Thursday, 15 December 2011

In Training – November / December

No, I haven’t gone quiet because I’ve stopped training!  I’ve been working hard for the last couple of months, building strength and endurance, and thought an update was in order.

December sees me aiming for 5 sessions a week of 45 minutes non-stop cardio and 4 ‘strength’ sessions a week (essentially, lots of sit-ups and press-ups).  Although the demands of the festive season mean that there are days where I genuinely do not have time to do this, I am generally staying on top of it.  I can maintain 6mph on the treadmill for 45 minutes at a gentle incline (not optional – my treadmill’s a bit broken and with no incline every step slams it into the floor so hard I worry I’ll end up in Australia) and do more sit-ups than I ever thought possible – the less said about press-ups, however, the better.  The main problem with 45 minute sessions is that I an episode of ‘The West Wing’ only lasts 40 minutes and that is what I entertain myself with!  Any recommendations for 45 minute programmes gratefully received as I’m now working through films instead!

I am singularly failing to do the uphill walking required, sadly.  Lincoln’s pretty flat so I’m frankly uninspired.  I realise that this is a poor excuse and I promise to get myself up some hills pronto.  This Christmas I’m heading down to Somerset for a week and there are some glorious hills down there that I may have a yomp up to work off some of my excessive and indulgent over-consumption.

Bit scared about what I need to start doing in January, but I’ll cross that rather hard-core bridge when I come to it.  Meanwhile – bring on the festive fayre; I’m working it off, dammit!

Sunday, 20 November 2011


What follows is possibly the cheesiest assembly ever delivered.  As someone who's been teaching for a decade and is a big a fan of an extended metaphor (and who knows how much kids love to see pictures of their teachers looking crap) I thought my students might enjoy this.  It was presented to 250 year 11s - these are kids aged 15-16 who are a couple of months into their last year of compulsory education and facing pretty important exams next summer...

You guys are constantly being told how important this year is, and I suspect you often wonder how we can possibly understand what you're going through, bearing in mind how long it is since we were your age.  Well, two years ago I visited Tanzania and while I was there my friend and I decided that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro seemed like a good idea.  It's the highest mountain in Africa and the highest non-technical climb in the world.  The route we decided to take involves a week long trek of 100km, reaching the summit at 5895m, where each lungful contains only 50% of the oxygen of a lungful of air at sea level.  The training I had to do in order to successfully complete this challenge is not unlike the preparation you have to do for your GCSEs.

In preparation for a French speaking exam, you have to speak a lot of French.  In preparation for a Maths exam, you have to practise sums.  Well guess what, in my preparation for a really long walk, I had to walk a lot.

Walking in general is fine, but sometimes, preparation has to be specific.  Kilimanjaro has a snow-capped peak, so it was important to take the opportunity to walk in the snow.  Likewise, you should make your revision mimic exam conditions as much as possible.

Actually, only a small part of Kilimanjaro is snowy, so I had to think about the other parts of the challenge.  Kilimanjaro's in Africa so complete preparation also involved walking in Africa.  In the same way, you need to ensure that your exam preparation covers every element of the exam.

Do much more preparation than you think you need.

Rest and reward are important too!

It's important to know yourself.  I know that if I only have a long term goal I keep putting off preparation.  I responded to this self-knowledge by signing up for the Lincoln 10k in March - forcing me to get fit earlier than I otherwise would have.  Studies show that ongoing revision is more successful than intensive last-minute revision, so start early!  I tore two muscles in my leg whilst preparing for this, but I still did it.  As you can see, it hurt.  If you're going to be thoroughly prepared for something, you need to be OK with not looking cool!

If you're confident in your preparation, you should feel pretty cheery as you start your final challenge.

The first few papers should feel beautiful because you were so well prepared.

Don't forget to eat!

When you're on the exam treadmill it's easy to only see the negatives - like the fact that for a week up a mountain your only 'luxury' is a semi-closed shed with a hole in the floor - take a moment to find a way to find it beautiful. 

It often feels as though the end isn't getting any closer.  Deal with it.

Exam season is boring and monotonous.  Deal with it.

You're still not going to look cool.  Deal with it.

This was the view from our tent one night; it's a wall we knew we'd have to face in the morning.  Sometimes, you'll go to bed with a seemingly impossible task facing you when you wake up.

Ignore the big picture and focus on the small part that you actually need to conquer.

Even after many days, the end may seem no closer.  Deal with it.

