Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympics - West Country style

We have our own way of doing things down here in the West Country. Never mind yer fancy London velodrome and aquatic centre; down here we have our own, low-environmental-impact version of the Olympics. 'Dung Olympics', organised by St Barnabas Church in neighbouring Warmley was a cracking success. And the best thing about it is that there is no need to knacker yourself out by years of training, which everyone knows is very bad for your health. I mean, take Paula Radcliffe who has just had to pull out of the games after a flare up of her osteoarthritis. A great pity for her of course. But I can't help thinking that she just doesn't look healthy. (A number of studies, by the way, like this one, have found that former elite athletes have significantly higher than average rates of osteoarthritis than us more sedentary folk.)  Exercise should be enjoyed in moderation.

Anyway, in Dung Olympics what happens is that everyone stands around chatting and watching a horse being led in a leisurely manner around a field. The field is divided into squares which have been sold to interested punters. When the horse decides to have a shit, the winner is the owner of the square in which the horse has done its business. Now that's what I call a good sporting event.

Over the bridge (meaning over in Wales for you non West Country folk), in Llanwrtyd Wells they've taken it a step further with the World Alternative Games. Already established on the annual sporting calendar as home of the World Bog Snorkelling Championships, this year the small Mid Wales town has expanded its repertoire to include such iconic sporting events as Worm Charming and Gravy Wrestling. For mountain bike enthusiasts there is the Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling race. As a feminist, I'm not so sure about the Wife Carrying event. On the other hand, it could be very useful to pair up with a fella who has intensively trained in the sport. No more staggering home from the pub, ladies!

Back at the Real Olympics, well, the opening ceremony was a triumph, wasn't it? And opened by a cyclist? Blimey. Who'd a thunk it? Doesn't stop motorists playing chicken with cyclists: 'ooh good someone on a bike: lets see how how close I can drive to them without touching.' But great to see Brad Wiggins ringing that bell. Let's hope he's ringing the changes to national attitudes too. As for the ceremony itself - I thought it was awesome. And so creative. The NHS bit was a bit weird, especially that giant dummy baby - but on the whole - jolly good effort. After all, anyone can let off a load of fireworks; but this event was really original. I'm only sorry I missed it. I was in the pub. Still that's what iPlayer is for huh?

But hands up - who thought the coverage of the men's and women's road cycling was utterly crap? The commentators for the women's race were about as enthusiastic as Eyore on a bad day. And utterly clueless. Half the time they didn't seem to know who was who. It's not their fault though apparently. It's  Twitter's fault. Too much tweeting near the cyclists was the problem apparently. I still don't see why this prevented the commentators actually telling me who was who. Lizzie Armitstead cycled a fantastic race for GB but you would never have known it from the commentary.

I'll probably dip in and out of the Olympic events over the next seventeen days and no doubt I'll get sucked in more and more as the days go by. But I can't help feeling they would have been improved by the inclusion of a donkey dung event and maybe a spot of worm charming.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Diet Dilemmas

It pains me to say this but I am not getting any younger. Age is beginning to take its toll. I have had to adopt reading glasses. My bunions cause me grief on long walks. An afternoon nap is becoming increasingly attractive. (One of the many perils of 'working' from home!)

So with the fact of my inevitable eventual decreptitude beginning to hang over me like the proverbial sword of Damocles, I have decided I should pay more attention to my diet. I should, I reasoned, attempt to delay the onset of old age and all its attendant irritations (it is often said that old age is not for the faint of heart, is it not?) by going on a healthy diet.

For the past thirty years or so I have not paid huge attention to the question of diet although I have tried to ensure I eat vegetables now and again and I make sure I cut the fat off the meat. I don't really like most fruits but I feel I should eat some, so every week I go through the same ritual of buying some and putting it in a fruit bowl where it sits until it rots. I then throw it out and buy some more. I'm not overfond of cake but crisps are a weakness (who can resist a packet of cheese and onion with a pickled egg in the bag!) and there's nothing like a pie or pasty to soak up the ravages of a beer fuelled evening out.

