Winter Running – 5 Tips to make those chilly miles that little bit better.

It’s that time of year again. The weather is invariably freezing cold, the days aren’t as long and the nights are closing in, so that it’s getting dark by around 4pm. Add in the potential for rain, snow and high winds and this can be a challenging time in anyone’s calendar.

It’s also the time of year where all sorts of people make all sorts of vows about being better people in the future. Those resolutions, however, are never particularly binding and as we all probably know only too well, they’ll fall by the wayside with the least bit of encouragement.

Exercise at this time of year can be difficult. But unfortunately it’s also one of the things that people see as a good way of changing their lives. An easy win that, in Winter, can turn out not so easy after all. So, for runners and would be runners alike, I’ve written up what I think are some handy some tips for running at this time of year.

  1. Run early. Although Winter mornings can be ridiculously cold and utterly miserable, it’s always worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast. Every once in a while you’ll get an amazingly beautiful day; still, bright blue skies and a tolerable, bracing chill in the air. If you find one, set the alarm, roll out of bed, warm up and then get out and run. I think this type of morning is my favourite for running, especially in Winter. I’ll put on a base layer – maybe some running tights as well, if I think they’re needed – and after some warming up, sneak out of the house while everyone else sleeps and just run. It’ll be dark to start off with and as a result it can be quite an unnerving experience; the sight of anyone at all will put you on edge when it’s so dark. But the peace and quiet is just fantastic. Well worth the early start. It allows me just to focus on breathing, pace and whatever might be on my mind at the time. You’ll see the occasional dog walker or shift worker, but other than that, the world is your own. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll catch the sun rising. I can’t recommend an early morning Winter run enough!
  2. Hi Viz. If you’re running in Winter, chances are that it’ll be dark at some point. Even the middle of the afternoon can get dark at this time of year. So, be sensible. A high viz top or windproof jacket is well worth investing in. A neon yellow works well, particularly in late afternoon and if you can find something with reflective patches or stripes, then all the better to be seen in! Failing that, you can buy anything from trainers to socks that are reflective enough to make sure you’re seen at night. Not everybody can pull off the neon look. In actual fact, I’m not entirely sure anyone can, but safety must took presidence over fashion at this time of year! So even if you might be going out on a run looking like a road worker or a throwback to mid 90s rave culture, at least you improve your chances of getting round your route safely this way.
  3. Join a running club or get a running buddy. Now I’m afraid this is a classic case of the person giving the advice but flagrantly ignoring it at the same time. That doesn’t make it bad advice though. Personally, I prefer to run alone. In company I know I’d either feel guilty for being too slow or grumpy for the company being too slow. But, amongst other things, running is supposed to be fun. And in Winter, it’s just safer to run as part of a group. Another added plus here is that company can be encouraging and even give you a bit of a boost. I’m a far better runner in a race situation, where there are lots of other people to focus on and aim for, so to speak. But I can guarantee that in a race, if I’m flagging, someone will offer encouragement and support. Running clubs or groups are easy to find these days, as they’re only a Google search away and they’re ideal for beginners. I know that there are a few groups around my area where it’s all very informal, friendly and the emphasis is on gaining fitness with a bit of fun and friendship. So, if you made that resolution, joining a club with like minded and friendly people might well be the decision that helps to stick to your vow!
  4. Make sure to warm up and warm down properly. Whether it’s Winter or not, this is a good tip to follow. However, if you’re planning on going out running in freezing temperatures, then making sure that those muscles are fully stretched and warmed up is essential. The temperature alone should be the only shock that you get; you don’t want to have gone 100 metres and find that your body just doesn’t feel right. It’s Winter; you’ve got every excuse you need for turning round and heading back to that warm bed or front room with the fire on! At least if you’re fully warmed up, you’ll have a fighting chance of getting into a rhythm nice and quickly and after that, it’s all about just running! Warming up will help prevent those little niggling injuries that could mean you’re back on the sofa before you know it. Similarly, by warming down once you’ve finished, you’ll feel much, much better. I sometimes finish my run within a half mile of my house and then get home with a combination of light jogging and walking, just to make sure nothing seizes up. I always stretch again once I get back to the house and make sure that I take on plenty of water to rehydrate. It’s no fun when all you want to do is flop down on the bed, but it’s a lot better to have warmed down for ten minutes or so.
  5. Never underestimate the importance of rest. Winter running can be difficult. Motivating yourself to actually go out is tough when you already know how cold and miserable it is out there! So don’t put yourself under too much pressure. If you’ve scheduled a run, but you know your body’s just not right, then don’t go. Rest up instead. There’s always another day. And the same applies for days when it might just seem too cold or too windy. If you don’t feel like it, but know you’ll go another day; do that! Or the other alternative is to go out and maybe run a shorter distance than you’d had planned. I’ve done that a few times recently and spared myself a little bit, but have also been able to say I’d been out and kept my fitness up!

