dry for us all weekend.

I also dropped by the very scenic Barking Park,

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel under the Thames,

and stumbled upon The Ragged School Museum. The Secret London guide describes this venue as “a Victorian lesson in East End history.” An homage to Thomas Bernardo’s successes in introducing accessible free schooling for children, the museum holds real school lessons for children so that they can see the differences in life in school a hundred or more years ago to how they experience it themselves. There was no class running at the time, but the curator spoke to us, explaining that a lot of the staff were actors. “The teacher plays a very stern woman, very no-nonsense,” explained the retirement-aged gentleman, possibly a historian, in a very posh and probably genuine accent. “But in those days, when they had classes of a hundred children, they had to keep control. Nowadays, kids don't see this kind of teaching. Some of the children cry.”

We finished the trip with a drop-in on relatives in Frinton, Essex. We ate at The Flight Centre. The flying school has an apparently affiliated restaurant where, through the windows, you can watch people take helicopter pilot lessons from the comfort (and comparative safety) of your dinner table.

Brilliant weekend. Plenty more like this to come.