Happy 13th Birthday, Gargle!

Dear Gargle,

I’m so pleased you’re 13! Now, have you had your HPV vaccination? I wouldn’t want you to catch anything from all that webcrawling.

Now you’re a teenager, it’s likely that you’ll start telling people that you know everything, and feeling quite self-assured generally. A certain amount of swagger will find its way into your general demeanor. Especially now that your rival, Farcebuck, is starting to show early signs of insecurity, and going through more image makeovers than Madonna did, between 1984 and 2008.

There’s nothing better than arriving in your teens, and looking forward to all the grown-up stuff that is now almost within your reach. But there will now, more than ever, be questions cropping up which aren’t nearly as easily answered as those classroom ones you’ve had to deal with so far.

Why do matching socks always part ways? How do red things always end up in a white wash? And what is the proper etiquette for disposing of unopened, out-of-date condoms? (Recycling, biohazard, household waste, stretched over Farcebuck’s pint glass on a night out?). How much gel (or texturising mousse) can effectively conceal dandruff? If you notice a spot on your forehead while out with friends, should you squeeze it in the toilets and risk being noted for absence of said zit, or keep it and behave as though you would never stoop to tampering with your delicate skin in public?

Most of all, the questions of fashion and hygiene will be foremost in your mind for the forthcoming decade or so. You want to court popularity, and attract lucrative networking opportunities. You also want to avoid scandals and a bad reputation. You want to be seen at the cutting edge of technology, but you don’t want to be seen boasting about the next Betamax.

Like most teenagers, it seems like a time when you want to rush out into the world announcing that you, Gargle, are now a TEENAGER, as if no other individual has achieved the same status before. You want to party. You want to be the leader of the pack.

My advice is, like other teenagers, invest the next decade wisely. Get a good education. Research is the key, as is attention to detail. Start thinking about your future security – not just what adventures you could go on, but how those adventures could improve your life and the lives of those around you. And how you’d like to make the world a better place.

Celebrate your special day. It’s the beginning of many.

Happy birthday, Gargle 😉

Lucky writing pants

Here’s a thought. Do successful writers have rituals and routines like successful daters? Do they have “Rules of The Game” for getting published? How about “He’s Just Not That Into Your Manuscript”?

I love it when the internet mis-matches stuff for me. I started getting the ads aimed at guys on one of my dating sites. It’s awesome. I am gagging to paste what one of them said as advice to guys, and there are some REALLY quite important comebacks to be made on the claims it lists… But I’m trying to be understated and professional here, on the offchance that real live romantic-comedy fiction will take over from independent hit-men and zombies. Er, I meant, I’m trying to be dignified and mysterious in case another guy from a dating site Googles me and finds me ripping men’s dating advice to shreds. Or perhaps I meant, I might want to apply for another job one day, and am not supposed to have either opinions or a sense of humour. Or an online presence, in fact. Being here destroys all the mystery, doesn’t it?

Firstly, I recommend this to men: If you want to learn about women in a social environment, become a nightclub security guard. You’ll get paid to listen to loud music, hear people flirt, watch people fall over, and all the other stuff they do in between. You’ll learn a lot more about women that way, than you will by paying for NLP coaching and expensive seminars. You’ll also become a fashion critic. There’s nothing like hearing a bunch of door guys discussing what’s tasteful and what isn’t.

And don’t worry about your social skills. Some of the best door staff are a bit OCD. Especially with remembering faces, or verbatim conversation recall. You also get a decent social life out of it. Some women may even throw themselves at you on your first night. Just make sure she’s not leaking bodily fluids, or wearing a wedding ring.

Now, without pasting what I’m responding to, there are a few types of women to watch out for in nightclub-land:

The Sperm-Jacker: Don’t let her buy you a drink, hold your drink, or taste your drink. Don’t let her supply the contraceptive, either, unless you like them pre-perforated. Can be spotted looking as though she has a DNA-shopping list in her purse, sidling up to taller men and twirling her hair, talking about how flexible she is, and how she can eat what she likes without getting fat. Yet. THIS IS WHY MEN ARE MEANT TO PAY FOR DRINKS. So they are aware of how much they’ve had to drink, how drunk their date is, and won’t have to pay for it later. Like, for the next eighteen years.

