He does all his own stunts, you know

This blog may have given the impression that I live surrounded by carrara marble (less expensive that I’d thought) and precious metals, bathe in Santovac 5 (not a practical or desirable bathing fluid, but reassuringly expensive) and have an extensive staff (below stairs) to cater to my every whim.  If so, you have been misled: I don’t have so much as a cleaner, let alone a stunt man.  Frankly, I’m not sure that in my quotidien existence I’d have enough use for a stunt double to make it worth hiring one on a full time basis: though this week one might have been handy.

Somewhere in the cloud, in an unfashionable corner of Facebook, there is a short video from Tuesday of the author performing a near-prefect back lever on gymnastic rings for a good two seconds.  The more tech-savvy among you may be able to track down this screen gem.  As the title of this post suggests, this is the actual author and has not been faked.  On this occasion, I was fully in control of my movements – or I was until the oxygen ran out (I cannot yet breathe in the full hold).

Later that evening, thanks to the malign efforts of a feline assailant, the author performed another acrobatic manoeuvre but this time without so much control.  As I was cycling up to the theatre, a ginger cat (its colour is not relevant, but is included to add substance to the account) decided to hurl itself under the front wheel of my bike.  If I am known for anything, it is for my lightening reflexes, and so I was able to stop the bike without hitting the animal assassin.  Despite liking to think of myself as a dangerous maverick, it would seem that I am still bound by Newton’s Laws of Motion.  So, while my bike stopped very quickly and efficiently, my own journey did not cease at quite the same time.  As a result, I sailed over my handlebars and landed in a crumpled heap on the road, somewhat entangled with my bike.  Sadly, there is no footage of this incident, but I like to imagine that my passage through the air was marked by its singular grace before my travels were brought to an abrupt end by the tarmac.

What happened next, says quite a lot about me – though does not necessarily show the author in the most favourable or logical light.  Having come to rest, I lay there for a moment or two cursing my assailant – who had vanished into the night by this stage (it failed to leave any insurance details or make any sort of apology, but I suppose that’s cats for you).  I then returned to my feet and checked for witnesses and whether I would need to attempt to “style-out” my unconventional dismount.  My isolation confirmed, my first concern was for damage to the bike.  This seemed ok and so I mounted it again and continued on my way.  This involved a degree of discomfort, but seemed to go alright until I came to park my bike at journey’s end.  At this point, I believe my body moved from embarrassment into shock and I felt quite unsteady on my feet.  Nonetheless, I made it to the foyer of the Nuffield Theatre looking only slightly like Banquo’s ghost.  At this stage, I went more fully into shock – which is an interesting experience, lots of tingling in the extremities, a reduced ability to form coherent sentences and feelings not unlike those that arise just before you faint.  Luckily, at this point I was surrounded by people who know me (and that I do not normally look like one of the undead) and had access to a chair: so I sat down.  Staff at the Nuffield manage to rustle up a glass of coca cola (which seems the modern, more rapidly conjured equivalent of hot, sweet tea) and so unusual did I feel that I actually drank it.  I soon started to feel much more normal (or at least like myself, which may not be the same thing) and it was only at this stage that I decided to ascertain the damage to my body (a rather long time after checking the state of the bike). There were cuts, grazes and contusions along with some minor bleeding on my legs and some discomfort from my hands which had presumably broken my fall.  Inspection of my cycle helmet, which was the only serious protection I’d provided to my body, indicated that it had not had been called upon to serve in the “incident”.

Most of the damage to the author was of a nature that he regularly inflicts upon himself by his inability to walk round objects, preferring to take the short cut through them, but the damage to my left hand and wrist was more severe.  As a result, I decided against cycling home and thought the bus would be a better option.  A friend decided that this was not appropriate either and, while was eventually convinced not to take me straight to casualty (without passing Go), insisted on driving me home and on regular text updates that I was still numbered among the living.  (*** Spoiler alert *** I survived)

I must say that if you are a Friend of the Nuffield Theatre you are not part of  a one-way friendship, or it certainly hasn’t been that way for me.  Being a “regular” definitely has its perks when it comes to arriving at a venue in a sub-par condition.

