Monday, 30 January 2017

2016

Most of the world seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief as 2016 ticked over to 2017.  It's all a bit silly really.  It's just the number of recorded trips around the Sun.  It's not like any of them are of much cosmic significance unless our orbit changes and we, say, go ploughing into the thing.

Yes, 2016 brought about all manner of political horror for some people, brought us a lot of celebrity deaths, saw the financial world being generally a bit confused and all that but life continues.  I, for one, rather liked 2016.  I'll probably always remember it as the year I fixed myself.

The whole thing probably started in July, 2015.  I received that phonecall, the one that you never want to get.  The kind of communication that most people are going to get at one point of another in their lives.  It was somewhere shortly after 1pm on an otherwise unremarkable work afternoon.  24 hours later I was ringing companies, family and friends to take care of the affairs of my dad who'd passed away in a car accident somewhere near Easingwold.  It's not an easy or pleasant thing to do, tying up a human life and making all the necessary arrangements to have their remains dealt with in the manner of their choosing.  For additional laughs, we found out the day after dad had passed that my aunt and uncle had recently been on holiday in Tunisia and killed in a terrorist shooting.  To describe things as bad would be wrong.  We were basically in the middle of a bad American soap opera.

I coped with it in a couple of ways.  Throwing myself into the task at hand with the funeral arrangements and the like was a useful distraction.  The other was a ready supply of pizza and fairly hard alcohol.  Dad used to keep a collection of strange drinks.  Nobody else was likely to go anywhere near them and it took the edge off of what was happening for a while.  Diet wise, the rest of the year wasn't very much better.  January came around after the first family Christmas sans a member and I got on the scales.  Every year it's a pretty grim January ritual.  17st 12.  I've never been at 250lbs.  I wasn't terribly pleased about that.  And so, as I tended to every year, I decided to start eating right and heading to the gym again.  Not a resolution mind you, I never formally make them because they add a nasty little edge to an already dull season.  Normally this tends to become a chore which turns into a routine and once I'm at the "I'm doing this because it's what I do on Monday" stage, I tend to keep at it.  Every time I do, after a month or two there'll be something which gives me a legitimate reason to stop for a while.  Overtime at work, injury etc.  In 2015 it was the funeral.  Once I've stopped for a week or more, I usually don't get back in until next January,

It probably all started in early Jan.  I used to play board games over lunch at work but one of the three guys in our group resigned to take up another position elsewhere.  Just the two of us makes for bad games of Munchkin but the other chap is quite athletically inclined and somehow we got onto the idea of going for a bit of a walk.  There's a short route around the back of the local shopping centre which stretches some 3k in a round route.  It's nice to leave the office and good to get some fresh air.  At the time I was lucky if I could run at 7.5kmph for 15 minutes without having to stop for a rest.  What I was doing at the gym was planning to run for 15 minutes, cycle for 15 minutes, cross train for 15 minutes.  Every two weeks I'd go up by another 0.1kmph.  As plans go, it would have helped me get fitter but not quickly, but I get stuck in ruts easily and I was happy with the plan.  Walking 3k up and down hills was actually getting me fairly out of breath but we kept going.  Even a year later it's still a daily thing.

The first big change came when I downloaded Google's Fit app.  It's a fitness and calorie tracker which can tell how far you go, what amount of time you spent moving and tracks your steps.  It gives you a notification if you hit a certain number of active minutes per day and a little animation with a pleasant dinging noise.  So now fitness was like a weird casual mobile game where I competed with myself to get better and bigger numbers.  Every session and every walk would go into the app and I began a process which I tended to refer to as "chasing the ding".  After work I'd go on a quick half hour walk to get my active time up.  I'd spend more time just walking for the Hell of it on weekends.  For a few months, this was a pretty solid routine and I lost almost 2 stone.

The second was my diet.  I tried eating porridge in the morning, a can of soup for lunch and something reasonable for dinner.  I've got access to the literature for Slimming World and for the most part, it's actually pretty nice.  I don't agree with their "potatoes are guilt free" stance, nor on their group meeting philosophy (I don't have a problem with the meetings, mind, it's just that I really don't personally benefit from a peer support structure like that) but the rest is pretty fine and not restrictive in the way some plans are.  They will say "it's not a diet, it's a lifestyle" and sure, a lot of what they preach is doing different things with your food but seriously, it is a diet.  It's a structured approach to nutrition and weight loss in which certain items can be consumed in moderation and high consumption of certain other items is heavily encouraged.  If I'm making a conscious choice about my meal plans and their nutritional content rather than just getting 5 main courses that I happen to feel like at the time, I'd class that as a diet even if it didn't feel like work. I digress.  This whole Slimming World thing actually worked out pretty well, too, but better than that was tricking myself.  I'm a creature of habit.  Once you realise that you do things because you think you should and because "that's just what I do because I always do it", it's very easy to manipulate yourself.  I'll keep a big bottle of water on my desk and drink a full one in the morning because I always drink a bottle before lunch and another before 4 o'clock because that's when I drink it in the afternoon.  Not for any reason, it's just the way things are.  Likewise, I'd buy a week's supply of soup and a few packs of porridge.  That's the week's food at work.  I wouldn't take any money into work so I couldn't buy snacks, soup was what I had for lunch, porridge for breakfast.  After a while, that becomes routine and the cravings become less of an exercise of willpower because it's something I become used to.

