It’s dark at 4pm. There are fairy lights everywhere. You can’t move for being offered a bit of Chocolate Orange. My every instinct tells me to put on a nice big jumper and drink hot spiced cider under a blanket until the first daffodils appear.
But I’m going to go the other way entirely. I am resisting the gravitational pull of the sofa.
For I have bought the INSANITY WORKOUT.
This pretty much goes against everything I believe about fitness. It doesn’t look remotely fun; it is purely focused on the results; and everyone who does it comes out orange. But I don’t write this blog to just quietly agree with myself about everything and look for evidence that I’m right. I started it to be challenged and to explore.
So now I must explore the world of shouty, muscly Americans. I must learn to work out in just my bra and pants. I must at least attempt to be able to do proper press ups without the use of my knees.
Tomorrow is DAY ONE. I’ll see you on the other side.
I feel unusual. I have this unfamiliar feeling. It’s making me stand up straight and look a bit snooty. I think I might feel…graceful? Can it be?
After a lifetime stuck with a bearing best described by the phrase ‘could stop a runaway donkey in an alley’, perhaps I am in fact capable of looking like a swan that’s just seen something terribly sad.
It’s quite a revelation.
I fear the dance. All dance. The routines, the remembering, the following instructions. I assumed ballet was the worst of the lot, and I thought you had to start when you were three years old or there was no point.
A friend and I summoned our courage, pulled on some leggings and entered the Central School of Ballet expecting the worst. Ten minutes in we were degage-ing and plié-ing and agreeing that it was actually quite marvellous and we should come back every week. Neither of us had been to a single ballet class before, not even as children, but we got right into it.
We did bar work; we learned (and immediately forgot) lots of positions and words for things. We even did some jumps.
I went to a chiropractor recently who told me I must improve my posture or, one day, working at a desk would turn me into one of those tiny old ladies who keeps shrinking until she’s just a headscarf and a pair of orthopaedic shoes.
Luckily, ballet seems to be a great way to counteract the desk. You come out a couple of inches taller, spine all stacked up nicely. If I continue working nearby for a bit I’m going to go back for a few more classes, see if I can finally push through the 5 ft 4 barrier.
It wasn’t full of intimidating waifs who run everywhere, giggling, on their tiptoes. It wasn’t taught by a terrifyingly bendy, angry old lady yelling ‘naughty toes!’ and slapping a cane against a piano. Everyone was normal and friendly, and the class was taken by a very funny Australian man who has danced so much he’s got a fake hip that makes noises in time to the music. He was an excellent teacher.
As children we are taught to pursue the things we’re good at. When we grow up we give up too easily on the things that don’t look like career options. How many of us as adults still paint or write or draw just for the joy of it? How many people do you know who continued with ballet past their teens without having decided it was their career? I call bullshit on that attitude. Why not start ballet lessons when you’re a grown up?
Besides, you get to do fancy ballet bows at the end to your imaginary audience while imaginary bouquets of flowers land at your feet.
For £8 I can’t think of a class in London I’d rather go to.
A couple of weeks ago I went all Circ du Soleil off a tree in my sister’s garden.
She’s been into hoop for a while now. Every time I see her she has an impressive new bruise, a more enviable figure, and perhaps the odd haematoma. So when I went to visit I thought it was about time I gave it a go myself.
Last year I did an aerial arts course at Circus Space and I loved the static trapeze, so I fully expected to enjoy the hoop and not be too inept.
Jen is a very skilled hooper, but she’s not an instructor. I imagine the main difference is that if you’re an instructor you’ve been trained not to laugh quite so much at your pupils. Presumably it reminded her of that time I got caught climbing out of a window when we were kids, hanging off the window-hook by my skirt, angry little legs kicking. As I recall, on that occasion, she had to run to the end of the garden and hide her laughter to escape the wrath of the angry, dangling 4 year old.
We did a few basic poses – enough to make my arms ache for a couple of days and give me some bold, purple bruises on the backs of my knees.
I wasn’t bad. There was only one unexpected dismount and I’m claiming I did that in the name of comedy to make my niece laugh.
I’d definitely recommend taking it up as a regular hobby. If Jen’s anything to go by, it makes you strong, supple and lean – she’s had four children and she has the physique of a 19 year old dancer. The best thing is that it does that as a by-product: you’re focused on getting better at it, trying a new pose, and icing your bruises; and all the while you’re getting fitter.
It is of course even more fun if you do it hanging from a big tree in the Kentish countryside, with a graceful and well-coordinated niece and sister to show you how it should be done.