So there you have it. Hopefully a few handy tips that might just help you out a bit when running this Winter. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know if they’re of any use in the comments!

Poetry Blog: Resolutions

I wrote this poem shortly after writing my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 20022. The poem is definitely more serious than the blog that blossomed from my list of resolutions. But only just. More realistic though, too.

Resolutions

Big Ben's chimes are still ringing in the ears as we attempt the first, a vague but heartfelt vow to be a better person,
where neither the wit nor will is available to achieve success.
Throw in some tired, old  standards; exercise more, drink less, and a project like finally writing that book for good measure, you know the drill.
Then we head outdoors - a new sport or interest, more days out with the family, all underwritten with an escape clause allowing excuses involving adverse weather, where adverse is defined by you and you only.
Later, intellectualise oneself by by loudly proclaiming that you'll learn a language, a musical instrument or even a martial art in order to sound windswept and interesting.
Then, spout keywords and phrases in an attempt to appear somehow superhuman and worthy.
Improve my core - whatever that means,
something, something charity, listen more, appreciate something, anything, while not knowing even the postcode of where to start.
Read more will become nap more by early February,
track down and meet up with old friends will become impossible when a single Google search does not instantly reveal their whereabouts
and when a name appears that actually could be them you will remember your allergy to upheaval and the well worn fact that you are nothing more than comfortable with continually feeling miserable.
By mid-January, the wayside will have claimed at least 8 out of 10 of these resolution cats and routine will revert to being the friend that you never lost in the first place.
You'll tell yourself at least you tried, then resolve to not to do i all again next year, before buckling under the pressure as December meets January once more.

Like everyone else, I’ve set out with good intentions for at least a few of my 29 New Year’s resolutions. In fact, as it turns out I’m actually making progress with some of them. I’m making healthier eating choices and have completed my first 10k run of the year too. However, I haven’t got myself into any serious exercise as yet in line with my aim of getting my lockdown abs back! I have started researching more healthy eating though by watching some YouTube videos on Instant Pot recipes today! This has really surprised me!

I’ve started being a better brother too, sending my sister’s birthday card off 4 days before her birthday when usually I’m closer to doing this 4 hours before it! Furthermore, where 11 days into 2022 and I haven’t bought a single packet of crisps. I’ve also just about eaten the final packet left in the house.

But I know I won’t keep this up. And that’s pretty much the crux of the poem. It’s not a new start. In fact, it’s really just a new day. These ambitions will inevitably fall by the wayside. I’d imagine that most of us will be exactly the same. But, I suppose in having 29 resolutions I have a bit of a chance of keeping a few of them up.

I think that although the poem has a bit of a pessimistic – maybe realistic – feel to it, the ending gives it a bit of a softer underbelly. When I think about it, as futile as they sometimes might be, there’s nothing actually wrong in making these resolutions. And if you can improve just one tiny fraction of your life in making them, well why not?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the poem…I’m off enquire about a weekend of dry stone walling and learning Inuit…

2022: Letters, a gammy toe and a fake adopted cat. My New Year’s Resolutions.

I wasn’t going to write this post. I was reasonably determined not to write something so predictable. I mean, I pride myself on trying to something at least a little bit different and surely every blogger going is banging on about their resolutions? Nothing wrong with that. But I wasn’t going to do it.

And then I woke up just before 3am on New Year’s Day having had around an hour and a half’s sleep. I thought I’d just roll over and slumber on, but no. It’s quite a regular thing for me to get an idea stuck in my head at this time of day and so when it happened this morning, there wasn’t a lot else to do but get up.

I also had a pounding headache, not from the drink I might add. So, I’d go downstairs, have a glass of water and some paracetamol and scribble some things down on a bit of paper. I WOULD NOT stay for long. Just over an hour later and I had written a huge bullet point list of resolutions, a first draft of a poem about resolutions, drank a pint of water, taken two paracetamol and tidied quite a few things away in an attempt to start my resolutions early, even though said resolution (Just pick stuff up, regardless of who left it there) wasn’t actually on my new list.