The Collector: This lady has one in every bar, and often one (or two) in every team. One DJ, one doorman, one security guy (preferably head door), one barman, and one manager. She’ll rotate which ones are her therapists and which are her bed-buddies depending on the time of the month. Has a different look in her wardrobe for each team she’s currently working – slutty for the door guys, classy for the managers, student boho for the bar boys… Now, if your current lady-target appears to have a fashion identity crisis, and gives out her number and email willy-nilly, it’s likely that you’ll be sharing that nilly with a lot of other willy, to put it bluntly.

The Dancer: Turns up early, often alone, and is first on the dancefloor, usually wearing the same outfit every weekend. This is her Lucky Outfit. It worked once, and she’s going to keep it on until it’s replaced by a big white dress and veil. Does not have a lot of original conversation, because she’s wary of straying from that one lucky combo that worked the first time. You might want to watch out that she’s not some stalker, holding out for the return of the lucky Prince Charming. You don’t want to be next.

On the subject of talking to women: Don’t open negotiations with blackmail, unless you want to live the rest of your life fighting it. Saying that you could buy a woman in another country for the cost of her bar tab, is not the same as actually buying a woman in another country, and then paying the medical bills for the remainder of your life. Or serving the time in prison for slavery. If that’s the kind of man you are, stay away from the bar. Also, suggesting that she owes you a two-hour massage in return for drinks is the equivalent of kerb-crawling, and soliciting in the premises is illegal under licensing laws… not to mention that having been a holistic therapist, most men are stone-cold unconscious after two minutes of aromatherapy, so don’t demand this unless what you really want is a cure for insomnia and relief from work-related back injury. Or, if you are worried where your wallet and keys might have gone after you wake up.

Don’t forget – if you’re nice to women, and generally treat them better than other men in their lives have treated them – and clarified that there’s also physical attraction between you – then they’ll be nice to you. Nature takes its course. Apparently, there’s a man around who buys his wife a pair of expensive shoes after every time he calls for a lift home from the club… You can be damn sure he gets his lift.

Mills & Boon’s New Voices

The Mills & Boon New Voices contest (Football sentiment not included!)

Yay! I did it! I submitted a first chapter into the contest. Neptune’s Island is my first stab at direct romance writing.

And I found a suitable category – warm and fuzzy. I mean, Warm and COSY. As I can’t switch off my wit when writing, I was really pleased to see that romantic comedies come under this roof. Mine’s a rom-com with a sense of adventure – the holiday-read chick-lit.

No zombies in this one. Although at least one of my other outlines that I had in mind involved zombies, in the paranormal scheme of things, I’m saving those for later.

I’m surprised there aren’t more entries in this category yet. I thought chick lit was hu-u-ge. I love a sense of humour with my romantic stories. I read a few straight ones, mostly paranormals, and a few romantic dramas – but I have to be careful because quite often I’m inserting my own jokes into scenes at the back of my mind. Like that person in the cinema you can sometimes hear, who has a comeback occasionally funnier than the one Dwayne Johnson just said.

There are some great plot lines on the site already – fab identity mix-ups, awkward situations, and some great suspense openings. It’s very inspiring. The busiest category is Contemporary Romance, which I guess has the scope for everything that involves complex webs in relationships, skeletons in closets, old flames, and up-to-the-minute issues alongside the more traditional ones. I avoided that one, I suppose, because I haven’t had a relationship in real life, and wouldn’t know or identify with a real-life scenario or complex issue if it bit me. Biting is very boring in my concept of real life – it comes under Common Assault in nightclub incident reports, or ‘abuse of staff’ in a hospital ward. Extraordinarily dull.

I ended up with four ideas, but you only get one entry – and since I’ve found the door is open to chick lit and romantic humour, I’ve had more ideas arriving all the time. So I’d definitely be interested in writing more romance in future.