So I devised a plan to research the evidence, work out which foods are good for me and which are not and attempt to focus my diet on the former and leave out the latter. (The health issues of smoking and alcohol are subjects that I will leave for another time.)

'Research' in 2012, as everybody knows, means putting key words into Google so I started by entering 'which foods are healthy' in the search engine. Top of the list of results was the NHS Choices website.

The NHS, in their 'eight tips for healthy eating'  advise the following:

Number One tip for healthy eating:  Base your meals on starchy foods. 'Try to include starchy food with every meal'

Number Two: Lots of fruit and vegetable. 'A glass of 100% unsweetened fruit juice can count as one portion, and vegetables cooked into dishes also count. Why not chop a banana over your breakfast cereal, or swap your usual mid-morning snack for some dried fruit?'

Number Three: Eat More Fish. 'You can chose from fresh, frozen or canned'.

Number Four: Cut down on saturated fat and sugar. 'For a healthier choice, use a just a small amount of vegetable oil or reduced fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee.'

Number Five: Eat less salt. 'Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.'

Number Six: Get active and be a healthy weight. 'Most adults need to lose weight, and need to eat fewer calories in order to do this.'

Number Seven: Don't get thirsty. 'We need to drink about 1.2 litres of fluid every day to stop us getting dehydrated.'

Number Eight: Don't skip breakfast. 'Wholemeal cereal, with fruit sliced over the top is a tasty and nutritious breakfast.'

Well there you have it. This is the NHS, right? Not some 'health expert' being paid by the food industry to claim that doughnuts can count as one of our five a day as long as they contain strawberry jam.

This is the dog's bollocks, as they say. Information straight from the horse's mouth. But, continuing the theme of animal idioms: I smelt a rat. And as I dug a little deeper I discovered that I had opened a can of worms.

It turned out that every single one of the NHS's eight tips is not without controversy or disagreement. 'What, even the one about not getting thirsty?' I hear you say. 'And the one about getting active and losing weight? Yup. Every one.

And the trouble is, especially for someone like me who:

a) Failed to gain one science O Level (O Levels! See, that shows my age...), and

b) Distrusts more or less everything that anyone 'in authority' tells me without checking for myself,

this presents a difficulty, as I have try and sift through the overload of information that is the internet and try and make a decision for myself from a position of complete and utter ignorance. Though, come to think of it, that doesn't bother a lot of journalists. They're always making pronouncements about the health benefits or perils of this and that, with apparently little or no basis whatsoever.

It is a subject I intend to come back to. In the meantime, where's that bag of crisps and pickled egg?

Monday, 16 July 2012

Excuses, excuses

OK I know I said normal service would be resumed at the end of May. And it's now - ermm - July. Where did June go? I seem to have missed it somehow. Maybe its because I was waiting for 'flaming June' and all we've had is flaming awful weather. Or maybe I'm making flaming lame excuses. My brother is here at the moment having made his escape from Azerbaijan. He tells me not to worry. 'Hitler was prone to bouts of frantic energy followed by long bouts of inactivity,' he tells me. Oh great. Thanks. That makes me feel so much better.

Another excuse is that I have, for the past few weeks, been partaking in the world of work. Proper work I mean, not dicking about all day in front of a computer trying to write something marginally more interesting than my weekly shopping list and getting distracted by Facebook, Twitter and sorting out the last ten years of digital photographs that are all stuffed in a file marked 'My Pictures'. The sort of work where I have to get dressed and leave the house before the Today Programme has finished. The sort of work where I have to get dressed at all. Work that is useful. And more to the point, pays the rent.

Maybe it's because I'd got out of the habit. We humans are creatures of habit. Patterns of behaviour are imprinted on our neural pathways. I know this because Wikipedia says so, so it must be true. And habits can be broken in three weeks. I have no idea why 21 days are important but it apparently takes 21 days to form a habit and 21 days to break one. So there you have it. My 28 day trip around Ireland had blocked my neural pathway and prevented me writing my blog. Simple as that.

We all know the truth though don't we? It's not the weather, the work or the weakness of my neural pathways. I take no pride in this, but the truth must out. I failed to update this blog for two months because, quite simply, I couldn't be arsed.