Tuesday 24 June 2014

How To Like Exercise When You Don't Like Exercise

Wherever I go on my bumpy and meandering journey of life, I find there's one subject I just keep coming back to. It's not just fitness (although fitness is fun), it's trying to get other people who don't enjoy it to find their way of enjoying it. I am driven to it, irritatingly so, like a wasp to a picnic.

I'm not sure if it stems from my torturous secondary school years of being categorically un-sporty - permanently sitting at the side of every playing field feigning an asthma attack whilst feeding a headphone up one blazer sleeve through which to listen to the latest Ash cassingle. Or maybe it's because I then went on  to have my own exercise epiphany, and have since proceeded to lose my fitness mojo and find it again to varying degrees for the past fifteen years. Maybe I want everybody to be able to share the joy in finding you're actually good at something you thought you couldn't do. Maybe it's just because I'm a pain in your backside. Whatever.

The last few years, I think, have seen media coverage of diets and exercise regimes reach saturation point, and beyond. Not only that, but the regimes themselves seem to be getting more and more extreme. I suppose if you sell your readers a workout and it doesn't cut it, the next concept has to take it up a notch. Undertaking the latest fads requires obsessive structure and self-discipline. If that comes naturally to you, or if you can force it for a few weeks, you'll get so far with it....maybe even score some impressive results. But we're only human beings. Sooner or later this thing bumps up against real life and before we know it we're off the wacky workout wagon and eating Nutella straight out of the jar with both hands while we're waiting for our thick-sliced bread to toast. Meanwhile the rest of the population laughs, cries and gawps in disbelief at us, the endless parade of lycra-clad lemmings flinging ourselves off the cliff of wellbeing. Some of the guys who refuse to engage with the madness already have their own active things they do, and love. But there are plenty more who get completely alienated by exercise and think that it's for Other People. 

It's about time for a backlash. The business of keeping yourself healthy shouldn't be an exclusive club that you need to dress the right way to get into. You shouldn't have to subscribe to an expensive gym or (whisper it) maybe the even government's advised three cardio sessions a week (actually these days they recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity, which can sound quite overwhelming if you're doing pretty much nothing at the moment). Maybe you just need to do what you feel like and not obsess over it. Even if that's not that much at all. 


I was involved in a discussion on Twitter the other day about the fitness mantra du jour "eat clean, train dirty". I think it's great to get behind it if it's your thing - five years ago I would have been all over that shit. These days - as a working mum with a toddler? I'm not saying it would be impossible to subscribe to that lifestyle, it's just that my priorities have changed. I would rather see my son for an hour at the end of the day than go and train myself silly like I used to. I joked that my own fitness class's mantra should be "Eat dirty, train occasionally". I was saying it to be a dickhead, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. It's not about being lazy, it's about finding what you enjoy,  doing it and being sensible about it. It's about saying goodbye to guilt, body shaming and restrictive lifestyles if they are beginning to control you. It's about letting yourself off every now and then.  

But maybe that's just me trying to redress an imbalance in my own life - trying to find a happy medium between the asthma-attack-feigning schoolgirl and the gym and diet maniac I became in my twenties. Maybe others genuinely like to subscribe to all this extreme stuff just to get some sort of structure and routine. To give themselves a kick up the bum and get where they need to go. Maybe the guilt serves a purpose that's more helpful than I think.

I can't decide. If we stopped shouting about diets and exercise would it help? Or would we be straight back on the sofa with the rest of that Nutella? 

Saturday 31 May 2014

Toddler Terror

OK, so the newborn and baby phases are not without their challenges. But there is an element of “get your head down and get through the days” that sits quite well with me.  You give and you give and you give and I get that. I can do that. The only people judging you are the people on the outside (and your own crazy brain, if you let it). Your child doesn’t have a mind of its own yet.

Until, out of nowhere, he does.