The www.romanceisnotdead.com competition entry website is a bit glitchy, and every time I click on a link or try to post a comment it crashes at the moment, but they’ve got ongoing maintenance to try and keep it afloat!

It’s nice to have freedom of imagination, even if nothing romantic has happened in real life yet. My friend Sophie Neville was discussing the age-old issue of husband-hunting with me at work the other day, and how she worries about her acquaintances currently in the market and the problems they face. She knows I’m also permanently single with no history or boyfriend experience, and when she asked my age, there was a full minute of rather horrified silence 🙂 I heard that life begins at forty, but I didn’t realise it meant literally ‘begins’ – I’ve had one blind date morning coffee since my 40th back at the start of July, and it’s lucky I’m more interested in dieting and writing at the moment, because dating so far has possibly been the biggest waste of petrol I’ve used in my life. The only other thing dating does so far is add to my caffeine intake 🙂

It is true that basically it just means I haven’t met the right man yet. It is really bizarre meeting up with guys you don’t know, and chatting over coffee. Perfectly normal and pleasant conversations, usually. But no chemistry. I know what a crush on a guy feels like, or regular physical attraction, but so far those things have completely failed to turn up on dates. Quite a few I’d have been open to second dates or longer chats – to see if it’s true that you’re meant to let someone grow on you first – but as it turns out, I haven’t been asked by any of those guys for second dates.

Luck of the draw, I guess. I’m not looking for dates any more because I’m too busy – but it isn’t the case that ‘not looking’ means you suddenly get asked out all the time. It just means guys click on the next online profile.

I could try just going out where there are people, but I don’t have any friends nearby because nobody else wants a 40-year-old single woman around either 🙂

So I’ll just fantasise about romance instead for now, and write it down – it’s much easier than finding it in real life.

🙂

Snack time

Here’s what I choose from if I get hungry for a nibble on my diet:

  • 1 banana: 100kcals per 100g (average banana is between 125-140kcals)
  • 1 satsuma, mandarin or clementine: 26kcals approx
  • 1 apple: 50kcals per 100g
  • 1 square Tesco’s value plain chocolate, or 1/10th of a bar: 52kcals
  • 1 Options Hot Chocolate/Turkish Delight flavour: 39kcals
  • 1 Ainsley Harriott Cup Soup: Between 87 and 92kcals depending on variety
  • 1 fat-free Activia fruit yoghurt: Between 50 and 75kcals per pot (125g)

To me, that’s plenty – considering that to burn off that 1-inch by one quarter inch square of chocolate is 500 steps on the step machine (1kcal burnt per 10 steps) and for most of the day I’m working on the computer, writing by hand, drawing or painting, and doing the odd bit of housework or lawn-mowing. In other words, mostly sitting around. Interspersed with some driving errands, 30 minutes to an hour or so with the hula hoop on average 4-5 times a week, and once in a blue moon going near that step machine.

I don’t buy cereal or bread anyway, so those things aren’t an issue. Neither is alcohol, or soft drinks, or fruit juice. If I skip my diet shake made with soya milk for breakfast, I’ll have the fruit then instead. IF I’m hungry at lunchtime, it’ll be a Cup Soup, and yoghurt or another piece of fruit. Then I eat my dinner (anything I want, up to about 600kcals) between 5.30pm and 6.30pm. After that, if anything, I’ll only have maybe a hot chocolate, satsuma or apple, or nibble of chocolate before I go to bed, with a decaf tea with sweeteners and a cardamom pod added – cardamom is good for digestion. I drink as much tea or coffee as I feel I need throughout the day, but try to include a pint of plain still water as well, especially if I’m hooping that day.

If I go to my mum’s for Sunday lunch, I’ll take that as my day off. If I take DS10 to the cinema, I get a Happy Meal with her afterwards, and that counts as my day off – if we’ve already had dinner earlier. I’m allowing for one day off dieting a week, but if there isn’t a particular occasion such as Sunday lunch or going out, I’m not bothered, and just stick to my usual diet routine.