The closer it gets to the end, the more rubbish it is.

The most painful bit is often the most worthwhile.

Look behind you every now and again in order to allow yourself to feel smug that your wonderful preparation is leaving people trailing in your wake.

Even the toughest situations can throw up unexpected moments of magic.

Even when it's all done, you still won't look cool.  Deal with it.

It might hurt a little bit.

Don't fail to appreciate your support network.  They won't expect any of the glory but you know you couldn't do it without them.  Realise this and say thank you.

It's all just for a certificate.  Literally.  Be proud.

Having achieved something you thought you'd never manage, suddenly anything seems possible.  I roller skated a marathon a week after reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro.  You will have A levels and you will KNOW that you can do them.

I am never going to need to climb a mountain.  You will probably never need a lot of the things your are examined on next summer.  However, the ability to prepare yourself to face challenges will be useful in all areas of your future - make the most of it.  I'm off to Everest next year - what will you do next?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

My Father’s Daughter

I was eating a bacon sandwich on granary bread, wearing an ugly denim shirt and kneeling on my living room floor when I was told that my Dad was dead.  It was 5 years ago but the memory of that moment is crystal clear.  The band of grief constricting my chest until breathing became impossible, my Mum’s voice on the other end of the telephone sounding like it was reaching me through an ocean, the dizziness and paralysis; if I close my eyes I can be physically taken back there in an instant.

I miss him.

I miss him most when life is tough.  I miss his solidity and assuredness, his experience and authority.  I miss the way he managed to simultaneously love me unconditionally yet judge me dispassionately.  I miss his pomposity and arrogance and I miss the way he was the first to denounce such traits in others.

My Dad is the reason I;
·      Am comfortable expressing unpopular or unfashionable views
·      Travel
·      Keep fit
·      Love science and maths
·      Maintain high standards of grammar (or try to)
·      Ask if I’m not sure
·      Listen
·      Don’t want to hear your problems unless you’re interested in finding a solution
·      Seek solitude

The notion of an afterlife seems nonsensical to me, so I know I’ll never see him again, but that doesn’t stop me thinking about him and wanting to make him proud.  I’m lucky to have ‘new Dad’ in my life and I’m sure Dad would love him too, but he’s an addition, not a substitute.

Dad, I love you. xxx

Friday, 28 October 2011

People Watcher

Opposite me on the tube sit two people: a man in his late 50s and a boy in his teens.  They look like they originate from somewhere Eastern Mediterranean or Near-Eastern.  They both have that puddingy build which is the result of years of being nurtured by a bustling matriarch and are cocooned in a comfort borne of familial love and deep understanding.  The father looks at his son with a half smile and eyes which seem to really see the boy rather than just look at him; the son returns this with an upward glance which is cursory but not dismissive - a result of his certain knowledge that his Dad will always be there.

Bustling around me later at the station are hundreds of people, yet the architecture absorbs their sound, creating a preternaturally quiet space where detached observation is easy.  A small, slim woman with a severe haircut and tight jeans is standing rigid in the middle of the flow.  Her skin-tight outfit, opaque sunglasses and impeccable grooming give her an almost robotic, Matrix-esque quality and for a moment I wonder if the world around me is going to morph into something strange and wonderful as we are confronted with finality by the illusory nature of reality… instead, she purses her lips, looks resolute and strides away, leaving me still sitting in St Pancras station with my coffee and my laptop – reality unchanged.

In a cocktail bar, a man sits alone, waiting for his date.  She arrives in jeans, trainers and a shiny parka – an odd outfit for an evening sampling the offerings of one of London’s best mixologists.  If an interior designer were given a brief to create a space which evokes Victorian London at Christmas time, this is the bar they would build; we had approached across a cobbled square, door flanked by gaslights which reflected off the iron railings.  On entering, we had immediately relaxed – transported to a different, more sedate time and place – yet this couple now create a pocket of tension which threatens to seep beyond the bounds of their table.  Suddenly, she stands up and marches out, leaving half her drink behind.  He spits, “you’re pathetic,” at her back – his words and tone jarring in context.  He watches her through the window, expecting her to turn around.  She doesn’t.  He leaves shortly after.   I guess the outfit should have been the clue that she never planned on hanging around?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Britain’s first National Heroes Day on Friday largely passed me by; preoccupied by my own life, I failed to acknowledge the power of inspirational people to lift and motivate others, as well as remaining entirely oblivious to the hero-shaped void which existed in my world.  Heading to SK8 Heaven in Northampton on Saturday the last thing on my mind was hero acquisition; the day would be a success if I learned some new drills and tactics which I could bring back to LBRG to help us further down the road to awesomeness.

