A Weekend Away

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Recently, we rented a cottage near the coast for the bank holiday weekend. A short family break, away from the drudgery of everyday life. Looked forward to with expectation by the family – I think we managed to escape many of the most common pitfalls that I was expecting.

When first perusing a area that you’ve never visited before online. You are inevitably shown numerous regional dusty attractions – normally a combination of small museums and visitor centers. You have to applaud them for their effort in attempting to make the dull, dusty exhibits interesting. But the biggest problem is that they contain information about somewhere very regional and are run by very regional people. As an outsider this can be a little off putting.

I think it is fair to say that there there are 3 types of people that work in museums. The older person that has a basic interest in the museum & wants something to do with their time that brings in a few extra pounds each month. The second is the person that is genuinely passionate and interested in what they are doing – they live and breathe the world & have the ability to fill kids with awe and wonder. The third type, the type that we always attract, is the unwashed, nerdy, obsessive middle aged man – who, presumably, still lives with his mother and desperately needs a haircut. This third man, can talk the rear end off a donkey at 30 paces & is incredibly difficult to escape once ‘engaged’. This is probably the main reason that I view museums with a certain level of fear and disdain…I always end up having to try to escape this dull, smelly person talking about something that I really don’t care about at all – museums, you should stop employing these people, they’re doing you harm!

One of the more enjoyable aspects of a weekend away is the prospect of finding a new, exciting eatery in the form of a cafe. A good cafe (god forbid not one at a museum), is a joy to behold & will serve a fine coffee with a range of cakes that excite & possibly offer something that you’ve not experienced before. In parts of the country this is quite a common and relatively easy beast to find…in the more regional, or rural parts of the country – they still seem to think that a dried out victoria sponge with a hideous dark roasted coffee is everything that the weary traveler requires. These people obviously don’t have taste buds or much life experience – we left the 1970′s behind for a reason, please kindly provide me with a fine medium-dark roasted artisan coffee & a slice of bustrengo…i’ll be much happier for it!

As a family, we have now developed a new tradition. A weekend away together is about quality time together, but we have now found great enjoyment in playing games together.

The weekend away now almost revolves around the board game – this often requires me to find a new game to entertain the troops with. My kids are now obsessed about finding the best family board games – they have a long list that they want to play (that I need to invest in!). For this trip away I chose Lego Creationary. While it is more expensive than the cheapskate in me would normal go for, it is a game that I actually wanted to play myself. I remember playing the original Creationary game as kid a myself & loved it…I was also obsessed (as most boys are) with lego – combine these two great things & I think you’ll find most families will have a great time! Needless to say, the kids loved it & it truly did give us some quality family time…in my book, that’s worth every penny.

What’s With The High Street?

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Men are often stereotyped as being shopping haters – but is this due to men or shopping on the High Street?

It is very rare for me now to shop on a high street. The biggest problem that I encounter is simply being unable to find something that I would actually like to buy.

Clothing: I am of an age that means that I no longer inhabit my svelt student like slim-form body. My shoulders are broad, my forearms and thighs are developed – skinny does not compute.If I go into many of the high street purveyors of fashion and attempt to try on any of their clothing – I can guarantee that it won’t fit. Seemingly the only shop I can actually go into and expect to find clothing the correct dimensions is Next. I still fondly remember being made to try on a jacket in an extra large size in a shop by my other half – i couldn’t even straighten my arms without fear of splitting it down the back. Seriously, who actually designs this stuff – there are chaps out there wanting to spend good money on clothes but are unable to do so due to a lack of supply.

Outdoor clothing suppliers and some sports shops are capable of providing clothing that fits – but on the whole, for anything of a decent quality, you have to pay through the nose for it. Anything priced in a normal manner will be, without doubt, of a low standard.

There was a time a few years back when I could happily stroll into skate type shops and find any number of items that I liked. I can no longer do this and feel hugely out of place. It just isn’t for me anymore.

Electronic goods: Generally, when its time to by a new appliance, tv or phone, I have a very good idea of what I want & how much it ‘should’ cost. The high street, or, even the large out of town stores all have a lack of choice & quality goods. Prices are hiked up to the max for goods that are lacking in features or performance. I am now apparently unable to actually demo an expensive product before I buy it blindly online…this sucks big time. Why should I be penalised for knowing what I want?

I also find that I regularly get ignored by shop staff, even when queuing for assistance. John Lewis – you are very bad at this. Staff will happily go to help the clueless, but if someone has a legitimate question about a specific product, you get ignored. Too bad, my money went elsewhere online – you lost out…three times.

Food outlets: Really High Street? Your choice of food is awful, why do we still have to put up with this garbage, most of which really isn’t fit for human consumption. Given the number of empty shops up and down the country, you should be encouraging new start ups to provide interesting alternatives…numerous burger outlets and over priced badly made sandwiches really don’t do the job.

