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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Walk and Talk

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Walk and Talk

Modern life is all about short cuts. Labour-saving inventions to save us time and effort.  Time and effort that can be used for something else, be it work or leisure.

Let’s go back to the 80s. My gran’s TV was a fascinating machine. It was out of this magic box would spill our daily hour of children’s telly, and give the adults a break.  My gran would sit with us in ‘her chair’, but would often be sleeping before the hour was out. 

The TV went as far back as it did from side to side (no flat screen goodness), had a wooden surround and channels that were changed by way of four physical buttons – BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and ITV2.  There wasn’t an ITV2 when the TV was made of course, but the expectation was that there soon would be.  

The TV set was also made before the advent of the remote control.  Nowadays, having to peel yourself off the sofa mid-box set binge is only necessary when the batteries in the remote run out.

There are myriad other innovations, inventions and gadgets that relieve us of the need to exert ourselves more than the minimum – a plethora of appliances, vehicles and tools to give us more valuable time to, well, what?  Hopefully to get out and walk the dog. Maybe hunt errant Pokemon?  I fear that much of our saved time though is spent doing not very much, something squarely in sedentary territory.

Many modern appliances like our washing machines and dishwashers would be greatly missed by many and I wouldn’t want to suggest that such progress is bad, but inevitably the labour that we are saved is mostly physical and so naturally, the modern human has less need to expend as many calories. And do we balance things out with exercise?  Not enough is the answer.

Talking of appliances, we can see with one appliance, the vacuum cleaner, how progression has gone from labour-saving to just plain lazy.  Vacuuming used to require a fair few runs over the same patch of carpet before you’d suggest it was clean. Returning to my gran for a moment, I remember her having a vacuum cleaner that weighed a ton and picked up far less.  Using it was a real workout.  Vacuum cleaner technology improved and time taken to clean was reduced.  Cordless cleaners then saved us from unplugging the appliance and plugging it back in in each room, saving more time again.  And now, we have the automatic vacuum cleaner. One can purchase something that looks like an over-sized hockey puck that will go off on its own and clean your floors (and scare your cat).  So, we have the vacuuming equivalent of the remote control.  A device that requires no effort bar changing batteries.

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This is not a technology blog though (much as my inner geek would love it to be).  I’m writing about labour-saving inventions as these have given us back time, but taken away a need to be as physically active.   With mobile phones and email we can communicate from wherever we are.  With modern transport we can (painfully slowly at times) get to where we want with minimal waggling of lazy legs.  As adults our working practices are often bound to desks and children now are increasingly exposed to screen-based entertainment that has the power to transfix them into a quiet stupor (an understandably appealing prospect to tired parent).

So, while the need to be physically active to achieve everyday tasks is diminishing, the need to be active for the sake of our heart and our mind (exercising less is not good for your mental health either) is not. From ever more regular media reports we know all about the dangerous obesity levels in the Western world and while there are a number of sports that can help fight the flab and keep your heart healthy, there are smaller, simple ways that you can make a difference too.  For us bees in the modern office hive, sitting down for eight hours is dangerous to our health.

Try getting off that seat and going to another office to talk to a colleague.  Revolutionary, I know.  As quick as an email or call is, meeting face to face makes for a better interaction AND might involve a few more valuable calories burned.  Also, if you drive or take a bus to work, park further away or get off a few stops early if you can.  You probably won’t lose much time, but you will lose incremental inches.  And last of all, don’t take the lift unless you a) physically can’t manage stairs or b) work in a skyscraper.

The average person in the UK walks about half a mile a day.  Thirty years ago this was two thirds of a mile. Advances in technology invariably mean needing to move less to get by, meaning we’re on a collision course with heart problems, diabetes and more unless we take steps (literally and figuratively) to counter the real threat inherent in spending too long standing still.

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Fat as a Fiddle

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Fat as a Fiddle

Booty is in the eye of the beholder.  What you think of as thin or fat may differ substantially from what I or anyone else might do.  One man’s flabby is another man’s fabulous.  One thing for sure is that the subject of someone’s weight/shape is rarely one for public conversation, unless the tone is positive – ‘Have you lost weight?’ etc.

I am overweight.  I’m not going to say fat, but mainly because that term can be subjective and I’ll apply it to myself one day and not the next. My self view can even change from one minute to the next. Now, men in general sometimes talk about their weight and other men’s weight, but almost always in the negative (and usually in a teasing way).  This is in contrast to my experience of what happens when women discuss the subject.  My experience of overhearing their conversations is that you’re more likely to have a group of women who take issue with their bodies and weight, while the others act as an impromptu support group.

The size and shape of women is a media-fuelled obsession and one you could write endlessly about, it’s a glaring spotlight that places unrealistic and unhealthy pressure upon young girls in particular.  Men are seldom judged by the same criteria, but they certainly judge themselves.

