Sleeping at Altitude

Dear Reader

I apologise for the longish interval since the last post. I say longish, but really, as the long-suffering long-term readers of this blog could tell you, this latest spell of literary inactivity is nothing, a mere blip on the radar, a veritable drop in the ocean of time, when compared to some of my previous hiatuses.

The blame for my non-writing is, as ever, to be laid firmly at the door of someone or something else. On this occasion I will blame more life changes. At the end of the month I moved out of the Finance Director’s house, flushed with success at having not burnt it to the ground. I consider not-burning-the-house-to-the-ground the principle achievement of any successful house-sitting gig, which may seem a conservative goal, but – I think you’ll agree – a worthy one.

The remainder of my time in the FD’s house went reasonably smoothly. Her bathroom scales continued to malfunction, only ever showing two numbers – zero and <a big number>, no matter how many times I went to the gym. But latterly my gym visits were stymied by a fungal infection in my foot (I do apologise if you’re eating your tea), which kept me on my backside for large parts of the day, with foot propped in the air, and doing a lot of hopping around on my other foot when movement was required.

On one memorable morning, I got out of bed, and showered, only to realise I had left something important (in a fungal foot-care sense) at the bottom of the stairs, and was left with no alternative but to hop down the stairs naked. Naturally, while mid-descent I remembered that the bottom of the stairs was 100% visible to anyone standing at the front door, due to the proliferation of unfortunately-placed glass doors. Such as, say, the postman.

Mercifully, the postman was not at that moment in the vicinity, and able to witness my naked stair-hopping. I hopped gratefully back up the stairs.

Having moved out of my big house in the country, I eschewed the opportunity to move in with my mother for the second time in my adult life, and instead moved into another flat in Edinburgh, which, it’s fair to say, is a fraction smaller. My bedroom is of a size which makes me wonder if, come the fast-approaching summer, there will be room for the bed *and* my cricket bag. I strongly suspect not. In other circumstances I might prefer the bag over the bed (am confident the cricket bag could be pressed into action as a bed – it’s approximately the same size), but the bed will not be moved, nailed to the wall as it is. It’s a cabin bed, the slightly-more-grown-up cousin of bunk beds, and it’s very high up. So high up in fact that I woke up feeling slightly ill halfway through Wednesday night, which I attributed to altitude sickness, but may in all honesty have been more to do with a bag of Cadbury’s mini eggs that I had worked my way through earlier in the evening.

The cabin bed, while not a bunk bed per se, brings back fuzzy nostalgic memories of caravanning holidays with my family in the 80s, only without the permanent faint smell of gas and the reassuring drumming of rain on the roof. It was during one of these caravan holidays that the top bunk (which was more of a hammock, and contained my sister at the time) collapsed on top of me one night. Good times.

My new flatmate is a top bloke with many endearing qualities, such as a sizeable Wisden collection. He’s given to much physical exercise, and goes running every Wednesday night, while I sit at home and work my way through the chocolate mini eggs (see above).

Obviously I can’t confirm that Cadbury’s will be the chocolate choice every week, and post-Easter one assumes that other non-egg related chocolate shapes will need to be found.

Maybe it’s time to find a local gym again…

Coats and Bags

Last Tuesday I went to Ocean Terminal, looking for a coat. My Mother and my Sister had clubbed together at Christmas and given me some money to buy a new coat with.

“Take a photo of you wearing the coat” had been my Sister’s parting shot, perhaps fearing that no money would be spent on said coat, and that her generous gift might instead be frittered away on Empire Biscuits and perhaps some nice new audio gear.

As an aside, I’m not sure investing money in Empire Biscuits could ever be considered “frittering”. However.

Last Tuesday was the day. I must confess, gents, that I somewhat let the side down in the shopping department. Instead of employing the classic “enter shop – buy thing – leave shop pronto” male shopping technique, I wandered round aimlessly, not only around one store, but in and out of several, no less. I even tried multiple things on.

I found the coat. It was perfect. Just a fraction on the “neat” side. I looked at the label. XL. Not a good feeling – finding an XL garment a little on the neat side. I enquired of the youthful sales assistant, who, in a flurry of touchscreening, confirmed that larger sizes were available. I said I’d think about it.