The third was around summer.  May, I think.  I'd decided to try to see if, at a moderate pace, I could stand a longer run.  I'd lost about 2.5 stone by now and was feeling pretty good about that.  I set off on a treadmill and tried to block out the worst of the fatigue with an aim to hit 5k without stopping.  I was gasping for breath by the end and my legs were shaking a little but it happened.  Took about 45 minutes but it happened.  Shortly after this, a friend asked if I wanted to try our local Parkrun.  He'd been interested in starting to run after a long term injury with a view to getting his strength back up.  Seemed fine, I was full of slightly misplaced confidence.  We got there, ran into a third mutual friend and went to the back of the line.  It was my first time actually running out of doors due to self confidence issues (and hey, the gym was fine) but definitely my first time in a situation that could be considered a race.  Not one I intended to win.  Good God, no.  It's a great atmosphere, though.  We'd been down, my wife and I, to see them set off so we could ask the organisers about meeting times and such.  The sound of 400 people running in unison is pretty cool and everyone is either clad in running gear or just out for a good time with friends.  These guys were all enthusiasts, it was their hobby.  It was a weird company to be around for somebody like me.  We set off and quickly lost the chap with the injury who had unfortunately realised that it was still a problem.  I also realised quite soon afterwards that I wasn't going to be finishing this any time soon.  God bless her, the lady we'd met with at the start line was shouting very encouraging things but I had to keep stopping to walk and get my breath back.  I think I clocked my first in 37 minutes.  It became a pleasant routine in the end as it was a really great way to start the weekend.  I was up early on Saturday, got to make a lot of use of the day and generally kicked the weekend off with a lot of endorphins.  Every session I went to I'd get another 30 seconds or so quicker.  After my third, I wasn't slowing to a walk.  Eventually there was a session with a 30 minute pacer.  It's a time I'd had my eye on since the beginning.  That would be the point at which I'd consider myself "fit".  I managed to catch up with him in the initial rush and off we went.  I remember that at the 4k mark, all the strength in my legs had gone completely and I could feel myself physically shaking but we kept on and there it was, something like 29:57.  That was wonderful.

The thing about getting into running is that you have this series of little goals you can aspire to.  Do it faster, do it longer, do a harder route.  It feels great to achieve any of them.

Next, a local running club started a session backed by the council after park run.  One of those 5k training programs for people wanting to get into running.  By this point, I'd picked up a fourth friend, a chap I knew who'd started working up at my office, who came down pretty regularly.  I had 5k sorted out and I was really keen to go longer, to hit that next milestone.  10k seemed reasonable but a long way off (except for my friend who was probably good to go).  We'd had an email at work asking for people who wanted to run in the Leeds Age UK Abbey Dash so I signed up.  Having a commitment is a really big motivator.  So there was a session occurring after the morning's 5k where new runners were broken down into ability groups and every week we ran a bit longer than the last, starting at 2.5 and getting further each week.  Seemed a reasonable way to start, just run the 5k then run the training session afterwards.  By the end, we were running 9.5 with a 10 minute cooldown/warm up in the middle.  My actual first 10k came from a facebook message from the lady who we met at the first park run.  I was free one Saturday morning, she asked if I was up for a 10k, a couple of hours later we're heading out of Greenhead Park and out towards parts unknown.  I remember getting home ad pretty much collapsing for the rest of the day because 10k is apparently my cutoff point.  If I run 10k or more, I need to eat within a couple of hours or I'll experience fatigue bordering on flu symptoms and slowly shut down internally.  Felt fantastic despite the exhaustion.

