Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I Am Overweight! Woohoo!

Not a common whoop of joy heard in this day and age, admittedly, but I am a happy man. In fact, it turns out that I’ve been overweight for a few weeks now, but I hadn’t checked a BMI calculator recently.

BMI is the Body Mass Index and is essentially a ratio measurement between your height and your weight (you can check yours out at http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/interactiveTools/bmi.aspx if you’re curious) and so can be used as a rough guide to how fat you are. It is only an approximation though - if you are an athlete, for example, then you will get a false reading because muscle weighs more than fat.

So, at 5 feet and 7 inches high, and weighing in this morning at 13 stone and 6 pounds (188lbs or 85.275kg), I have a BMI of 29.44466. This means that I am now Overweight and no longer Obese (as I am in no way athletic). The chart looks something like this:

Less than 20 – Underweight - everyone thinks you look like a model, but you’re actually very unhealthy
20 to 25 – Ideal weight - you are at the right weight for your height, will probably live longer, but worry that your bum looks too big because society tells you that you should be underweight (“You can never be too rich or too thin” - Nancy Reagan)
25-30 – Overweight - you eat too many snacks and takeaways and don’t exercise enough
30-35 – Obese (Class I) - now you’re getting into dangerous territory that could be seriously affecting your long term health. You’re probably struggling to find anything that fits you in a high-street shop
35-40 – Obese (Class II) - specialist "outsize" clothes shops are becoming the norm, but you despise the fact that they insist you look like your granny's sofa cover.
Over 40 – Morbidly or Severely Obese (Class III) - also known as “Extremely Obese” or “Pathologically Obese” – chances are you’ve been dieting all your life and/or have problems with food addiction and emotional eating patterns that are now way out of control. Jogging trousers are just so much more comfortable.

15 months ago I was 19st 9lbs (275lbs) and had a BMI of 43, at which point Maggie and I started a new way of life. The idea was that we would eat healthily (plenty fresh fruit & veg), cut out processed foods and certain fats, avoid trigger foods (ones that set off cravings) and stop snacking in the evenings. Since October I’ve been keeping a weekly track of my progress on my other blog, Losing A Hundredweight, if you’re interested.

The main aim has always been to be healthier and the weight loss has been a side effect. THIS IS IMPORTANT. We are not on a “diet”, and when we reach an ideal weight we will continue to eat healthily and will not return to old eating habits. This is a way of life.

It means that we have a bit of cake when there’s a celebration; we sometimes go out for meals; on occasion we get a takeaway; but we are careful not to let these things get out of control. And very importantly, we enjoy good, wholesome, tasty food. Maggie is an excellent cook and very creative. These days instead of using those skills to make cakes and puddings, she’s using them to improve our health. Maggie doesn’t want me discussing her weight with the world, but I will say that she has lost a similar amount over the same time period.

In fact, the other day we were looking back through our early photo albums and came to the conclusion that we now weigh more or less what we did when we first started going out together. 15 ½ years to put the weight on, and 15 ½ months to get back again.

It doesn’t stop here though. We are still overweight, we are not as healthy as we could be, and the next stage will be to start upping our activity levels a bit more.

But I am no longer “Obese”. I am “Overweight” and I think that calls for some kind of celebration. Unfortunately it can’t be with a chocolate cake…

Friday, May 26, 2006

Car Dealers

Last week my younger stepdaughter, passed her driving test so was determined to go and buy a car. She has a particular fondness for the Peugeot 206 so went trotting off to the local Peugeot dealer to get a reasonable 2nd hand one. Then we got a call from her asking for our bank details. When I asked why it transpired that the finance deal the garage was setting up for her required guarantors. Well that set the alarm bells ringing.

Quite apart from the fact that Holly is 20 years old and has a job with a regular income (earning more than I am at the moment, I think) I have absolutely no trust in finance companies so would not agree to it. Making further enquiries I realised that they were selling her a car that was overpriced to begin with, had a much higher spec than she wanted or needed, and over a 4 year period she would be paying over £2,150 in interest alone (more than a third of the cost of the car). Holly’s young enough to believe that when the very nice salesman says he’s doing her a favour that he’s being quite genuine about it, whereas I just felt a knot in my stomach knowing that he would have no compunction about taking complete advantage of her naiveté.

The problem is, she lives over 100 miles away so I couldn’t easily go car hunting with her, but I still felt I could get her a better deal somewhere. I spent a couple of days making phone calls and trawling the web and Holly came down to stay with us on Wednesday night so that on Thursday we could spend the day going round garages. Unfortunately there turned out to be a distinct lack of Peugeot 206s in this corner of Scotland.

