Archive for the ‘exercise’ Tag

New Year Reflections

The start of the year is a time to reflect on what’s past, on where you find yourself at the present, and where you want to be going in the future.

We are now a couple of weeks into 2016 and I find myself, on the whole, to be in a pretty good place. I have several publications under my belt including three novels and another coming soon (SUFFER THE CHILDREN, my first novel, due for re-release from MuseItUp Publishing later this year). I’ve got two more novels in progress, and ideas for a few more. The day job is going well, and I’ve seen significant improvements in my health since taking the decision to drop twenty pounds in 2015.

However, my life is also pretty packed. The day job pays well but works me hard, and I spend not only eight hours a day five days a week there, but three hours a day commuting to and from London. I have my bass guitar lesson once a week and am doing regular open mic gigs with Hubby. I am trying to develop a regular exercise routine, we play Dungeons and Dragons twice a month, I run the T Party writers’ group which meets once a month, and this is before we start talking about fitting in the writing, the promotion, the conventions, and holidays.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a whine. I am where I am in my life because I chose to be there, and I do not regret anything. However, there is always room for improvement, and the start of the year seems to be a good time to look at what I  can do better.

First of all, this blog has been neglected for the last couple of years, and I am going to endeavour to change that this year. Monday will still be the guest blog feature Monday’s Friends, as it has been for some years now. Wednesdays will be a writing-related post, cross-posted on the WriteClub blog. I hope to pick up the Ten Commandments of Writing feature, which rather tailed off halfway through last year. Friday Fears will feature with more regularity, and I would welcome contributions of two-sentence horror stories from anyone who feels inclined to send me one – credited, of course.

In addition, I’d like to feature other posts on the blog, about more general subjects. I can’t promise this will be weekly – it’s more likely to be once or twice a month. But when I started the blog, I was talking about commuting and London and weather and travelling and all the things that I deal with in my everyday life. And because I don’t want to be the kind of writer that only comes online to say ‘buy my book’, I’d like to get back to this again.

So, that’s one resolution: more regular blog posts. A second, more personal one, relates to the aforementioned weight loss. This was something that I didn’t really discuss on the blog, but those who follow me on Twitter will be aware of it, since I was Tweeting about my weekly weigh-ins.

This was something that came about when I went on a short holiday to France in June and couldn’t get the zip of my favourite summer dress done up. Coming at a time when I’d lost several family members and friends to cancer within a fairly short period, I was more mindful of needing to look after my health and decided the time had come to get a bit healthier. The weight loss was all about trying to shed bad habits, as well as a few pounds. I hate the gym, I hate vegetables and I love all things sweet and sugary. But sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not. I aimed to get back to ten and a half stone (that’s 147 lbs for the Americans amongst you), which is what I was when I last lost weight, in 2009. The intervening years had apparently seen a gain of over twenty pounds, which I wanted to lose again. I managed to hit my goal just before Christmas, but then came all the eating and drinking and not moving from the couch for two weeks that accompanied the holiday season, and I’m now a few pounds above that goal again.

However, I resolved at the beginning of this year to try and go back to the good habits I’d adopted at the end of last year: regular exercise, more fruit & veg, fewer sugary treats, fewer takeaways, less red meat. I’ve ridden this whole weight-loss roundabout before. The weight comes off, I go back to eating what I like to eat, it comes back on again. This year, I want to try and keep the weight off – especially since Hubby bought me several new dresses in my new smaller size for Christmas, and I want to be able to keep on wearing them.

It can be quite difficult as a writer to stay fit, since writing generally involves sitting on a chair for hours at a time, moving only to get more tea and another couple of biscuits (favourite food of The Muse, apparently). And I am inherently quite lazy. I have no trouble getting up early to write, especially when my early morning writing sessions involve a yummy breakfast muffin at the coffee shop I set up in, but I am much less inclined to get up early to go for an early-morning swim.

There, then, is Resolution Number 2. And then there are the writing resolutions, which I discussed in the December round-up post. I have two novels to finish. I have to crack on with them.

There’s an additional resolution that comes in to help me with all the others, and that’s to be more organised. I’ve got a rather anally retentive personality anyway, and I love lists. Lists are the key to staying organised. I have to do lists for every week, involving both writing and non-writing related goals, and they get dutifully ticked off as I complete the tasks. Finding time to write, or to exercise, equally involves noting appointments in my diary and making sure I turn up when I say I will – even if not doing so lets down no one else but myself.

