… and release

In my younger days, I showed very little promise when it came to physical prowess.  When sports teams were picked at school, I could reliably expect to be chosen second (or, on a good day, third) from last: yes, I didn’t even reign supreme when it came to sporting uselessness.  In consequence, my rather tardy choice to attempt gymnastics, when few would be foolish enough to hazard such a course of action, delivers a regular stream of surprises and minor epiphanies.

When hard at work hanging from the rings or the bar, I often find that I don’t recognise my own body – it seems weirdly swollen, deformed or corded by the effort expended.  On the plus side, I do give very good “vein” which is much appreciated by the National Blood Service, but seems to have few other practical applications.  Over time, the once impossible becomes merely very difficult and ultimately can even feel quite restful (compared to the new impossible now being attempted).  There seem to be a number of components to making progress as a geriatric gymnast – though these only become apparent in retrospect.  A chap (or at least this chap) needs the following:

  • To develop a certain amount of strength and stamina – often in the most unlikely of places – before an action can be attempted.  Once the attempt is possible, the necessary anatomy does then start to adapt more rapidly to the demands placed upon it.
  • To gain sufficient confidence that a manoeuvre will not result in sustaining a terrible injury – which often comes down to working out how to safely exit an unwanted position in a hurry.
  • To work out how to lock parts of my body together (and to work out what they are doing when out of eyeshot) as most gymnasts seem to go for clean body lines and a minimum of flail.
  • The final element is to work out how to release the parts of my body which shouldn’t be locked.  This is usually the last part of any given progression to be mastered – it can take a long time to work out how to unlock just the muscles I want (and indeed to work out which ones these are).

As each activity is mastered, another harder one becomes available to try – and I have the impression that there is likely to be no end to this process.  As I achieve each new summit, a whole range of much higher peaks suddenly becomes visible.  Whilst this could be off-putting, I find it rather encouraging and pleasingly the continuing ascent requires very little equipment (though does benefit from high ceilings and a minimum of breakables within a nine foot radius). I don’t need to keep find heavier weights, just moving the dead-weight provided by my body slightly differently offers all the challenge I could ever need.

As the most discerning of regular readers might (perhaps) have realised (but don’t feel bad if the fact had passed you by), I am mildly obsessed by my trek through the foothills of gymnastics.  I have started looking for opportunities to see more advanced students in action – though I’m looking more for something impressive (that I might one day be able to try) than anything which would score 6.0 points in a formal setting.  In pursuit of this interest, I stopped off on the Southbank on my way home from Cambridge to visit the interior of a giant, inverted purple cow.  I was slightly disappointed to find the interior of the cow was even less anatomically accurate than its exterior, but still like to think of myself as being seated in the rumen (which is more roomy(rumy?) than the reticulum, omasum or abomasum).  This visit was not just to critique the veterinary research carried out by the Udderbelly Festival, but to see a show called Bromance.  This involved three young chaps of the sort of varying heights which that most famous of house-breakers, Goldilocks, would have found familiar (I think she would have plumped for Beren as the baby-bear analogue: I feel the dead hand of JRR Tolkein at his naming).  The piece involved the confluence of physical theatre, dance and circus-style gymnastics and was very entertaining (and daunting, if inspiring, for me).  I strongly suspect the theatre and dance elements existed (at least in part) to allow the cast to recuperate for/from the gymnastic elements – especially, as on the day I saw them they were onto their second performance by 18:00).  On the plus side, none of the lads seemed vastly more hench than me (and I could check as by the end they were down to their boxers – always handy for the audience member looking for training tips) which offers some hope – though all did seem more generously buttocked than I (something for me to work on, perhaps).  I also noticed that two of them sported bandaged knees, and one had some sort of shoulder support – so their mastery (and performative frequency) had not come without cost.  In addition to their far greater mastery of the art, I particularly noticed their skill with dynamic activities – whereas my strengths (such as they are) lie with the hold (it is more than enough challenge to achieve a hold, little resource remains to move around).  My own increased dynamism will have to await an increase in confidence: at the moment I have little faith that my body in motion will perform as desired (and the spatial volume which may be affected by failures will also increase significantly).