My relationship with Roller Derby has had its ups and downs and recently I have started to question whether we have a future together.  I am not getting any younger and am starting to take longer to heal from bashes and bruises, as well as seeming to have reached a plateau in terms of what I am able to do on wheels.  The bootcamp was always going to be a useful experience but I didn’t expect it to have quite the impact it did.

I attended sessions led by Pia Mess, Pitchit, Isabelle Ringer and Re-AnimateHer, covering aspects of Roller Derby ranging from fitness to tactics via messing about on skates and hitting people.  They brought with them all the best bits of the American approach to life (alert! alert! gratuitous stereotyping coming up) – unapologetically positive, no bullshit and uber-confident – and succeeded in infecting everyone around them with this attitude. 

Pia Mess is, I am fairly certain, part machine; a glamorous, tireless, steely machine.  Pitchit distilled both the art and science of Roller Derby into one fabulous diagram (seriously – if only everything in life could be captured in one simple diagram…) while Isabelle Ringer made pivoting accessible, achievable and hey, even fun!  Re-AnimateHer’s thoughtfully structured sessions and no-nonsense focus (“jammers – find the friendly side and be patient”) combined with her great partnership with Betty Ford Galaxy to ensure that we hung on their every word and soaked up the wisdom.

For the first time in months, I feel like I can be better, I’m not past it and I do have a long and shiny career in competitive sport ahead of me.  Thank you Shoetown Slayers for organising the bootcamp and thank you, thank you, thank you to all the coaches I was privileged to learn from.  Your generosity, skill and patience makes you all my heroes.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


See, the thing about God is that I can’t believe he’s actually that interested in us.  If he did indeed create the entire universe, why would he be any more bothered about one species in one place in one time than the inventor of bread is about an individual grain of flour in my toast?  And surely he’s got more to worry about than whether people with matching danglies fall in love, or whether people choose to call him Allah, Brahman or simply God?

There are many arguments for God’s existence and many atheist responses – I’m not going to rehash them all here.  Similarly, the ‘Problem of Evil’ has been discussed for millennia and I’m not arrogant enough to think that I’ve a new perspective, so I’ll leave that alone too.  What I do feel like putting out there, however, is this – why do we as a species feel we need this God character in our lives?  What does he bring?  (Incidentally, my lack of capitalisation on ‘he’ is deliberate but not intentionally disrespectful.  The masculine third person pronoun is not capitalised under any other circumstance and since I’m fairly certain there’s no God I shan’t be dismissing the conventions of the English language just yet.)

I have heard many people over the years trot out the view that religion causes wars.  To paraphrase the gun campaigners I would respond that religion doesn’t cause wars, people cause wars.  What this easy dig also fails to acknowledge is that religion can be a force for good too, encouraging charity, forgiveness and love.  That said, I think there are plenty of charitable, forgiving and loving atheists or agnostics out there; in fact I think there’s a case to be made that to embody these virtues without the motivation of eternal reward is closer to that pinnacle of desired behaviours – altruism – than the consequence-driven behaviour of the theist.  

Searching for meaning and purpose can also lead people to God.  In the greater scheme of things, most people’s lives are insignificant; this seems to be something with which many people struggle to come to terms, though personally it doesn’t trouble me.  To give a sense of purpose, theists often like to set themselves the goal of getting into heaven or attaining a good rebirth.  Allowing your life to be given its goal solely by what may happen when it is over seems as illogical as going to the cinema and taking no notice of the film because you’re preoccupied by the chance of finding a winning lottery ticket on the bus on the way home.   Perspective is key here – your life may be insignificant in the context of a 14 billion year old universe but seen through the eyes of those whose opinion you actually lose sleep over, your life probably occupies a more prominent position. 

I have always labelled myself an atheist (a position which arguably requires as much faith as theism) and I headed this blog ‘agnostic’ but I think my true position is better expressed in the Buddhist view that whether or not God exists is just not that important.  I try to live by the Golden Rule (capitalised that one) and value the present as much as the future.  I share values with many religious people, I just got to them via a different route – does this make me less ‘good’?  I find it hard to believe that God would care.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

In Training - October

If all goes according to plan, in six months I will be in Nepal having just started a trek to Everest Base Camp.  I’m not entirely sure why.