It’s always dangerous to declare one’s intentions in a public forum, since you have a lot of people to answer to if you fail to fulfil them. But it also provides a good motivation to sticking to your resolutions.

Hence, I start the year full of good intentions. I guess we need to come back here at the end of the year and see how well – or otherwise – I’ve managed to do!

Whatever you wish for this year, I hope 2016 delivers.

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Clumsy

I am not one of those people blessed with grace and elegance. I can’t throw, I can’t catch, I can’t run (and if I try I fall over), I possess no manual dexterity and I trip over my own feet a lot. This is probably why I’ve always been hopeless at sports. In school, not only was I always the last to be picked for sports teams, I had to endure the groans of the team that was stuck with me and the mutters of, “we’re going to lose now.”

Exercise remains a necessary evil. Whenever I try aerobics or zumba or anything else requiring co-ordination I get frustrated because I can’t keep up – I just can’t get my arms and legs to move the way they are supposed to. I persevere with the yoga, but it’s not easy for me. I have no balance and I get left and right confused, I ache for a week after every class and I appear to pull muscles (more on that later).

Things haven’t improved much as I’ve got older. I’ve always avoided hazardous activities such as ski-ing, since I’d be guaranteed to break a bone. Over the course of my life I’ve sprained my ankle three times, and it was always the same one (the left – it still gives me twinges now and again). On one occasion I was running across a field playing Paintball (told you running was dangerous), and on the other two occasions I was merely trying to walk down some steps. A few years ago I fell over trying to enter the underground station on the way home from work and bashed my head rather hard. I was taken to A&E and x-rayed, but my skull was intact. Instead I had concussion that had me off work for a week, and a golf ball-sized lump on my forehead that left me with a headache and a black eye as it receded.

A few weeks ago I managed to trip over my own feet walking across London Bridge on my way to work, and bashed my knee and my hand quite hard as I fell over.  I still can’t kneel down on that knee, and it looks a bit bruised.  This weekend I am also suffering with what appears to be a torn tendon in my calf.  Which I think possibly came about from my yoga class a couple of weeks ago – we were doing poses that involved leg stretches. It was hurting for a while,  and then it seemed to get better, but this week’s tube strike has necessitated more walking than usual on my daily commute, and this seems to have aggravated my injury.

This is how it’s been, all my life. I fall over simply moving through life. Apparently physical activity is bad for my health. It happens so often I get used to picking myself up and carrying on. I am usually full of bruises. I misjudge doors when I walk through them and walk into the wall. I swing my arm too wide and it hits something. I go to sit down on a bus and somehow manage to bash my backside on the bar separating the seats. I get bruises on my knees from bashing them on the underside of my desk.

I don’t what it is that causes this chronic inability to get my body to co-ordinate itself to do anything physical – even something as simple as walking. I spent quite a long time assuming I wasn’t any good at anything, but much of this came from the fact that when and where I went to school there was a huge emphasis on physical activity. Fortunately I had a couple of supportive English teachers who reassured me that one isn’t necessarily exiled from society simply because one isn’t any good at sports. They recognised that I had a talent for writing.

Perhaps the writing ability is nature’s way of compensating for my appalling lack of physical agility – as in, “kid, you’re going to go through life being completely hopeless at anything physical, but you’ve got a talent for something that you get to sit down for.”

I should probably give up on all things sporty and focus on the writing instead. At least I’m not likely to injure myself that way. Well, apart from bashing my knees on the underside of the desk…

Writing Processes – Part 17: A Matter of Routine

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve talked before about my dislike of exercise. I’m not one of those people who enthusiastically embraces her gym sessions because she enjoys the adrenaline buzz. I go because I feel it’s a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. I really don’t enjoy it, and I enjoy less the fact that I struggle to climb stairs for three days afterwards.

But because exercise is good for me, I endeavour to make time for it. And the only way it works for me is if I schedule it into my calendar. I have to set recurring appointments, so I get a reminder coming up on my calendar telling me about my commitment. Somehow this makes me more inclined to go. If I delete exercise sessions from my calendar, I feel guilty.

The same can be said about making time to write. This topic is much blogged about, both here and elsewhere. None of us have enough time to do everything we want to do, and when you’re trying to fit writing in around the day job, it does feel like you’re working two full time jobs.