Anyway, I had not really expected all this mid-life idiocy to have any positive benefits to the rest of my life – well, except, perhaps, from keeping me from the ever weakening grip of the NHS for a little longer.  It turns out that I was wrong, as I learned at my singing lesson last Thursday.  One of my many major challenges with my plan to become a singer is my very poor breathing skills: I’m not at any obvious risk of turning blue, but singing does require a chap to breathe beyond the level of mere subsistence.  I have always tended to breathe from my chest, and even towards the sunlit uplands thereof, which is far from ideal: I should be breathing from rather lower down.  Well, on Thursday, I suddenly found I was breathing from the correct portion of my body (a portion I could feel complaining at the work thanks to that morning’s training session) – finally I was able to release the relevant muscles to breathe properly.  I’m not sure my singing has ever been better – despite the challenges of the roulade (which is not just a tasty desert).  I owe it all to gymnastics!  Or so I think (though I’ll admit that there may be easier to routes to improved breath control).


Stiff awakening

You may suggest that this is an occupational hazard, given my “choice” to be a boy or, for that matter, my advanced age.  However, GofaDM is not at home to innuendo or ageism – so we will all pretend you didn’t suggest any such thing.

Nevertheless, this morning I awoke with all the flexibility of the geriatric love-child of DFS and a King Edward.  I don’k think that I have to look very far for an explanation: only as far as my combination of activities yesterday – and so, in line with the public service remit of GofaDM, I felt I should issue a warning to any readers who might be similarly disposed.

Friday morning was, as is traditional, devoted to gymnastics and to various ring and bar based activities that younger (and wiser) men would baulk at.  Still, foolishness can carry a chap quite a long way and I continue to make astonishing progress towards my ludicrous goals.  I then returned home for a quick shower and some lunch before heading to London.

My afternoon and evening were spend in galleries, with friends, looking at a pretty broad range of art.  We started at the British Museum with its exhibition on Germany.  This ties in with Neil McGregor’s excellent recent Radio 4 series, Germany: Memories of a Nation.  It was fascinating, especially the more recent years which were surprising (to me at least – but then my O level history did stop in 1914) and hold a number of lessons for today’s UK (the parallels with 1930s Germany were alarming).  The series made reference to a number of objects, many of which graced the exhibition.  From this I learned that, despite Neil’s excellent verbal descriptions, my ability to visualise anything from the radio is truly awful.  The exhibition also tied in to some recent reading, Simon Winder’s Danubia, which also covered some of the German speaking world.  It is amazing how much a little background can add to the experience of such an exhibition.

After a brief break for refreshments, we took a look at a smaller exhibition of prints featuring witches – which did very strongly suggest artists through the ages have become worryingly overwrought when thinking about powerful women.  This space led naturally into the Japanese collections of the BM.  This covered two areas of particular interest to me – very old earthenware which was not at all as one imagines Japanese art and very recent ceramics.  Some of the current ceramics were absolutely stunning – elegant forms, beautiful decoration and amazing use of colour.  I was pleased to see that a number of the makers had been officially recognised as Living National Treasures.  Something we might like to consider here, where national treasures tend only to be unofficial and usually need a substantial presence on television for even that.  I suspect Grayson Perry is our closest analogue.

We then moved to the Royal Academy and started with some more serious bodily fortification in the calming space of the Keeper’s House.  The RA is a splendid place to get away from the hustle (and even the bustle: though the bustle is much less fashionable than it was – surely only a matter of time before some Hoxton hipster adopts it once more?) of London and the Keeper’s House, as well as providing sustenance (both liquid and solid), also provides some great people-watching opportunities.