So, I had an unexpectedly early return home (without my bike) and decided to start icing my left hand with a freezer pack.  Yesterday morning, with my left hand/wrist still giving me gyp, I took myself to the Minor Injuries Unit at the nearby Royal South Hampshire.  On the basis of this trip, I would suggest that the NHS is now a provider of car parking with a small healthcare side business.  Signage to the various car parks was extremely clear, but that to any kind to medical facility substantially less so.  Still, having found the MIU and filling in an extensive form (not ideal with damaged hands), I was seen very quickly.  It seems unlikely that I have broken anything, I’ve just strained or sprained my wrist and I was told to continue with exactly the attempts at self-medication I was already using (on my recent performance when it comes to self-diagnosis, a career in the medical profession must be on the cards).

I have now moved on from the rigid freezer pack to the more malleable form of a bag of Waitrose Essential Peas and Beans (broad and french) to soothe my sprain (well, it was that or a pack of frozen broccoli, which I felt would be less conducive to a swift recovery).  Yes, this is dangerously middle class but I hope it is speeding my return to full function.  When required, I take painkillers – but mostly I can function without.  My left-hand is fine for typing and can play the piano and guitar a little, though fff and barre chords are currently ixnayed.  I’m right handed but make a surprising amount of use of my left (as I am now discovering), but I am slowly finding work-arounds.  Even remotely heavy lifting is currently out of the question (as are gymnastics) and buttons are surprisingly challenging: but life can broadly continue as usual while I heal.  I must admit that the lack of serious exercise is starting to get to me already, I’m trying to think of a workout that can be performed without use of my left-hand – but the options seem limited.  I may have to use a treadmill and actually run: urgh!

Pleasingly, my wrist has finally become somewhat swollen: there is little more dispiriting than being a brave little soldier when nobody knows you’re injured (another positive of this post).  I am also taking this is a sign that the process of recovery is underway…

Skinning the cat

Before I am deluged with angry responses, probably written in violently hued ink and with appalling grammar, let me assure everyone that no cat was harmed in the making of this post (well, not by me – I have no idea what WordPress might get up to).  Felis catus may be a menace to our smaller indigenous wildlife, exacting a terrible death toll each year, but I really don’t think I could could kill one.  In fact, if I had to kill what I eat, I would be even more vegetarian than I (mostly) am already – except for fish: I reckon I could kill a fish (well, I reckon I have the stomach for it but cannot guarantee that I have the necessary physical skill).

No, we return to one of the primary purposes of this blog: me showing off.  Many, if not all, of the non-essential activities in which I indulge (those towards the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) are performed with but one objective in mind: amusement (usually mine, but I’m willing to share).  Often, this amusement arises from the incongruity of me (of all people) performing the action in question – generally, in the hands (or with the bodies) of others, the actions would seem far more “in keeping” and so much less funny.

As recent readers will know, I am trying to retrain as a gymnast as I have heard that there are excellent job prospects in this field with very good associated working conditions.  There are at least two grounds for amusement here: (a) that I have started rather late in life on this career choice (I believe most budding gymnasts start before reaching double figures age-wise) and (b) my innate clumsiness which means I usually struggle to make it through doorframes intact.  Nevertheless, I am making surprisingly good progress – though don’t think I will be troubling the GB Olympic Committee for their trip to Brazil (maybe the next Commonwealth Games?).

The L-sit is a doddle, my pistol squats are getting pretty good, especially on the right leg (the left is very much my foot-of-clay in this context), I am perilously close to achieving the front lever and my dragon flag will soon challenge Bruce Lee (though he is operating with a slight handicap, being dead these many years – and death does restrict one’s mobility).  So, my latest challenge is the back lever. If you have seen someone perform a back lever, it looks frankly impossible – unless you are part-gibbon – but I chose to remain only seriously daunted.  The gurus at Brightside PT suggested that a way to approach the impossible would be to learn to skin the cat.  Now, if we go back 40 years, every 8 year old girl could do this in the playground without any difficulty – however, I am 48 and 6′ 3″ and this looked pretty daunting to me and I’m wasn’t very good at hanging sufficiently inverted to achieve the position (I worry about falling off or snapping my arms somewhere important – which I think is everywhere when it comes to arm-snapping).  So, in an attempt to conquer my fears and move ahead I did a little research on the internet and came across GymasticsWOD – which offered a route which didn’t look totally impossible.

