Opening Doors Inwards and Going Outside: Writing v. Parkour

My blog exchange piece for Dan Holloway, on an unexpected pairing of pursuits, posted this week 🙂 x

dan holloway

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experience of endurance rowing training, and the effect it has on my creative life. As I wrote, I found myself thinking about more and more of the creative people I know
(and those, most famously of course Haruki Murakami, about whom I know) who do something similar, training hard (I won’t indulge in transferene and say obsessively) at a particular kind of individual, repeetitive, non-competitive, endurance based physical activity. And I realised I really wanted to find out how it affected them.

And so I decided I’d love to have those people write for me about their experience. I am delighted to start with Lisa Scullard. Like many of my writing friends, I met Lisa on the writers’ site Authonomy about 5 years ago. We have since met in person several times and I have had the privilege of hosting


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Back to Basics: I, Wordbot – or, who is the author anyway?

Okay. So, you’ve started writing – let’s say, something.

Where do you see this expedition taking you, as an individual?

To the Oscars? To the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards? To a disciplinary at work? To the headmaster’s office?*

*Usually if you start by penning your work of genius on the walls and furniture.

A few writers do well. A few do very well indeed.

For the majority though, it’s the worst hourly rate anyone could wish for.

What person in their right mind spends 17 hours a day for weeks/months/years on a soul-baring project, for the small chance of grossing $10 from Amazon Kindle in the first fiscal year after publication?

  • Do you visualise yourself turning into a 24-hour book-pimping machine once you’ve completed the fun part (viz, writing the story)?
  • Do you plan to change the world by preaching your message to the masses with the concise summation of “Buy my book! And write me a review!”
  • Do you want social conversations around you to gravitate away from the fondly-remembered “What are you up to nowadays?” and more towards “Do you know, I have no time to read anything anymore. I can’t even keep up with the latest Terry Pratchett and Jeremy Clarkson…”

Perhaps there’s something to be said for keeping your new hobby a secret. That way, you can succeed or fail in private.

Maybe analyse your reasons for writing. Do you desire to be a more interesting or worthy person? Instead of inventing interesting and worthy characters, maybe go out into the world and do some volunteering. Or take up an adult education class.

People write for many reasons. Catharsis and therapy, for their own entertainment, because they simply can’t find books to read that they identify with… to learn, to share, to teach, to excavate old personal bones of contention, or to throw light on dark corners of their life. Some of those dark corners seem to contain many heaps of used tissues. Remember, what makes you happy (or sad) may not be viewed the same way by everyone.

Anyway. Selling is a different job altogether, and if you don’t see yourself as a salesman (I’m certainly not one) by all means write – but don’t let the business of being ‘an author’ take away the enjoyment of writing. Just write, publish, and move on.

Being an author doesn’t have to define you. Again, rather like that thing what may merely light your own candle in fiction being the complete witch-trial pyre in other people’s minds and cultures – what you picture the job description of ‘author’ representing in your own mind, may manifest itself differently in other people’s.

When I was very young, someone made it clear to me that their idea of a writer was a useless bum with no skills whatsoever. My own idea of a writer was Barbara Cartland in a pink frilly dress writing about men in tights and ladies swooning, or possibly Clive Barker with a pint of snakebite and blackcurrant, writing about dead things and the afterlife. But the thought of being useless and having no skills was also taken on board, and I’m proud to say I have avoided gaining any of the skills that I should have supposedly gained by not writing. I found that the opportunity to learn more interesting skills came my way instead.

Writing shouldn’t be your excuse for avoiding life, but rather a way of expressing your experiences and philosophies of it. If you don’t have any experiences that you want to write about, and can’t manifest them (either legally or physically, such as sprouting wings), like the best of us, make them up – but it’s your own slant and viewpoints which will tell your readers who you are, through the medium of your characters.

So let’s talk about the taboo subject of authorial leakage. Unintentionally, or otherwise, what private agendas and personal revelations may surface in the process of revealing your new talent to the world.

Writing is like any other art form – so far in the West, until recent history, held as being mystically separate from the laws of real life. Free speech, artistic licence, call it what you want.

There are different forms of art. Art that is life-affirming. Art that inspires criticism. Art that inspires debate, and art that instigates discussion on what constitutes art. However, in modern history, public concerns are voiced more frequently about art that inspires crime and atrocities.

