Monday, January 18, 2016


I was watching the news this morning and they were talking, albeit briefly, about the impending debate in the House of Commons about Donald Trump. This debate has been precipitated by a petition. Now that might not be a bad thing, government actually responding to the concerns of the people, but there are things about it that do raise some concerns.

I remember having a conversation with a local MP many years ago about petitions and how they were viewed by politicians in contrast to a personal letter. I don't remember the details exactly, but the gist of the conversation was that a personal letter carried far more weight than a petition. The MP suggested that it was possible to get 100's if not 1000's of signatures for just about anything, whereas a personal letter said someone had taken the time to sit down and write something. And, if one person took the time, they probably represented the view of a potentially sizeable portion of the constituency, whereas people might just sign a petition simply to get rid of you form the doorstep or move on in the shopping centre.

Well, things have changed, and everyday we get emails and social media requests to sign a petition of some sort. Some I sign. Many I don't. That's me exercising my democratic right and not me not caring by the way!

And therein lies the problem. If I don't sign am I out of step with popular opinion, am I uncaring or uninterested? We judge very quickly and we are in danger, or so it seems to me, of creating a culture where we only ever listen to the voices of those with whom we agree and take immediate offence with those who think differently. Have we lost the ability to debate and discuss ideas and issues?

I'm not sure it's a good use of parliamentary time to be debating Donald Trump. A man whose hair looks like it's been styled by the creator of shredded wheat or the Brillo pad is difficult to take seriously in any context. The fact that he could become the next President of the most powerful nation on the planet would be comical if it were not so worryingly possible. Listening to his comments about not having time to be "politically correct" simply confirms his status as, well fill in the blank yourself.

On the other hand, listening to Natalie Bennett (the leader of the Green Party) this morning, I'm willing to accept that there's a case for the discussion. That's the value of listening to both sides of a debate. I guess in the end that if it takes a petition to help us all engage with the issues, then more power to the petition. But beware the petition that polarises the issue into who's right and who's wrong reduction of complex questions.

I suspect in the end that Mr T won't be banned from visiting the UK. I just hope that if and when he does he gets asked the tough questions and gets well and truly grilled over the things he's had to say.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Failing better

For those who don't instantly recognise this forearm, it belongs to Stan Wawrinka. The tattoo reads: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. It's a quote from Samuel Beckett.

It's an interesting quote to have for a sportsperson because most people would expect something about winning or being the best. This is about perseverance. It's about hard work and determination to be the best that you can be despite the disappointments that come your way.

Tennis is a solitary sport and the nature of the competitive side of the game is that most players lose most of the tournaments in which they play. Losing is a familiar feeling in tennis for all but the very best. I've been told that Feliciano Lopez was once asked how he dealt with losing. His reply was simple: It happens every week.

Of course this doesn't make losing easier to take, you don't have to like losing in order to be able to deal with it and learn from it. The easy option is either to give up or simply choose only to play people you can beat. But that gets boring.

Stan Wawrinka recognises that he is not a Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, men of exceptional ability, but he's still a Grand Slam champion twice over. I'm not sure he'd have done that had he not been able to embrace the philosophy of trying again and "failing better" as he did so.

I recognise that I am very fortunate to get the opportunity to practice my tennis as much as I do. I'm also lucky that while I sometimes find the practice frustrating because I'm not succeeding at what I'm trying to do, I never get bored by the repetition of what we do. I truly enjoy the drills. I know that these drills will help me fail better and hopefully one day actually hit my goal and win more often. I remind myself of these things when I lose, which is more often than not, and I get up and go again. I did that because I'm not ready to settle for where I am currently.

I could get all philosophical now and point out that there are lessons for life in there. We give up too easily when things get hard. Gym memberships lie unused, fitness equipment gather dust in the cupboard, books are left unread, diets are unaltered, goals remain distant unattainable dreams. From a Christian perspective, discipleship remains dormant, prayer is half-hearted. The list goes on.