I now schedule my writing time into my calendar the same way I schedule in my exercise classes. Monday evening is the ‘Million Monkeys’ initiative, where writers are invited to gather at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank, sit down with their laptops and start writing. It’s all very informal and very much a ‘drop-in session’, but I find that when I do go, I get quite a lot done. Maybe it’s the collective creative vibe. Maybe it’s the fact that when I am sitting amongst a group of others who are all furiously typing away, progressing on their WIPs, I feel more inclined to get on with mine. So I now schedule this event into my week as often as possible.

I also schedule two ‘writing mornings’. Generally Wednesdays and Fridays, I will get up at 5:30am and get the extra early train into London. This gets me to the Starbucks round the corner from work by 7:30am. I sit there with a soya latte and a ginger muffin, in my usual seat, and I will write for an hour before going to the office. My breakfast there rarely changes, and neither does where I sit. But this is all part of the routine. For me, the routine works. If I expect to be doing something at a particular time, on a particular day, I’m more likely to do it. And if someone’s in my usual seat at Starbucks and I have to sit somewhere else, I don’t get nearly as many words written.

I think for writers, routine works. But it’s equally important to find a routine that works for you. Don’t like getting up early? Neither do I, but strangely I’ve found that now I’m the wrong side of 40, getting up early to write is actually preferable to staying up late. You might be the sort of writer that finds you’re at your most productive at 2 in the morning. That’s fine, but if you’ve got a day job as well, that might be hard to manage unless you can cope without much sleep, or you can negotiate with your boss to start a bit later some days. Some people write during their lunch hour. I find the whole business of trying to eat my lunch and write at the same time a bit distracting, and I’m not a person that can go without lunch, so I don’t that myself. But if it works for you, then great.

Some people maintain that if you want to be a serious writer, you should write every day. Sound advice, if you can manage it, but I was only getting myself very stressed trying to fit in writing every day. My writing mornings are now recurring events in my calendar. In general, I will only delete them if I’m having a day off work and am not going into London, but if that’s the case then I will try and schedule another writing session later in the week – or I will endeavour to fit in some writing at home. If I manage to get extra writing time in then that’s a bonus, but at least I know that if I follow my usual routine, then I will have at least three writing sessions in a week.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the ‘best’ times for writing. You must make time, no doubt about that – a lot of people will talk airily about wanting to write a novel, but “never having the time”. You can talk about it, or you can do it. There might be a lot of trial and error before you find what works for you. But once you do find something that works, make it part of your routine.

Most writers I know are creatures of habit. So work on developing the habits that make you a better and more productive writer.

New Adventures at the Gym (Part 1)

I have blogged many times about my dislike of exercise, and that fact that in spite of that I see it as a necessary evil – rather like eating vegetables. I do it because it’s good for me. This is even more true now, as I lurch towards the grand old age of 42. By anyone’s estimation this is middle age, and if I really want to live another 42 years I have to look after the body I occupy.

But up until recently I hadn’t set foot in a gym for months. The gym we had a membership with was council run, and it has to be said a bit shabby. Then a few months ago a new gym opened up, literally right across the road from our house (we can see the building from our living room window). It is a private gym, on the grounds of the local college. The college offers BTec qualifications in sports training, so I assume that there is some kind of sponsorship deal going on to benefit the students.

Even so, the concept of a new private gym so close to home was appealing, and we thought about joining. For a long time we only thought about it. Then two things happened that pushed us further in that direction.

Our old council-run gym has recently changed ownership, and is now run by a different organisation. I got a letter recently informing me that the new organisation have decided to give the place an £8m overhaul. This will require closing the premises. For 12 months.

A few days after that I got a phone call from the accounts department. Somehow, in the change of management, my bank details got mislaid and they were no longer attached to my membership record. So they had not been taking out my standing order for three months. Technically this meant I was was no longer a member. To address this, I had to go down to the sports centre with my bank details and fill in more forms in person.

Decision made, then. Since I was no longer a member and hubby hadn’t been for months, we cancelled his membership and joined the new gym. It all looked very nice when we looked around. Everything was new and shiny and worked the way it should. The gym was air conditioned. There were flat screen TVs everywhere.

All good in theory. Having paid up, we went for our gym induction. It became evident the gym hires a lot of the College students. My gym instructor was young enough to be my daughter. She asked me what I wanted from the gym. “Erm, tone up, lose a bit of weight. Work on the abs perhaps.” My stomach muscles have always been wimpy.