The old-school art school tend to stand by their guns that art should be allowed to be art in any form, whether it’s a dirty unkempt bed or half a cow in formaldehyde. But if it’s a dirty unkempt child or half a pet dog, that’s the NSPCC and RSPCA notified.

With the advent of social media, and internet-based reality live-streaming TV, some people are sharing ‘art’ that should more accurately be described as ‘evidence’. And with certain art forms inspiring domestic violence and murder on a daily basis, now in the headlines with alarming regularity, the conscience of the artist has to be considered as much as the consumer.

For instance, compare the theoretical concept of a designer of a war propaganda poster that leads to an uprising and mass genocide, to the writer of a play that inspires a sick man to go home and shoot his dog. Both had a detrimental effect. One, you might argue, was only doing their job, and was not directly responsible. But which one?

That’s the worst case scenario that you might potentially face, at any point in your career. A crime of any scale being credited to you as the inspiration.

When the paranoia bugs strike at the heart of your art, and you find that your hobby has become a form of inadvertent disclosure about the deepest and darkest places where you occasionally hide the used tissues, it helps to examine and monitor yourself as you write. Um, or maybe seek counselling, and take a bit of a break until things normalise around you again.

At least, until your fantasy world is looking a bit more healthy.

What’s your basic need for recognition, as a writer?

Some examples of an artist’s basic needs:

  • To share an enthusiasm for a specific theme or genre
  • To exorcise a past event or relationship
  • To shock the audience
  • To make people laugh
  • To make people cry
  • To make people angry
  • To gain any reaction whatsoever, usually in as an obscure fashion as you can muster
  • To prove something
  • To disprove something
  • Revenge
  • To make money
  • To make someone love you (good luck with that, have you tried baking? Or giving them a lift anywhere?)
  • To win awards
  • To give your imaginary friends something to do
  • To brag about how clever you are

Note that ‘to be a book promoter/salesperson’ is not on the list! 🙂

The skill isn’t in what you can excavate from the depths of your soul. The skill is in filtering out the story and making it user-friendly, so that whatever inflammatory critique it inspires doesn’t also have the police taking an interest in your magnum opus appearing on a convicted felon’s Kindle, highly annotated and shared with members of his gang…

Don’t worry that writing your book will have your friends and family looking at you funny, talking behind your back, or avoiding you. They’ll be doing plenty of that when you start asking them to buy it and to leave you reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

And that’s BEFORE they’ve even read it 😉

L xxxx 🙂

So, I expect you’re all wondering how that DIET is going?

🙂

Been abandoned? Been swept quietly under the rug?

Nope! 🙂

I’m happy to say that so far, I am winning against the Evil Pasta (same calories as sugar!! Boooo!)

Since the summer I’ve lost the weight I wanted to lose, and a bit more. My only secret, I guess, is just counting calories and watching portion sizes of starchy carbs. I wouldn’t eat 500g of sugar all in one go as a meal, so it makes sense not to eat the same weight in uncooked pasta, which has virtually the same calorie-count. If I cook a portion of pasta for myself, I’ll weigh out 75g dry before cooking, have a small dollop of tomato sauce and mix in some tuna, basil leaf and a few chopped olives. Jacket potatoes or sweet potatoes are good too – or a thin-based veggie pizza. Also I make fritattas – like a Spanish omelette – just two eggs for protein content cooked with onion, peppers and mushrooms, occasionally sliced potato or a small handful of cooked pasta to bulk out. Very filling.

I do still eat otherwise – I’ll have one day off dieting every few days, but find that I’m not that hungry or craving anything anyway, now I don’t have to haul extra weight around. And diet shake mixes (I use Tesco’s own brand) are more digestible and effective for me, when mixed with soya milk instead of cow’s milk. It raises the protein content of the drink, at the loss of carbohydrate content. I have my shakes for breakfast, and sometimes before bed if I’m hungry then. Never go to the supermarket on an empty stomach now – bad for the wallet as well as the scales…

Latest thing I changed was switching from regular tea to Roobois (Redbush) to cut down on caffeine. Now I’ll have a coffee once or twice a day for caffeine, instead of caffeine in pretty much every drink.