When I last visited the Ironmonger Row Baths, it was a shabby public facility complete with cracked tiles, second-hand plasters and stray pubes. The Turkish Baths in the basement were a very good reason to own a pair of flip flops. Since then it’s undergone a £16.5m refurbishment and it’s looking pretty swish.
After spending much of my recent time off on the road I was in need of a eucalyptus filled sauna, so on my last day of freedom I whiled away the afternoon in their new spa.
You get a pair of slippers, a robe and a towel and then, if you’re not having any pre-booked treatments, you’re left to enjoy the facilities at your own pace. There are rooms of all different temperatures you can lounge around in. I have no idea why but they’re quite pleasant. There are various scented saunas. The steam rooms are steamy enough to boil the back of your nostrils. There is even a relaxation room where you can recline on a lounger under a blanket and drink (free) tea. My favourite by far was the ice cold plunge pool. Go in bright red from the sauna, come out tingling.
I’m not a massive fan of just lurking about like this – it makes me twitchy – but it was exactly what I needed and it was only £25. You pay about £60 for that at The Sanctuary.
And whilst it’s lost the more unsavoury accoutrements of the public facility (I didn’t see even a single discarded hairband) it still retains its lovely democratic, anyone-welcome feel. I much prefer that to the softly-spoken snobbery of a private spa.
You should probably skive off work and spend the afternoon down there soon I’d say.
Last weekend provided the sort of cycling weather only September can deliver. It also landed me with the perfect motivation to get on two wheels and pedal out some angst: erroneous tax calculations and about half an hour of the HMRC phone line’s automated voice.
It was the perfect afternoon to see if my exciting new toy, the Garmin Edge 800, could navigate me the 50 or so miles from Stoke Newington to Frensham Ponds, one of my favourite places on earth.
According to the single paragraph of instruction on this in the manual, all you must do is plan a route on garminconnect.com, send the route to the device, then do as you’re told. It all sounded so simple.
I did steps one and two, spent 10 minutes locating satellites (all Garmin devices seem to do this if you’re near to buildings or trees, or are perhaps wearing a hat), then was told to go to the start of the route. Given that this was my postcode and I was right outside my flat, I probably should have been there already. I cycled north when it said to but was beeped at and told I was off route. I cycled south when it changed its mind and the same happened. My road only runs north-south, so I gave up and started pedalling in the direction I knew I should be heading, hoping it’d just sort of catch up with me.
A mile or so later I realised it thought I was south of the river. Then I realised the route I’d planned was showing up as just 0.6 miles. It hadn’t loaded.
But it was 2pm and I was on my way now! Going back to waste more precious sunshine wrestling with technology was not something I was willing to consider. I hit the ‘navigate to’ button and picked Farnham – I know my way to Frensham from there.
The Garmin Edge 800 responded with ‘no navigable routes’. Did it think I was standing in the middle of a swamp, facing southwest across treacherous and untrodden marshes? I was in Kings Cross surrounded by buses and fumes and tarmac, and I was heading to a busy town in the most densely populated part of an island that is basically just roads with intermittent green bits.
I tried a few other destinations: same response. I looked in the manual: nothing on navigation, just pages on how to mount the pointless piece of shit on your handlebars, presumably so that you have a clear view of its on-screen map as it fails to pick up the fact that you’re on one of London’s main arterial routes.
When it says ‘no navigable roads’ it does offer you a big pink line telling you the general direction you need to head in. This basically makes it a very overpriced, ugly compass.
But I persevered. “How hard can it be?” I thought. “I shall simply head southwest following the pink line and find my own roads!”
I’m stupid like that.
An hour or so later, as I’m cycling along the A3, I begin to wonder if perhaps I should’ve gone back and reprogrammed the bastard thing.
I spent much of my journey on the A3. No matter how many times I came off it in search of leafy lanes, I ended up back on it somewhere else, pedalling along whatever strip of pavement I could find alongside the traffic. In many places there are actual cycle tracks or walk ways. They’re lumpy with tree roots and coated with the smashed headlights of a million crashes, a sort of diamanté tarmac effect that becomes almost hypnotically beautiful when it’s whirring under your tyres, mile after mile.
I escaped the A3 at Guildford and turned to my iPhone to find a suitable cycle route. Between a bike nav that wants you to fly in a straight line over all obstacles, and a phone that assumes you’re in a car and thinks the bigger the road the better, this was quite a challenge. But I managed to avoid the A31 and cycle through the rather lovely valley below it, finally able to breathe.