The day came.  The last 5k training session was "run a park run" so the previous week had been an oddly short session.  The awards thing afterwards was very nice and it was a really positive atmosphere but there was a behemoth on the horizon.  I had all my stuff together the night before, had my train plans sorted out, had a post-run protein bar on standby, had my sad corporate team member shirt (they were paying my entrance fee, I couldn't say no).  We got to the station a good half hour early.  Got to meet Felix the station cat, one of our weird local celebrities, but he was busy with some stalking on the platforms and didn't pay us much attention.  The only problem was the weather.  It was bitterly cold that morning.  Truly horrendous.  The train replacement bus was thankfully well heated and off we went, me with a couple of slices of toast in my stomach and dreams of my companion's decision to get a massive Wetherspoon's breakfast in my head.  Got to the venue, didn't fancy the warm up.  I'm not big on public dancing.  We got to our appointed gate and shivered violently for a while before the elites set off.  I think I was faintly nervous but the race atmosphere is actually pretty intoxicating.  More than anything else, I wanted to get moving just to warm up.  Eventually we were allowed to start.  I'd had all these idea about there being huge crowds to cheer us on and actually, yes, there were a lot of people at the start line all shouting to us.  That was actually great.  For someone who's been the fat kid for 20 years, being cheered on by strangers for a sporting achievement is inconceivable.  I actually belonged with this giant crowd of sweating, gasping idiots.  I was a runner now.  I'd joined the club which organised the training program a while ago but this really cemented it.
The crowds soon thinned out and we were heading up a main road through Leeds.  That was really fun, just running along what should have been a crowded main road through familiar surroundings.  We hit a retail park and diverted through (I think to add another 0.5k to complete the full distance) and headed up to Kirkstall Abbey.  After a while I saw people coming the other way and was heartened.  We couldn't have been that far off, the race leaders were running the other way.  Then I realised that this was the "sub 30 minutes" crowd.  That was a blow.
As we reached Kirkstall Abbey and the water station, I realised my pacing was a little off.  I was getting quite fatigued, even if the water helped significantly.  I had a playlist on my phone to keep me entertained and really to help with the mental aspect of things but it was getting quite hard.  Come 7k, I was getting close to finished and more than a little nauseous.  I really was worried I was just going to vomit on the street.  We passed our local radio station's little presence, more shouting, then kept on going.  Eventually the 9k marker came.  I know my time is around 6 minutes per kilometre, I knew I wasn't far and I kept running into colleagues who'd shout encouraging things.  I'd gone out for evening runs with a couple of them before an it was almost a kind of team thing.  As we climbed the last hill and I could just about see the finish line, it was time to use up the last reserves on a proper sprint finish.  I had my playlist on random but it had thankfully never hit one particular song, "Hopes and Dreams" from the Undertale soundtrack.  It's got an incredible amount of energy behind it and it's played during the most emotionally charged part of one of the most profound and powerful media experiences I've ever had.  The opening violin strains kicked in and I knew that no matter how much it was hurting now, I'd be sprinting until the end.
Somebody at work commented on the race photos a few days ago.  Said that in one of them it looked like I was roaring with determination.  I really was.
The finish line came and went.  Gate time around 1:17, I think.  I'd been hoping for 1 hour but to finish without losing pace was more than enough.  A merciful angel delivered unto us white chocolate lion bars and had I been a man of less self control, I may have made love to her there and then.  I would have melted that cheeky little crunchy chocolate beast and injected it right into my heart.  It was manna from Heaven.  Another person gave me a finisher's shirt.  So here I was, the fat kid who didn't get out much with one of those fancy technical running tees (I believe that's the accepted terminology).  I got lost for half an hour trying to find the baggage claim and my friend from work and the training sessions. It all worked out in the end.  I was borderline delirious, I think, and very disoriented indeed.  Maybe went a bit too hard, truth be told.  We found each other, though, and the protein bar gave me enough slightly hysterical energy to get to the train station.  Bus, spoons, sausages and lager, a short trip home and we were done.

It's January now.  I'm currently weighing in at around 12st 12, 70 lbs and 5 stone later.  It's the lightest I've been since before I was a teenager.  I lift weights 5 days a week, I do sit ups to firm up the loose skin around my stomach.  Nothing in my wardrobe fits.  It's quite wonderful.  I've got a race booked for next month, a local 10k, and along with that I'm training for my first half marathon, going back to Leeds for a much longer run.  My current distance record is 16k, a solid unbroken run of 10 miles, and even then I think the only thing that keps me from going longer was excruciating dehydration and a lack of energy intake mid-run.  I sat down at the end of that jaunt with a literal hangover from lack of fluid in my body.  It's the only hangover I've ever enjoyed.

This hasn't been without down sides.  My feet are different now.  I have one permanently black toenail.  I have to carve off my calluses with a literal blade.  I've had an extensive and varied collection of blisters and there sure isn't anything quite like the sensation of a wet sock when you know that it's dry outside and strongly suspect that you're now sloshing around in your own plasma.  Dehydration, exhaustion and fatigue are painful but you get to crave them, they're badges of horrible honour.  It takes a lot of time to really get into fitness and there's no denying that.  Also, clothes are expensive and while I'm replacing my wardrobe very slowly, almost all my outfits look like I'm wearing my dad's clothes (which...well, in many cases yes, I am, we had a similar dress sense for casual stuff and it he's not gonna wear it any more so...).  But for every problem that fitness and wellbeing cause, two other seem to get solved.  I have fewer heart palpitations, I get less tired on long walks, I don't get out of breath, I've got more energy... it's all a bunch of cliched stuff but it's really true.

If anybody ever does read this, probably that best I could say by way of advice is that honestly, you probably know how to lose weight.  Eat sensible meals, cut out snacking, think a little bit before you buy your meals, make a list before you shop.  Remember that it takes more effort to walk to the machine to buy crisps than it does to just sit where you are and wait another 2 hours until home time.  Harness that apathy, let it work for you.  Don't eat chocolate because you can't be arsed to get it, that's fine, that's great, celebrate your laziness!  A good diet choice for a bad reason is still a good choice!  And exercise doesn't have to be scary, either.  Once you do a bit of it, you'll find the sense of wellbeing quite hard to give up and you may actually come to enjoy it.  Or if nothing else, you'll become an endorphin junkie and get off on the smug sense of self-satisfaction you get from having spent an hour running before a lot of folks have finished their cornflakes.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Beetlejuice: a case study and grant request proposal

The rules of Beetlejuice are clearly defined.  You say his name 3 times, he appears, dicks around with you for a while and possibly tries to marry your teenage daughter.  That last part always bothered me but we'll gloss over that for now.