So I’m not on any diet guru plan, or food combining, or training programme, just learning my calories and sticking to the idea of eating dinner earlier in the evening. In other words, not a diet I see ‘the end of’, but a diet pattern I want to continue as normal after losing the weight again, containing all the foods that I like.

I guess I’m lucky that the only person I have to cook for as well is DS10, who doesn’t eat the same as me anyway, and still prefers her cheese with a bit of pizza base and tomato sauce attached. Plus the handful of vitamins and supplements we both take. I watched the US show I Used To Be Fat earlier, and the whole family had pretty much bullied their daughter about her weight for years until food was her only friend – but she really blossomed after eventually leaving home for college. I think there’s a myth surrounding the idea that eating together as a family is a healthy thing – in celebrations and reunions, yes, it definitely is – but every day, with each individual’s life containing different patterns of work, school, snacking – I think it can do as much harm as good, particularly when some have issues around foods, allergies, exclusions, is on a diet – it’s an added stress that’s completely unnecessary. The feeling that you’re being watched in your everyday eating habits two or three times a day, or judged, or teased, or controlled by what’s put in front of you, just adds extra stress hormones to the mix.

And when you’re stressed, or upset – it’s nearly impossible to enjoy or efficiently digest your food. Adrenaline blocks effective metabolism.

The happiest and most chilled-out families I know all eat separately. There’s no regime. No issues over who eats what or when. It’s no-one else’s business how each of them choose to graze, or regulate themselves, or exercise. And none of them are overweight. So maybe there’s something in that, too.

🙂

Pasta is evil…

Did you know that there are the same number of calories in 176g of uncooked oven chips/fries as there are in only 75g of uncooked dried wholewheat pasta? (Approx 240kcal). White pasta is even higher – 270kcal for 75g, the same as white rice. Basically, for weight, it’s nearly the same as golden granulated sugar:

SUGAR: 400kcals per 100g, or 4kcals/g ~ UNCOOKED WHITE PASTA/RICE: 360kcals per 100g, or 3.6kcals/g ~ UNCOOKED FROZEN OVEN CHIPS: 136kcals per 100g, or 1.36kcals/g.

Today I fit into my next size down of jeans (woohoo!). I’ve lost nearly 12 lbs so far, after my first three weeks on a diet. The other day, as well as not eating meals after 6.30pm (I allow myself a later apple or satsuma if I get hungry), sticking to 1000 calories a day, including a diet shake in the morning made with soya milk, and also hula-hooping on my rollerblades for exercise – I decided to buy some itty-bitty food measuring scales for dieters so that I could weigh things like pasta and oven chips before cooking, instead of using guesswork, if I wanted to eat them. You can imagine what a surprise it was to look at the comparative calories per weight of both! I was probably consuming at least three times as much pasta per meal before I went on a diet. It was quite a shock to realise that one pasta bolognese meal in the past potentially contained all of my daily recommended calories in one go, for someone not on a diet.

Okay, pasta expands when cooked (depending on how al dente you like it). If you eat a lasagne made with three sheets of dried wholewheat pasta, weighing in at only 60g, and consider the calorie content of added sauces and cheese, it’s probably comparative to a small unsatifying spag bol. One of my faves was lasagne with chips/fries – like you get in a typical pub menu – so I bought some of those tiny circular Pyrex ramekins and made little lasange pots, with two layers of broken-up lasagne (about half a sheet in total fit per pot, or 10g) and a dollop of the sauces between, and a teaspoon of micro-grated Red leicester on the top. I cooked one, with 165g of oven chips on the side, covered the other pots uncooked with cling-film and froze them. So for about 36kcals worth of pasta, less than 100kcals worth of made-up non-vegetarian bolognese sauce, only 60kcals worth of white sauce (one-eighth of a jar), and about 10kcals worth of cheese, and 225kcals of oven fries, I get dinner for less than 500kcals without losing out on what I enjoy.

A bit like ordering a Happy Meal instead of the grown-up version – which is what I do if DS10 and I get munchies after going to the cinema. A cheeseburger Happy Meal, with a diet drink, is less than 600kcals. Chicken nugget versions are even less.