We went to the RA to visit the Anselm Kiefer exhibition (not just for its cafe).  I had no interest in Herr Kiefer – and a slightly negative, if almost entirely uninformed, view of his work – but my friend loves him and her recommendations have never led me astray.  Added to this, as a Friend on the RA there was no cost to risking a modest expansion of my artistic horizons.  The exhibition was incredible and so well curated.  I don’t love all of his work, but almost all is thought provoking and much is very moving.  Ages of the World, a new work commissioned for this exhibition was my favourite – but probably a dozen pieces can add themselves to my (non-existent) list of favourite works of art.  Totally contradicting my earlier pronouncement, arriving with (almost) no preconceived ideas made for a thrilling and emotional evening.  However, our earlier art experiences did feed very well into the Kiefer – especially Germany and the importance of the forest, but also some of the Japanese painting.  Going to the RA in the evening (as it opens late on a Friday) was a revelation – somehow it feels a more natural time than when it is daylight outside – and the galleries were very thinly attended giving lots of opportunity to get up-close and personal with the paintings (though not too close – some used tiny diamonds and if you lean too close to look, alarms go off).

The only downside to all this culture is that gallery visiting is very hard on the body – or at least my body.  I usually try to limit it to an hour or so per day, and even then it makes my legs, back and neck ache.  I don’t know why this should be – but it has been the case for as long as I’ve been visiting galleries (so I don’t think I can blame it on my age).  Yesterday, I probably spend three or more hours doing “art” – and coupling that with the earlier gymnastics may not have been entirely wise.  I strikes me that I have never spotted an elite gymnast in an art gallery and I suspect that my aching body may explain this absence.

Now, I can only personally attest to the combination of gymnastics and then gallery, so it is possible that the reverse sequence leads to an ache-free existence (but I have my doubts).  The again, I had a wonderful day yesterday and a few aches this morning is a small price to pay.  So, readers should view this post as a warning rather than a prohibition.

You’ll believe a man can fly!

Please by reassured that no lycra was harmed (or, indeed, worn) in the making of this post.

Recently, my working life has required me to take to the skies and visit foreign parts – and there will be at least one further such occasion later this month.  Given the failure of mother nature to provide me with my own pair of functional wings (or any other way to overcome the surly bonds of gravitational attraction), I am forced to use that modern mechanical contrivance: the aeroplane.

I am, at best, a nervous flyer.  I do realise that my life is far more likely to be brought to a premature conclusion on my journey to the airport than it is in the air, but being trapped in a packed, metal box high above the ground still makes me decidedly twitchy.  I have come to suspect that airlines – and/or their staff – share my anxiety about the whole process.  Faced with these fears, they have – as generations of fearful humans have before them – fallen back on observing a series of rituals.  These seem entirely arbitrary and vary somewhat from airline to airline, but are fiercely adhered to with all the fervent commitment of the religious fundamentalist.  I am particularly amused by the insistence by all UK-based airlines that in the event that we land on water, our life-jacket should be secured using a double-bow.  I feel this would be a fairly challenging call when relaxed and in a wide-open space, but will be well-nigh impossible when under significant stress in the very cramped confines of a modern aircraft.  I do wonder if it is an attempt to forestall panic, as the passengers will be far too busy trying to tie a double-bow to worry about the potential for their imminent, very damp demise.

I also wonder why, if it does not inflate, my yellow plastic oxygen mask is supplied with a limp, dangling plastic bag.  What purpose does it serve? Other than to extend the safety demonstration by an additional sentence.  Is the plastic bag, perhaps, lucky?  Or does it permit the passenger to indulge in a little auto-erotic asphyxiation as he (or she) plummets to their fiery doom?

As a nervous flyer, the first thing I do on reaching my seat – after my seat belt has been safely fastened (“like this”) – is to check out the safety card.  This identifies the location of the exits on the plane (in a way that the mime used by all cabin crews worldwide does not) and how they are operated – which I feel may become important information.  This card is free of words and instead relies on pictures and pictograms to convey its various messages.  Those are normally cryptic in the extreme – frankly I think I’d have more chance if the card were printed entirely in Chinese – but those used by FlyBe on my flight to Dublin last Thursday were in a league of their own.  So far as I could tell, in order to exit the Dash 8 aircraft one needs to do something with some nearby, geometrically patterned wallpaper – though I was unable to locate this wallpaper or determine what to do with it once found.  On the Embraer 190 which delivered me home, one pictogram showed the front and rear top surface of the plane burning merrily, but no nearby pictograms seemed in anyway to relate to this image.  Was this a serving suggestion?  Would Monsieur Mangetout recommend that the Embraer be eaten flambéed?  I am willing to make myself available to review flight safety cards (for my usual fee) in an attempt to make them a little more readily understood by a typical passenger (or failing that, by me).  I shall await the call from IATA.