Here are the results. Some of this is simply exactly what I wrote down, while other bits have been added to because it’s clear even to me that they should get explained. I don’t want people to worry about me. So, in no particular order…

  • Learn to moonwalk. I will study YouTube and then astonish/bore to death anyone within my moonwalking eyeline.
  • Write my YA novel and Christmas story. I started the first of these around this time last year and then ran out of wherewithal. It’s still there, in my notebook and I still like it. It has been a lifelong disappointment to me that I’m not related to Bing Crosby. Imagine the money White Christmas makes every year. My Christmas story is one of many attempts I’ll be making this year to make enough money to speed up retirement. It’s also a good idea, if I say so myself.
  • Research and eat more heart healthy foods.
  • Be a better husband, father, son, brother. There are times when I think that I’m pretty shit in all of these roles. I tried to ring my mam and dad this morning, but they were out. By my estimation, this means that I’m already smashing this one, as the young people would say.
  • Modify my Duolingo use. That’s what I wrote down. I’m not sure what it means.
  • Write more teaching and football content for my blog. These subjects always get more people reading, which fascinates me as even after 22 years of teaching I feel like I don’t really know a great deal more than talk a lot and write stuff on the board. I make a mean display when I can be arsed though. Did I ever tell you about the Andes mountain range that I drew on a huge display board? It was the size of something you’d find in a major art gallery. People gasped when they saw it. I don’t like to talk about it much though…Perhaps I’ll write an epic poem about it…
  • Stop buying crisps. They’re like heroin to me.
  • Attempt to get a six pack – I’ll settle for four – while refusing to give up beer and chocolate, in moderation. Did I ever tell you about my lockdown six pack? Probably not…I don’t like to talk about it much.
  • Speak to people more. People must think I hate them and that I’m just really miserable. I’m not. I’m actually very shy and genuinely can’t imagine that people will want to talk to me. I regularly imagine their thoughts as I drone on about football. As a result, I’ve most likely uttered one word to at least 60% of the people I work with over the last year. That word is ‘Alright?’
  • Play more board games with my wife. She loves them. Be a better husband, see? Seriously, I’m like a freight train once I get going.
  • Mow my lawns more regularly. It looks better and would surely annoy my neighbours, right?
  • Run more. Take part in more races and get back to Parkrun.
  • Amuse myself by telling people I’ve adopted a cat and named it Fellatio Nelson. I might write some spoof adventures of said cat. All because the name amused me. This is genuinely the resolution that kept me awake and got me out of bed, by the way. Some insight into the mind of an idiot there…
  • Make more videos. I created a teacher character called Damian Malarkey in the first days of lockdown. He was the kind of arsehole I really don’t like and as such, made me laugh a lot. My colleagues enjoyed the video and this tells me that Damian deserves another airing. I’ve met quite a few Damian’s in my time in teaching, so I know him well. I also secretly worry that I’m turning into him. For ages I’ve also harboured the idea of videoing myself dancing to certain songs, not because I’m a good dancer, but because it makes me laugh. I do it all the time. I’m like a shit Mick Jagger, I hope. I also mime along to certain songs and have what I think is a brilliant idea for one of these mimes. It’ll no doubt be shit. I’ll laugh though.
  • Start a podcast. I’ve mentioned the idea to my best mate. I repeatedly let him down by floating these ideas and then not being able to find time. I think we’d just chat about middle aged stuff. You know, just moaning and stuff?
  • Get sponsors for a run. Try to raise a silly amount of money. I’ve got a lot of people to be grateful to.
  • Write to the boy I sponsor more often. Over the past 22 years I’ve sponsored two separate children in South America, yet probably only written to them half a dozen times. This is something I hugely regret. (Now you can all join my cardiologist in knowing for certain that I actually have a heart).
  • Make up German words and phrases for things and pass them off as actual fact. “Oh, the Germans have a word for that. Yes, you’re experiencing schencillpumpenhooff.
  • Get my toe treated before it either falls off or I turn into a hobbit or a troll. One toenail is black and has some kind of crust under it. It doesn’t hurt, so what with lockdown conditions and social distancing, I’ve just put up with it. No doubt the Germans have a word for that. If they don’t I’ll make one up for when I go to see the pharmacist.
  • Write a Eurovision entry. I’ve wanted to do this for years. I have the bones of one written down somewhere and it wouldn’t take much to finish.
  • Write at least 2 Christmas songs. One spoof, one real. That second home by the sea won’t buy itself.
  • Start to note down things that pupils and colleagues say. I’ve wanted to write a ‘Things I Heard in Class’ book for years. And boy, do I hear some things.
  • Learn some new words.
  • Invent new words and phrases to impress gullible people with.
  • Use the phrase ‘amuse bouche’ more. I don’t really know what it means, but doesn’t it sound nice? See also words like ‘journey’ and ‘vision’, but only inappropriately. E.g. ‘I’ve just finished reading a book about teaching. I’d like to thank the bedside lamp for all it’s support while I’ve been on this journey.
  • ‘Discover’ new music. Not new like bands containing teenagers, necessarily. More bands that I should know, but haven’t really listened to over the years. I recently discovered James Taylor, someone I’d been fully aware of for years, just by asking Alexa to shuffle some of his songs. I’ve undoubtedly benefitted from this. More please!
  • Stop grumbling at people when I hear them walking past our back fence. Better still, stop this behaviour in supermarkets. Face masks are not soundproof.
  • Write my Diary of a Middle Aged Singleton blog. A spoof, inspired by someone who lives close to us.