I retreated to a coffee shop to lick my wounds and consider the options. Texted Mother and Sister with pictures of me in various coats. They agreed with me that the slightly neat XL coat was the One. I returned to the store, where there was no sign of the youthful sales assistant. Probably away on an attention-span break, checking Twitter. I attempted the touchscreening, but couldn’t find the XXL version to order.

Dismayed, I switched tack and moved on to the Superdry store to find a replacement bag. My much-loved bag’s zip had recently given up the ghost, taking the ironic non-waterproofness of a Superdry bag to a whole new level. My much-loved bag was a courier bag, I discovered. Courier bags, it seems, have gone heavily out of fashion since I was last bag-shopping. All the kids, it seems, are using backpacks these days. Couple of messenger bags also available, but almost all backpacks. I briefly entertained the messenger bag notion, but decided they were overpriced. Eventually found a like-for-like courier bag replacement, but decided it was overpriced too, and went away to think about it.

(It would be fair and reasonable to question the rationality of my behaviour in entering a Superdry store and leaving it empty-handed because things were expensive…)

Considered looking for a new pair of shoes, but having already tried on coats and nearly purchased a bag, decided I had probably already exceeded my Ladies’ Items Allowance for the day.

Having later found an XXL version of the coat online, and arranged for it to be delivered to the Livingston outlet, I duly appeared there Friday morning, walking steadfastly past the nearby Krispy Kreme outlet. Picked up coat. Buoyed by this unusual shopping success, nipped in to the Superdry store there, having decided to get over myself and my poverty mindset. Nary a courier bag in sight. Wall-to-wall backpacks. Plus a few messenger bags. Consoled myself by not walking past the Krispy Kreme outlet on the way back.

Cue a return to the Ocean Terminal Superdry store. The courier bags had disappeared, behind a sea of backpacks and one or two messenger bags, but a friendly youthful sales assistant found them for me, hiding behind a raft of trendy jackets.

Five minutes later I walked out of the store clutching my brand new messenger bag. Obviously.

The last few days have been mercifully free of shopping expeditions and the associated confusion and distress. After a week’s hiatus I made it back to the gym yesterday morning, in an attempt to regain XL sizing. In the middle of 3 sets of sweaty ab-crunching I looked up to see an older lady, pedalling away on a cross-trainer. Wearing a fur-lined coat.

I must be doing something wrong…

The Induction

Dear Reader

Life in the Finance Director’s House is going well. Although, there being so many rooms, I do occasionally lose things, notably my shoes. It’s just hard to remember which room I’ve kicked them off in sometimes. And it being a large house of a certain age, sometimes things do go bump in the night, and occasionally doors open by themselves, creaking as they do so, which is mildly disconcerting. Especially when one has just watched an episode of Sherlock, which was prefaced with the warning “contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing”. (Excellent episode that, mind, a real return to form.)

But apart from that, and the regular battle to remember which of the bank of 11 light switches controls the light I want to put on, I’m getting on famously well, to the point where I’ve begun to diligently research Squatter’s Rights.

And so far I’ve made good on my New Year’s Resolution (perhaps “resolution” is a bit strong, can one have a New Year’s Intention?) to do some exercise each week.

In fact, this is my second gym visit this week, no less, which is quite something. Technically my third, but I don’t want to brag, and really all that came of the first (and only, had I not been thwarted by a dastardly receptionist) visit of the week was to reschedule a visit for today.

On Tuesday I rocked up to my local (country) gym, fully intent on sweating profusely in a whole new postcode, only to discover that West Lothian Leisure Gym Receptionists are a little more enthusiastic at following the rules than their Edinburgh Leisure counterparts. On visiting a gym for the first time, she (the over-zealous* Receptionist) explained, one must be inducted, like into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, only different. (She may or may not have mentioned the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame).

My protestations regarding having visited a gym before were dismissed with a glance at my ‘physique’ and an airy wave of the hand, and with her feisty application of the letter of the law ringing in my ears, I found myself confused to the point of scheduling my Induction for 7.30am this morning. I have no idea what I was thinking.

