Pretty Things

Had my instincts of self-preservation compelled me to do so, I’d have looked up the advice pages on wordpress and somewhere there discovered guidance on those topics that single, white, middle-aged men should on no account commit to blogging about.

At the very top of that list of pages my eyes may have fallen upon a solitary entry listed, “WOMEN”.

I am, however, perilously lacking in this respect and I’m not likely to ignore a week of news dominated at every turn by women.

The week started as the previous one had ended. Sky sports presenter’s Andy Gray and Richard Keys were making the headlines following their sexist comments against female assistant referee, Sian Massey. By Wednesday they were gone; Gray having been sacked the day before followed by Keys who resigned.

The two men had served at the helm of Sky’s premier league football commentary team since its inception 19 years ago. But they failed to acknowledge that in that time the country had moved on. Certain types of behaviour would no longer be tolerated. Revelations and accusations regarding the pair now seep daily from every pore of the media. It makes for painful reading with a capital Ouch.

Sky’s priority now is to rebuild the trust between it and its fee-paying audience, so perhaps they’ll plump for an anchorwoman to replace Keys. Top of any list must surely be the BBC sports presenter, Gabby Logan. Gabby is the daughter of former Leeds United midfield ace, Terry Yorath, and is as talented and knowledgeable about the game as they come.

Much further afield, In Egypt, pretty things have not been happening to the women there for a very long time. They have had it tough. Very tough. Last year, The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) published a report stating that the country ranked 125th out of 134 in a league of countries in relation to women’s rights.

The report, based on findings of International human rights organisations, found that of all violent crime recorded in Egypt last year, an astonishing 71.4% was perpetrated against women. 27 incidents of rape were recorded daily, though this was dwarfed by a separate report which claimed that 95% of rapes in the country go unreported.

Domestic violence in Egypt affects a startling 33% of the female population. The public groping of women is reported to be common in some parts of the country as is their sexual violation by police officers.

So it is not surprising then that in this context the streets of Cairo and other major Egyptian cities have been thronged with women protesting in favour of change. “Dirty government”, they complain, as they rein bottles down upon police officers from the balconies of their homes. Egypt is experiencing revolution and women are in the vanguard of its momentum.

Meanwhile, in Washington, I watched as the most powerful woman on the planet, Hilary Clinton, went live on TV and issued a warning to the Egyptian government that it should not use repressive measures to quell the popular uprising in the country. The inference was clear, the message emphatic.

Closer to home, Conservative MP, Dominic Raab, was creating mischief. He had an article published on the Politics Home website, also covered in detail by the Daily Mail, entitled, “We Must End Feminist Bigotry”. The 37 year old member for Esher and Walton complained that men were getting a “raw deal” given recent, anti-discrimination laws that were designed to favour women.

Of his many complaints, his determination that, “divorced or separated fathers are systematically ignored by the courts”, stood out for me. I am a single father who has been fortunate in that I have not had to go to court to gain access to my son; but I’m conscious that many fathers aren’t so fortunate, and many fail to succeed when they get there. The law’s interpretation of access rights for fathers is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Though, I’d much rather Dominic Raab hadn’t attempted to tackle issues that genuinely affect and concern men by attacking women and systematically promoting the idea that they have legal privileges exclusive to their gender. In doing so, his article fundamentally undermined his argument.

On Thursday, I was watching on TV as Theresa May listened thoughtfully to Dominic Raab as he delivered his second whine of the week about the topic; this time in the Commons.

“Labelling females as obnoxious bigots is not the way forward”, she retorted. The chastened Raab squirmed uncomfortably in his seat and feigned amusement, but the damage was done; the home secretary’s rebuke was cutting.

When he arrived home that evening, I can’t help but wonder if Dominic Raab made his way upstairs for a private moment alone in order to tentatively determine if all his particulars remained intact.

Last week saw Yvette Cooper, Labour’s newly appointed shadow home secretary, up against Theresa May; following the formers recent appointment. The shadow home secretary tore into the minister over plans to modify the time terrorist suspects may be held in custody without charge and questioned the home secretary’s administration of the process.

The ever impressive Cooper was, for once, outflanked by an increasingly confident Teresa May who clearly believes she has the measure of her latest, opposite number.

The articulate and passionate Cooper is the master of detail, has great resolve and is passionate in her delivery. May, in contrast, is calm, astute and seemingly a good reader of her adversary. I suspect there is, or will soon be, poor chemistry developing between the two. There may be trouble ahead and I intend to reserve an exclusive, front row seat.

