Sunday, August 28, 2005

Lochs, hills, hearts and apples

It’s been a funny kind of week, mostly because of the Festival. In many ways, I love the Festival. For the three weeks that the Fringe is on, Edinburgh has a completely different atmosphere. People come from all over the world. There are street performers everywhere (the oddest I’ve seen this year is the man on Princes St who stands on his head, hands-free, in a bucket. He doesn’t sway or anything. The bucket hides his face completely, which adds to the surreal nature of the feat.) I’ve been to various shows, all enjoyable, but I’m quite tired from going out in the evenings (last night I was at a show which didn’t start till half-past midnight). In a way I will be glad when it’s finished, although the streets will seem strangely empty and life will be a bit flat.

Look what I did on Wednesday! Don’t worry, it’s only henna…

I decided to do my own design – one of the vaguely Celtic-style heart shapes that come out of my hand when I’m doodling. No, it doesn’t mean anything in particular (a couple of people came up and asked while it was being applied – which was just slightly embarrassing as I was sitting there in my vest top with my unfortunate arms exposed. It took me a long time to find a flattering angle to take a photo). I think of it as a tree of life, but that sounds awfully pretentious and new-agey when you say it out loud!

Anyway I’m pleased with it, although it’s slightly ridiculous, as nobody is likely to see it – it’s on my shoulder so it will always be concealed by my clothes. I rolled up my T-shirt sleeve for this picture! But there’s something obscurely enjoyable about walking along the street thinking “You don’t know what I’ve got on my shoulder”. I guess that might be the attraction of having real tattoos – which is not something I’d ever do. Firstly I’m a big wuss about needles and blood, and secondly I can’t imagine ever being able to choose a design and be certain that you would like it forever. Mine will wear off in about two weeks.

Our trip to the Highlands went well. We travelled to Fort William on ordinary Scotrail trains, then to Mallaig on “The Jacobite” steam train. You can see some photos from the trip if you scroll down (the earlier ones chronologically are at the top. It seemed the easiest way to do it).

“Enough of this piffle about henna and steam trains,” I hear you say. “Have you been moving and eating properly?”

Oh, OK. Well, mostly. Exercise over the weekend mostly consisted of an impromptu walk up a big hill and then down again while we were trying to find the B&B, and then a gentle wander through Fort William and then Mallaig. But I have been back to the gym twice since then and – are you impressed? – have tackled the scary cross-trainer Nordic machine thingy.

In fact I only did this because the gym was very busy and there were no treadmills left for my first burst of cardio, so I did an interval programme on the bike instead. After doing my Nautilus, the prospect of more biking just seemed ineffably boring…

I can’t say I really found it easy. There’s still the same problem of maintaining a regular rhythm, although that became easier when the resistance level went up a bit. However, I did fifteen minutes – not very fast, but hey – and it definitely reaches parts other machines do not touch, such as the top parts of the back of my thighs. Weird feeling. My abs were also involved, possibly because I found it quite tricky to maintain a comfortable upright posture. But my back didn’t hurt afterwards.

Eating has been – well, not as good as last week, but it hasn’t been entirely my fault. The vegetarian options in Fort William and Mallaig are a little limited – baked potatoes are pretty much it. As we know, baked potatoes are not low-GI, although I had them with cottage cheese rather than nice melty cheddar.

I’ll admit culpability regarding the apple pie, the Mars bar and the jelly beans.

The Apple Challenge is going pretty well – I’ve had an apple every day since last Thursday, except for Saturday when I didn’t come across any (that was the day I had the apple pie. Does that count? No, I thought it didn’t.)

Square One goes photoblog

I love taking photos, but rarely have the time to do it. Last weekend was an exception, though.

My father combines a love of steam trains with a tendency to be very difficult to buy presents for. We never know what to get him for his birthday. This year, however, my sister had a brainwave: we would take him on the West Highland Railway to Mallaig. He'd get to go on a steam train, we would get to look at pretty scenery and bond, and it would probably be our last chance to take a trip as a family before I get married next spring (after which we probably will still take trips together, but the D. B. will come too).

It was an incredibly relaxing trip. The scenery was indeed very lovely, so I thought that since I have some photos worth showing for once, you might like to see some.

We set out from Edinburgh rather early and it wasn't until we caught the Fort William train at Glasgow that everyone was fully alert. However, from then on the view from the windows steadily got more and more impressive. Even the stations on that line are picturesque.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Loch Treig

We reached Fort William at about noon, and after some baked potatoes (evidently the Highlands' premier vegetarian option) we set out to find the B&B. This involved a certain amount of mapreading, which led us up a very steep hill, and then down it again when the road turned out to be longer and more curved than was at first evident. A nice friendly fluffy cat was encountered in the car park.
We had a pleasant wander around the town and a good night's sleep, and set out next morning for the main event...