But not to be completely thwarted in my fitness plans, and mindful of the fact that I would not necessarily be in much of a state to exercise properly post-Induction, at such an unearthly hour of the morning, I immediately drove to Edinburgh’s Ainslie Park, where I was allowed to work up a sweat without first having to prove my credentials.

Not much to report on this morning’s Induction. I sat down, and was rudely photographed (I propose that pre-8am portraits should be made illegal), before I broke the blood pressure machine, three times in all, and was taken on a tour of the facility, in the process learning about any number of new instruments designed to torture muscles I didn’t even know existed.

The flip-side to two gym visits in a week, of course, is the entitlement to have two McDonald’s chocolate milkshakes, which, as any athlete knows, is a post-exercise must.

In other news, the current spell of cold weather has revealed that my car dashboard pings and provides a helpful potential-ice-on-the-road icon whenever the outside temperature hits 3C. That’s regardless of whether the temperature is on the way up or down at the time. Accordingly, switching on the ignition when the temperature is minus 1 provides no warning at all, but should the temperature rise to 3, I get visibly and audibly alerted.

Stay safe out there, people, and avoid 3C at all cost. (That’s 37.4F, American friends. I haven’t forgotten y’all, nor y’all’s safety)

*zealous in the Mac dictionary is defined and then quoted in context thus “the council was extremely zealous in the application of the regulations.” I kid you not. How apt.

The Blog is Back

Well, dear reader

A lot of water has passed under the proverbial bridge since I last wrote in these pages.

Brexit… Indyref… Wiseman has MARRIED, for goodness sake. Up, obviously. Actually, Wiseman married a good two years before the blog went into its most recent, and most prolonged (to date) hibernation, and the event went unrecorded because the blog was in a previous hibernation at the time, but really, the failure to chronicle the Wiseman Wedding is an embarrassment. It was so long ago that there’s a mini Wiseman on the go. Wiseboy, perhaps.

DC and Broon have also got married, although not to each other.

Nasty Jen has got engaged, and shall henceforth be called Party Jen on these pages, not because getting engaged has increased her capacity to party, or even reduced her nastiness, and that’s rather the point – she was only ever called Nasty Jen in the most ironic sense. However, perhaps I am going soft in my middle age, but I don’t really want to prepend “Nasty” to anyone’s name.

Lots of other things have happened too. Since returning from Nashville I have started my own business, worked as a piano teacher, and even as a barista.

Some things have stayed reassuringly the same. Not my waistline, sadly. I put most of the blame for this firmly at the door of iColin, who I used to play squash with regularly, along with his cousin-in-law John. Since John’s squash-playing demise, quoting extensive bathroom renovations and a subsequent move to East Lothian (darling) as reasons, iColin and I have only managed one squash meeting. I can’t remember the outcome, but feel sure I must have won heavily. Anyway, the point is, I haven’t been doing any exercise.

I did, of course, play cricket fairly regularly in the summer, but one has to bat quite well (or bowl) to get any useful exercise in a cricket match, and, well, there it is.

Cue Christmas, and a shedload of chocolate consumption, on the back of which I have finally resolved to exercise more in 2017, in fact, each week if I can possibly make it. My preference would be to play some sort of sport which involves winning, or even losing, but in the absence of such competition I have resigned myself to outings to the gym.

I still hate the gym, but having been unhappy with the amount of weight I put on in during my stay in America, and having added to that somewhat with the last year of inactivity, things are in a sorry state.

And so it came to pass, that, only last week, I found myself back at Ainslie Park, seated at some sort of fiendish weights machine, waiting until I was sure no-one was looking, and then in one graceful fluid motion reaching behind me to adjust the weight setting to the minimum, having had a tentative push at the thing and been mortified at my inability to budge it even an inch.

One hour later, sweating, slightly dizzy, and having found my non-custom earbuds completely incapable of blocking out the pumping dance tunes provided, I retired back home for a well-earned Tunnocks Caramel Wafer and possibly a marshmallow or two.