What I'm interested in exploring is how the system can be exploited.  There are two key areas that I'm looking into but we may expand into others as my research continues.  These areas are:


  • What happens when two people summon Beetlejuice at once?
  • What happens if Beetlejuice dies?


We'll tackle these in order.


What happens when two people summon Beetlejuice at once?
If one person summons him, he will appear.  I don't think he has much control over this.  It seems to be less like a text message or a ticket appearing on his to do list, more a binding contract.  As a supernatural entity, he probably does behave much like a demon and it should be possible to invoke him.  It might explain his attitude problem.  However, what if two people try it?

First we'll look at two people offset by a small interval.  Say, 5 seconds.  Does he lose interest in the first person to summon him?  Does he have to promise to return to them when he's finished with his newest client?  Does he operate on a first in, first out style task list or is it more of a stack?  Could you, for example, have two people summon him back and forth in seperate rooms repeatedly and how likely would he be to outright murder you if you did that enough?

Second, two people simultaneously.  For this to work, we have to assume that it's theoretically possible to have two people summon him at the very same instant.  I will assume that you can't simply have a tape recorder say his name and have two of them play at once.  Mechanical items and supernatural entities very rarely work well together (except in the well established precedents of Ghostbusters, Doom, Hellraiser and probably like a thousand other things but absolutely not Harry Potter so maybe we have to work on the idea that Beetlejuice only exists in the Harry Potter universe although in that case, you'd think Lydia Deets would have gone to Hogwarts 'cause seriously, look at her).

So if two people summon him at once, what do you get?  Do you get two of them?  Do you (and this seems more likely) get one of them split in half to cause the maximum amount of distress?


What happens if Beetlejuice dies?
I assume he can be slain, having a physical form.  I base this on how

A)  he can turn himself into almost anything
B)  he fears sand worms

If he is immortal, all he has to fear from sand worms is being trapped in their stomach and either being excreted out the other end or incarcerated permanently.  Since he can transform into things, he can presumably turn into something quite small and airborne then simply fly out when the thing comes up for air.  Ergo, he must be mortal, if unable to age, because otherwise all he'd have to fear was being trapped in a gross mud bug.  And frankly, I think he'd get off on that to a degree.

So if he's slain and someone tries to summon him, do you get a new one?  Beetledeuce?  Can you repeatedly do this?  Would it, in theory, be posible to have someone summon Beetlejuice repeatedly in the middle of a furnace, thereby providing the world with an infinitely renewing source of fuel?


If anybody is willing to fund this endeavor, I'll require sufficient monies to allow me to liaise directly with the Geffen Film company and Warner Bros with a view to expanding on these ideas in the upcoming sequel.  I'll also need funding to support me as I spend the next 3 months purchasing, viewing and analysing the Beetlejuice animated series.  And I might need a trip to Universal Studios.  They have a show starring him over there which I think could be useful.  I mean, being able to talk to the actual guy is certainly going to help.

IMDB has Beetlejuice 2 listed already so it's in production.  You'd better get that cash in quickly otherwise we'll be in for a long wait until Beetlejuice 3.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

A brief account of a wedding reception.

That seems like the right sort of title.  I got married on 28/05/2014, or blessed at least, and I wanted to get the details down before something else pushes the interesting little bits out of my head.  I'll break this up into 3 sections, before, during and after and we'll see how that goes.

Day 1 - THE EVE OF A NEW BEGINNING

Pompous.  I like that.

We spent a good long time decorating 50 cups.  That was something.  50 blank cups and saucers onto which we were going to transfer a picture of a tree then add a bit of writing to as a memento of the day.  That was the plan, anyway.  I did a few after work and since it isn't the kind of work that requires a lot of thought but does require a lot of patience and time, I put a few cartoons on.  By measuring each cup in terms of episodes of Garfield and Friends (henceforth a unit referred to as one (1) Garfield, equivalent to about 25 minutes 'cause you don't get commercials on Netflix), I determined that to scribble a graphite outline onto 4 images took roughly 1 Garfield.  It also gave me hand cramp.  To rub the image onto a cup took around 0.5 Garfields.  To trace in ceramic pen took an additional 0.5 Garfield.  I could refer to a half Garfield as an Orson for the half episode that's always an episode of Orson's Farm but that's just being silly.
So a cup takes roughly 1.25 Garfields or half an hour.  Ish.  The saucers took about twice that, so we're looking at 3.75 Garfields per cup.

Anyway you slice it, that's just too long to get done in an evening after work when I need to feed myself and take a shower so we ended up just cutting out a different image from a square of paper, ceramic painting over the holes and leaving it at that.  If you attended and have a cup with a really elaborate tree looking pattern on the saucer or a leaf motif on the cup, you have one of the rare ones.  It's like a collectable card game!  If you have a saucer with a LOT of writing on it, you have one from when Hanna was doing her shift with the saucers and was starting to get a bit more creative towards the end of the last batch.  If you have one that looks like it was written on by a 6 year old, that's one of mine.