Still hula-hooping for exercise and for fun. Was outdoors the other day hooping for an hour in a scarf and mittens 🙂 Maybe not in the hailstones that we had earlier though…

So, next thing I’ve got to look forward to is Christmas! And I am going to eat! It’s not a big deal really, only a day or two – same as if I was taking a day off my diet to get a Chinese takeaway, or make any other roast dinner. It won’t be any different from when I made Thanksgiving dinner for DS-10 last month to teach her a bit of an American history lesson.

It’s weird, the main feeling I get from losing a bit of weight when I need to, is re-gaining a sense of self-control again. Like I don’t really notice it slipping when I’m depressed, just that I know I’m comfort-eating – and when I get that more positive feeling of self-control returning, I know I’m not depressed any more. Mood-wise this year hasn’t been great up until recently, gaining new scars and waiting for more surgery. So besides always hoping that the next eye repair will be the last – anything else that I can do to improve on my inner self-image in the meantime is a bonus.

Now, bring on dinner! I’m ready for ya 🙂

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…

Today, I will mostly be reading…

Hot Island Nights

Sarah Mayberry, for Harlequin (UK) Mills & Boon

…This one above, in paperback from Tesco’s, special promotions inside the cover. Wow. I’m only up to Chapter 5, and will probably have gone blind by the end, so luckily it’s one of their shorter books. It’s definitely taking my mind off food anyway.

Nice weather to read in the last couple of days, out on the hammock between gardening and hula-hooping and diet shakes. Saw the doctor, who was able to show me that last time I was weighed at a check-up in December 2010, I was 5kg less than now, so it was as I suspected – gradual re-gain of weight lost previously.

I super-glued the incision where the keloid scar was and it’s started healing up in a nice neat line instead of a ropey random-shaped blob like before. As I said, don’t do this at home. If you must fidget while watching TV, do knitting or something. Not DIY surgery. I’ll probably still need to get it checked afterwards at some point, unless God is in a good mood and the whole mark vanishes without trace. I was lucky to have already had it biopsied – just sorry they didn’t take the whole thing out at the time.

So I’m dieting, hula-hooping, catching up with the housework gradually, and started on writing my own straight romantic fiction efforts. Yes!! Finally, I came up with two ideas which have potential. I think giving up on the idea of dating in real life helped. Gave me licence to be totally inventive, and not worry about being judged (not until submissions time, at least). Mills & Boon are running their New Voices contest again next month, and I’m debating whether or not to enter a competition with a public vote (I don’t have that many friends to round up!) or just go for the straight submissions route. I’m tempted to go with the latter. Maybe because it would be the real response when it came, that I could work with immediately on whatever the feedback is. I have a feeling about it of ‘start as you mean to go on’ in the working professional writer sense.

In the meantime, thinking of putting together my ideal hula-hooping playlist. So far, the best of Santana, and Justin Timberlake are getting me going, and have also found remixes of Depeche Mode, Marilyn Manson, the Beastie Boys, the Noisettes, and Faithless are great stuff to hoop along to. I have a need to test out the hooping potential of De La Soul. My instincts tell me there is something very hoopable in those tunes. Oddly enough I couldn’t get anything out of Madonna. The rhythm was all wrong. She’ll have to incorporate it into her assimilated repertoire of fashion crazes to come up with the right beat.

For custom hoops and jamming, wiggle your way over to Hoop Express and get inspired! 🙂

Day four in the Diet House

Luckily, I’ve found something I wrote when dieting in 2009, that confirms I was losing 1lb a week – so I know what the expected progress is. It’s strange, because I remember in terms of dress sizes, there was a ‘suddenly’ moment when I fit into jeans two sizes smaller than I started out, but realistically, that moment happened about four months in to dieting. It’s about making a permanent lifestyle change, not a quick fix.

I did wake up starving today, with my stomach making those noises it can only make while hinting that it ought to have food inside. So I’m sitting at the computer now with my strawberry diet shake, made with coconut milk in today (another low-calorie alternative I’ve found more digestible than dairy). I’ve taken my vitamins – I take loads, including multi-B, Evening Primrose, and Omega fish oils.

Mostly what I’ve been obsessing about over the last couple of days, is books and storylines. I’m doing all right with a few sales here and there and a few words written here and there on my sequels, I’m not making any money yet – so for me it’s definitely going to be about finding something of mainstream-publisher interest to write about.