"The Lord of The Isles"

That's the name of the steam engine you can see at the end of the platform. It looks like the crack of dawn, but actually it was about 10am. The clouds look a little ominous...

On the way to Mallaig

View from Glenfinnan Viaduct
( This loch should come after the viaduct: for some reason they didn't upload in the right order and I can't seem to fix it)
The viaduct itself, as seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

As you can see, the weather wasn't quite as good on Sunday. Still, the mist was very atmospheric (and frankly it's more typical of the West Coast than the brilliant sunshine was).

Bay just before Mallaig

Apparently they trained the first ever Commandos here. Seeing the tiny islets brings out my Swallows and Amazons tendencies - I want to explore!

Friendly seal

This seal was taking a great interest in these holidaymakers. Mum thinks it was hoping for a fish.

Mallaig Harbour

Friday, August 19, 2005

Running away from the Dark Side

I am a happy person.

On Tuesday, the scale said 190. Yesterday it said 186.

I finally got myself to the gym on Tuesday, not feeling terribly enthusiastic. It was one of those days when you feel like a large pink puffy marshmallow person. I knew I wouldn’t be at my peak of performance (if I have such a thing) after two weeks off, and indeed I wasn’t.

Usually I run for 15 minutes on the treadmill, on the interval program. (My aim is to increase this gently as I get back into a routine.) On Tuesday I only managed 10. The gym was busyish and on the treadmill next to me was a tall fair guy in white T-shirt and shorts, running lightly as though it didn’t take the least bit of effort. Meanwhile I was labouring gracelessly along in my usual black tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt. We looked like some kind of symbolic representation of the Good Runner and the Bad Runner. Certainly by the end my skin was a most Mephistophelian shade of red.

As I got off the treadmill, another runner asked if I was finished. “Oh good,” he said when I told him I was, “you sweat much less than the other guy,” indicating a bespattered treadmill, which its occupant hadn’t bothered to wipe off (yuck). There was a time when I might even have taken that as a compliment, but I know why I didn’t sweat that much: I wasn’t working as hard as I might have been. That said, after Nautilus I then did a long interval program on the stationary bike (33 minutes) and was so wiped out when I got home that I fell asleep on the sofa. At nine o’clock in the evening. This is not like me, I can tell you. Eventually I managed to drag myself to bed and slept for about nine hours there, after which I felt better.

Yesterday I ran my fifteen minutes and did 20 on the bike, and didn’t fall asleep in the evening. It’s funny, but merely having been to the gym made me feel thinner on Wednesday and Thursday. My muscles didn’t hurt, but I was aware of them (in a way I’m not when I haven’t been exercising) and it makes me hold myself better. It’s true, also, that some of Tuesday’s 190 must have been water. If I can only keep eating sensibly and convince myself that that 186 was real, then that’s a new lowest weight. Eating is going well, and inspired by Zara, I'm challenging myself to eat an apple every day in addition to the fruit and veggies I would normally eat. Five a day really ought to be achievable. Two down, five to go this week.

Oddly enough, the Nautilus weights have been if anything better for my two-week rest. I’ve hit a plateau (numbers-wise) on most of them by now, but some of the machines have been easier than I was expecting. I’ve reached two milestones, however: 250 pounds on the leg press machine, and I’ve completely filled my second Nautilus card. Now I said to myself that when I did this, I would sign up for a free weights induction – you have to do this to use the free weights at my gym. But I’m still mildly terrified by the idea. This is silly. I used to be scared of Nautilus machines and now I’m an old hand (well, oldish). I suppose it’s partly that the Nautilus programmes require no mental work from me – I have the card and I go around and fill in the numbers, without having to make any decisions or plans.

However, the free weights gym is being renovated at the moment, giving me a handy excuse not to take any action for the moment.

I won’t get to the gym on Saturday, because I’m away for the weekend with my family. We’re going to the Highlands on a steam train. Or words to that effect. See you next week.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sluggardry and comedy

I haven’t been to the gym for two weeks.It’s been a busy time. My old job ended two weeks ago, and I had a week’s holiday during which the D. B. came to stay for four days. He’s been under a lot of pressure lately, as the final month of his Master’s project is approaching and he’s been working far too hard (as is his wont). Just before he came up, he was convinced he shouldn’t be taking any time off at all, soI was a bit worried that he wouldn’t be able to relax (indeed, I was slightly worried he wouldn’t come). However, we had a great time: the Edinburgh Festival is on at the moment and we went to see The Odd Couple with Bill Bailey and Alan Davies – which was very, very funny, despite a rather wandering accent (New York by way of Essex and quite possibly Australia) from Mr Davies. We also saw the Improverts comedy team who are always splendid. They improvise sketches based on audience suggestions. Whatever they are. Anyone who can improvise a musical, complete with songs, about a light that won’t turn off is a genius in my book.