The final resolution doesn’t get a bullet point as it is simply to write further blogs updating your good selves on the progress of my resolutions. Some of these are just to amuse myself but plenty of them are deadly serious, which I think is the point of these type of things. In total there are 28 resolutions, plus the promise to keep the blog up-to-date on their progress. I’m genuinely hopeful that I can keep some of them up!

Christmas 2021: Some thoughts…

It’s just gone 3am on Sunday 26th December 2021 and despite a long Christmas day and the fact that I could have crashed out on our settee at around 4pm, I am still very much awake. I think I dropped off into a fluttery eyed sleep of sorts somewhere between quarter past midnight and quarter to one in the morning, but after that I was wide awake.

My wife chatted sleepily to me for a short while, but then as her deep breathing told me that I was now alone, I just got back out of bed and headed downstairs.

And then I wrote. A long poem that on first read back seems like something that I really like, another that I’m not that sure of, the premise for a children’s book about Santa and Christmas – because I’m told that the two generally go hand in hand – and then an A4 page of bullet point notes about Christmas that will make up the bones of this very blog. After that, at around 3.20am, I went back to bed. I was still awake enough to glance at the clock later and see it reading 3.45am. Suffice to say, I’m a tad tired this Boxing Day morning.

So far, it’s been a strange old Christmas. Some family – and some people in general – are insisting that visitors take a lateral flow test before visiting, emphasising the odd shift that Christmas has taken in the past couple of years. I think they’re right to do this, by the way. If you’re shielding someone vulnerable then why put them at risk? And if you’re unwilling to take a test in order to see family, then what kind of person are you? After all, Christmas is about family, so if sticking a glorified cotton bud up your nose is enough to put you off, then I hope Santa avoids your house just to make a point.

For me personally, I’m left questioning what will happen with my parents once again. In summer I saw them for the first time in over 18 months, thanks to Covid and now, having tentatively planned another post Christmas visit, it looks likely that we won’t get to go. My mam and dad are just getting over some kind of winter bug – referred to by my mam as ‘this chest thing’, like I’d be fully acquainted with it already – and combined with the omicron variant currently doing the rounds, visiting them seems a bad idea for all of us. But then, can we afford to wait? Not really the thought process you ever want, let alone in the season to be jolly.

When we visited in summer I had a moment of clarity while out on a walk with them and started taking furtive photos of them both. I didn’t want anything posed, just images of them chatting, looking at each other and things like that. And I got some lovely ones, but now, in the very early morning, thinking about everything while wide awake, I regret not taking dozens more.

Away from the serious stuff about Christmas we had a lovely moment yesterday that really took me back. My son – aged 12 – burst into tears upon opening a present. It was a gaming desk – or as people of my vintage call them, a desk – and he was so delighted and so surprised that he ran across to his mum, hugged her tightly and just sobbed. It was the kind of thing that would happen every year and on birthdays when our kids were younger, but not so much anymore and I must admit, it brought a tear to my eye. As commercial as Christmas is, it was just a really lovely moment.

Christmas takes a lot of balancing. As someone who didn’t always have a lot when I was a kid, I always vowed that when I had my own they’d always have good birthdays and Christmases to remember. But I never wanted them to be spoilt. So we’re always working with a balancing act in that aspect of Christmas. So the joy brought about by some flat-pack furniture made the day, really!

Another area of balance is with the indulgence of the whole period. The chance to eat and drink a ridiculous amount of deliciousness is almost too much. But then I think about fitness and my middle aged body as well as heart health and Christmas becomes a real battle between my ego – I mean, you try catching sight of your little fat, hairy belly in the bathroom mirror – , your health – I still want to be able to exercise regularly – and temptation; show me someone who can resist pigs in blankets and I’ll show you a wrong ‘un! So the past two days, with their wine, Christmas dinner, cheesecake, chocolates and crisps and the next week or so of all the same stuff and then some, is going to be difficult, especially when quite a few of my presents have been either alcohol or chocolate related!