I feel some of you may be feeling short-changed by the title, as the only flying covered so far has been the rather prosaic form which relies on a commercial airliner.  Fear not, this post has also been crafted to cover a more personal form of flying achieved by the author only yesterday.

The regular reader will know that I am aiming to represent TeamGB in Rio as a gymnast.  As part of the intensive training required, I am attempting to master the back lever.  This is challenging and a series of progressions are used to reach the objective.  This last week, a giant rubber-band was delivered to the good people at Brightside PT to assist in this process – and yesterday I had my first chance to try it out.  As well as helping me achieve the back lever, it also offers help towards a number of other ring-based activities which I hadn’t previously considered, but which now look to lie within the realms of possibility (or at least share a land-border with them).

With the aid of the rubber band, I was almost immediately able to manoeuvre myself into the correct position for the back-lever – albeit supported in the middle by the aforementioned band.  Cunningly – as you will see below – this band was chosen so that it can easily be removed by use of a green screen and so the user will appear to be performing unaided!

Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Of all the things I have done in my 48.5 years on this planet, this feels the most like flying – and it feels wonderful.  It is worth all the hard work and DOMS involved in preparing for the back lever, just for the amazing feeling of being airborne.  I’d highly recommend it to all readers – though they should perhaps seek medical advice (or check their life insurance is up-to-date) before attempting it (I, of course, take no responsibility for any distress – mental or physical – caused to readers from following any of the advice given in this blog).  Obviously, it will be even better without the support – but that is going to take a little more work.  I can’t believe how stony-faced the typical gymnast looks when performing such manoeuvres – after 24 hours it has still proved almost impossible to wipe the smile off my face.  I do worry that traditional gymnastics training either leaves one hopelessly jaded or is wasted on the young.  I shall endeavour to retain my child-like (in terms of mental age, at least) enthusiasm – even should I become a world famous gymnast (or failing that, a terrible lesson to you all).

Scottish fitness

I am often (OK, never) asked how I manage to maintain myself at the very peak of physical perfection whilst both in Scotland and subjecting myself to a dizzying range of culture each August.

Those in possession of the local stereotype will be aware that the typical Scottish man is lucky to make it past his twenties and breathes deep-fried air.  How does my frail, southern constitution survive in such circumstances?

Well, I’ll admit that I am in Edinburgh (and have not checked the rest of Scotland) and the city is full of tourists, but the men-folk do not seem in visibly worse physical shape than their counterparts in Southampton – so I suspect the stereotype may be a tad exaggerated.  Nevertheless, my physical perfection does suffer a number of challenges in the Athens of the North.

My diet undergoes a major shift as I eat out an awful lot more than at home, and consume 99% of the fried breakfasts of the year whilst here.  My vegetarianism is also rendered much more “mostly” than during the rest of the year – with the humble pig being particularly hard done-by.  I am also being forced to consume carbs, to save my hosts from temptation – a food-based throwing myself onto the grenade to save my comrades.  To make matters worse, my alcohol consumption rises – partly through its ready availability where I’m staying and partly down to the increased eating out scenario.  Somehow, it also seems de rigeur to knock back a pint of Deuchars IPA at many Fringe venues – especially the Free Fringe, where drinking is part of the implicit contract with the venue (and I am not one to shirk my obligations).

Late nights are also a daily (nightly?) occurrence – a contrast to my typical hay-hitting well before the clock strikes eleven.  Trust me, I need all the beauty sleep – or beauty tossing-and-turning unable to sleep – that I can procure.

Countering these negative impacts on my fitness is the fact that every journey in the city involves a hill – and I do walk a lot further at this time of year than any other (partly down to the lack of a local bike).  Just heading to the bus stop to go into town is a vertiginous hike requiring crampons.

In previous years, this has been the full extent of my Auld Reekie-based fitness regime.  However, given my drive to become the world’s oldest gymnast I decided that this year this would not be enough.  Without some additional activity, my poor aged body would be all too likely to snap when I return to the rings in 10 days time – so I have taken action.