The rest of the week was mostly taken up with doing weddingy things, like booking a car and trying on dresses. Shamefully, as I had to admit at the beginning of this blogging thing, some of the reason I'm trying to shed some of myself is to look good in said dress. I know pretty much what I want: I’ve seen it in a magazine but it costs £1,400. Even if I could countenance it for a dress I'll wear once, we DO NOT have that kind of money to spend on it.

I’ve tried before to blog about trying on wedding dresses, but have found it very difficult to express what I feel about the whole thing. I love clothes, but I have a kind of split personality about them: on the one hand I love to dress up on occasion, but on the other, I don’t like fussy fastenings and overelaborate details. Also I invariably feel that whatever it was, it looked better on the hanger.

Most bridal samples seem to be a size twelve (US 10), which means I spend a lot oftime standing about pinned into dresses that won’t do up at the back, and with my arms crammed into too-tight sleeves. This isn’t terribly good for the self-esteem. Hardly any dresses have sleeves, because the fashion is for strapless bodices. However, since we’re doing the deed in church, and I hate my arms anyway, a more covered-up style is essential. But the choice is so limited: we’ve yet to find a shop with more than three styles with sleeves, and I don’t really want a jacket or wrap as I will still want my arms covered in the evening. I have seen a dress that will do if we can’t find one I like better… That’s not the attitude! I don’t think we’ve entirely cracked it yet. I'll stop moaning.

But, the exercise. And more importantly, the food.

I might let myself off not going to the gym while I was on holiday – I did go for some long walks – but I feel bad about not having gone this week. My new job started on Monday. It’s what I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and an end to my weird half-life of working in the mornings and volunteering in the afternoons.

The weird half-life had one advantage, however. I got an hour and a half for lunch, which was plenty of time to go to the gym. Now I’m slightly further away, which means I have to factor in two ten-minute walks. If I allow fifteen minutes for changing and showering, that only leaves me fifty minutes to do two lots of cardio and Nautilus – oh, and to eat my lunch. Because my new job involves working with unique historical records, it’s forbidden (perfectly sensibly) to eat lunch at your desk. Call that fifteen minutes, and all you have left is thirty-five. It’s not enough.

In this job I’m working flexi-time, which I’ve never done before. The idea is that you can work whatever combination of hours you like between seven a.m. and seven p.m. The working day is seven and a half hours long, but you can work longer if you like and earn yourself some time off later. Or vice versa. So I could take a ninety-minute lunch if I liked. The snag would be that I’d then have to get back those extra half-hours, either that day or another day. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, but if I work late I miss eating dinner with my family. The ideal thing (and lots of people here do it) would be to start earlier, but I am not at all a morning person.

Myold job started at nine and frankly I wasn’t too awake then. This week I’ve dragged myself in for 8.45 three times, 8.30 once, and felt like a total zombie (PMS didn't help much). I’ve also been really tired and spaced-out in the evenings – I even fell asleep on the sofa on Tuesday. Usually the evening is my good time. What’s the point of getting up early so you have time to have a life after work, if you’re too tired to do anything once you finish?

What I think I’ll have to do is this: start going to the gym on Saturdays. Then I can take an extra half-hour on Tuesday and Thursday, probably at the end of the day rather than lunchtime (I’ll just take the minimum allowed half-hour lunchbreak). That would still be seven and a half hours at work.Then I’ll only be late home two days a week, which won’t be so bad. I’m not going to earn myself many days off this way, however!

Eating lately has been rubbish. I’m forced to admit it – I am not good at this dieting business. I just accept helpings of things on the spur of the moment, and don’t plan ahead enough. It wouldn’t be so bad if I said “OK, I had chocolate mousse yesterday – that means I have to eat slightly lighter than usual today to compensate,” but I don’t really do that either, although I always tell myself I will when I’m giving in to temptation.

We have had guests, which means that more treats have been around than usual. But I’m in danger of getting into the habit of eating badly when the D. B’s around, because I tend to be on holiday then, and I’ve got to teach myself not to – preferably before he moves up here at the end of next month.

Update: This was written on Friday. I still haven't been to the gym, because I am in pain (TOM). On the other hand, I have been to see the Lost and Lonely Rebels – three men, three chairs, comedy splendour (feat. Archie from Balamory, and Stuart and Humphrey the Improverts – see above). They could make anyone feel better.