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I refer you back to the sentence further up – ‘I am overweight’.  Read it again. There will almost certainly be some people reading (ones who know me), whose first instinct was – ‘No, he’s not’.  And there’ll be different reasons for that I’m sure.  You have a different idea of ‘overweight’, perhaps.  You simplify things down to thin, normal and fat, therefore putting me in the middle third?  Maybe you’re reading this, are in similar shape to me, and don’t like to think of yourself as heavier than perhaps you should be.  Most likely though it is British reserve/politeness that keeps most people from giving their opinion on others’ physical appearance and that extends even to what we are thinking.

And, in the main, this isn’t a bad thing.  Unabridged honesty about the people around us could lead to some tense friendships and awkward offices.

But, as we’re all too aware, obesity is increasingly an issue.  A deadly one.  Between 20 and 30% of 4-5 year olds in Wales are overweight or obese and over 80% of obese children are obese as they get older too.  Worrying stuff.

I play some sport because I enjoy it, but the majority of my sometimes reluctant exercise is undertaken to make me healthier as well as trimmer.  It’s all too easy for your bodily circumference to slowly, surreptitiously slip outwards and your feet fade from view…  Over the years I’ve let each new waist measurement become my ‘normal’, the new yardstick beyond which I judge to be ‘too much’ and cue for me to move more. My ever-moving goalpost.

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In a sense we’re caught between two potentially conflicting issues.  There’s certainly a challenge around expectations regarding appearance and shape being continuously thrust in our faces by the media and reinforced by peers, but we can’t let it go too far the other way with the subject of excessive, unhealthy weight not being broached.

There are positive ways of facing up to the issue.  With children, their diets can be managed and exercise encouraged (as well as limits placed on time spent on sedentary activities). With friends or partners, subtlety is key.  Making exercise a social activity is one way to encourage a reticent runner to pound the pavement, but with adults, they have to want to eat better, drink less or exercise more.  But as a friend or husband/wife, we can sieze on opportunities and support someone when they decide to stop moving their own goalposts.

The Galactico Sideshow

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Wales and Portugal have had quite different journeys at the European Championships in France.  Aside from a narrow loss against England in their second game, Wales have won all of their games at the competition and have gone from being solid to spectacular as the competition has progressed.  Portugal have shown flashes of inspiration and their attacking potential, but you still feel they haven’t flourished as yet. But then Wales more than coped with all of the flair Belgium could muster.

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A first ever semi-final for Wales should be the main story here.  But the press love a personal confrontation, a gladiatorial clash of titans.  Or, in this case, Galacticos.  At Real Madrid, Bale and Ronaldo are on the same side, though talk of them not getting on too well seems to rear up from time to time. And that helps fuel the story of confrontation, but as with the press in the UK, I’m sure a lot of this is maybe a little bit exaggerated to sell Spanish tabloids.  To get to where Bale and Ronaldo are, you need to focus on your own performance and your contribution to the team.

Yes, I’m going to talk about teamwork again.  The press is already putting a lot of focus on Bale and Ronaldo right up until kick off, and you can see why.  Everyone knows their names.  They’re the star players.  So their respective teams’ success will depend on their performances tomorrow night.  Or will it?

Watching Portugal, you sense that Ronaldo is the self-elected focal point for the team. He tries to get involved wherever he can, that’s for sure.  A laudable commitment, but it means that he wants to be everywhere, winning every ball and hitting every shot, and when a potential pass to him doesn’t materialise, he doesn’t always react like a real star should (but as sadly many do).

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Watching Bale is very different.  He very obviously has a higher level of skill than his teammates (as well as most on the planet). His composure on the ball, turn of pace and eye for a pass mark him out.  But he operates as a team member first and foremost.  The fact that he has superb individual talent is a bonus.  I haven’t yet seen Bale grab a game by the scruff of the neck and win it by himself, but that’s his role.  He has scored and assisted more than the others, but more as a result of adding a little finesse to a well-drilled unit, than waltzing past a whole opposition team single-handed.

And this Galactico sideshow will suit Chris Coleman just fine.  The press can concentrate on a one-on-one Real Madrid dust up and Wales can concentrate on playing as they have up till now.  As a unit.  As Wales. Not as Bale & Co.

Wales didn’t go into the game against Belgium as favourites and despite their performance last Friday, they’re still the bookies’ favourites to be flying home to Rhoose on Thursday morning.  Having seen both teams play and, for all the potential danger Portugal pose, they are still somewhat reliant on Ronaldo, who is desperate to be conductor, general and national hero.

Bale gets the headlines, gets quoted in papers and is on the majority of Welsh shirts, but Wales’ amazing story in France has been built on the solid foundations of a team with palpable passion, sticking to a plan and working hard for each other.

All people are talking about is football here in Cardiff now, regardless of prior interest levels, and I’ve heard numerous tales of kids wanting to perfect a ‘Robson-Kanu turn’ in the garden or want to get hair like Bale (not sure about that one).  It’s exciting and Football has always had the participation numbers in Wales, but hasn’t really had a winning team to match. I just hope the FAW are able to cope with the explosion of interest in the sport created by Wales’ endeavours.

Of course, if they don’t make it past the semi-final tomorrow, they’ll still get a heroes’ welcome and rightly be called winners anyway, but I have a feeling that the odyssey of this special Welsh team is not over just yet.

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