I spent most of the time on the cup production line cooking and making tea.  I don't really know how to use a pen for more than 15 minutes without experiencing physical pain (no, seriously) so that was probably fine.

We'd wake up most mornings to find that Hanna's dad had, like the mice in the Tailor of Gloucester, had done most of our work for us.  Along with Chris, who actually kind of WAS a tailor, he may have single handedly saved much of the day.

We packed up on Tuesday afternoon, forgot a few bits, lost the cat's vaccination certificate, found the cat's vaccination certificate and eventually managed to pull into Windermere at around 3pm which was only, like, 3 hours late.  A few family dropoffs, a few meetings of peoples, a massive meal at the local Italian, some fatherly speeches and a trip to the in-laws (hey, there's a term I can seriously use, now!) later, we collapsed into bed.

The in-law accommodation bears mentioning.  Goodness knows how they found it but we discovered that after a mile of driving up a country road dotted with cattle grids, they'd managed to rent some kind of self catering manor house.  I wish this was an exaggeration.  More than 15 bedrooms, 2 lounges, one with a log fire, 2 kitchens, bathrooms all over the place... it's the kind of house where playing hide and seek would require you to pack a lunch.

Our place was rather fancy.  The top floor or a 4 star... B&B seems like the wrong term.  It was like a little hotel with valet parking, complimentary sherry and toffees and a decently stocked bar.  The local ale wasn't my personal cup of tea but you couldn't fault them on variety.  Our room had 3 lights and a remote which allowed you to select 3 brightness levels or, like, 16 colours as well as strobe settings.  Given that this was effectively a bridal suite, we weren't sure why that was there because we don't find discos particularly... well, alluring?  It was nice to set one of them to teal and leave it on as a night light for the bathroom though and it made for a good half hour's sleep deprived amusement.

Day 2 - A THIRTY HOUR DAY

I insist that there is not enough time in a day to get done what we got done.

Awake, breakfast.  Easy enough.  I think I was supposed to be freaking out at this point but everything was going pretty well.  The only time I felt nervous all day was waiting for Hanna to walk down the aisle and realising that I'd left my deodorant in the room which was now filled with half a dozen women getting changed.  There was a minefield I wasn't about to prance through.  I dressed myself which, as those of you present for my graduation will, was an achievement.  Hanna apparently underwent some kind of Cinderella montage upstairs involving makeup and the most elaborate dress in the world.  I put on a fancy hat and wondered when we were having lunch.

I had an easier day all over, I think.

Off to the venue after realising I'd forgotten the ipod with the music on it that I'd spent 2 weeks preparing.  Whoops.  I then didn't realise that the music for going down the aisle and doing the whole recessional thing was also mean to be coming from my ipod and that I should have given it to the hotel staff.  Whoops again.  It was quite a quiet ceremony.  I wasn't really sure how I was meant to be reacting throughout as I was stood in front of a room full of people I knew to varying degrees so I just kind of grimaced and flapped ineffectually until Hanna was walked down the aisle.  Looking suitably radiant.  That bears mentioning.  I looked like a prat in a hat but I felt kinda fancy and I was wearing big boy aftershave so that was okay.

Vows were exchanged in front of our local priest who's a very nice man and drove a very long way to avoid a boring meeting.  So we did him a favour, I guess.   I couldn't help feeling like I sounded horribly sarcastic throughout the swearing before God stuff which is terrible because that wasn't the intention but damned if I know how you're supposed to address someone when you're stood in that kind of position.  I was sort of focusing on keeping it together through the slight emotional wobble that I was experiencing.  But I didn't fall over or cry inconsolably during the vows so that was lovely.  High expectations!  We exchanged rings and I'm quite sure that mine can't be removed now without a lot of effort.  It's pretty firmly stuck on.  After that, there was a lot of clapping, some parental tears and we retired to some kind of lounge to take photos.  I supplied the venue with an ipod.  It was barely audible throughout the day but the boat made up for that with GUSTO.

We also drank the toasting wine during the photos due to a bit of confusion.  A bit of confusion with the box which had "TOASTING WINE ONLY" written on it in black marker pen.  But heigh ho, I kind of wanted a drink.

A lot of photos followed, as is the way of things.  Family on the stairs, friends on the stairs, family around the hotel, family outside, us walking down paths holding umbrellas, me trying to stab my best men through the head with a samurai sword umbrella, men carrying bags, women wearing hats, women pretending to kiss me, boy-girl conga lines... that was a bit of a blur.  There was also some fishing out of a good luck horseshoe from the lake after it went for a bit of a swim.  That was pretty funny and it came back fine.