My bestest travel companion in the whole wide world, Eszter, and I made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro last summer.  It was not fun.  I’ll tell you all about it another time, but suffice to say that before we were halfway through that climb we had decided, categorically, that we were not going anywhere near Everest Base Camp “if it’s going to be anything like this”.

A year later and the bad memories had somewhat faded, leaving the sense of accomplishment in the ascendant and the hideous moments now having acquired ‘funny story’ status.  Everest Base Camp started to seem like a good idea – surely there are some serious cool points to be had for bagging both?

Whilst super fitness isn’t a necessity for either trek, very good fitness certainly helps to make the whole experience more enjoyable.  What I learned from Kilimanjaro however, is that the toughest challenge on these excursions isn’t physical, it’s mental.  It’s the challenge of getting up and doing another full day’s walking; of putting filthy clothes back on; of finding a way to get warm when you stop; of forcing enough liquid into your unwilling bladder to avoid dehydration; of not minding hordes of trekkers wandering past as you stop for yet another pee; of trudging onwards, meditating your way through the mind-numbing boredom of repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other.  Am I selling this to you?

In an attempt to be fully prepared, I’ve adapted the 6 month training programme at to include skating and started the “six months prior” section on Saturday.  I’ve already had days where I really can’t face it but I remind myself that this is more about mental toughness than physical and the whole point is that I have to push myself to complete what needs completing, even when it’s the last thing I can be bothered to do.  To be honest, right now it’s not even particularly strenuous, but it’s stamina here that counts so I’m in this for the long haul and not about to do any more than the experts say I should. 
This is a six month epic so I’ll check in every month and let you know how I’m going.  In the mean time, if you’ve got any recommendations for ‘fun games to play when walking’, I’m all ears!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Derby Blogger

You may not be aware of a wonderful new magazine; the UK's first Roller Derby magazine is called Inside Line and published its first edition recently. They also have an online presence and within this is a blog. You can read my thoughts on new kit as well as plenty of other derby goodness at

You can also buy the magazine through the website - it's ace!


Saturday, 17 September 2011


Insomnia should be an -ism – insomnism, maybe.  Like other ‘isms’ it is as natural and uncontrollable a part of its owner as their handspan or taste in wallpaper. says –ism is a “suffix forming nouns of action, state, condition, doctrine”.  Try telling an insomniac at 2am that they are not in the grip of a state or condition and you may as well try telling someone under the grip of alcoholism that they only think it’s time for a little snifter, or someone dominated by racism that Martin Luther King Jr might have been on to something after all.

Like all –isms, it’s fairly incomprehensible to those who don’t have it.  My husband, for example, prides himself on being a fantastically skilled sleeper - all he has to do is lay down and that’s it; sleep, snuffle, snore.  He simply doesn’t understand that it’s not that simple for me.  I play games in my head to try to bore myself into the land of Nod – mostly the alphabet game – and when I was a kid I used to try to sing myself to sleep.  The only thing that seems to work now is writing stuff down if there are particular thoughts running through my head.  I have a rigid (bordering on OCD) bedtime routine and an incredibly comfortable bed but these things seem insignificant as weapons against night time wakefulness.

So what’s the answer?  I don’t know.  I know what it’s not.  It’s not alcohol – I may appear to be sleeping well when drunk but I wake up feeling entirely unrefreshed, and if I’ve had just under the amount needed to pass out then I lay awake for hours with random thoughts chasing each other through my head.  It’s not milky drinks – they make me wake up needing to pee.  It’s not sleeping pills – they’re great in abnormal circumstances but for a normal night in my own bed they just mask the ongoing problem for a night, rather than solve it.

Maybe I just have to accept insomnia as part of the package of foibles that make me who I am.  Perhaps it really is as intrinsic and immutable a part of my nature as my gargantuan thighs or my love of cheesy rom-coms.  What if the solution is not to try to find ways to get rid of insomnia but ways to deal with the results?  Caffeine, concealer and a power shower? 

They can wait until the morning – right now I’m going to try a new A to Z…A is for anchoring…B is for blocker…C is for cleaning my bearings…oh, crap, that’s something else to add to the to-do list…

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


What's so complicated about motorways? You stay as far left as possible and only move right to overtake. Is that complicated? Judging by the numpties crowding the middle lane of the M6 last weekend it's akin to nuclear physics.