He is suddenly old enough to know what he wants, but not quite old enough to understand the rationale behind why he can’t have it. And when he doesn’t get it, his world ends.  His face melts into Munch’s Scream. He writhes and kicks and makes a sound so loud and terrible I can only assume he has seen a vision of hell and is screaming at us to save our souls lest we roast in the impending apocalypse.

I bought a birthday card for a friend last week which had a duck wearing glasses and a wig on the front. E found it in my bag and, convinced it was a book, kept excitedly passing it to me to read to him. When I couldn’t, the screaming and accompanying bodily contortions commenced.  And did not stop. I vainly tried to “read” it to him, by holding the card in front of him and making up a (frankly  fantastic) story about a duck in drag, but did he care about my amazing story? He did not. He cared that he couldn’t turn the page and see what was next (a goat in a turban? A dog in a dress? Who knows) and lift the bloody flap on it.

Once upon a time I was amazing mummy who cuddled him all night and made his dinner come out of my boobs. Now I am crappy mummy who fails to turn birthday cards into a duck-in-wig-based Julia Donaldson books. Useless mummy who is unable to make more yoghurt appear in the empty pot he has just finished. Rubbish, lame-o mummy who is simply here to stop him eating the cat’s food, crawling into the road, picking up that cigarette butt off the floor and sucking on it and generally calling a halt to All Fun Ever.  I am not sure how to start winning at this game now the rules have been changed.

I felt anxious about the toddler stage from the very start, even before I was pregnant. I suspected I would be rubbish at it. I’m a people pleaser, and if I can’t learn to live with not pleasing the person I love (joint-ish) best in the world, how am I going to get through the next two years? Life is a catalogue of frustrations and disappointments for E at the moment and I am supposed to sit blithely by and say to him “this is life! Scream as loud as you want!” and – worse!- start to draw boundaries and tell him how he should be behaving. Be assertive and confident enough to draw a line and consistent enough to stick to it. All of these things I have to learn too, just as he is learning. 

It is bumwipes, frankly, I could do with a coach. Or a secondment.  I’ll take your screeching, scrunchy faced newborn if you take my rampaging tot.

Apart from when he’s howling with laughter because I’m flicking water at him out of my glass. Or playing peepo underneath his blanket. Or turning to wave goodbye to the cat sitting in the window when we go out. Or talking to me earnestly in his baby babble, then looking at me pointedly as he waits for a proper, grown-up reply. 

I’ll keep him then. You can just take the crap bits and I’ll go and sit in a coffee shop and eat cake. OK? Good.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Cool Music For Babies

I was sat in a Baby Sensory class last week explaining to my visiting friend how the classes always begin with a signature song. Said song involves waving hello to the sun and greeting the corn that feeds us, twinkling stars, flowers that gladden our hearts, etc. "It's totally cheesy!" I chuckled, "we sing it every week!" Without missing a beat, one of my mum friends turned round: "Don't give it all that," she said, "You're not too cool for Sensory."

It's true. We've been going to classes since July. I sing every word, I sign every action, I love it. I am no longer the new girl sniggering at the back. This time last year I swore my baby would be into something obscure Peruvian techno and would have no interest in nursery rhymes, but Five Little Speckled Frogs is his favourite song, and that's all there is to it. I never said motherhood wouldn't change me. However, I maintained that it would not change the music I listened to. I have to level with you -it kind of has. Just a bit. Even if it means picking the Pharrell album over Perfect Pussy because E is happy bopping to funky r 'n b and finds hardcore punk a bit upsetting (he'll get there, right?)

To try and maintain the illusion that I haven't completely compromised my uncompromising music taste, I have spent some time gathering baby-friendly songs by bands you might actually go and watch, as well as some old classics that haven't lost their cool. It's a work in progress so feel free to suggest any additions you may feel are appropriate....


....in the meantime, if you need me, I'll be in the nursery singing.

"one jumped into the pool, where it was nice and cool, then there were no green speckled frogs, GLUB GLUB."