It was declared last week that Stella Creasy, the Labour and Co-Operative MP for Walthamstow Forest, is to become Labour’s next prime minister. This is according to John Rentoul, the Independent on Sunday’s chief political commentator. “She comes across well and looks like a tory”, he said.

Passionate about her constituency and those whom she serves, she can be found on twitter providing regular updates of her busy, daily schedule.

Despite the entire London Transport system being at her disposal as well as the most technologically advanced mobile phone, computer device and software, none of these can quite keep up with the breakneck speed with which Stella Creasy tends to the challenge of moving seamlessly from one set of constituency appointments to the next. Her twitter feed would suggest that Apple, and the London underground network in particular, need to significantly up their game.

Whether Dr Creasy, a psychology graduate from LSE, is a prime minister in waiting is anyone’s guess. Personally, I think John Rentoul was having a slow news day and allowed his mind to wander during a slack schedule. He certainly did her no favours by describing her as someone who looks like a tory. What exactly does a tory look like, anyway?

All the same, I wouldn’t dare underestimate the Walthamstow MP. She appears to be making an impact in the Commons where she has introduced a Bill to combat the scourge of legal loan sharking. She has proved adroit at mobilising all parties to participate in the issues concerned with the Bill and appears to be making headway.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband didn’t get a mention from John Rentoul.

Finally, on Saturday morning, I almost choked on my Mornflake oats when I opened up my twitter feed to discover Dawn Purvis tweeting live…from Iraq. The independent MLA, the only remotely interesting politician in Northern Ireland’s Stormont Assembly, was attending a conference on the role of women in peace-building, reconciliation and accountability. Should this have surprised me? Probably not, but it did.

Sometimes in life you are given little warning signs that signal the likely occurrence of greater events to come. You can either dismiss this seemingly insignificant nuance or embrace it for what it represents. Last week just may be a signal that we’re soon to enter a phase in politics when women will dominate, impose themselves and make a significant contribution to all our futures.

This post is testimony to that theory and to claim my stake that we are soon to witness its dawn.


Run For Your Life

Many people who are new to running tend to take it far too seriously. It’s a big thing to start running but you must do it in order to enjoy it and in a lot of cases that means changing how you feel about it.

Sit down for 10 minutes, alone, and really think about why you want to run. Running is precious me time. Should you manage to persist with it, you’ll become increasingly protective of that time.

When you’re body has adapted to regular running it tends to work more efficiently. It can help you to become more energetic and cope better with the stresses of daily life. It can also act as a catalyst that releases natural, feel-good endorphins into the body. Endorphins are produced in the pituitary gland and can enhance mood and help promote a positive and confident attitude.

For the running itself the most important thing is to see it as a learning curve like everything else. It’s a skill that comes to fruition when your leg joints learn to adapt to the impact of running; when your heart and lungs adapt to being used under pressure for sustained periods of time and, most importantly, when your mind adapts to running and you learn to recognise and confront its subconscious attempts to prevent you from doing so.

Therein does lie a fundamental truth about running. No matter if you attend fun runs, 6km or 10km runs, half or full marathons, you’re not just running alongside other participants. You’re likely to be competing against the fears, strengths and weaknesses present in your own head. It took me a very long time to understand that. When I did, running suddenly became a very personal, even selfish, pursuit, but an enjoyable and challenging one.

For the novice I would recommend running at a pace that you find effortless and for a period of 2 months’ stick with that pace and never deviate from it. Increase your speed only at the end of this period of time and even then only do so gradually.

I find short sprinting exercises at the end of each run helps the natural transition needed to achieve a progressive increase in pace without injuring your body in the process. Again though, gently does it.

Such measures can help prevent injuries to a body inexperienced to running and keep you motivated and hungry for more. You’ll also find that you’ll develop your own running style during this period of familiarisation with running. This is much better than one being forced brutally upon you by over doing it; leading to injury.

There is little to be said that is good or complimentary when face to face on the road with a newcomer to running who is significantly overweight. This is particularly true when that someone is accompanied by a personal trainer who should really know better than to have them out at all.

Lose the significant part of the weight before you embark on this pastime. In doing so you will reduce your exposure to a cabal of potential injuries that I guarantee will ensure your flirtation with running is a brief one – a never again to be considered exercise in improving your personal fitness.