It appears that in order to be catered for by the high street, you either need to be incredibly skinny, fat, below average intelligence or not very worldly. If you are fortunate enough to fall outside these boundaries and actually be normal – you are screwed. You are a metric that is ignored, you are not normal, you are the freak.

The Box Doesn’t Fit

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One of the more unpleasant and annoying aspects of getting older is that whether you like it or not, you start commenting more on politics and politicians. Many moons ago, I could happily exist without having to even be aware of the drudgery that beholds much of Westminster. Now it seems that I am pretty much forced to listen to the opinions of people that have absolutely nothing in common with me what so ever.

The opinion and policy creators that we have to thank for our continued existence as a (mostly) civilized nation are completely out of touch with what we the common person actually know/think/do.

While I’ll happily admit that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. You should at least aim to please all of the people some of the time.

Here lyeth the problem. I’m a statistic that doesn’t fit in any of the normal boxes.

I’m not married, I don’t have children, I’m employed full time, I live with my partner, I’m not overweight, I don’t smoke, I drink in moderation and I eat healthily. While I could go on further – these are all basic tick box facts that place me out of sight of pretty much all government policies.

When election time comes round again, I always find myself thinking that none of the policies apply to me at all. Why is this & how can the people that are essentially in charge of this country be so out of touch?

Granted, in the future more of the main policies may well apply to me…but at this time all of the main targets that include children, schools, school meals, health, employment or alcohol & cigarette duties have no weight with me at all.

The only recent government plan in recent times that has been positive towards me is the continued roll out of what the government & press insist on calling superfast broadband…never do they actually explain what this means in terms of real numbers. As it stands, this has still had zero effect on my life despite fibre is now in my area as I still can’t get connected to it.

Come the election trail, the Westminster masses should get out and seek the real people of this country. Not those ‘up north’, out of work, stacking shelves, business owners or single mothers. But instead, get out of the large cities – find the real person. Those that are capable of thinking and doing, those that make the country really tick. These are the people that you should be targeting for votes…we are many & we are currently ignored.

Just for once, surprise us, think about us and engage. We have brains & can think – there’s no need to preach, just listen and understand.

The joy of being a responsible adult

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There are a range of unexpected milestones in life that, as they happen, you chalk up as being the path to being a responsible adult. The first of these, for me at least, were pretty basic affairs – getting a drill or a step ladder. Stuff that when you were younger, other, older people had & you borrowed them on the rare occasion that you needed them.

As I’ve become more responsible, or you could call it, older, these milestones have become increasingly expensive & more depressing. The recent hi-lights include a petrol powered lawnmower & a fence. Why on earth do I have to spend so much money on a fence? I don’t really want it, I don’t really need it – but society expects it, my neighbours expect it. There are so many things I’d rather use that cash for, it’s not even funny!

Perhaps one of the few benefits that comes with this increased responsibility, is the right to enjoy a decent beverage. While I may no longer be able to pack alcohol away in the quantities that I could when I was younger. I can instead savor the good stuff – what better way to ‘forget’ about the fence than to sample (in reasonable quantity) a rather fine tipple. While my tastes can and do vary, often on a seasonal basis, this still remains one of my greatest enjoyments in life.

Obviously the enjoyment of a tipple or three, can lead to some trickiness when it comes comes to some other joyful responsibilities. I am now at that point, where I am the sole person in the house that remembers that the bins have to be put out. A cloudy head can give way to moments of clarity when you hear the bin lorry approaching down the street. How do the bin men do it? They must have a drink or three before collecting the bins – and they have to endure the smell, oh god, the smell!

During these moments of joyful responsibility come a wave of weather related concerns. The rain, the wind – winter storms. Will the wind blow the recycling bin over, will I have to pick up all the empty cat food pouches up in the street? Will the fence blow over…again? I spent the morning of last Christmas Eve fixing my fence. This is perhaps the worst example of joyless adult responsibility that I have had the misfortune to endure in recent times.

Youth really is wasted on the young – can’t someone else deal with this stuff? I know I don’t want too!

Just like riding a bike

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While most of what the aging process has to offer is pretty underwhelming, and more often than not annoying, tedious or boring. There are some positives that allow us some freedom and pleasure in our otherwise dull lives.

The evolution of the big boys toy has to be one of the best things that life has too offer us as we get older. Now that we are (somewhat) in control of what the contents of our pockets is spent on – we can choose what we want. Gone are the days of being a young boy when all our toys were given to us by our loving parents that didn’t know any better.

Back then, a bike was a bike – they could see no difference between different styles, makes or models…needless to say, I didn’t get the bike that I really wanted.