Thanks to the facilities at the Craiglockhart Leisure and Tennis Centre I have been able to continue much of my normal regime of fitness-based insanity.  Whilst they don’t have rings, they do have several Jungle Gyms which can fulfil much the same role for a chap wanting to flay a feline – though they are somewhat more of a challenge when it comes to avoiding unwanted swing.  With this aid, I have now started to straighten my legs whilst I think I am in roughly the right orientation for a back lever – can’t be sure this is quite the right orientation as an attempt to look in the mirror at the same time was not an unqualified success (frankly, I’m pretty lucky my head didn’t fall off).

The CL&TC also has some bar-like facilities I can use to hang from – and I do find that after 48 hours I do have withdrawal symptoms if I don’t have a bar from which to hang (yes, I do recognise this is odd).  Thanks to these bars, I have finally mastered the full front lever – well, I can sustain it for 2-3 seconds at a time and did manage to do this five times in a row.  This may only be possible from quite close together parallel bars (as this is the only platform I have available) – but I will take that as a victory for now.  I will admit there has been a modest price to pay for this progress and yesterday I was quite achy across the upper back – but this minor discomfort was a small price to pay.

If I can keep up this progress, next August I will be bring my own Fringe show to Edinburgh – combining my comedy musings with elderly gymnastics (there’s juxtaposition for you!).  So far as I can tell, I don’t think it’s been done before, so I eagerly anticipate the 5* reviews!

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…

Freeing my inner gymnast

As exclusively revealed on GofaDM (well, if I’m honest the more mainstream news outlets didn’t seem terribly interested), I have modified my rigorous fitness regime to have more of a gymnastic bent.  This is despite a number of obvious disabilities that make me less than ideal gymnastics-fodder – in particular, my age and height.  Sadly, even when both younger and shorter, I was not known for my movement-related grace – in fact, I have generally taken to grace as a duck takes to quantum theory (OK, may be not quite that well, a duck can at least say “quark” – or a pretty good approximation thereto).

I must be something like six weeks into this new regimen and so I felt it was time for some sort of progress report.  Despite the unpromising raw material (viz, my middle-aged body) I do seem to be making rather good progress towards quite a range of pretty impressive gymnastic manoeuvers.  I don’t think Nadia Komench or Louis Smith have anything to worry about (actually, Nadia may as a web search reveals she is rather older than me) – but the whole project is looking less like an impossible (and, frankly idiotic) dream and rather more like it might actually happen.

I have to say that training to be an elderly gymnast is a lot more enjoyable than the standard weight training or running used by others.  It is also seriously hard work, but does rather usefully lead to a degree of obsession and hence regular practise and steady progress.  It also tends to avoid the use of heavy weights (other than the author) and so I think is generally less stressful for my joints and is continuing to improve my ability to apply the adjective “lithe” to myself without the need for it to be accompanied by a phalanx of heavy irony.  The process has not been entirely injury-free – though on both occasions it was the same part of me (an uninvolved part) that has taken the punishment.  As has been mentioned before, I am very gifted in the nasal department in that my nose, not unlike a pier, sticks out half a mile – and on two occasions my hooter has taken a glancing blow.  Once from above and once from below as I have failed to take account of its degree of protuberance from the remainder of my face.  Still, such contusions can only add to my rakish charm!

Far more pain has been incurred while indulging in apparently far safer activities – mostly in the last 24 hours.  I’ve already mentioned my plan to become a virtuoso pianist by following Mr Hanon’s exercises and yesterday I decided it was time to tackle number three (of 64).  Before this, it advised I play exercises one and two non-stop, twice – an activity I had only previously attempted in the singular.  Oh, the pain!  I would have thought all the hanging from walls and bars would have beefed up my fingers, wrists and forearms for a solid five minutes of continuous play.  Not a bit of it!  I am now even more impressed by concert pianists who can play without a break for tens of minutes.