As I reached Aldershot (not a destination any day tripper has ever set out for on purpose) I realised I didn’t have enough daylight to make it to Frensham and then back to a station to get home. I had wasted a too much time poking at a screen as three lanes of traffic thundered past me. So I bought some chocolate milk and put my bike on the train to Waterloo.
I always love cycling, even in unsuitable places, so I didn’t regret my afternoon jaunt. But I was somewhat miffed that I’d spent £280 on something that tried its best to ruin that.
What I’m saying is don’t ever buy a Garmin. Sit back and wait for Google to do it properly or just shove a map in the back of your cycling shorts.
And next time you’re on a ship or plane, try not to think of the fact that Garmin is probably providing the navigation and your crew is desperately searching forums to find out how to get the sodding thing to work.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this I have found this very helpful set up guide – not written by Garmin, why would they do that?! I am still shocked that Garmin can get away with having such a terrible interface and complete lack of instruction when the threat of brands like Apple just taking them out entirely looms large. http://www.forgot.co.uk/edge-800/
There are few things more embarrassing than being a slightly chubby fitness blogger. I know this because, despite cycling all over the place and actually enjoying things like quinoa, I somehow managed to get a bit wobbly. Sitting at a desk, pitches, lack of sleep, skittles. You know how it goes. So I decided it was time for something drastic.
I already did quite a bit of exercise so I needed to turn it up a few notches. I looked at personal trainers but didn’t want to pay £50 to be bullied in a park before 7am. I googled that Insanity work out stuff , and had a go on Nike’s excellent personal training app a couple of times, but when it comes down to getting out of bed at 6am and doing lunges, I need the push of a proper class.
So I found H2 Bike Run in Soho. It started out as a place for Soho’s cycle commuters to park their bikes and have a shower, then it expanded to include a spinning studio. More recently it added other classes – circuits, yoga, high intensity interval training and so on. I decided to attend one of these classes every weekday morning for a month and see what happened.
For just £45 a month and no contract you can park your bike and go to as many classes as you can handle. Each class is just 45 minutes long and quite intense, so by 8am you’re bright red, dripping sweat and ready to begin the working day. After just a few days it became utterly addictive. Exactly what I needed.
The result? I definitely wobble a bit less and I could probably have quite a comfortable nap in plank pose should the need ever arise.
Sometimes life accidentally plants you at a desk, in a city, with hours too long to make room for the thing that makes you feel most alive. For me that thing is the company of horses. After a childhood spent at the stables I somehow managed to let 10 years go by without any horse in my life, relying on hugs with the occasional passing police horse to keep me sane.
Last year I rectified that situation with a trip to California, where I spent a week on the ranch of a man named Monty Roberts, a horse trainer now famous worldwide for his approach. Having grown up watching wild mustangs, he developed a method of communication based on the horse’s natural language, and he teaches it to people all over the world. I’ve been a fan since I was a teenager and had long dreamed of learning his methods.
Since that trip I’ve been riding regularly again, and these last two weeks I took it a step further and began Monty’s official training program with one of his excellent instructors in the UK, Laira Gold. I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.
We learned how to mimic the communication of the lead mare in the herd (in horse world the ladies are in charge). We learned to slow a horse down with just our eye movements and breathing.
We learned ‘join up’, a process of communication between horse and human that invites the horse to choose to be with you and to follow you around. If I close my eyes I can still see that moment of join up – the horse’s nose at my shoulder reaching out and huffing gently to say ‘Please can I hang out with you? You seem alright.’
In language terms, I probably know about the equivalent of asking the way to the discotheque, but it’s a start.
Horses are extremely special creatures. In this country they suffer from some negative associations that keep people away – of little rich girls and landed gentry. That’s certainly not my experience – most people I meet with horses are just normal people who spend all of their time and money on their hobby, who somehow get by and never go on holiday.
Fortunately the negative associations are perhaps starting to fade and horses are taking on some important roles. These days they are being used increasingly in therapy – from helping autistic children, to working with soldiers with PTSD, to assisting in psychotherapy. I can see why. There is something very powerful about a relationship of trust with a large flight animal, about having it want to spend time in your company.
I feel like I’ve found my way back home. I have been reminded of the thing that makes me happiest. I can’t believe I ever forgot it and let life get in the way of something so important.
I write it here and ask that you remind me if ever I lose my way again. Should I ever accidentally let other things use up all my time and money and energy, you have full permission to punch me in the throat repeatedly until I stop being so silly.
Until then, tally ho!