Home these days, at least temporarily, is in a house (a very big house) in the country, courtesy of a house-sitting gig I have scored off my good friend the Finance Director. The Finance Director and her family are in Nepal looking at mountains and spiny babblers for a few months, and have kindly left me to look after their house while they’re away. I have rarely had so much room, indeed so many rooms, to myself that to begin with I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them all.

However, I now have a designated Scalextric Room, and a Music Studio section, and perhaps a Subbuteo Room is on the way.

I have been in touch with Party Jen to discuss the details of a Winter Party, which sounds like a splendid idea, except that I might have to organise it. I’m a little out of practice at party-organisation.

But, as both my parents used to say whenever they wanted to defer saying “no”, we’ll see…

The last day of Movember

 

Eleven weeks here, and the US is still treating me well. Am developing an addiction to southern-style sweet tea, and have found a balanced diet of fried chicken and Mexican food.

And yet, despite my refusal to eat anything other than the healthiest fast food takeaway fried chicken and fries, I have somehow accrued a few pounds from somewhere. Life is a mystery sometimes. It may well just be my rather weighty moustache making its presence felt on the scales, but in the event that it isn’t, I signed up to a gym membership for the first time in my life. I have never before done this because (1) they’ve always been outrageously expensive, and (2) I hate gyms. But this is America, where it costs you not much more to work off the pounds than it does to put them on in the first place. And so they get you both ways. And then add tax. No matter, they had a Black Friday deal on membership, so I and my partner in crime, Ryan, signed up, with lofty ideals to work out regularly and keep each other accountable. It may yet happen, it’s early days.

I certainly need the opportunity to exercise, with it seemingly preferable in this country to abandon your car (or large truck) on a grassy area near the front door of the building you’re visiting, rather than park it in an actual parking space if said parking space is more than 50 yards away from the front door.

Being a keen cricketer, I thought about finding an equivalently high-intensity sport and taking it up, like bowling (that’s ten-pin, not lawn bowls, UK people, come on, be serious), or pool, or speed-walking to Chick-Fil-A. I have even been bowling a couple of times, including once against my roommate. My roommate is the kind of guy who has his own kayak, surfboard and skis. And bowling ball. I discovered this after we agreed to go bowling one morning and he re-emerged from the basement carrying it, along with his bowling shoes. I like to think of myself as being a man of some discernment, and it was at this point I discerned that I was in trouble. And I was. I have never before bowled against someone who could rack up over 200. After I had overcome the intimidation factor (4 games in) I found myself raising my game a touch and scoring 192. He scored 193 that time.

Today is 30 November, and is almost certainly the last day of my moustache. For a while there, I was tempted to keep it, but have grown fed up with having an overgrown hairy caterpillar on my lip. It interferes with some of life’s primary functions, like blowing one’s nose. It just makes the clean-up operation so much more … involved. No doubt I could invest in a beard trimmer, which would keep it in check (that’s the moustache rather than the snot), but it seems simpler to just shave it off.

Farewell, dear ‘tache…

Adventures in the South

Mum and I spent a very enjoyable Christmas in London this year. Maggie, my mischievous niece, is nearly two. She finds noisy toys a little frightening at this stage, so perhaps a plastic chainsaw, complete with pseudo-realistic sound effects, wasn’t the perfect gift. Never mind, she got approximately one thousand other presents, and won’t have noticed. The chainsaw can remain in the toybox until her little brother arrives in March.

I managed to acquire a cold at the beginning of Christmas week, and so I lived mostly in self-imposed exile on the top floor of my sister’s house, and read books. Part of Christmas Day, however, was spent pram-racing in the back garden. It’s backbreaking work, pushing a tiny pushchair with a snowman passenger through the mud, and after each lap I longed for the blessed words “Dinner’s ready”. But the light would be snuffed out at the end of that particular tunnel with a cry of “Again!”, from about four feet below me and to my left, and off we would trundle.