To cut a very long story short, in the end my friend in the car trade, Barry (the same one mentioned in one of my first blog entries – Compliment the Car), pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to get hold of a good condition, low mileage 206 for a price that was several hundred quid less than anyone else’s equivalent. The only drawback was that it was up in Stirling (120 miles north of here). As Holly would be working all day Friday and Saturday the only way to guarantee we could get it was to drive up there yesterday afternoon. Still, it was a great deal and Holly’s as happy as can be about it. I didn’t get home until after 10pm though and was absolutely shattered.

By my calculations, with her getting a slightly lower spec car, financing it in a different way, and dealing with people I can trust, I reckon she’s saved in the region of about £3,500 and still has a great wee car that she’s happy with. It might be green instead of red, but for that amount of money she’s not going to lose sleep over it.

I’m relieved, but also incredibly pissed off with the original garage she was dealing with, because this whole episode has basically taken 3 days out of my life to get sorted for her. Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t the duty of nearly every business to screw as much money out of people as they can (careful Kim, your socio-anarchistic ideals might start showing).

On a light-hearted note though, while I was up in the central belt of Scotland I also bumped into another old colleague of mine who commented on how much weight I’d lost since he last saw me. I gestured to the outsized clothing I was wearing and said something about having a lot of baggy clothes these days to which he squealed with delight, “Time for a whole new wardrobe!” In that instant I suddenly realised why women love having gay friends.

Missing the beard

It's nearly 2 weeks since I trimmed my beard so much closer to my chin and I'm still getting a shock every time I look in the mirror.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Recording audio cassettes onto the computer

This entry is split into 2 parts – the first is going to explain what you need to transfer your old audio cassettes to mp3 files, and the 2nd is going to rant about the frustrating process I went through to figure it all out.

To transfer your audio files to your computer, you need a stereo lead with the right connections at both ends. This gets plugged from the headphone socket of your cassette player at one end, and into the “line-in” socket in your computer at the other end. Note: if you plug it into the microphone socket, you will only get a mono recording.

You also need software on your computer that will allow you to record the music. Audacity is a good wee programme that has the added advantage of being absolutely free.

You can also download a separate file from Audacity that allows you to save your recording as an mp3 file. As an mp3 file you can then download it onto your mp3 player, or use software you probably got with your computer to burn it onto a CD.

Fairly straightforward you would think.

But I REALLY wish that someone had put this simple information somewhere I could find it when I decided that I wanted to transfer some of my cassettes to CD – it would have saved me about 2 or 3 days of intense frustration.

When I was in my early 20s I used to compose and record various pieces of music – some on my own and some with my friend, Dan Blore. Unfortunately, the cassettes I recorded them on all those years ago are deteriorating. The quality is noticeably worse and at this rate it’s just a matter of time before they become unusable altogether. So it seemed like a good idea to finally figure out how to transfer them to CD.

Initially I thought you could probably buy a piece of kit that would do it for you in a simple and easy manner. Either you would have a CD burner that you could directly attach to your cassette player, or you would be able to get an all-in-one device. After a fair amount of searching I couldn’t find anything in the shops or on the web that seemed to offer what I wanted. Eventually an assistant in an electronics store said that it was easy enough to do through a computer these days so that’s probably why nobody was making hardware for it.

The first problem was finding a lead that had the right stereo connections at both ends. Then I had to discover the hard way that I couldn’t just plug it into the microphone socket if I wanted to record in stereo. After eventually finding out that I had to plug it into the line-in socket, I then discovered that there wasn’t one on my laptop, so I had to transfer my operations to the main desktop computer.

Then I had to go through the painstaking process of finding out that the music software I had on my computer was overly complicated and too difficult to use, so I had to find an easier one that would do the job (thanks here to my friend Dave for pointing me to Audacity).

In the end I got there, but bloody hell it would have been really useful if someone had just told me the info I typed in above.

Still, it all seems to be working, although it’s very time consuming. Now all I need to find is somewhere online that will host mp3 files for free (like flickr does for photos) and I might even inflict one or two of my old recordings upon my regular readers.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Medal won at the swimming gala

Proud Father Alert!

Meg won a bronze medal today at the Swimming Gala!

The event was for children with special needs and involved many of the schools in the county.