While avoiding interfering with further surgery on myself – I did attempt to remove a keloid scar with nail scissors. Please don’t do this at home. There are very understanding doctors out there! Looking forward now to seeing what new kind of scar appears from under the scab. I pierced my own ears aged 12 – successfully, the holes are still functional – but I do know the risks. My rogue keloid scar was the result of squeezing a spot which then refused to heal for two months – so it’s been a reminder not to abuse my skin, and for something so small, the cause of quite a lot of negative thinking recently. Strange how tiny things can cause us so much aggravation. In a ‘how stupid was I?’ way.

It’s just one more thing that makes me realise, I’m not cut out for a relationship yet. If I’m still customising myself, in terms of image, body-weight, whether I’m someone with a large appetite for food or a small one, what I do for a job, what I choose to write about, what I wear, what I watch and listen to, or what I identify with, I can’t be pinned down yet as a defined human being that another would recognise as being their mate. I don’t fit into a paperback demographic of a potential partner.

I wonder how closely our concepts or imprinting by fiction influences us while looking for a love interest? I wouldn’t know, not having found one yet. But perhaps my own voice gives that away by looking for stereotypes, or trying to fit into one. My only examples are in fiction. But if fiction is all escapism, those examples don’t even exist in the real world.

Like today, waking up starving, wondering whether a diet shake was enough incentive to get out of bed. What’s it like for people who have someone to meet up with, to get out of bed to spend time with? To go to bed with, for that matter?

I can ask these things now without having a meltdown because I’m not looking for one. But the not-looking seems to have opened a whole new series of questions. Stuff I hadn’t even thought about before while just being depressed that I didn’t have the one thing I always wanted. And now don’t want. Not because having the expectations that I would get it let me down, but because I’VE let me down, by not being the person I want to be who gets a relationship. I’m not thin or tidy or organised or earning a decent living or having a regular social life, or energetic or being a model parent while DS10 summons demons alone in her room, instead of doing normal teenage things like hanging out with gangs of predatory girls between WHSmith and Superdrug, ogling boys. At least then I’d have something to empathise with other parents about.

But I’m happy so long as she’s happy. If the other demons arrive, they can help with the housework.

Summer tum…

Gremlins-GizmoSounds like a polite way of saying ‘jungle bottom’ but in fact, this post is not about explosive disorders of the digestive system. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is about that realisation upon seeing your holiday snaps, when you are shocked nobody tried to roll you back into the sea while enjoying your beach break.

For me, this started with vague recognition that once more I was only wearing my baggy jeans. Then, a couple of months before giving up my job, starting to feel more tired – and in the last month, those aches and pains returning. No, it’s not age. It’s pasta. And stuff I don’t normally eat, like bread and cake and cookies, creeping back in.

So I climbed back onto the scales, and yes – I’m currently only half a stone short of the weight I was when I decided I needed to lose, and lost nearly two stone, two years ago. It’s crept back on, as so many dieters warn – a combination of comfort eating through stress and depression, lack of motivation, and having no social life to maintain a figure for.

Not that I’m not vain in my own solitary way. I like pretty things, but I am a fully-aware slob. What I’d like to achieve in my ideal world isn’t supported by the reality, and seems to be restricted by hours in the day, the fact I have only one pair of hands to do things with, and lack of people in my life for daily support (or delegation).

But I did lose the weight before, a combination of slim-fast/supermarket equivalent diet shake powder, not eating late at night or just before bed, and Chinese take-out once a week. I didn’t exercise. This worked – not sure why, except I had a combination of strange theories all running concurrently.

One, was the diet shake (calorie-controlled) theory. Weight loss is all about physics and chemistry – burning more fuel than you put in, forcing your body to burn from its reserve tanks. So put less in. I found mixed with cow’s milk it was indigestible, so I used economy soya milk instead, which my body coped with far better. I also cut out sugar in hot drinks and switched it to calorie-free sweeteners (Sweetex was my preference). Any sustained brain tension from artificial sugaring I outlet in writing crime fiction, where twists, turns, paranoia and conspiracies are deemed normal. In fact I quite enjoyed that part.

Two, was a word-of-mouth diet myth, via Hollywood. Don’t eat after 6pm. That way you body has burnt its daily intake by the time you go to bed, so you won’t lay down fat while you sleep. It does work, and it’s best not to eat your heaviest meal late in the day. Think of it as the Gremlins or ‘Mogwai’ Diet. If you eat too late in the day, you might turn into a monster.