The most common and debilitating of these injuries include ankle sprains, knee injuries, lower back pain, sciatica and, my own penance…. the curse of shin splints. Shin splints, incidentally, refers to a plethora of lower limb injuries one or more of which you may come to suffer from. It does not relate to one type of injury in a specific area. This is commonly misunderstood, even amongst more experienced runners.

The ability to run on grass, sand or other kind surface is not always possible, particularly for city dwellers. So at all costs avoid injuries caused by the ferocious impact of an overweight body on hard, unforgiving road surfaces. It is generally acknowledged today that the impact of running exerts the equivalent of 3 times your normal body weight on leg joints.

The right running shoes are the main priority when it comes to making an investment in your new found interest. There are many shoes on the market and, if you are new to running, you will discover quite a number of these will be adequate to meet your needs.

The more informed running shops have someone who understands different running gaits. These shops may also have a treadmill on the premises and a camera that can record your stride. Knowledgeable staff can then interpret what they see and offer advice on which shoes to buy.

When the foot hits the ground it can over-pronate. That is to say that the foot rolls inwards, excessively so in this instance, causing stress and potential injury; mainly to the lower leg. Some shoes are designed to minimise this.

But the thinking that specifically designed shoes is an effective counter measure to over-pronation is challenged by a core minority who believe that over-pronation is an evolutionary design system of the body that acts like a shock absorber, dispersing the forces of impact through the legs.

Consider the case of respected Ethiopian runner, Haile Gebrselassie, a recently retired world-champion marathon runner. He exhibits a severe form of over-pronation, as demonstrated by this video. Interestingly, the commentator does not reflect on his over-pronation as something necessitating a course of treatment.

In any case, your average runner is more interested in the practical implications of the argument rather than the science behind it. In my experience a combination of a body inexperienced to running, as well as one that was overweight, was directly responsible for the injuries that I received. When I resolved those 2 issues I found I could run injury-free in just about any type of running shoe. But that is just my own experience.

We obsess about diet more than at any time that I can remember. Every type of diet fad imaginable has been concocted, argued over, re-written or eventually abandoned. Sadly, many diets are the products of fashion. The architects of these diets want us to love their new, innovative recipes; heap gushing praise and sentiment on their creative ingenuity; marvel at their latest fat-burning pills and, of course, spend our money on it all.

How anyone who is serious about changing their eating habits can make sense of this explosion of information and advice, let alone afford it all, or even believe in a lot of it, remains out of the sphere of my current knowledge on the subject.

When I embark on a period of physical activity I stick to a few basic principles that have served me well. I never diet. I eat properly. There is a difference. I find some of the best nutritional advice available on this topic is available in men’s weight training magazines, some of which provide outstanding advice.

I eat lots and lots of fruit and vegetables. I tend to cut out certain goodies, at least initially. Alcohol is off limits. Well, almost. So too are cakes, sweets, crisps and chocolate. Bye, bye for now. I can catch up with them later on when I’m fitter and leaner.

We have a tendency to eat far too many carbohydrates today. Mashed, roasted or chipped potatoes are amongst the favourites. I have often wondered if this is an unintended legacy from the hard, manual labour of the industrial revolution, and of wars and rationing. Carbohydrates offer a bounty of energy and are readily available and inexpensive; the need for them in great quantities was a necessity in times past.

However, the fact is that we don’t need anything like the quantities that we all too readily consume today. The tendency is to fill the plate with them. I reduce mine significantly but would never, ever cut them out completely. We need a certain amount to maintain good health. I tend to stick with whole wheat pasta, brown rice and whole wheat couscous. I don’t exclude potatoes or white rice, but have them less often.

I consume mainly fresh fish and low fat meat that will include lean chicken, turkey and, more recently, rabbit; for protein.

About 15% or so of my diet consists of foods that contain essential fats. Brazil nuts, almonds, olive oil, peanut butter are a few examples. Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are also good sources. I have read that things like Brazil nuts help to burn body fat, not increase it as many people I know tend to believe. These fatty acids also help to maintain healthy hair, skin and play a part in healthy brain and sexual function.

Combined with running and weight-resistance training 3 times a week, using the above rules allowed me to lose significant, unwanted weight and I felt great.

We are all different, what works for me might not work for you. Running does not suit everyone. However, if it is for you and you stick at it, the benefits and enjoyment can be hugely rewarding.