The lead up to Christmas continues to be a royal pain in the backside. It shouldn’t be. We should finish work and be able to take ourselves off out, doing bits of last minute Christmas shopping and maybe rounding things off with a visit to the pub or a meal out. In actual fact though, what happens now is the ‘deep clean’. And judging from things others have said, it’s not just us. Everyone is working day and night to get their house spotless…in order to then scatter wrapping paper, boxes and opened presents all over the place.

In the lead up to Christmas we washed the windows, transported all manner of stuff to charity shops, recycled like never before, scrubbed floors, made every part of the bathroom shine, washed down walls and kitchen cupboards, hoovered repeatedly, dusted, wiped down skirting boards and just generally found new homes for all manner of things. As a consequence, I’m absolutely shattered by the time we get round to Christmas morning. Is it any wonder that I’ve not exercised since Tuesday and that in actual fact, indulgence is winning when it comes to what I’ll be doing with my days!

So now, on the evening of Boxing Day, it’s all well and truly over. And there are a couple of things remaining to tell you about in terms of stuff I realised or discovered yesterday. The first was that Christmas crackers are utter rubbish and almost a complete waste of time. I’m not a party hat wearer, the jokes are awful and the gifts are an absolute waste of time. I got yet another set of tiny screwdrivers yesterday and they now reside in a cupboard with all the rest.

The other thing was the realisation that charades is an absolute winner. Inhibitions suitable loosened by a glass of wine, I get to show off and act like a knobhead, thus playing to all of my strengths without ever having to truly exert myself. And all within arms reach of another glass of wine!

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed Christmas, the holidays, the festivities…whatever you refer to it as. All in all, as the song says, it’s the most wonderful time of year; I wish I got to see more people, but I know I’ll still have a lovely time! See you in the New Year!

Christmas Gift Guide: What the middle aged man about town might want this Christmas.

I’ll be honest with you. I have no real idea what the typical middle aged man might want this Christmas. So, if you’re looking for a guide that might prove to be of some use, this might not be the read for you, although as a middle aged man I may be able to offer some useful advice. I mean, I’ve been middle aged for a while now and run a blog called Middleagefanclub; I can hazard a decent guess, right?

My first gift recommendation can be both practical and stylish. It’s slippers. Now, I know, I know, I know that slippers seem to be the most stereotyped middle aged man gift going. And perhaps they are. But I’ll tell you what; they’re practical too. In fact, all you need to get some use out of slippers is feet. On an even more practical level, us middle aged men have gotten to a stage in life where circulation isn’t quite what it used to be. And it’s our hands and feet that will suffer, so in order to keep some feeling in those feet on those long Winter night, you could do a lot worse than buying the middle aged man in your life – dad, husband, brother, uncle, whatever – a nice pair of slippers.

Now slippers can range wildly in price. Like anything, really. So, if you’re working with a budget, you could pick up a pair in a supermarket such as Asda or Sainsbury’s – or whatever the popular supermarkets are in your country, global ‘fanclub fans – for as little as £7 and even get the more toasty warm boot style slippers – you know, if the target of the present has literally no sense of style whatsoever – for around a tenner.

However, there is a luxury end to the slipper market as well. I spotted some online recently and, as a confirmed slipper wearer they got my interest. For starters they didn’t really look like your traditional slipper. There was a bit more style and originality and the colour choice was a bit more daring too. But the price was an immediate stumbling block. Howver, dear reader, if you’re feeling flush and have enjoyed my writing over the last few months, well a pair of Mahabis at up to £75 would be very much appreciated and they’d keep my toes from getting numb too!

Books are always a good purchase for the middle aged man in your life and especially at this time of year. And fortunately, there are a lot of books released at this time of year too. A trip to your local supermarket over the next week or two will reveal all manner of newly published work and the good thing seems to be that the quality of these books seems to have improved in the last few years. A book isn’t a very difficult present to buy either and while it’ll give the middle aged man in your life something to concentrate on for a while and an excuse to sit on an armchair or lie on the bed, it’s the gift that keeps on giving, as once read it can be passed on to charity.

A quick look at the shelves of my local supermarket revealed the scope of choice, just for non fiction. There were books by Mel Brookes, Will Smith, Billy Connolly, Bob Mortimer, Louis Theroux, Freddie Flintoff and Dave Grohl. And for those who aren’t really that big on reading, there were also books by the likes of Paddy McGuiness, Alison Hammond and Ant Middleton (who has a disturbing amount out, as it goes). I imagine there’s more pictures in these ones.

Boxer shorts/underwear are always a sure fire winner with your middle aged man. Now, It’s not an area I’ve surveyed a lot, but I’d like to think that the majority of discerning men of a certain age are in favour of boxers. Without putting you off your next meal, I know I certainly do. Much more comfortable. And while I’m not being paid to mention them, my recommendation would still be that you try http://www.myoddballs.co.uk as their range is excellent. They’re also very comfortable, make donations to testicular cancer charities as well as raising awareness and their designs are such that it’s safe to say they’ll put a little more funk around your junk, so to speak. And it should still be important to look good at our stage of life. Oddballs also do other products such as socks and sportswear too, so you could find yourself really treating that middle aged fella!