Beckett's words serve as a reminder that every day is a new opportunity to make a better attempt at whatever it is for which we are reaching. Whether it's a more reliable backhand, a better, healthier diet or a more consistent prayer life. It's just a matter of making  a disciplined choice to try again even if that means inevitable failure again. The only difference is that you fail better because you try harder.

I've done my 100-day 10k steps challenge a few times now. Sometimes I've started, but failed. No matter. I've started again. When I've started again and gone on to succeed, it's been a great feeling. The trick always was to think not in terms of 100 days but 2, then 3 then 5, then 10 then 20 consecutive days, each day becoming a victory in itself. If I missed day, I could look back and see what I'd achieved and then look forward to having another go.

So set yourself a goal. Make it achievable then keep trying, keep failing, but keep trying.

Monday, January 11, 2016

For the love of vegetables!

When I was about 4 years old I announced that I wasn't going to eat certain meats ever again. My memory of that day is that I'd had something very chewy, possibly a bit gristly, and that put me off. I don't ever remember liking the taste or texture of a lot of meat, so I made my announcement and became known as the picky eater in the family!

50+ years on I still don't eat a lot of meat, in fact I eat even less now than I did then. But I'm not  an out and out vegetarian, at least not yet. I say not yet because I keep thinking about it, not on moral grounds, but on health grounds. The book I've been reading (The China Study) presents a lot of data that points to a vegetarian diet as being the healthiest option for addressing many of the issues that arise from a modern Western diet. The data seems to be strongly in favour of a move to a more heavily plant based diet, but then the interpretation of the data may need to be questioned. That is a job for the scientific community to do, which I'm sure they have done but I have not.

Anyway, I like vegetables (with the exception of a few including the worst of them all-the brussel sprout!), so eating mainly veg is not an issue for either Anne or myself. Working out how to make it different and tasty is a bit more of a challenge, but there are lots of options, it just take a bit of time and effort. On the hand, the same could be said of anything you cook from scratch.

The other issue with a vegetarian diet is that there are very few plant based protein sources that are complete proteins (i.e. containing all the essential amino acids). That means you have to combine plant proteins in a meal in order to get the amino acids you need. It's fairly easy to do, you just combine foods from different groups that contain the missing proteins. Or, if all you re trying to do is to cut down the amount of animal protein in your diet, then you might choose to have chicken of fish just once a week and eat vegetarian the rest of the time. That would probably ensure you get what you need in your diet although it would be wise to give that a bit more thought and research.

And cooking vegetarian need not be hard or uninteresting. We made a really nice vegetable risotto using butternut squash, sweet potato, leek and yellow pepper. Add a bit of white wine, vegetable stock and sage, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and it was very tasty!

If The China Study is right, making a shift away from animal protein could help reduce the risk of many serious conditions. The current recommendation for a balanced diet is that you eat around 15% protein, most of which comes from meat in our western diet. But if you reduced that to around 5% from animal products (which would include diary as well as meat) and the rest from plant protein, then from my reading of the book you could see some positive benefits.

If you belong to that small group of people who profess not to like vegetables the perhaps you just haven't found the right combination or maybe you haven't discovered how best to cook them for your palette. Mind you, you might say the same thing to me about meat and even sprouts!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Healthy eating anyone?

In today’s food culture, many people seem to have acquired uncannily homogenous tastes. In 2010, two consumer scientists argued that the taste preferences of childhood provided a new way of thinking about the causes of obesity. They noted a “self-perpetuating cycle”: food companies push foods high in sugar, fat and salt, which means that children learn to like them, and so the companies invent ever more of these foods “that contribute to unhealthy eating habits”. The main influence on a child’s palate may no longer be a parent but a series of food manufacturers whose products – despite their illusion of infinite choice – deliver a monotonous flavour hit, quite unlike the more varied flavours of traditional cuisine.
So suggests an interesting article in the Guardian that appeared in my Facebook feed this morning. The article argues that our tastes are learnt. We are taught what to eat and so all the foods we consume are ones we have learnt to eat. There's no doubt that certain food types taste good to most people. There was an interesting TV programme last year that explored the relationship between fat and sugar in suppressing the feeling of being full amongst other things and how that affected the way we choose to eat. So it seems quite clear that even at a surface level our relationship with food is both simple-we eat what we like and avoid what we don't, but also more complex in the way "what we like" becomes normalised for us.