I’m not a four-legged herbivore with multiple stomachs, and therefore not designed to munch my way through a row of garden salad every day (not without terminal depression from loss of healthy neurotransmitter production, and attacks of anti-social wind anyway). And I’m not a gym-bunny burning 3000kcals a day (I’m sat here writing on my computer, for Chrissakes – what did you think I do all day?) – although now I do sometimes wear rollerblades around the house all afternoon, and twirl a hula-hoop outside, while the neighbours tolerate The Noisettes and Gorillaz at a sociable level from my kitchen window – so pasta on an industrial scale is to be avoided.

The most my muscles need to do is keep me upright. Like I said, it’s all about the physics. What burns off has to be greater than what goes in.

So if you’re on a diet, unless you’re hitting that gym really hard, keep the pasta content on the down low – like I said, think lasagne instead of penne

And sometimes multi-tasking. I had to re-do my highlights last week – so I moved my twist-stepper in front of the mirror while doing the hook-and-plastic-hat thing. By the time I’d finished I’d done 500 steps…

🙂

I had a dream…

Not the scary kind of dream, where you have no concept of reality, and cats in snorkels try to convince you that your hairdresser has stolen a priceless hovercraft and vandalised all the school toilets. Terrifying, because at that point what you most need is a working lavatory, not a hovercraft designed to save the world. Let alone a decent haircut.

Nope. I was sort of dozing, because there was no Q.I. on Dave, and DS10 had fallen asleep after her booster jabs to protect her from future Youtube-transmitted diseases (for those of us whose social life consists entirely of the internet, we’re all quite literally fully protected from everything except carpal tunnel syndrome). I’d been pondering in my diary the concept of being able to do anything I wanted with my life (as opposed to waiting for Mr. Right, who so far doesn’t exist, or settling for Mr. Wrong, who isn’t interested and doesn’t know I’m alive anyway). And out of this attempt to expand-my-consciousness exercise (not as easy as it sounds, without committing to a church, or well-intentioned cult), the idea popped into my head of hula-hooping on rollerblades. As if trying something ludicrous-sounding and potentially dangerous would be a start, at least.

I can’t rollerblade. Well, I can, only on carpet or lino, i.e. indoors. So wobbling around trying to keep a hoop aloft outdoors on the patio (it’s the only space there is to swing a hoop nicely, unless I stand on the living-room coffee-table when it’s raining – and with wheels on too, I’d bump my head on the ceiling) – sounded to me like a shortcut list of broken wrist-bones. I promptly forgot about this, and fell asleep, which wasn’t easy either as I couldn’t be bothered to wake up DS10 and tell her to get in her own bed. Seeing as she’d been a medical pincushion already that afternoon, and earned the right to sleep during hours of darkness – instead of inventing new demons to summon while the rest of the country sleeps.

I remembered this idea again at around 5pm today, while clearing old storage boxes in the spare room. My first thought was the horrified one, along with the perceived future of comminuted fractures such a venture might bring. But then quite suddenly, some quote, or half of the quote, turned up in my brain:

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”

Now I knew I’d heard this quote somewhere, probably one of those dozens of self-help books that function even when unread, as soundproofing on shelves around my home. So I thought, cool. Let’s put those rollerblades on and see if I fall over.

Well, I didn’t fall over. And after a few slow starts, managed to hoop for about an hour. When my shins got sore from the boots (my blades are two sizes too big, because they were cheap, but it makes for pretty good stability and lots of sock room) I went back to my usual trainers and found I could move around far more with my hoops than previously – so my normal stability and confidence improved by trying something much more challenging. So I carried on and did another hour and a half, through the Jamiroquai and Timbaland albums.

I thought I’d see if I could find what this quote is, so typed the bit I remembered into Google. It’s from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). So many quotes are credited to him, he most likely pre-empted Twitter, along with everything else.

What is curious to me though, at this point in time, is why I’d channel a famous writer, thinker, artist and scientist in order to motivate me to put wheels on my feet and twirl a sparkly tube around my body?

Maybe it’s a physics experiment I’m not yet aware of…