I wouldn't say I get road rage - road major-irritation would be more like it. I'm not an aggressive driver; I shout and swear when people annoy me, rather than letting my stress find an outlet in my driving, but there are several things which annoy me rather more than perhaps they should (in addition to poor lane discipline on a motorway). I thought I'd share them with you...

Not indicating
Why wouldn't you indicate? It requires a small movement of one finger and is courteous and helpful to other road users. For goodness' sake, on most cars you don't even need to remember to turn it off afterwards - what's the problem? My husband is a terrible one for not indicating. In my attempt to be ever helpful, I often sit next to him during those indicator-less moments, chanting, "tick, tock, tick, tock," until he puts it on just to shut me up. It's OK, fellow motorists, no need to thank me.

Not understanding lanes at roundabouts
So you're on a two-lane road, dual carriageway or other, and you are in the outside lane coming up to a roundabout, going straight ahead. STAY IN LANE! Where, exactly, do you think that the person on your inside, also going straight ahead, is going to go when you swerve over to your left on exiting the roundabout? I'll tell you where - straight into your passenger door, that's where. Serves you right.

There is simply no excuse for throwing litter out of a car window. What kind of disgusting, disrespectful, selfish, dirty moron could possibly think that it's OK to discard their rubbish onto the side of the road? Nothing more to say on this one.

I'm sure there's more I could add and you've probably got plenty of your own. For the record, I used to get really wound up by 'baby on board' signs. I interpreted them as suggesting that I am likely to be driving dangerously and should be reminded to drive more carefully around you because of your baby; as if I don't take every precaution not to crash into everyone. That's quite offensive. I try my hardest not to crash into anyone, as it happens, baby on board or not! However, sitting in the car with my sister and her two toddlers as she attempted to drive forward while spending most of the time looking in the rearview mirror as her kids distracted her constantly I realised that the sign isn't there to nag me to drive carefully in case I bump into you, it's there to tell me that you are likely to be unpredictable and I should get out of your way. Thanks for the heads up.

I'm off to get me a 'judgemental woman on board' badge; maybe that'll make people drive a little more considerately (for 'considerately' read 'in the way I'd like') around me. I can but hope.

Friday, 2 September 2011


You know how they say that anorexics look in the mirror and see a fat person?  My problem’s the other way – if I’m honest, I look in the mirror and think I look OK (verging towards not bad at all, in the right light).  It’s only when I look at myself in a photograph that I realise I look like a jolly salad dodger.  Who wants to look ‘jolly’?   (Apart from Father Christmas, and he’s hardly sporting a body to die for.)

Several years ago I lost a lot of weight.  It was the best thing I’ve ever done and at the time I was full of confidence about keeping it off.  Since then, however, two cheeky stone of excess flab has slowly sidled up to my stomach and thighs (surely it can’t be anything to do with my love of food and wine and apparent lack of a ‘feeling full’ signal?) and the time has come to do something about it.

Losing the weight (aiming for three stone as even at my lightest I was a stone heavier than I ought to have been) will have several immediate advantages.  LBRG have some really exciting bouts coming up and I’d like to play in as many of them as possible – this involves being fit, and wheeling three stone less around the track will definitely help.  I’m planning on trekking to Everest Base Camp next Easter and three stone less to cart up a mountain can only be a good thing.  More importantly, my clothes don’t fit and I’m too tight to buy new ones.  Oh, and it’ll make me healthier, blah, blah, blah.

Losing weight is simple – eat less, do more – but as anyone who’s tried it knows, it’s not quite as straightforward in practice.  Also, I am the queen of cheating.  I have always enjoyed a good debate and will happily argue that black is white, just for kicks.  Unfortunately this means that I am quite capable of convincing myself that a bottle of red is no worse than a glass because if I have it all in one sitting my body can’t absorb it all and I’ll just pee it out; when I am drunk, having clearly absorbed the whole bottle, and it becomes clear my logic was flawed, it’s too late.

Being quite sporty, it’s also easy to deny the importance of my fatness by claiming that I’m fit and healthy, despite being only 1.3 BMI points off obesity.  I’m certain that I am fitter than many people of my size but I need to face the fact that I’m simply not as healthy as I would be if I were slimmer.  I know Roller Derby needs people of all sizes, but I’m going to take the chance that I’ll be just as effective a blocker if I’m littler, and who knows, maybe I’ll be a decent jammer one day?

So, with all these thoughts in mind, I embark upon the dieter’s journey.  In the meantime, however, it’s lucky my team play in that most flattering of colours, black!