“How much weight do you want to lose?” she said brightly. “A stone, maybe?”

That took me aback a bit. Yes, I could stand to lose a few pounds, but do I really look 14lbs overweight?? She showed me the machines, and I insisted I didn’t want to use the treadmill. I really don’t like the treadmill. I prefer the exercise machines where you get to sit down. I don’t mind the exercise bike. I don’t mind the rowing machine. I don’t even mind the lat pull-down machine.

The perky child-like gym instructor also showed me some abdominal exercises. “These are really good for toning your abs,” she said. I struggled and puffed and wheezed before she eventually agreed with me that my abs were so flabby these exercises were currently beyond me. So she gave me some easier ones. Lying down and raising my legs in the air. Yes, I can cope with that one. Just about. The one where you lie on your back and cycle your legs up and down. That’s OK too.

So I’ve been going to the gym but my asthmatic lungs object to the extra work, and doing any form of exercise makes my nose run (always knew I was allergic to it…). I sound like Darth Vader as I attempt the Free Runner, and I’m blowing my nose constantly. And then I ache for three days and have to crawl up the stairs at home because my arms and legs and stomach ache too much to move properly.

In spite of all this, though, I am endeavouring to do a workout at least once a week (plus classes and swim sessions). So I was somewhat annoyed to find out recently that the membership smart card I was given that is supposed to log all of one’s gym time had not been properly calibrated, and none of my gym sessions up till now have been logged. So I’ve been struggling to be good all this time and the gym computer thinks I’ve been slacking.

So, now I have to start all over again with my gym sessions. I need to keep attending. It’s good for me. At least, that’s what I have to keep reminding myself…

The Advantage of Lazy Cats

I encountered an upsetting sight on my way to the sports centre for my Sunday morning swim this morning. There was a dead cat lying by the road. I actually recognised the cat – I have seen it dashing across that road quite often. I guess it used up all of its nine lives doing so.

My lazy cats


When I got home I sought out my cats, to find them curled up asleep on the bed – which is where they had been when I left them. I took this picture of them. I guess there’s an advantage to having fat lazy cats who sleep all day and show little inclination to venture outside – they are less likely to get run over.

I don’t know who the unfortunate cat belongs to, but some family’s going to be very upset when they find out what happened to their pet. Urban roads are hazardous places for family pets. I am quite glad my cats prefer the indoors.

Give Me A Break

If you’ve been following this blog a while, you will be aware of my love/hate relationship with exercise.

Actually, that’s not exactly true. There’s no ‘love’ about it. I hate exercise. I endure it as a necessary evil because it’s good for me (like eating vegetables). Because of this, it’s easy for me to find excuses not to do it. The last few weeks have seen a plethora of excuses. I’m too tired. I’m too busy. It’s too wet to tramp over to the sports centre. It’s too cold. My foot is sore. My arm is sore. The list goes on.

This is, sadly, a fairly familiar cycle because to me exercise is a life sentence. Starting is hard work. I get into a routine and it becomes easier to at least get there, but I miss a couple of weeks and I have to start all over again. Having missed several weeks now, of doing any exercise whatsoever, I find myself once more at the bottom of the hill staring up at the top, and it’s a very long way.

And just how many of my exercise classes I’m going to get to in the remainder of the year is questionable. After all, the most enjoyable part of the ‘Festive Season’, which is already upon us, is having an excuse to eat all the things I love but which are bad for me, and drink too much, and why would I want to spoil all that indulgence with the guilt of missing my body conditioning class?

So, I’ve decided to cut myself some slack. I have removed my exercise classes from my calendar for the rest of the year. There seems little point in keeping them there, when I have no intention of going to them, and to remind myself that I’m not there will just serve to make me feel guilty. I pledge to enjoy this indulgence without guilt.

In the New Year, of course, there will be no excuse for the guilt, and I will pledge to start the exercise regime afresh. I lose interest, but I always go back to the class. That’s part of the cycle.

But that’s next year. For the rest of this year, I’ve decided to focus on eating, drinking and trying to be merry. Pass me those mince pies…

Walking To Work

It’s a grey, cold, wet Autumn Monday. And there is a tube strike today. Not a good way to start the week.

My contingency plan for tube strike days (and this is the second in a series of four planned strikes over the next few weeks) is to leave the house really early, so if I have to walk to work from Victoria Station, I have sufficient time to do so. I was on the train this morning at 6:40 – the same train I catch when I come in early for my writing mornings.