Off to the hotel for high tea and lots of little sandwiches.  Our toastmaster did a lot of shouting for us, then people clapped a lot which was nice of them.  I think everyone thought the salmon was tomato.  I certainly did.  Sorry if you don't like salmon.  After a few rounds of sandwiches and cake, a few of us hunted for a beer.  There were no bartenders so our lovely toastmaster sought us out a man who looked like he was employed by the hotel and made him pull pints for us.  I think he may have been a manager or something so that was kinda nice of him.  Speeches to follow.  Hanna's dad's was pretty perfect, Danny's was really rather pleasant and very nostalgic, Wayne's was pretty funny.  The brewery tour satnav story never gets any worse for the retelling.  Mine was long, rambling, partially improvised and is included at the end of this post.  It turns out that "I first realised that I had a crippling fear of public speaking when I was in college" isn't a good opening line unless people know you're trying to go for a funny speech.  Lesson learned!

Back to the hotel to get changed and have a cheeky cup of tea.  They laid on a bottle of champagne on the house which was lovely of them so we gave them tea and cake.  Lonsdale house is staffed by the most charismatic man in the entire world, so if you ever go there (which we can both recommend), look for Andrew.  You'll know him when you see him.

Champagne quaffed due to time restrictions, we headed to the boat we'd rented a little unsteadily, hopped on board and they accepted an ipod happily.  And loudly.  That was much better.  Beers happened, a barbecue happened and a lot of conversation with the new members of my family who really wanted to buy me beers.  Splendid bunch of people.  Lots of new friends made, old friends reunited, music, 3 hours of conversations and a bit of a dance in the rain to our finally-played recessional, You Ruined Everything by Jonathon Coulton.  It's quite a nice song, look it up.  I put in a request for Another Winter by Anamanaguchi as we rolled into port which probably confused the locals.

We finished with a trip to the local pub, a couple more beverages, pool, pinball, more conversations then back to bed as I had to have a little lay down while being overwhelmed by the cards and presents and suchlike that we'd been sent.  'cause seriously, that was all stunning and more than a bit emotional.

Thanks again to everybody who attended, wrote to us or in any way interacted with this wedding.  It was a really perfect day out, just a function with close friends and family, wonderful company throughout the day and 15 straight hours of happiness.  We couldn't have asked for anything more and you all really made it for us.


Day 3 - A NEW HOPE

The aftermath.

A spot of lunch with the Goodways.  Or a Goodway and a Spence.  I mean, I'm not sure if you guys are cool with being referred to collectively as the Goodways so do correct me if you read this.  A bit of a trip around Lakeland Plastics with Emma, no doubt accompanied by my Nanna and Grandad who are probably haunting the Lake District.  A trip to Kendall to drop off the suits and get some fancy-pants bread.  That was bloody good bread.  Then to a little restaurant where were ordered an unreasonable amount of Tapas.  It's worth pointing out at this point that around Windermere, all the restaurants are fairly small.  They're all also very, very good.  We've been to easily a dozen of them now and they've been fantastic.  I always leave Winderemere with indigestion and I never truly care.

Someone appears to have stolen my pepto bismol.  Poo.  There's a jar of Nutella but I don't think that'll help.

Back to the in-law's palatial home for the evening.  Seems they'd already had a photo of the day printed and framed as a wedding present which was pretty amazing.  Lovely picture of us, too.  We're both really chuffed with that, it captured the whole feeling of the day really nicely.

The final day was a high point.  Out in the morning to a local greasy spoon 'cause we decided to see if we could sleep in past the hotel's breakfast times on account of us both having had zero chances to sleep in lately.  Nothing quite like a full English at a cafe to give a horrendous lining to the stomach.  I could have chugged a bottle of vinegar and fire ants after that with no ill effects.  We then went to the Beatrix Potter museum which was pretty lovely but it turns out that going to a museum aimed at kids and filled with kids is a really good way to feel super conspicuous.  We weren't the only adult couples there though so that was fine.  They actually mentioned quite a lot about her life, inspirations and history in there which was pretty interesting so while it wasn't something for the dads in the Peter Kay sense, it was still rather interesting.

Then on to the lake.  We'd noticed signs for speedboat rental and it turned out to be £18 for two adults for an hour.  Couldn't say no at all.  15 minutes of queueing and watching the attendant negotiate with some Chinese tourists, 5 minutes of watching them try to row out of the docks with limited success and we were off.  If you've never rented a speedboat, we heartily recommend it because it's enormous fun.  You get to go where you want throughout the lake, see the yachts up close and exchange gestured thanks with experienced sailors which makes you feel like a courteous badass.  We both had a go, taking turns to operate the gearbox or the tiller and taking photos.  Really great stuff.

I fed a swan.  I used to be terrified of them on account of how they eat people but I think I tamed a few of them.  I also learned what pigeons are.

We went poking around the local shops and found an art gallery.  We'd been in the one in Windermere town centre.  This one stocked a few bits by an artist that we're collecting pieces from so we got a couple of prints.  Or maybe we bought them on the Thursday... I think we did.  But we found a really nice oil painting by a local artist who does some pieces that we really like.  There was one with a couple sailing a rowing boat up to a cliff with a lighthouse at night and a little constellation of a heart in the sky and... we... may have bought ourselves a substantial wedding present.  I think we're yuppies now.  We eat olives and bruschetta and all the rest of that cultured shit.

Then we went for ice cream, a nap and then steak burgers and beer.  Very good burgers, those.