Tuesday 11 March 2014

In Which I Get Out And Do Things Like A Normal Person

It's incredibly easy to fall down the mummy rabbit-hole during maternity leave. You meet a whole new load of people who don't care if you own such-a-record on clear blue vinyl or what new bar just opened in town or that Righteous Golden Unicorns are playing there next Saturday. Most of these people don't even know your name, they just know the name of your snotty oik. And that's only because you're bellowing it at ten thousand decibels as your offspring body-slams their precious cherub and pokes it in the eye.

So it was very nice to be whisked out to Tower Of Song last week and be reminded that I am not just a mother, wife and aerobics instructor, I am also a (very amateur) writer of music, and that this formed a huge part of my life once upon a time. Tower Of Song is a monthly night co-run by my bandmate Nicky at the Fox & Newt in Leeds. Each month there's a theme and a style, which you can adhere to or ignore as you choose - the only proviso is that all performers play original music. You can go and gawk or go and play, it's all very friendly and fun.

OK so some of these people are really good...Nicky and Iz's songwriting prowess is positively terrifying (I nearly bottled it after S showed me a video of their Eurovision-style song about biscuits from February's do). But despite this it was such a relaxed and lovely atmosphere for March's installment - 80s Action Heroes performed in a punk style.

It's positively encouraged to stop in the middle and wonder what the next chord might be or (as I did) bury your head in your carefully written out lyrics with zero showmanship and a terrible strumming technique. It's all about taking part though, isn't it? I had such a great time once my nerves left (round about the time of the last verse), and it proved that I can still knock out a song in a couple of days, even with only a couple of hours to do it and a 9 month old clinging onto the strings and trying to dance for that entire time. I'm only sorry I don't have a video of the writing process.... I do, however, have the footage from the night:


 Worth a listen just to hear my impression of a machine gun, which S says is "really good for a girl".

Sunday 2 March 2014

The Tears Factor

Oh it's Oscars day! You know what that means. Some people win, some people lose, everyone wears ritzy stuff that cost a boat-load of money. You know what else? People will cry.

They'll cry because they're happy, mostly. Crying because you're a bad loser is just poor PR, isn't it? Imagine it now, you've lost out on your Academy Award to some jumped up little porcelain-veneered, perma-tanned, simpering nobber fresh out of drama school and the camera is on YOU. You have no option but to suck back that tide of It's So Unfair hysterics, suck it in baby, and smile for the camera like you're an unmoveable mountain. It's the performance of your life. You're acting baby! You're doing it! They should give you that award just for THIS!

I don't know how those Hollywood stars do it. Even with my highly impressive grade at GCSE Drama, I can't hold back the angry tears of injustice. Sad-Tears at watching Bambi I can lock down. Pain-Tears when I stub my toe I can contain. Tears because you just took credit for my work/pushed in front of me in the bus queue/were just downright rude to that little old lady? That's when the dam bursts. I start to say the very coherent, cutting and composed thing I have in my head, find myself getting ten words in and starting to hyperventilate.

"Excuse me, I think you'll find this dear sweet old lady was simply trying to (sharp intake of breath) find her spec (hic) ta (hic) cles before you (snort) reversed your four (snort) by (snort) four over her footAHABAHHHAWAA..."(face turns purple, collapses into a puddle of snot)

I do wonder what greatness I might have achieved if I had been able to stay more composed during times of heightened crossness. I definitely have the right words to say, words that would deal a crushing blow if my voice didn't rise up three octaves halfway through my sentence, making me look about as scary as Piglet trying to argue his way out of a parking ticket. Is it a girl thing? Is it a me thing? Is it a millenia-old evolutionary device to stop me getting into punch-ups at soft play cafes? Would you hit somebody who was crying, even if it sounded a bit like they were calling you a bell-end  between the sobs?