As I was pulling the camera from the bag, Maggie noticed all these signs saying that before I could use photographic or video equipment of any kind I had to seek permission from the supervisor. When I found him I had to produce ID and fill in a form with my name, address, telephone number, the name of the person I was photographing and my relationship to her. Only then did I realise that I’d better not take any photos of any of the other children from Meg’s school: as I had not received written consent or requests from any of the other parents, it would breach school policy.

I find it so sad in this day and age that a father has to go through so many procedures just to take a photo of his daughter. In a less paranoid time I would have been able to take photos of everyone in the group and make copies for the school and the parents, many of whom couldn’t be there to see their sons & daughters today. I’m fortunate enough to be able to be flexible with my work patterns, but most are not.

I could get on to a large rant just now about why it is in the interests of the government and the consumer society to keep us in a permanent state of low-level anxiety, by filling our heads with the idea that the world is full of monsters and terrorists waiting to hurt the innocent, as this allows them to bring in more draconian laws and people spend more when they’re worried.

However, I’ll leave that for another day, as my overwhelming feeling at the moment is fatherly pride for my medal-winning daughter!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Trimming the Beard

I started growing a beard back when I was about 20 years old – more or less as soon as I could get away with it actually looking like a beard rather than just a bit of pubic fluff.

I hated shaving with a passion. I’m not sure whether my skin was sensitive or my shaving technique was dodgy, but I would always come out in a mild rash over my chin and throat which would last a couple of days. This became a problem when I reached the point where I needed to shave daily as I would then end up taking the razor over the heads of the rash and it would look like a Doberman had been at my throat. Needless to say the application of aftershave would have me hitting the ceiling and screaming so loudly that the neighbours would wonder if they should be calling the police. So unless a smooth chin was really called for I just went for the designer stubble look, or "unshaven" as it was called in those days.

Usually after a week or so, my chin would begin to itch, and when it got unbearable I would shave. One day, however, I realised that I’d actually gone about 3 or 4 weeks without shaving and there was no itch. I promptly threw the razor away with an exultant feeling of freedom.

Since then I have shaved off my beard twice. Both times I instantly regretted it as I discovered not just my chin, but a second one lurking beneath and was reminded of the rounded moon face nature of my head. The last time was over 16 years ago, which means that neither Maggie nor my children have ever seen my chin.

For a while now I’ve wanted to do something different with my beard. I’ve tried growing it longer, but it becomes difficult to manage. I don’t have any desire to take up shaving again, so today I decided to trim it really short and see what that looked like. It is now cropped closer to my chin than at any time in the past 16 years. It certainly looks odd to me and the kids are a bit uncertain. Maggie says she can live with it but was relieved that I didn’t shave it off completely. Of course if I had, I’d have then had to change the name of the blog to “Ramblings of the formerly bearded one…”

I’ve posted a before and after shot below for your perusal

Friday, May 12, 2006

Laptop in the garden

This past week has been stunningly warm and sunny. It's so good for the soul.

For some time now, in fact ever since I set it up at the end of last summer, I've wondered whether the WiFi broadband connection would stretch out as far as the garden, allowing me to take the laptop out the back and read/type/blog on the lawn with the sun on my back and the birds singing in my ears. However, I've never gotten round to finding out, until today, that is.

Lo and behold it does. I was able to get a good clear signal pretty much all the way up to the back of the garden. Although I only discovered this by taking off my shirt and throwing it over my head and the laptop.

If I sit with the sun at my back then I cannot see the screen because of the glare. However, if I sit facing the sun, then all I can see in the screen is my reflection. And if I sit under the tree in the shade, even if I didn't have the worry about bird poo falling from above, it's still to damn bright for me to see anything.

Pah! All this fantastic weather and I still have to blog indoors.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Garden Centre

There are few words or phrases that are capable of bring me out in a cold sweat, but “Garden Centre” is one of them.

Spring has finally sprung in this corner of Scotland. It has been warm, summery weather for the past week or so – we even had a thunderstorm at the weekend – and almost overnight, hedgerows and trees have at last allowed their leaves to unfurl. Suddenly the landscape has become very green indeed. But as sure as sap rises, Maggie has been itching to get to a garden centre.

Maggie is passionate about gardening: she loves learning the Latin names of all the plants; she revels in getting her hands dirty in the soil; and she adores seeing the plants grow. Whenever I hear someone say “Earth Mother” a vision of my wife always springs to mind.