As for buying budgie smugglers for middle aged men; listen, if you know anyone still wearing them, run!

Alcohol is always a good gift, although it’s obviously dependent on a middle aged man’s relationship with booze, I suppose. But, if you know someone who likes a drink – occasional, steady or just a raving session drinker – then these days the choice is amazing. It’s fair to say that beer has undergone a bit of a revolution in the last 5-10 years with the emergence of craft beers. Small, independent breweries, tap rooms and beer shops have sprung up regularly and there are some real gems to be tasted. It might be that you simply buy a gift pack or hamper online from a site like Honest Brew, Flavourly or Beer52 or one of the craft breweries. Even if you’re not sure where they are, a quick Google search of ‘local craft breweries’ should do the trick. And even if they don’t do some type of pack or bundle, you could always just put a hamper together yourself. You could revolutionise someone’s tastebuds.

If beer isn’t the thing for the middle aged male target of your gift giving, how about whisky, gin or rum even? There are always packs of small bottles available in supermarkets and of course online and a bit like with beer, the emergence of many small craft distilleries over the last few years means the choice is great. Failing that, your local supermarket will most likely have a vast selection of all manner of spirits and you can usually pick up a decent bottle for somewhere around the £20 mark. If you’re not sure, go online and look for reviews.

If the middle aged man in your life likes to exercise, then there’s always a gift to be had. Maybe it’s something they’ve been doing for years. Maybe, they’ve decided to look after themselves a bit better and want to embark on some exercise. Or maybe they’re just having a mid-life crisis and have decided to launch a crusade to look better and – in their dreams – snare themselves a younger partner! Whatever the reason, exercise gear could make a great gift. As with a few other of the suggestions above, there’s a huge range of things to choose from and a huge range of brands too. Whether it’s a new pair of trainers, an exercise top, a base layer for those colder times or a pair of shorts, there’s plenty of choice and gear to suit all budgets. If you’re in the UK places like M and M Direct always have sportswear at decent prices and even shops like B&Ms and The Range do exercise gear. You’d be surprised what you can find. You never know; your gift of some sort of exercise gear might just open up a whole new world for your middle aged target!

If you’re going down the exercise road with your gifts then one thing I can highly recommend is a massage roller. These are brilliant for soothing those aching muscles and, as a middle aged man myself, I can vouch for their positive effects! My wife actually bought me one last Christmas as I was having problems with my calves after running and it was an absolute revelation. You put the roller in the freezer and when you need it, it’s ice cold and ready to work its magic. Roll the metal ball over your aching muscles and it will really help recovery. And believe me, us middle age geezers need all the help we can get! The two that I’d recommend would be the Murlien Massage Roller Ball (the one I’ve got) and the Fitness Cryosphere Cold Massage Roller. Both are available in various online outlets and are reasonably priced too!

My final recommendation is ideal for the middle aged man who’s just waiting to move into the realms of being a pensioner. Get him a pipe! If he doesn’t use it now, he’s sure to reach for it within the next few years!

Well, I hope my gift guide gave you a little bit of good advice. If not, well I hope it gave you the odd chuckle. Happy Christmas to you and the middle aged man or men in your life!

Poetry Blog: Christmas Do

It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? Where entire offices, factories and other work places worth of people pour into bars and clubs to celebrate the festive season together by getting drunk beyond belief and ending the night making friends with the toilet. If they make it that far. Because, of course that would be what Jesus would’ve wanted.

And although these ‘dos’ are under threat again as yet another variant of Covid rises and takes hold, some people still won’t be stopped in their quest for Yuletide humiliation. Some in fact, will have already set off on their quest having been out for the first, second or even third of many such ‘dos’.

It’s been years since I bothered. So many in fact that I genuinely can’t remember the last one I went on. I’ve been on loads of them though, so speak from experience, but I think I just got to a point where I couldn’t be bothered any more. I know in part this was down to the fact that where I worked and where I lived were just far too far apart, making going out with those I worked with impractical at best. Maybe I just grew up a little bit as well.

Anyway, I wrote a short poem about them.