Anyway. Happy Oscars day all, whether you are an avid red carpet fan or couldn't give a taffeta shit about the plastic ponce parade. I heartily endorse Lancome for waterproof mascara, just fyi.

Friday 14 February 2014

Things I Have Learned On Maternity Leave.

CPD's got nothing on this...
  • How to dress a baby in a nappy and three layers of clothing as it crawls away as fast as possible, whilst ensuring a xylophone beater stays in its left hand at all times
  • Household flotsam that previously had no discernible use (lid-less Tupperware, boxes of ping-pong balls) will hold a baby’s interest longer than the entire stock of the Early Learning Centre. Rule: if it has no small parts and makes a noise when struck, don’t t throw it out
  • TMI warning: If, pre-baby, you have ever had negative thoughts about the snotty offspring of others, this basically acts as a curse ensuring your children will always have an impossibly large glistening string of snot swinging from their nostril. This will be a permanent facial fixture until their 30th birthday.
  • Extreme TMI warning: If this snot forms a crust upon your child’s nostril, do not, I REPEAT DO NOT attempt to remove it. It is there for a reason. To hold back the tsunami.
  • Never leave the house with a baby and fewer than three correct sized nappies for that baby. Never.
  • Re. the above, apparently even the cutest baby has the capacity to poo so hard it ends up shooting down trousers and into socks without even grazing the legs...
  • ...so it might be worth putting a change of clothes for yourself in that change bag.
  • Anybody wishing to purchase a singing/talking/shrieking plastic toy for somebody else’s offspring should be forced to sit in a locked room with it playing on repeat for 48 hours before purchase is permitted.
  • People tell you maternity leave is all sitting in coffee shops eating cake. This is because coffee shops now function as drug clinics where you can get a supervised hit of the caffeine and sugar you are now hopelessly addicted to, with a bit of counselling on the side.
  • Also, nobody ever warns you that somewhere between 6 and 12 months your child will become mobile, these coffee dates will stop dramatically, and you will be forcibly catapulted into the seventh circle of hell: SOFT PLAY.
  • You will want to call whoever brought you up and tell them you’re sorry on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.
  • But for some preposterous reason, once you’ve been immersed in this crazy, puke-splattered, saggy eyed, puree-smeared world, you may never want to leave. And even if you do, things will certainly never be the same again...

Sunday 26 January 2014

Legally Brown

Last weekend I went mental and had my hair dyed from bright blonde to brown. Not a gentle, caramel hued fudge. Not a soft, coppery oak. I'm talking batty Bonham Carter brown, darker than madness itself.

I had been blonde for six years. Blonde is the fun, dippy, easy-going, party-loving Me of my late twenties. I don't have the time, the bank balance or the deep conditioning treatments to deal with it any more. Post-baby, I had been walking round like a dog-eared version of my former self: hair scraped back, haloed with frizz, ends so split there wasn't even hope of a reunion tour. It was time to take drastic action.

Going dark was more of shock than I'd expected. I'm seven years older than the last time I had dark hair. My thirty-something complexion is going to take some serious TLC before it can stand up to the harsh mistress Brunette. My hair is now a brutal contrast to my pasty face, mutinously pointing out my extra bags and wrinkles. I haven't been able to leave the house without a FFOM (Full Face Of Make-up) yet.

I tell you what though, it still feels good. I can wear yellow again. I can go an extra day without a shampoo. I'm saving £10 and an hour and a half at hair appointments I can now wait weeks longer for. My hair doesn't look like its been cooked in a George Foreman mega-grill anymore. I can get away with wearing at least ten times more eye make-up, which is my absolute favourite thing to do. And I can pretend to be dark and mysterious for at least five minutes before opening my mouth.

Who wouldn't want to be a brunette?

(I give it at least six months before I go post-box red)

Thursday 16 January 2014

Out Of Time

Patience is a funny thing.  I’ve spent so many years waiting for the next big thing… the next job, the next holiday, the perfect pair of shoes. Always wishing my life away waiting for something a little bit better, a little bit more grown-up, something that takes me that little bit closer to ultimate fulfilment.