As a result, as the article points out, we may decide that we ought to be eating more fruit and vegetables, but we haven't actually learnt to enjoy eating them. It therefore becomes a chore. Maybe the same is true about freshly prepared food that takes time and effort to cook compared with the easy option of a ready meal or a visit to a fast food outlet.

Maybe the first decision we need to make then, when we decide it's time for a dietary change, is that rather than restricting what we can and can't eat, we are making a positive choice to explore new flavours, textures and foods. I bought a copy of a vegetarian food magazine before Christmas and finally got around to reading it yesterday while I sat having my lunch. I'm not a big fan of meat anyway, so vegetarian cooking has always been part of our diet, so it's not as if I was reading this out of curiosity or some sudden resolution to go vegetarian. The recipes certainly looked and sounded interesting, and we will definitely try some of them. The point is, rather than a chore or some desperate dive into a "healthy diet", exploring these recipes will be a bit of an adventure. Eating a meal without meat doesn't have to be torture and neither does eating a meal without a pudding or a glass of wine.

If the article is correct, then what you eat is your choice. As long as you understand the principles of nutrition, you're free to explore, to learn to enjoy new tastes and to experience healthy food rather than endure it. Perhaps we need to see losing weight as a by-product of choosing new eating and drinking habits rather than the sole purpose of shifting our diet away from large portions of high calorie food.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Tobias' first brush with tennis!

Tobias, aka my grandson, with his first dabble into the tennis world! Given that he's only around 16 weeks old, I had to hold it for him. That and the fact that the lights are way more interesting!

Making plans and achieving goals

Much to my surprise I discovered today that I'd actually achieved a few of the goals I set at the beginning of last year! I had a quick review of my journal and read my early January entry for 2015. It included the following goals:

  • Get back to 14st
  • Get to an 8.2 tennis rating
  • Get a clinic up and running in a gym
  • Grow the tennis side of things
Well, I hit 14st 3lbs, as far as I can remember I've won enough matches to get my 8.2 rating, I'm about to open a clinic at the gym and I passed my Level 2 coaching course and started coaching more tennis. So that's not bad.

Of course there were some things I didn't manage to achieve, and to be honest, I didn't really go out of my way to hit the targets I did make. They just sort of happened as I continued to work at those things. I guess had I been more intentional as they say, they might have happened sooner, but I'm not exactly chasing down these goals. However, it does make me think a little more about how I can stay focussed and maybe achieve a bit more this year. Improving my rating, for example, gets tougher now. Wins need to happen within a much shorter timescale to count and obviously have to come against better players. Put simply, you can only improve your rating by beating players at the same or a higher level. So it gets harder. You also have to have a positive win/loss percentage.

Fitness is also harder, mainly because I'm getting older and it doesn't get any easier! It's easier to get injured and fitness disappears faster the older you get. So maintaining a level of fitness is hard work, improving even harder. 

Work is very much a matter of word of mouth, but hopefully by opening the clinic that too will grow as will the tennis coaching. Which, by the way, is really good fun!

Business and fun are not just the only things for which I need a plan. I need some discipline in terms of CPD stuff and maintaining my knowledge base in the therapy world. I wish I had the kind of memory where stuff sticks, but I don't, so I need to get out my muscle cards and go through them all again. I'd like to do some work on nerve innervations, and I ought to get the research I did on entrapment of the Lateral Femoral Cutaneous Nerve put into some sort of order.

Add a few books to be read and some faith based goals too and there's quite a lot to be getting on with in 2016. I feel a list coming on!