So, this morning I took to the rings and attempted to follow Coach Paolo and move toward a flayed feline of my very own.  As you will all have guessed by now, I did it – almost immediately – and I can reverse the process.  After a few attempts, I can even control my speed through the manoeuvre and hold station at pretty much any point. I will admit that on my first few attempts the downward phase was fairly rapid and did leave me decidedly dizzy – but my inner ears seem to have learned to compensate quite quickly.  To me, as well as being amusing, this ability is little short of magical – if you told me even a couple of months ago that I’d be doing this, I would have laughed.  However, there does exist video evidence of me skinning the cat (though hopefully this will never become publicly available) – in fact, the first attempt at video failed and so a re-take was required.

Several hours later, I can still move all the important parts of my body – though my forearms are a little stiff – so I’m hoping this splendid situation survives the night.  There is a non-zero risk that my shoulders or upper back may be virtually immobile in the morning – but that will be a small price to pay.  The back lever looks to be within my grasp and I can then perhaps move on to the iron cross (I already have some of the basics here – but lack a high enough ceiling).  However, the end objective does remain the human flag so that I can molest every lamppost and street sign I pass – well, it was the target until I started researching images of the back lever to link to, and found you (or at least one person) can do it with only one arm!  This is, of course, one of the great things about starting gymnastics late in life – there is always something more difficult to aim at.  You also learn a whole new, and much less restful, meaning of the word kipping.  However, I shall leave that particular range of exercises until my return from festival frivolities in Edinburgh.

I have found that there is a potential downside to all this foolishness.  As a result of the training to perform such idiotic moves, I think I probably won last month’s gym challenge.  I didn’t mean to, it was just used as part of my training and (as it transpired) I was quite good at it.  I was 5% ahead of the nearest competition, but on Tuesday I moved to 55% ahead.  This may not seem a bad thing to you, but I have now been asked to form part of the team for a “tough mudder”.  As I believe I’ve made clear in this blog, I am not at all keen on getting my hands (which generally are exposed to the world) dirty, let alone my entire body.  It also seems to require running the best part of 12 miles – and I try to avoid running unless absolutely vital, e.g. when pursued by a bear.  I am capable of walking quickly and if more speed is needed I have three bicycles or use public transport.  So, unless we can replace the mud with some suitably warmed sparking mineral water and I’m allowed to use my bike – I shall try and resist the clamour for me to get tough and muddy.  Should I fail, you, dear readers, will be the first to know…

Pet Peeves

For the last few weeks, I have been keeping a small pet – or, rather, a growing army of them.  I think they were introduced by some sort of super-insect which managed to sting (or bite) me in the snow-covered days of December 2010 (when I might have considered myself safe from such unwanted attentions)  – and left some guests behind.  They have been living just above my right ankle, and have been pretty disappointing as companions – offering little more than some serious itching and a growing red ring of irritated flesh. To be frank, single celled animals do not make good pets – and the time has come to evict them.  I did consider a celebrity-fronted, public vote-based television extravaganza – but I decided this could take rather a long time to evict all my squatters if only one were allowed to leave each week, so decided to give the medical profession a chance.

My local pharmacist wouldn’t give me anything and told me to see my GP – so I made an appointment and then waited the obligatory two weeks the NHS allows for me to either (a) recover or (b) die for the date of the appointment to arrive (or perhaps the appointment was fixed, and it was me who arrived?).  Rather inconsiderately, I took neither of the NHS’s preferred options – so today I had my seven minutes under the medical spotlight.  Well, the average appointment with your (or in my case, a random) GP is seven minutes – but mine barely made it to one (I was in fact out before my appointment officially began).

I left with a prescription (all £7.20’s worth) for the wonderfully named Flucloxacillin – a beta-lactan antibiotic closely related to penicillin (though I did not have to scrape it off any mouldy bread – to be honest, at the price I would have expected fresh bread and lots of it).  I have to take four of these tablets per day, spread across the day for the next week.  Simple enough you might think, but I have to take them either on an empty stomach or at least an hour before eating.  Since I rarely leave as much as an hour between meals, this is going to be quite a challenging regimen – I can have one on waking, but how I will fit in the other three I’m not too sure at this stage.  I think some of my meals are going to have to bulk up, to absorb some of the surrounding grazing – or I’ll have to utilise my insomnia and take some in the middle of the night.  Any better ideas gratefully received…

My other pet problem is the neighbourhood cats (or maybe cat – I have yet to involve SOC Sawston to confirm the culprit) using my planters – and especially my strawberry planter – as a latrine.  I am rather fond of strawberries and less than fond of feline excreta – and while some animal manure makes fine fertiliser, so far as I know this is limited to that of vegetarian (or maybe, omnivorous) critters (and even then, may require some period of rotting).