I have also previously alluded to my propensity to insomnia.  As well as the usual issues of my brain racing with wizard wheezes for this blog which prevent me from sleeping (so, yes, this blog is therapy), I also have tendency to self-harm once asleep.  This harm, which usually takes the form of an attempt to tear one or both of my arms out of their sockets, usually wakes me up eventually.  Last night, I excelled myself such that within 90 minutes of retiring my to bed I had tried to unscrew both of my hands at the wrists and my head at the neck.  This process did rouse me before its completion, so I am not writing this post as some sort of poltergeist.  Nevertheless, my wrists are still rather painful – and I didn’t even obtain any (conscious) enjoyment from their injury (nor, lest you were wondering, was any alcohol involved).

Talking of insomnia, last night I went to the Nuffield to see another sufferer: Robin Ince.  He is a very amusing chap, but if you thought I was prone to digression you ain’t seen nothing yet!  This man could digress at an Olympic level – and does, he must have started dozens of times more anecdotes than he finished.  I get the impression that his gigs end when the management turns out the lights and throws him out (rather than due to any lack of material or audience enjoyment).

This was supposed to be a short post, so I really better try and try to reach some kind of conclusion.  One pleasing side-effect of my gymnastic training is that I seem to be becoming significantly more ripped (as I believe the young people say) – as well as more flexible.  There is a serious risk, if this continues, that I might have a six pack (and not just of artisan ale).  This could be helpful for my putative plan to become a stripper, as I believe such a thing is very desirable to some.  Then again, all manner of strange quirks of the physiognomy are considered attractive – why, for example, are visible cheekbones so desirable in a man?  And when did this interest start?

Anyway, for me the only downside of the training is a mild degree of obsession.  Last Sunday, strolling through Southampton Common with my parents, I found my eye drawn to the children’s play area which had some excellent bars I could have used for a bit of practise (and I am technically a child – and had my ‘rents there to prove it).  Sadly, they were being used by “proper” children (think I would count as a “vulgar” child) – and I felt it may be impolitic to chuck them off.  I shall have to try again at night, or when the little ones are safely locked-up at school.  The downside for everyone else, is (a) me banging on about it and (b) me showing off my new skills at any (and every) opportunity.  No piece of street furniture will be safe from molestation if things go according to plan!

Getting my leg over

I like to think that I am in pretty good physical shape (I’d make no similar claims about my mental state) for a man of my age, after all I am shortly to reach the milestone age of 30 (and I’m doing it in hex which is definitely tougher than decimal.  Pleasingly, given my name, I am currently 2F!).  However, my day job is essentially sedentary requiring many hours to be spent hunched over a laptop.  This does have a deleterious effect on my posture and especially on my flexibility in some modes of movement.  I’m not even single-jointed, let alone double-jointed.

This inflexibility manifests in a number of ways as I go about my soi-disant life.  I find it quite tricky to look behind me when driving especially when reversing (luckily something I do very rarely) and I also find it hard to get my leg over my bike when I come to mount my metal steed – I normally try and use a kerb (or similar raised area) to gain a few inches.

Having somewhat successfully tackled my fear of heights, I decided this lack should also be tackled and so since the end of last year have been taking regular personal training to try and make myself more lithe.  This has meant the folk at Brightside PT have been making me do things while out-of-balance and often on one leg in an attempt to make me a tad more mobile.  This has been a slightly disturbing process, at least partly because the left and right sides of my body seem to belong to entirely different people: my body does seem to have been built from two previously written-off bodies in a surgical cut-and-shut operation (which does explain quite a lot, if I’m honest).  However, it is having results and I can now mount my velocipede without any difficulty (even when the rear panniers are full!).  Still, there is some way to go before I can consider myself as lissom as I would like.

As a some-time project manager, I know the importance of setting objectives – which should be SMART (readers will have to check for themselves what the mnemonic means as I have forgotten: suggesting it is rather a poor tribute to Mnemosyne).  Most folk when training set objectives based on increasing the weight lifted, the number of ‘reps” performed or the speed or distance one can cover in a particular sporting activity (or poor simulation thereof).  But, I am not “most folk” and this approach struck me as boring and so I decided to set some more interesting targets to achieve.  So after a little work with a search engine, I came across a number of objectives which I thought it would be amusing to achieve (not to mention, providing me with some unexpected and impressive capabilities for a man in his very early thirties to be able to showcase).  I produced a fairly decent shortlist in the hope that at least one of them might be achievable.  All the exercises would be considered functional, good for flexibility and my core – so meet my general requirements – though even I had my doubts about the achievability of the “human flag”.  My teachers, however, seem confident that I should be able to achieve three of my targets in time for the summer (subject to its availability) which should, in turn, act as a good basis to move on to more difficult manoeuvers.