Now it’s not weeks and months I’m concerned with - it’s minutes and hours. I start at one hundred green bottles, not ten, as I think longingly about the dinner that’s getting cold downstairs, that phone-call I really need to make, how much I want to lie down on my feather soft bed and close my eyes. On bad days I attempt to harness psychic powers to will that clock around to 6:15pm so somebody else can hold this screaming, teething, tomato-faced baby who clearly hates me. It’s a continuous mental battle of wanting time to pass quicker, faster, now, now, now…or watching it slipping past as I’m stuck marching up and down a nursery with an aching back and an inconsolable, wailing boy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of always wanting to be somewhere you’re not. To fall into a pointless spiral of misery.

I don’t know when it clicked for me. Somewhere during the horrible weeks before we worked out that E was dairy intolerant, I think. I reached a tipping point, and my mind gave up. It just quit. It stopped trying to teleport me somewhere I wasn’t, stopped trying to hold back the sands of time, stopped trying to change something it couldn’t change. It wasn’t a conscious decision I made - my brain simply couldn’t take any more. Immediately everything else in the world fell away, and it was just me and my little boy. The irritating hum of what’s on telly when is S home I haven’t done the washing up I think the cat is weeing on that banjo stopped. There was nothing but me and the crying. And when that happened, I finally heard him properly, focused on him, realised there was nothing I could do to help him that I wasn’t already doing. So I just cuddled him. And the minutes suddenly started to pass more quickly, and I wasn’t cross, and it didn’t feel like my fault anymore. It didn’t feel like he was broken and I couldn’t fix him, it felt like he was a baby who was crying, and at some point he would be a baby who wasn't crying. And then he would probably cry again, and that would stop too. And that was just the way of the world.

I'm thinking about this now because I've recently tried to take up meditation, and it seems to me the same sort of set-up. Getting your mind to Just Let Go is simultaneously the simplest and the most elusive thing in the world. To suggest it's even an act you can perform or a state you can achieve seems wrong somehow. It's the opposite of all that. It's a giving up, almost. It's the ultimate patience. Not necessarily being happy, but being content to just sit and be. Let chaos go on around you, but keep yourself still at the centre.

It doesn't always work for me - the thought of having to go back to work in a few months is already giving me sleepless nights. In a bid to stop the pointless dread of the inevitable  future (that almost certainly won't be as bad as I think it's going to be) I'm going to milk every drop of joy from the weeks we've got left together just the two of us. To be still together. To have patience.

Sunday 5 January 2014

2014: Persist

Last year was amazing for me, the best for as long as I can remember. I am so lucky to have had the experiences I have had. I have learned to be patient, to be present in the moment and consciously switch my brain off from thinking about the past or the future. I have learned the value of time.

Having acres of time is paralysing. It's easy to put things off. But when, suddenly, time is only available to you in twenty, ten and two minute bursts, you are thrust into the present. Every waking moment becomes an opportunity to get things done. Prioritising becomes an artform. You become an efficiency machine. "Today I will 1 - wee 2 - eat 3 - sleep  4 - shower 5 - wash up 6 - work/email 7 - sit my knackered arse down." So rarely do I reach the end of that list in a day, but it's definitely more often than it was six months ago.

It should be exhausting. It is. But sitting and letting the tide of Stuff That Needs To Get Done wash over me like a tsunami of drudgery is no longer an option. Money is running out. Maternity leave is running out. It's time to ride the wave.

My word for 2014 is PERSIST. When I fall off, I will get back up. If I feel sad, I need to dust myself down and keep trying. Make that list longer and keep hitting it until I've achieved. I will not spend the next twenty years treading water or wondering what I might have accomplished if I'd tried a bit harder. Even if I only get five spare minutes in a day, those minutes have to go towards something. Another step in the right direction, however small.