Christmas Do

For one night only, rival factions might just lose their friction,
conversations blossom, gropes and saliva are traded with imperfect strangers.
All in the name of the Christmas Do.
In a corner Elsa from Frozen snogs the face off an elf
as different office fancy dress parties collide,
and while love won't blossom, regret will thrive
as, in another part of the bar, a wobbly one-kneed proposal is hugged away, laughed off in the hope that all the morning brings is amnesia and a sore head,  perhaps, at worst, an oh-so-distant memory that will remain unspoken.
In every corner someone is crying while no one really knows why,
but despite the season to be jolly, tears will flow like waterfalls
Elsewhere, the inevitable scuffle jars against festive frivolity,
briefly shattering the good will to all men, until all unwise men are dragged away to consume even more of what seasoned their aggression in the first place.
He's not worth it, Darren, because it's Chriiiiistmaaaaas, Darren
As tradition demands, the night will end with a raucous singalong as groups come together to link arms and drag each other around the dancefloor roughly and without any sense of rhythm or in fact any more than a quarter of the right words to the song.
And then, it's off into the night, until next year when they'll Christmas Do it all once more.

When I initially wrote the poem I was quite happy with it. I liked one or two of the reference points and thought that in some places I’d nailed the idea of the Christmas Do. However, a few days later when I came to look at it again, I was unhappy with the length of it. So – and I must say it was in haste, so forgive me if it doesn’t quite work – I added some lines and fiddled around with others. This was all done while various family members kept asking me to do stuff, so maybe the thought process wasn’t particularly flowing either. As a result, I’m not quite sure about some of it, especially the end, which changed on more than one occasion. But, if I continued drafting it would likely be January and what use is a Christmas themed poem at the start of the year?

So there you have it. Hopefully I’ve captured most, if not all of the horror of these nights. All in the name of Christmas, but often without even a hint of good will in sight. I think that many of the references in the poem are very British. Certainly, I hope that other countries don’t do Christmas nights out in the same fashion that we do.

Grassroots Football Coaching: I think we’ve reached rock bottom.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you may well know that I coach an Under 13s football team. I volunteer; it’s not my actual job and really the only reason I got involved was that my son plays for the team. Around 5 years ago now the club decided that they weren’t happy with the efforts of the previous coach. Coincidentally, I’d just stepped in to take the team for 3 games while he was on holiday and after those games I was asked if I’d take over. As one of a number of parents who were unhappy with the previous coach, I more or less had to say yes. And so, a bit of an obsession began…

This season, we’ve moved to playing 11-a-side games on full size pitches, so it’s been quite a big step up. We’re also working without an actual goalkeeper – our keeper is now one of the squad who stepped up and said he’d do the job. Having struggled at one point over summer for numbers in the squad, we finally managed to get 18 players, but unfortunately that number features several players who’ve had little or no experience of playing football. In fact one boy had never kicked a football before when he turned up to train with us. So, this season was almost set up to be a struggle!

We started quite well, beating our first opponents 5-2 in a home game and managing to involve 16 of the squad, some of whom were getting their first ever taste of competitive football. There were things I noticed in that fixture that alarmed me somewhat though and I was conscious of the need to work on specific areas of play. So, despite the win, I didn’t walk away kidding myself that we’d perhaps cracked it.

And it turned out that I was right to be so cautious. We lost our next four games, conceding 29 goals and scoring just once. I took heart from the fact that in 3 of these games we’d been competitive until late on, before just getting overwhelmed by stronger and fitter teams. Our lack of experience and fitness was really starting to show, but also I think it’s only natural to throw in the towel when you’re 12 and your team is getting a bit of a thumping! It didn’t change the fact that we had a big, big problem though.

The problems have continued. There have been several games where we’ve struggled to get a team out, as kids have been either ill or away. I guess it’s just that time of year and of course there’s Covid, which has affected a few of our group. And of course, getting beat week in week out probably doesn’t make kids want to turn up either. But we’ve battled on.

Sadly, we’ve only had one more win this season. It was a brilliant occasion as we were playing a team that were above us in the league and were 2-1 down at half time. But we knew we could win. And even with a team affected by illness and other absenteeism, we knew that a real effort would blow our opponents away. So we encouraged hugely them during that half time talk, telling them that the game was there for the taking and when they took to the field with a huge cry of ‘C’mon lads!’ at the start of the second half, I knew we were in with a chance. Thirty five memorable minutes later, we’d won 6-2 and it was a thrill to see my son scoring a couple of goals and winning the Man of The Match award.

Since that point though, we’ve suffered again with absence of players on match day and have lost games when exhaustion has set in because we have regularly only had one substitute! It’s difficult to operate like this when your opposition turn up with 4 or 5 subs and can rotate players every 10 minutes or so to keep legs relatively fresh.