So, by Wimbledon you can look forward to me performing one armed press-ups, one-armed pull-ups and pistol squats at any and every opportunity.  Just try and stop me!

This will all be great preparation for my future career as a rather tall and elderly gymnast and, in conjunction with my climbing, opens the door to a life in parkour.  I will also be in a strong position should I misplace any single limb – despite my avoidance of quasi-military organisations as a child, I always feel that it as well to “be prepared!”.

The end of the party

Well, I am now back from Edinburgh and have to face the return to “real” life.    On my return, I have realised that hurriedly unpacking your life into a new flat and then leaving for two weeks of fun was not one of my better plans (though in my defence, it was less a “plan” and more what happened).  Finding stuff is proving surprisingly challenging as I struggle to replicate my thinking from early August – still, order is slowly being established (I think).

I had enormous fun in Edinburgh and I think I managed to take in 48 shows in my 11 nights in the city – which isn’t bad going for a man of my advanced years.  In previous years, I had booked everything long before heading north leaving nothing to chance of serendipity.  This year, largely down to the move, I had booked virtually nothing and most of my gigs were booked on the day.  This worked really well – though did perhaps benefit from my slightly left-field choices.

Last Thursday worked particularly well – and some of my choices were truly unplanned.  I started in mid-afternoon with Stuart: A Life Backwards – this was an amazing piece of theatre (rightly well-reviewed) and the sort of thing I doubt would appear on TV (or if it did, I probably wouldn’t have watched it).  Amazingly, it cost only £6 for a ticket (making it my cheapest paid event): I have no idea how this can work economically.  After the first half of dinner,  some fine autobiographical stand-up from Ivo Graham – well, I’m always going to love jokes about use of the subjunctive and subordinate clauses.  After the second half of dinner I was joined by one of my fellow best men.  We started the evening with the very funny and moving show from Tom Wrigglesworth as recommended by my host in Edinburgh.  After a refreshment break, we rather randomly selected a show on the Free Fringe at a nearby pub – I say randomly, though the choice may have been influenced by the title.  The show, by one Richard Gadd, was really very good – if quite dark – and we overcame our disappointment at the lack of either cheese of crack whores.  The pub offered decent beer and a pub quiz (which we largely avoided – the questions did seem to presuppose a much greater knowledge of Scottish football than either of us could muster) and also won the hard fought prize for the hottest Fringe venue (narrowly beating the Sportsman Bar at the Gilded Balloon into second place).  My plan for the next show was kiboshed by it selling out, but plan B worked rather well.  We took in the Set List show instead: I had vaguely heard the name but never seen it before.  Five comics do a brief stand-up set based on a series of random (I assume) concepts (usually 4 or 5) which they have never seen before – so this is never before seen material (though it was being recorded, so it may be seen again).  This was quite brilliant, aided by the cast comprising many of my favourite stars of Radio 4: Susan Calman, Marcus Brigstocke, Pippa Evans and Mitch Benn.   The only downside to the event was the slightly wobbly and very slippery stool I found myself perched on – I was expecting to perform my own, very brief, slapstick set at any moment!  Not something I wanted captured on camera.

The festivals also give one the chance to try something completely new.  The Chinese take on Coriolanus – complete with not one but two heavy metal bands – was less a success and more an experience.  It rather reminded me of a school production headed by a trendy teacher trying to make it “relevant to the kids”.  In one particularly emotional scene, the background metal did make me think of the rather camp film of Flash Gordon (sadly, no war rocket Ajax was dispatched).  Circa: Wunderkammer was rather more of a success – and my first exposure to the circus in more than three decades.  The only animals involved were human – all significantly stronger and more flexible than me (and with much better core control).  Is it too late to take up gymnastics?  Back in my youth, I was always defeated by the backward roll and I may now be too tall, but it would make for some decent party tricks if I could gain even a modest degree of mastery!