I did go searching for a bus at Victoria Station, but there were already horrendous queues for all buses, even at 7:10 am. I can make the walk in 45 minutes, and I had left the house prepared to have to walk, so off I set.

My route takes me down Buckingham Palace Road and past the Palace (the Queen was not at home, it seems), and through Green Park. Emerging from Green Park I hang a right at Piccadilly, go past the Ritz Hotel and then turn left down Old Bond Street, which eventually becomes New Bond Street.

Bond Street is full of swanky designer shops. None of the items in the artistically arranged window displays have price tags – I guess if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. Even walking past these shops makes me feel like a bag lady. Fortunately for me, at 7:30 am none of the shops are open, so there are no supermodel-lookalike shop assistants to glare at me for bringing down the tone by walking past their doorstep in my hiking pants, back pack and walking shoes.

At the end of New Bond Street I turn right into Oxford Street and I am back into familiar territory.

I may have had to crawl out of bed at an ungodly hour to get to work this morning, but at least the rain held off for my walk, and I started the day with some exercise. I do rather hope I can find a bus back to the station tonight, though. One 45-minute walk in a day is plenty for me.

Lessons In Yoga – Part 2

I have returned to my yoga class after an absence of several months. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to go. Life has been busy. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

But the reality is we all have the same number of hours in every day. What we do with those hours is up to each of us. I have returned to the yoga class because it’s good for my state of mind, as well as being good exercise, and I have been shirking it for far too long.

My yoga teacher says we all spend too much time thinking about the past, and worrying about the future. We need to let go and embrace the present.

Good advice, but harder than it should be to follow it. I do feel that for a long time I was holding on to the past. I’m now in a position where I feel I’ve forgiven everyone for whatever they did in the past – including myself. And none of us knows what the future will hold, so there’s no point in worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.

Right here, right now, I’m actually in a good place. Maybe I am learning something from the yoga lessons after all.

Necessary Evil

The aerobics teacher who runs my Tuesday evening body conditioning class is energetic, enthusiastic and always cheerful. She is an excellent advertisement for the benefits of regular exercise – she looks 15 years younger than she actually is, and her body is firm and toned without being too skinny. She’s a popular teacher and her classes are always full. In fact, you have to book in advance to get into them.

However, she suffers from this delusion that we’re all there because we’re enjoying ourselves. “You all look so serious,” she says as we puff and sweat our way through squats and lunges. “Smile! It’s supposed to be fun!”.

I’m sure there are some people out there who find exercise fun. I am not, and have never been, one of them. I do exercise for the same reason I eat vegetables – I really don’t like them, either, but I eat them because they are good for me. After 40 years this body is showing some signs of wear and tear. If I want it to last me another 40 years (and really, I do) I need to treat it well, get the heart and lungs pumping every once in a while and avoid too much fatty tissue building up over the organs.

This is why I exercise. No other reason. It’s painful, and leaves me aching. Some people tell me that “you’ll feel good afterwards”. This very rarely happens. I just end of feeling rather exhausted afterwards, and then a day or so later the aching muscles kick in. Admittedly, regular exercise avoids that feeling of lethargy and sluggishness that tends to build up if I go weeks without exercising at all, but the only positive feeling I tend to get after exercise is one of virtue. I was tired, but I went anyway. Yay me.

So I will keep aiming for regular attendance at my weekly exercise class. As I will continue to eat vegetables I don’t like, I will do it out of a sense of duty of doing right by my body, which after all I only get one of. I will do it without complaining too much, and I will try my best to keep my swearing inaudible when I get pushed to do one more set of those squats. But don’t expect me to enjoy it.

Chlorine and Chipsticks

When I was a child, living in Lancashire in the 1970s, my dad used to take my sister and me swimming most weekends.

After the end of our swimming session, my sister and I used to get bags of crisps from the vending machine, and we would sit in the viewing gallery eating them, while watching the swimmers in the pool below. I usually went for ‘chipsticks’. I’m not sure if you can still buy those anymore. They were long thin corn-based snacks with a rather overwhelming flavour of salt and vinegar.

I have heard that smell is the most powerful sense for evoking old memories. I think this must be true. Even now, more than thirty years on, whenever I walk into the changing area of the swimming pool and get hit by the smell of chlorine, I immediately think of ‘Chipsticks’, and swimming with my dad.