Now that the festive period has passed, our two week holiday on the French slopes is fast approaching, although it hasn’t felt desperately fast as I’ve been looking forward to it eagerly for some six months. However, now that it’s actually imminent, I have upped my McDonald’s intake accordingly in order to be ready, expanding my usual order to not only include the scientifically-proven-to-be-helpful chocolate milkshake, but actual “food”. I use the term cautiously. I have taken a liking to their Chicken Selects, which, I feel, are a marginally less synthetic version of Chicken McNuggets. And they’re bigger, which is always a bonus. But back to the milkshakes. Why do they always taste of banana, even when you order chocolate or strawberry? And is there really any milk in them? I was reminded recently of an occasion in the mid-nineties when I fetched three milkshakes from McD’s in a friend’s brand new (only recently launched) Audi A4. Not a good moment to spill strawberry milkshake all over the footwell, so that’s what I did, swinging extravagantly into the car-parking space after having been the very model of ultra-cautious driving all the way home. The pink stain remained in the fabric until my friends replaced the car, but curiously, it never smelled… which if there was any milk involved, you would have expected it to.

Anyway. Last Team Gym session this week, and it looks like having a record attendance, as we all strive to become lean mean skiing machines. Even Wiseman has hinted at an appearance. DC has still not darkened the door, but claims to have climbed two mountains last weekend. He may also be spending the time profitably by devising inventive ways of spending as little money as possible in France, what with the Euro pounding us into submission at the moment. Leisurely lunches in mountain restaurants look to be a relic of years gone by. Current proposals include having picnic lunches on the piste, using the snowboards as a windbreak (knew they would come in useful eventually), and taking flasks of espresso onto the hill and adding it to mugs of free hot water from the bar.

The potential reduction in café time may explain why Nasty Jen has elected not to join us this time around. In her absence, it follows that someone will have to take up the mantle of being the sartorial envy of the pistes. I feel I am up for the challenge, what with my sister having knitted me a hat for Christmas and everything. And having taken some ski lessons recently from a pretty dark-haired Austrian ski instructor, I may even be able to ski while looking elegant, something Jen never managed…

Team Gym

In advance of our skiing holiday in the New Year, some of the more dedicated members of the party have been meeting up, weekly, at the gym, in an attempt (perhaps a forlorn one) to get fit. Our current gym of choice is Ainslie Park, which I keep wanting to call Astley Ainslie, for some reason. The Astley Ainslie is a hospital, mostly full of old people recovering from serious conditions. I have no doubt that I will end up in the gym there soon enough, but am in no rush.

For some of us, though, notably Filipideedoodaa, once a week at Ainslie Park is no longer enough, and so she has suggested we start going twice.

“How’s six o’clock at Meadowbank on Monday?” enquired F….

“Do you work near Meadowbank on Mondays?” I asked, wondering about the change of venue.

“Well, it’s on my way home if I go home that way” she replied.

There, in one sentence, the logical genius that is Filipideedoodaa is encapsulated.

The whole gym thing, so far, has been a rewarding, but exhausting experience. Last week, on returning home, I felt so drained that I promptly devoured most of a box of Lindt chocolates. I confessed this to the Admin Supremo the next morning at work, who confidently asserted that this wasn’t a bad thing, since good quality chocolates don’t contain very much milk. Or something.

This week, having confessed my indulgence again, this time to Broon and F…, Broon immediately and confidently backed up the Supremo’s claim, and followed it up by claiming that the best thing after exercise is a chocolate milkshake. WELL, I can tell you, that piece of news went down well in my corner, if not F…’s, as she has renounced all chocolate products since a large chocolate bar fell on her head when she was six years old, and being a bloody-minded Welsh redhead, she isn’t breaking her fast for nobody. On further querying, Broon appeared to be quite genuine in her chocolate milkshake belief, and after all, she is a qualified physio, so off I popped to McDonalds, which is on my home if I go home that way. I have resolved to go home that way after every gym night from now on, in the interests of the quick recovery that chocolate milkshakes provide, according to Broon et al, 2004.

I pulled up at the drive-through.

“Chocolate milkshake please.”

“Regular or large?”

I thought for a moment.

“Large please.” After all, I had done thirty reps on that fiendish leg press thing. This gym malarkey is starting to look up. And the gym at Meadowbank is slap bang opposite…. McDonald’s. Good choice, F…