I loved the chance to make more adventurous choices which Edinburgh in August offers – and the relatively low costs help.  For the price of a decent seat in the West End, I could easily see 5 or more shows in Edinburgh – and, pleasingly, even the longest was only 1hr 40 mins so I could easily average 4 a day.  I’m not sure if this approach offers any way forward for the Arts more generally (for all I know the economics may rely on staff going unpaid and performers making a serious loss) or if it really does need that critical mass of events to make it work – but it would be nice to come up to London (or any other city) for a day and be able to fit in more than a single show in the evening (and still be able to catch a train home at a sensible time again afterwards).

But for now, it’s back to real life – the day job and a work trip to Manchester – but I shall try and retain the spirit of adventure in the months to come…  After all, living in a small gaff, the Arts offer a great way to spend my money: fun without any ensuing need to store anything!

I survived

(but it was a close-run thing).

Yes, I’m back at Fish Towers after a week in Auld Reekie – and am still more-or-less intact (more about the less in due course).

In the last week, I have had more late nights than in the preceding 11 months, “enjoyed” a pretty major shift in my diet (5-a-day has still been achieved but only if we substitute the words “fried food” for “fruit and veg” in the standard dietary advice: when in Rome etc) and consumed rather more alcohol than is perhaps compatible with the life of simple purity that makes up my quotidien existence.  I have also spent a lot of time sitting on some seriously uncomfortable chairs (the rest of the country, and perhaps even much of Europe, must be stripped of dodgy temporary seating in August), mostly in rather cramped and sweaty conditions.

As a result, blogging and sleep have suffered somewhat.  However, the last week has provided much needed fresh material for future posts and the lack of sleep should be resolved by a few early nights (those Zs don’t count themselves, you know).

Perhaps more worryingly, my left foot and both ankles seem to have put on rather a lot of weight whilst away – they are looking decidedly chubby.  It may be that my body starts storing excess calories (or joules) starting at the ground and slowly working up.  If I spent a whole month in Scotland would it reach my knees, or even higher?  Do I quite literally have hollow legs (as has often been proposed)?

Talking of Scotland and deep-fried food, I fear it may be losing its pre-eminence in this field.  As East Coast was whisking me south (while plying me with food and drink), I listened, on my iPod (other MP3 players are available), to The Bugle podcast.  If you like your news discussed with somewhat silly, some meet even say puerile (which, based on my schoolboy Latin, I assume means “boyish”) humour (well, you are reading this blog!), I can thoroughly recommend the Bugle.  On last week’s edition, I learned that the folk of Iowa take a block of butter, pierce it with a stick (like a butter lolly), coat it in batter (to make battered butter – there has to be a tongue-twister in this!) and then deep-fry it.  I can feel my arteries hardening just writing about it!  By comparison, even stereotypical Scots eating is looking pretty healthy.

The only alternative explanation for my puffy pedal extremities that has come to mind is that, rather than gaining weight, perhaps they are swollen – perhaps caused by my enforced separation from my bicycle or walking on cobbled streets or over volcanic hills. Has my body become overly adapted to cycling on the relatively flat?

However, neither explanation really covers the divergent impact seen on my left and right feet.  My feet are pretty much inseparable – I have rarely caught them more than 6 feet apart (or would 2 metres be a less confusing measure?) – and so surely anything affecting the left should also affect the right?

Still, I’m not in any pain – though my left shoe is a little tighter than normal – and if my feet have put on weight, it should lower my centre of gravity and lead to a much needed improvement in balance.  Surely, it’s not too late for a career as a gymnast?  Though I will admit that most gymnasts I’ve seen are slightly younger and shorter than me – but my study of the field has been less than exhaustive.  I’m also slightly concerned that even as a (supposedly) flexible primary school child I could never manage even the lowest BAGA award – the backward roll was always beyond me.  Then again, I couldn’t manage differential calculus in those days either – so there’s always hope!

Still, despite my sub-shin tumefaction, I had a really wonderful week away.  Where else could I take in 30+ shows covering music (old and new), poetry, photography and comedy in a single week?