Three, eat a big meal once in a while to stop your metabolism slowing down and going into ‘famine mode’ where your body compensates for shortage of food by reducing its burning capability. I went to the Chinese once a week and always ordered the same thing – sweet and sour chicken and special chow mein, and applied the same rule about not eating late at night, so it would be between 6 and 7pm.

Four, don’t take up an exercise routine you aren’t going to maintain. I’d done martial arts in the past, didn’t enjoy bruises, and actually felt too unfit to exercise – I had hip pains anyway, and stood around for my job in nightclub security. So I opted to do nothing. I’ve never been a sporty type, and was a skinny child who read books instead of going outdoors to play – so I knew it didn’t contribute in my youth.

I got from a UK size 14 down to a size 8-10 in about 5 months. All my aches and pains disappeared. It was gradual, and had plateaus of about a fortnight where nothing happened. My diet stopped when one week I couldn’t get diet shakes, and made a batch of cookies, and suddenly just wanted to eat loads of sugary things – and it crept back on again. I’d left one job to do another, was having a depressive phase again – I’d achieved what I wanted, but had no friends to share or to celebrate it with, or to keep me focused, so I just clocked it up as something I was capable of but that hadn’t gained me anything in the real world. Still no social life, still no boyfriend – just me on my own fitting into the smaller clothes in my wardrobe. I think I bought about 15 pairs of shoes to celebrate by myself, but only two of them have probably been worn outside my house. Lack of occasion to wear them more than lack of confidence.

So this time, I hula-hoop now, having already taken it up several months ago – again, on my own, privately, in my own garden. So I have exercise that I enjoy as my added back-up. I need to diet financially as much as for my health – before I saw the holiday photos, I was on the verge of going to my doctor about chest pains – because I can’t afford the weekly food shop, let alone pay for any health or diet club, or take up any out-of-home activity. So it’s just gardening, housework and hula-hooping on the agenda.

The last time I dieted, I had lots of hopeful aspirations about what being slimmer might bring, like a relationship and the confidence to have a social life – now all I’m thinking is it might prevent further illness and an overdraft I can’t repay. I still don’t have those other things, but I guess a realistic reason is as good as a fairytale one. And I really don’t want a man right now anyway. If I don’t currently recognise myself, anyone attracted to me at the moment is unlikely to want this particular look switched for a skinny one. Besides, dating seems to involve eating and drinking fairly often, which would get in the way of dieting. I can’t jump out of planes or do extreme sports for a dating activity, my eyeballs would fall out… (See ‘About Lisa’). So I’m cutting out dating as well as calories. Sorry guys, you’ll have to do without me… LOL 🙂

And I still have my smaller clothes it’d be nice to wear as well.

🙂

Have you had your shots?

First Aid Advice

I live in rural U.K. It’s the time of year when campers and caravanners come in their droves to our tiny townlets, paddle in the rivers, pat the wild animals, barbecue outdoors and live the good life.

Generally speaking, they do everything that the locals don’t do. So it’s not as if they’re getting in the way. It’s all very jolly and very Ealing classic comedy, except when they find once they get out here, for a week or so, that they have to drive to the nearest large town to get a phone network or decent 3G signal. Small beans for the price of a good getaway.

However, whether you are in the countryside or the city, if you and your kids are playing outdoors in the dirt, getting grubby, building up that sluggish immune system supported only by cola, McD’s and KFC, particularly if you are knocking back the more-than-usual pint of White Lightning, Bailey’s, or Chateauneuf du Pape, there are things to keep at the back of your mind that us bumpkins who were brought up on bouts of outdoor-related jungle bottom, projectile vomiting, vermin encounters, bites and splinters of varying sizes, are used to, as par for the course.

Get tetanus shots. They’re free. You won’t get lockjaw. You won’t feel terror when you get scraped by that rusty nail climbing over the stile. If there isn’t a stile, you could be on private property. Make sure the owner knows they’re expecting you, as the countryside often comes with large dogs, licensed firearms, and occasionally bored bullocks who like a challenge.