Maggie loves me dearly and as long as I don’t mention blogging or the Internet, then she’s happy to accept that our souls are so deeply entwined that they are becoming as one over the years. But despite the incredibly close connection we share she is utterly mystified and completely unable to completely grasp the fact that I have no interest in gardening whatsoever.

Oh of course I enjoy sitting in a garden with lots of plants and flowers – preferably colourful and fragrant while not setting off my hay-fever – but I cannot identify anything more exotic than a daffodil, and I certainly couldn’t tell you how many varieties there are. And with the possible exception of visiting Ikea, I can think of few things more boring and pointless than wandering around a bloody garden centre.

But because I have no interest in types of potting compost, or how to create a bamboo frame to grow sweet peas, I find myself panicking about the amount of money that can drain away quicker than nutrients in excessively sandy soil. It’s an unknown world to me and so induces a sense of unease.

Unfortunately this results in me becoming a grumpy husband who mutters things like “limited financial resources…”, “not enough space in the car…” or “unwarranted strain on the rear axle…” while what I really want to say is “here’s the credit card – buy what you want and I’ll arrange for a haulage company to get it back home ready for you to play with.” I want to indulge her; I want to let her dive head first into prime, organic, peat-free compost and damn the consequences. Instead I start rifling through bank statements and asking if the phone bill’s been paid yet.

So today our friend Liz is accompanying Maggie round the garden centre. She needs a few things for herself but I suspect her primary role is that of moral support for my wife against the sour faced man she's married to. Meanwhile I’m sitting in the car writing the first draft of this blog entry with a pen on a wee notepad I found in the glove box.

It’s a long time since I last used a pen for anything more than signing cheques or completing Sudoku puzzles so my handwriting really has degenerated. I just hope that I’ll be able to (argh! What’s that scribble? Looks like it starts with a d… is that a ph in the middle? Aha! “Decipher” That’s it!) decipher it all later.

Oh wait – there goes the phone – looks like I’m needed to go in and help lift a couple of 56 litre bags of potting compost onto the trolley and wheel it to the checkout, credit card at the ready...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Things I cannot write about

There are times when I struggle to think of anything to write on this blog. At other times I’m full of wee stories or thoughts I want to put up, but don't have the time.

But there are times when I really want to write about something but cannot because this blog is not anonymous. I want to write about it to get it off my chest; I want to write about it because it explores the human psyche and emotional impact on my life; I want to write about it because I think it would make damn good reading; and I want to write about it because I would really value the input and perspective from many of my regular commenters who I have come to respect over the months.

However, if I were to write about these topics then it would be a violation of trust and privacy of some of those closest to me.

At the moment there are at least three major areas in my life that fit into this category.

Firstly there is *****. Her ******* is back in her **** and treating her like **** again. Quite apart from the all the frustration I feel at the fact that *** **** *** bastard **** into her ****, it has turned out that *** *** promises to be a ******* *** was a bunch of lies. ** ** *** manipulating *** and destroying *** ****-**********. Quite frankly the bastard should be hung from the nearest tree by the ***** and ****** to within an inch of his life.

Then there is the whole thing about ** **-****. It’s difficult enough trying to deal with the fact that ** ******-**-*** is ********* from ********, but ** ******-**-*** is having ******** where he doesn’t ********* *** *** is. And the stupid ****** doctor who did a test ** ***, asking *** questions like “**** *** is it?” and “Who is the ***** *******?” She was ***** that **** ** scored 30/30 that there was nothing wrong **** ***. Unfortunately she didn’t ask, “Where ** **** ****?” or “*** ** **** ***** ******* ** the chair behind you?”

Thirdly… well, I’m not even going to blank out the words on this one because it is far too personal.

Mind you, I also missed out all the stuff about **** ***** and his *********, ******, which ******** **** ***, and the **** I’m going to **** ****** in when I have to **** *** that *** ** a crisis of conscience * *** ** ****** help *** ***** his *******.

Oh yeah, and then there’s all the **** to do with ** ******, not to mention ** ******, and of course the frustration, anger and angst surrounding ** ****** and *****

Maybe one day I’ll write it all down in my memoirs to be published after I die.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bleargh!

I’m dying.

Ok, I’m not really – it just feels like it. But I do have a stinker of a cold. Hey, I’m a man. I have a low pain tolerance threshold and a high whinge factor.

Rogan seems to have escaped it, while the rest of us all have gone down with the damn thing. I have it worst though. No, really I do. Even Maggie admitted it! So there.

Bleargh!