As a result, I want to discourage cats from using my patio in this antisocial way – but without using overly extreme measures as I have nothing against cats in theory (or in pipeline form).  Checking out my local garden centre, there seem to be a number of commercial options.

  • I can use very expensive sonic devices (or hire a human scarecat – scaredycat? – as my contribution to the Big Society) but have my doubts as to the effectiveness of either.
  • I can use various forms of non-lethal spikes to surround my soft fruit – but knowing my ineptness, I fear these are more likely to injure me then to discourage Felis catus (I have seen one cat navigating spikes on a neighbour’s fence with no difficulty, as do the local pigeons who I think may have been the target).
  • The third option is to resort to chemical warfare – there seem to be a range of granules on offer, or I’ve heard that lion dung or garlic can be effective.
  • If I had more space, and were a Member of Parliament, I could try a moat – as cats have yet to develop either flight or artillery which rendered such defences out-dated in the military sphere.

I think I am probably leaning towards the chemical approach – which seems appropriate in this, the International Year of Chemistry.  However, it has been about 13,000 years since lions last stalked the Fens – back in the Pleistocene – and I’m not sure that the fossilised leavings of play-doh giant cats would be much of a deterrent to their smaller, domestic, modern counterparts. I’m also rather fond of Allium sativum, and so any that enters Fish Towers, fairly promptly thereafter enters the Fish.

I’m thinking of a plant-based solution (rather than forking out for shop-bought chemicals) and apparently cats are less than fond of lavender, rue or penny-royal.  Penny-royal is related to mint – which I believe is technically described as mildly invasive (in rather the way Poland in 1939 found the German Reich “mildly invasive”) and so may become a problem itself.  Rue is quite a large plant – and, as previously established I have no regrets – so that leaves me with lavender.  I rather like this option (assuming it works) as it will repel feline invaders whilst pleasing me – but most importantly, given its planned function, it decomposes to produce the phrase “lav ender” which is exactly what I am aiming to achieve.  Fate has spoken – I shall hie me to nursery (hopefully the type without small children) and return laden with Lavandula angustfolia.

Puss in Peril

Erwin Schrodinger won the Nobel prize for physics in 1933 for his eponymous wave equation, however, to the vast majority of the general public he is best known for his cat.  This latter honour (though not, to the best of my knowledge, the former) he shares with Postman Pat and Mrs Slocombe.  Schrodinger’s cat was not real, but was part of a thought experiment.  This experiment was designed to illustrate an implication of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory that a cat placed in a box (along with a radioactive isotope, a geiger counter and a vial of poison gas) could be both alive and dead at the same time.   This does not mean the cat is undead – quantum theory does not provide a shortcut to zombies – but rather is in a superposition of states.  When the box is opened the cat is found to be either dead or alive – it does not emerge seeking fresh blood or human brains (well, no more so than any other cat).

One of the biggest news stories of 2010 was a woman placing a cat into a wheelie bin.  It is unclear whether this was an attempt to translate Schrodinger’s thought experiment into a practical – but when the wave function collapsed (i.e. the bin was opened) the cat was alive.

Last night, the flagship (or at the very least, heavy cruiser) 6 o’clock news on BBC Radio 4 devoted nearly 10% of its running length to a story about a lost cat.  Apparently, after losing his moggie, a man nailed “lost” posters in his neighbourhood resulting in the threat of a fine from his council for flyposting and arboreal cruelty.  As I’m sure we’d all agree, this story would be a great way for his local paper to fill a few column inches, however, I struggle to undertand its prominence in the national news.  On Radio 4!  Had so little else happened in the world?  Perhaps I should be grateful to this man, or the fact that I had finally pruned my vine would have been national news.

I think the lessons are clear, if you want to be remembered and reach national prominence then you need to place one (or more) of our feline friends in peril.  Call it cat-astrophe theory if you will.  So, to boost the profile of this blog I have decided to re-instate the ancient sport of cat-swinging – I have the room and it’s time I used it.  My dream of Z-list celebrity can only be days away!