That black thing stuck in your skin may be a tick. They hate neat tea-tree oil – a few drops applied directly will kill it overnight, or loosen it enough to remove with tweezers. Don’t throw it back in the grass. Flush them down the toilet or put them in the garbage. Horrible things. If a red mark is still visible after a week to 14 days, go IMMEDIATELY to the doctor for antibiotics, as this may be the onset of Lyme Disease – common in areas where there are deer, such as the New Forest.

Leeches are easier to remove, and range from the long black wiggly sort, to little red threads, to small brown leaf-shaped things. Can be found in both saltwater and freshwater locations. Less likely to transmit an infection, but treat any ongoing residual marks or inflammation as you would a tick bite – see your doctor. It is not necessary to bring the culprit with you as evidence, and the doctor might not appreciate this either.

The best way to avoid insect bites is to take Mosi-guard, Autan or Jungle Formula – any good recognised insect repellent – and USE it. Mix it in your sunblock cream to save time if you must, and apply every morning, and before bed – I found this worked brilliantly when I was in Rhodes, where the mosquito is rampant. Anywhere with ponds, lakes, fishing is likely to be a mosquito haven, as the larvae mature in water.

Horsefly bites are very unpleasant. They can inflame an entire limb up to the joint, and cause infections. Make sure you take plenty of Savlon and antihistamine/Piriton with you. Savlon and Germolene also come in handy for those burns sustained while cooking on an unfamiliar stove, or outdoors, especially one-handed while trying not to spill your beer/cider/Jacob’s Creek.

You are unlikely to encounter a giant pirahna while holidaying in the U.K. I would like to quash any rumours that anyone known to me has released one into the wild after outgrowing its tank. It can be seen happily re-homed at a Reptile Centre in South Wales. And it only eats cucumber mostly. In fact I believe it was a Pacu.

Your children may be mixing with other children during the holidays. Hooray! Discreet nit-comb checks may remove another added concern before returning home, unless your child has spent the summer under a sports hoody.

If your children have been enjoying one another’s company in town, our cities do have vermin, and it’s wise to know what they may have come into contact with while exploring. In the U.K, bubonic plague and rabies are virtually unknown, but rats do carry something called Weil’s Disease or Leptospirosis – which is passed via the animal’s urine, so the animal itself does not need to be present for infection to occur. It need not be said that skip-diving and rummaging in garbage is probably not a healthy holiday pursuit. It can lead to kidney failure, and in a few cases, has been fatal. Starting with flu-like symptoms, it is advisable to see a doctor immediately that any contact has been suspected.

Cat offerings left in dirt, and pets in general, come with their own pets, ranging from bitey things, wiggly gastrointestinal-tract things, to fungal things. Ringworm or Dermatophytosis is awesome to look at under your doctor’s special light which will make you believe you are turning into a werewolf at full moon, but a pesky itchy thing that won’t heal up, so if you can’t find your mum’s extra-strong Canesten, the GP will give you some nice fungicide to clear it up. Highly contagious, rather like impetigo, and may need a second treatment as it can recur – being a spore-based infection.

Spider-bites and adder-bites are EXTREMELY rare, but do occur. Go immediately to the nearest major A&E – smaller hospital MIUs (Minor Injury Units) are not equipped for this. Although our local spiders are not known to be vicious, some do have venom, not to mention those that have somehow avoided the Reptile Centre and are currently ‘between owners’. The same is to be said for ‘hobo’ pythons, and escaped tigers, the Beast of Bodmin, that black thing photographed stalking sheep in Aberdeenshire, wild boar (which always have right of way on ANY footpath), and cows. Cows do not have a reverse gear. If you come across cows, either on foot or en vehicle, it is considered polite to give way. A solitary cow is a rather smelly trampling machine. A herd is the equivalent of a road-roller. Nothing is that important that needs to be arrived at quicker, than your destination not covered in hoofmarks and cowpat. And contrary to appearances, females HAVE been known to stampede, or charge, and can be as territorial as bulls.

If you come across something of man-made origin, such as a discarded hypodermic needle, metal or glass of any kind, remove IMMEDIATELY if possible, and wash the wound under soapy running water. Cover and bandage the area with gauze, and if unable to remove object, pad around it and do not flex if at a joint – keep immobile, and cover lightly with gauze without touching point of entry. Take the item bagged-up with you if removed, and go directly to a major A&E. Any suspect item may need to be tested for substances.

The summer of 2011 has already had a lot to answer for. Don’t let a little untreated scratch ruin yours.

L xxx