As a kid, I grew up through the BMX explosion…and yep, I ended up with one of Raleigh’s most iconic bikes, the red Raleigh burner. While it was my pride & joy – it was the blue one that I really wanted. Mine was heavy and sluggish – I wanted the lightweight one with solid spoked wheels.

In my teens, there was again another bike evolution – the mountain bike had been born. I was more lucky this time round and was given a yellow Ridgeback…this was a decent bike & I loved it too bits.

Spool on a decade or 2 & I felt the need to rediscover some of my youthful enthusiasm for two wheeled transport. The first thing that shocked me a little, was the price of a reasonably decent mountain bike! Anything lower down the price range looks like it would fall apart if it even saw a mountain, let alone rode up it!

Before deciding to commit the contents of my elder pocket to buying a decent bike, I thought (well, my other half did) that I should probably go out and try getting on a bike again first.

I opted for a visit to the forest & hired a mountain bike for a measly £13 for a couple of hours. Those two hours ended up being the most fun that I could remember having in a very long time. I only rode a medium level trail – but even still I was hooked. So much so that I went back again the next weekend & tried the black run…bomb holes & banked corners winding tightly through trees in the forest – this is what I should have been doing as a teenager!

Needless to say that a purchase (rather, purchases) has been made since & I’m now the owner of a reasonable bike. While perhaps not as nice as I’d really like, it’ll do me for now & a couple of years, until perhaps I feel my pocket would like to treat me once again.

Its amazing what the freedom of being on two wheels can do for you – its fun, good exercise & frees the mind in a way that nothing else can…I feel like I’m twelve again – happy days.

Leave My Youth Alone

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Well something like that anyway.

My youth, the boyhood years at least, all took place in the 80′s. My innocent years were surrounded by bright neon colours, dodgy music, equally dodgy hair styles & mass produced imported toys of suspect quality.

While I will freely admit that some music from the 80′s is actually well written & is still listenable to even now. The majority of it, I will happily argue, isn’t.

The current trend of rehashing and mimicking music from the 80′s baffles me more than a little bit. I guess to a certain degree that its a natural result following on from grunge and a continual procession of boy band after boy band trying to be a ‘bit rocky’. But really? The clothes that seem to couple this trend are pretty hideous…particularly the cut of mens trousers and, now its summer, shorts. Whilst I have nothing against different sexual persuasions, many of the chaps that wear them don’t look quite as butch as they think they do.

I know when I was a lad, there was some influence coming through from the 60′s and 70′s but it wasn’t quite as brash as this. I guess what partly concerns me here is that after the 80′s we had the 90′s. Does that mean that baggy jeans with colour patches & decals are going to come back next? I for one, seriously hope not!

It also seems that the 80′s revival hasn’t just stopped at music and clothing. I’ve also recently spotted the re-appearance of the small plastic skateboard. This fills me with a mixed feeling. As a boy, I wasn’t allowed on – I was apparently too young at the time, although I would have sworn until I was blue in the face that I wasn’t. I did however have a ‘proper’ wooden decked skateboard later on – which was a much better piece of kit. So now, upon seeing these again, i do feel some warmth towards them – but can’t stop myself thinking why on earth do you want that…get a real board that you can actually fit on properly!

I’m sure that there will be more trendy items that will be rediscovered and re-launched…most of them I expect we will have forgotten about long ago. I do however, suspect that we will have forgotten about them as they were pretty rubbish at the time. So we’ll once again be left wondering why some marketing exec thought it was a good idea to bring back again!

Ho hum – I guess the youth of today have the right to make up there own minds…although they don’t they only think what they’re told to think. Hopefully the trend to think for yourself will come about sometime soon rather than having to put up with a generation of ‘Beliebers’…send help now.

Visit To The Beach

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Life as we know it, is cruel. There was a time in our lives when life was much more simple and a damn sight more enjoyable…you could actually get excited about things. Excitement it seems, is a thing of the past.

A family visit to the beach you might think, could be an occasion to get mildly excited about. Certainly one to look forward to at the least. While family time is a great thing, with it comes the acknowledgement that I occupy the absolute lowest priority level on these occasions.

The long drive to the beach is one thing that with age does actually become easier to deal with. For one, it feels a lot shorter & manageable. I guess that’s partly thanks to the joys of modern technology & earphones as well. Kids plugged in, a happy parent makes. Combine that auto tranquility with an iPod loaded with podcasts for the elders in front & the time flies by.

As many families will be aware – one of the joys of a day out is finding somewhere to eat. Assuming the destination is somewhere pretty rural, which in our case it nearly always is – that means finding a decent pub. As we all know the standard of pub food varies dramatically – but for some reason the price doesn’t really seem to. It seems to becoming an increasingly common experience to spend £60 on a family lunch that is at best pretty mediocre.

Coastal eateries seem to have fallen into a habit of relying on their location and natural foot fall through the door, forgetting that it is in their interest to actually offer a decent service & experience.