Early morning, early onto the motorway, back home with no trouble, a spot of lunch with my parents and their lovely, lovely dogs who were in town by coincidence.  Back home, laundry, blog, photo upload.  We've got one more day before we head to Brighton for the legal bit.  Genuinely can't wait for that.

Overall, a wonderful week, slightly dull weather but some spectacular views and wonderful memories.  And one slight hangover.


And the speech which may or may not resemble the actual speech I delivered but was certainly the one I was holding on the day:


I’m not known for my experience of public speaking so, thinking on everything I’ve learned on the subject of speech writing and delivery I was reminded of that classic piece of advice: “Imagine your audience is in their underwear”. 

Pause. 

So, how are we all feeling about that?  I’m not actually doing it, don’t worry.  I mean, it seems dreadfully unfair if, like today, your audience has expended a considerable amount of effort in looking exceptionally presentable.  And I find the idea of a lawn full of people in their underwear to be terrifying, quite frankly. 

So, if I may, I’d like to start with a bit of a story, move on to the thanks and then we can all bask in that lovely moment of relief where I stop talking.  It’ll be coming in about 5 minutes so if you want to take a quick nap, I won’t think any less of you. 

I think, though it’s hard to really put my finger on it, that I really fell for Hanna in the summer of 2008.  I’d just graduated from university and I’d decided to take a couple of months off to wind down from all those gruelling 4 hour working days.  I’d spend my days padding out my CV, playing video games and surfing the Internet, all fairly typical student stuff, but I spent a lot of time chatting online.  I met Hanna the previous Autumn in a pub in Huddersfield where we’d gone for a gaming society meeting and we got to know each a little better each Tuesday during our game.  Come the summer, as everyone went home I started chatting online with a handful of the people I’d met that year but I found that whenever I was talking with Hanna, I’d lose track of time.  More than once, I remember going to bed as everybody else in the house was waking up. 

Rather than your stereotypical, rose tinted scene where the feelings of affection are realised as the two gaze into each other’s eyes, we weren’t anywhere near each other when it happened for me.  It must have been 4 in the morning, sat bathed in the glow of my monitor, when I came to the life changing realisation that I’d finally met someone that was so aligned to my own peculiar mental wavelength that we could talk for hours on end without running out of things to say. 

It was pretty astounding.  It still is. 

Come the February of next year, I decided to ask her out.  Wednesday the 18th, 2009 at about 9 in the evening.  One later evening, the following… day I think, I received the most profound and meaningful “Maybe” of my life.  Things have escalated from that point in a really alarming fashion ever since. 

We’d both like to thank you all for coming down.  I realise that none of you live anywhere near Windermere (if it’s any consolation, neither do we) but we hope to have inconvenienced everyone as fairly and equally as possible.  The main reason for being here, however, is that this is the place where we got engaged in the first place (and later this evening, we’ll be going out on the same boat on which the question was, as they say, popped).  It really does mean the world to us that you’ve come to share this experience today. 

So, for specific thanks: 

Tony, thanks from both of us for supporting this union and being willing to allow yourself to be in any way connected to the Sparks’.  I appreciate that it’s more than a lot of people would be willing to deal with.  I’d also particularly like to thank you for what might be the classiest response to “I’d like to ask if I could marry your daughter”, that being “I’m not the one you need to ask”.  I’ll remember that for the rest of my life and, depending on how things work out, will be inflicting it on the future suitor of my own offspring.  Thanks also for the wealth of knowledge you’ve assisted us with over the years. 

Fiona, again, thanks for supporting all of this as well and I can only apologise for adding even more people to your already chaotic Christmas and New Years’ celebrations.  You’re welcome to a lifetime of technical support.  I unfortunately can’t guarantee the quality of any advice I give.  I would like to remind you that while I’m a bachelor of computer science, I have been known to use myself as a volt meter.  Twice.  And thanks for rather a lot of emotional support. 

Alf, thanks for your support as well.  And not just for the wedding but for more household and mechanical repairs than I’m capable of bringing to mind.  I’m becoming convinced that you’re the only person I know, including myself, who’s capable of rehousing my headlights which is a terrible thing considering I’ve owned that car for two years.  Thanks for a lot of practical advice.  I’m profoundly sorry for anything that may happen as a result of me trying to fix any of the technology you own. 

My own mum and dad, Pam and Bob.  Parents, friends, occasional drinking buddies.  After I spent my young adult life immersed in the black pit that was my bedroom, I think we’re all a bit surprised to be here today.  Thanks for more things than I can fit into a speech of any reasonable length, but mostly for instilling in me enough life experience that Ive somehow managed to survive for 28 years.  And dad, on a side note, whatever I may have said over the years, it’s an honour to be mistaken for you and a pleasure to resemble you. 

Does everyone have some kind of beverage? 

On the subject of family, I’d like to raise two toasts, if I may, to absent friends (–one–).  To those who weren’t able to make it today but most of all to those who are no longer with us.  Though I’m fairly sure that Eric and Judy in particular will be here in spirit.  I can’t imagine them turning down an opportunity to visit Lakeland Plastics.  We’re actually down here on my grandad’s birthday so if you’re of that kind of persuasion, have a pint of something for him.  I don’t know if he’d appreciate the beer but I think he’d appreciate the sentiment. 