Its not hard to please people that are out for the day. Provide a cleanly furnished space, some local ales and some well cooked food. This will bring people back time after time. Being able to smell the gents when you walk through the front door is somewhat less than ideal to put it mildly.

The beach itself is a funny thing. I have memories of playing cricket, digging holes & building sand castles. On rockier beaches I would go rummaging through rock pools desperately trying to find anything other than seaweed. Then off course, there was the joy of skimming stones across the water.

The youth of today seem to have forgotten many of these basic childhood pleasures. I guess this also says something about the enthusiasm of the typical parent who just wants to sit sagging over the edges of a tightly fitting deck chair.

I don’t know if my tolerance levels have changed or whether the beaches have. In my youth I remember happily walking across sandy beaches with no fear or risk of hurting my feet. Mum would be on hand to clean my feet off before putting socks and shoes back on at the end of the day & Dad would carry everything back to the car…I just had to drag my spade. Now however, it seems that every bare footed step on the sand is fraught with fear and danger – what sharp object will penetrate my foot with this step?

The journey back to the car at the end of the day is always twenty times worse than it was at the start of the day. It seems that all the items that once comfortably fitted in your beach bags have multiplied umpteen times – it simply won’t fit back in. You were reliably informed by your significant other that the huge reservoir of food that you brought would be much lighter as it would all be eaten…why oh why does there seem to be even more of it now at the end of the day?

Once back in the car, even after you’ve driven home, you will still be living with the consequences of this joyous occasion thanks to the several litres of sand that has now been thoroughly distributed throughout your car. That sand will be appearing in your lunchtime sandwiches, socks, laptop bag & mobile phone case for weeks to come…fantastic.

The Gravity Of Food

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There once was a time that I could eat anything I wanted without any kind of impact on my body at all. I could pack away hundreds and hundreds of calories & there wasn’t even a hint of a wobble.
Now though, gravity is in full effect and I am far more sag conscious.

I have in recent times been in pursuit of some of my more youthful pertness. While somewhat elusive, I have had good results and managed to reshape my body into something that has more form than a sack of potatoes.

This re-sculpting of my body was actually relatively easy to do. Do some exercise and be more aware of what you eat…almost too easy.

I chose not to go on a ‘diet’ but to just re-evaluate my normal daily routine. A few simple changes reaped big rewards. The main change being the office lunch. The majority of sandwiches and normal lunch options that you’ll find scattered around a city centre are packed full of calories – simply finding a more controlled option can make a really big difference.

For me, I changed from having sandwiches either from a local cafe or Pret etc to a low calorie shapers meal deal from Boots. This cut 300-400 calories out of my lunch alone. I was still eating a sandwich, pack of crisps & a fizzy drink – but it was a lot more controlled.

Another simple shift at breakfast – opting for 2 pieces of toast rather than 3 & using a low fat spread instead of the full fat variety was all I really had to do.

Dinner time was still a pretty normal meal – a few extravagant corners may have been cut off, but the evening meal was still what I would class as normal.

Going to the gym isn’t an option for me – i’m not that sort of person. I prefer to exercise on my own. So home workout programmes were the way forward. I tried a couple and went with Rip:60 to start with. This includes a suspension trainer and combines body weight exercises, basic plyometrics (jumping exercises) and yoga to give a series of quite short workouts that burn loads of calories. While the programme recommends working out 4-5 times a week, I couldn’t maintain that level. 2-3 times per week worked very well for me & the weight dropped off while my muscles slowly returned to a much more aesthetically pleasing form.

After 3 months of this, I had reached my goal weight – since then I changed over to do more weight lifting at home. I have maintained the same body weight, gained muscle and lost more fat. I can’t believe how much I changed my body & really wish that I had started this when I was considerably younger.

Still – onwards and upwards. Rewards are being reaped & I still have more goals to achieve. No longer am I pursuing fat loss, but instead the body I should have had when I was in my twenties…nope its not something I regret, but something I have chosen to make happen – never a toss.

Living life without regrets

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As we slowly grow old, we look back at earlier parts of our lives in a different light. There may be a few things that we think about with a hint of disappointment or regret. These thoughts shouldn’t be lingered over – life shouldn’t be full of regret.

With age comes experience, confidence and wisdom – this gives us the ability to make decisions that we perhaps wouldn’t have done earlier in our lives. With this comes a certain level of expectation – when our expectations aren’t met, we grumble.

Grumbling is at the heart of never a toss – while life should be explored, its good to have a moan along the way.

The flip side to this is that we can now regret something we chose to do, like visit a restaurant, if we hadn’t made the decision to eat there – we wouldn’t know that the service was shocking or that the menu was straight from the 1990′s…it is better to have tried and moan than not to try in the first place!

Live life to the full – never a toss.