Special thanks to those of you who haven’t had a particularly easy time of getting here for one reason or another, especially those of you who’ve had to come down on public transport.  Thanks too to the drivers.  I can say from experience that it’s quite a trek to get here.  And sincere, sincere thanks and possible sympathies to any designated drivers. 

Thanks to my best men.  To Danny for wasted days of tiny plastic men and video games and to Wayne for wasted days of beer and video games.  I wouldn’t trade any of that nonsense for the world.  You’ve both been really positive influences on both of our lives and have been directly responsible for some of the most memorable moments of the past few years.  And some of the blurrier ones.  Our past has contained dozens of adventures and I hope our future does too. 

Thanks to the staff of the Cragwood Hotel, to our photographers Lorraine and Derek and to our Toastmaster Michael for helping us to keep this show running.  Your support has been invaluable.  We don’t have a great deal of personal experience in getting married so it’s wonderful to have people around who really seem to know what they’re doing.  We’ve been in safe hands with you guys since the beginning and that’s been very reassuring. 

Finally, very much in your own time and assuming it will cause no physical discomfort, if we could all stand for a second, I’d like to propose two last toasts.  One thanks to our bridesmaids.  (–one–)  Although since I think, though I’m not certain, that that group includes Christopher then in this enlightened age maybe “Bridespersons” would be a better term.  And one more to Hanna, not for her boundless love, patience and compassion but for becoming, and I do mean this most sincerely, the best friend I could ever wish to have.  For keeping me going through the hard times, for helping me to maintain my ever-slender grip on my mental marbles and for being a friendly face at the end of my best and my worst days.  I love you and at this moment, certainly for many more moments to come, there’s genuinely no position in which I’d rather be. 

I’ll shut up now. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Weight loss blog 3: The new batch

Aaand 97 kilos.  Consistent.  I like that.

Food's great.  I've been trying to mix up the diet a lot lately and so far I'm having some quite surprising success, but it is a little bit severe.  The meal plan is roughly as follows:

Breakfast - porridge on weekdays, eggs on weekends
Lunch - soup on weekdays.  I'm usually eating late enough on weekends that breakfast and lunch are pretty interchangeable
Snack - protein drink on weekdays, not a heck of a lot on weekends
Dinner - at home, something sensible.  Out and about... yeah, that's difficult

And water.  At least 4 beakers of the stuff during the day.  Like, if you're not almost peeing clear, you might want more water.

I found three major problems.  I've not completely overcome them, but:
  • Mid afternoon slump - about 3 or 4 pm all energy just leaves me and I'll become ravenous.
    • The protein shakes help.  They're fairly light compared to a bag of crisps and they're really a fairly potent pick me up.
  • Dinner - not so bad if I'm at home in the evening, but out and about, healthy dinner options are a pain to find
    • Honestly, I reckon your best bet for this is those premade sandwiches in supermarkets.  They're like 500 calories which isn't terrible and they're pretty filling
  • Fruit - I'll eat it and I like some of it, but eating fresh fruit regularly really upsets my stomach.  Reduces the snack options a bit
    • No clue here.  I tried snacking on fruit, just ended up sticky and gassy so now I avoid it

On average, I'm knocking back 1200 calories a day.  Except for one day on Friday/Saturday which is quite often a takeaway day.  It's not great, but eating unhealthy food every now and then is kind of therapeutic.  I mean, I've got a gut full of curry at the moment.  The important thing is to get things in moderation and try to avoid the really horrendous stuff.  I reckon that much less than 1200 is going to result in low loss though, certainly seemed to have a bad effect.

I mean, I never thought I'd lost more by eating more.  That was a pleasant discovery.

Vitamin pills are a big deal, I think.  I'm not eating so much now but I still want the body to respond to the exercise in a favourable way.  And they're not that expensive for quite a large supply.

Protein powder, though.  I've got into this through a guy from work.  "You'll notice a big difference" he says.  Considering that this guy has mentored another colleague into some quite substantial weight loss, I figured I'd see how it worked out.  Well, for one thing it keeps me going throughout the afternoon and gives me a fairly large overall sense of wellbeing.  For another, I really do seem to be having an easier time with dropping the weight on this stuff.  It seems a bit counter intuitive, I thought that stuff promoted growth and muscle gain and all that, but... well, I guess it does and maybe it's just making the exercise easier.

Huh.  There's a revelation.

I guess everything else is common sense, really.  Don't eat until you're stuffed, eat more veg, less saturated fat and stuff.  I'm trying to avoid bread, mostly because nutrition-wise it's not that valuable unless you need the fibre.  I can't say enough about those soups though.  Low in fat and calories and generally full of veg.  That's a really decent lunch for under 250 calories and they're super convenient.

Can't say there's anything interesting going on here, just "eat less, make sure the stuff you're eating is valuable and keep an eye on what's going into your body".

I think the most important thing I've realised though is that after a few weeks, junk food cravings are like anything else that's addictive, you either don't get the pangs as bad or you get better at ignoring them.  Turns out that bodies are pretty good at looking after themselves if you give them a chance.