Going into our game last Sunday we only had 9 players on the Saturday! I was forced to call up the two lads that had barely kicked a ball just to make up the numbers. These were two players who I’d said were best off just training with us for the time being. With no experience of playing football I didn’t want to throw them into games and find that it was some terrifying experience. I wanted them to feel comfortable with a ball at their feet before then drip feeding their experience of games as substitutes. It turned out that this was no longer an option.

We managed to get another of our players making themselves available and so thought we were going into the game with a full team and one substitute and although that would mean fielding some really inexperienced players, I felt that we might just have enough quality to snatch a win, as we were playing the bottom team. On the morning of the game, however, another player dropped out, leaving us with no substitutes and 11 players faced with 70 minutes of football and no chance to give anyone a break!

I suppose it was reasonably predictable when we got beat. Our opposition were able to rotate players as they had 5 subs, whereas we had to rely on our 11 and just keep them going. We were always in the game and I genuinely think that with a little bit more luck we could have won with the players we had. Sadly though, tired legs took their toll and we were missing a couple of our more important players too. Even more sadly, our opposition being the team below us in the league meant that their win took them above us in the table.

There’s a long way to go in the season, but I’m quite worried that we’ll end up finishing in last place in the league. We won’t deserve that. Even this season coaches have gotten in touch after games and praised our passing and movement and I can honestly say that there have only been two games where I’ve been genuinely disappointed as we’ve let ourselves down.

I felt low after Sunday’s game though. I was disappointed, not in their performance, but that they didn’t manage to get anything out of the game. We were obviously up against it, but I still thought that we could sneak some kind of result. So, it left me frustrated that things had gone the way they’d gone. But I guess this is what grassroots football can be like; it’s not always the best team or the team playing the more attractive football that wins. Which of course brings up the question of whether winning is important at this level. It is to me, but I also want to combine that with enjoyment and the feeling of being part of a team for my lads. The sense that we support each other and that we’re all in it together is really important, in my opinion. But of course, winning helps with all of that!

So now we’re left picking up the pieces. There’s part of me that can see us winning no more games all season and of course this would most likely mean that we finished bottom of the league. No one really wants that.

It’s clear that some players have lost confidence. We’re quite a small team and have been up against some teams where the players look like grown ups, so it’s easy to be fearful when you’re 12! I think some are doubting their ability as well though and where before, when we’ve been doing well, they’ve wanted the ball now they don’t. Some of the lads are happy to pass on responsibility to someone else, so we’ll have to work on getting that confidence back.

We don’t have a fixture this weekend, so I’ve decided to offer a training session instead. I’m testing levels of willingness and enthusiasm in one way. Those that show up, early on a Sunday morning are demonstrating their commitment to the cause, their need to get better. Those that don’t? Maybe they’re confirming what I already know, in that I can’t rely on them. We can’t rely on them. And it seems churlish to write that given that this is Under 13 football, but it is exhausting organising things like training and matches and so when it feels like I’m not getting much back, it starts to grind me down. When you’re spending large chunks of your Saturday glued to a phone making calls and sending texts, just to get 11 lads on a field, it’s frustrating as there are other things I could easily dedicate my time to.

So, this Sunday is really important. I’d like them to know my fears and what they’ll be up against for the rest of the season. In short, nearly everyone we’ve played have hammered us. While we may well have been competitive for long periods of time in games, we’re not picking up points. In fact, we’re just picking up beatings.

While I need to get a serious message across, I also need to keep spirits up. My team know that they’re a really capable bunch, but they need to know that as coaches, we have the belief that they can do better. They need to know that although things are going to be difficult – let’s face it, every team we play can see how many goals we concede and will expect to beat us easily – we can overcome it all. So Sunday will be hard work, but by the end of it all I’ll hopefully have an even better idea about my squad and know the direction that we need to move in.

I’ve got no doubt that our next few months will be very difficult. Not only do we have league games to play – and currently every other team will feel they’re better than us – but the spectre of cup games lies ahead in the new year too. With cup games comes opposition from higher leagues and therefore, much bigger challenges. The question is, can we rise to the challenges ahead? Can we get more points on the board? And can we lift ourselves off the bottom of the table? Well, we’re about to find out!

Teaching: The road to Christmas

As a high school teacher of over two decades I think I’m qualified enough to say that we’ve just entered our toughest half term of the academic year. I think we’ll all agree that the 7 weeks from the start of November until nearing the end of December is like swimming in sand at the best of times!

We started our half term this week and although nothing major has gone wrong and none of the so-called ‘red flags’ have been raised, it’s still falling into a familiar pattern.

For a start, the weather has been predictably dreary. As we blink our way into Wednesday, I can safely say it’s the first time I’ve viewed a blue sky all week. And even that is being flanked by ominous clouds. So although the blue sky is a welcome sight, I’m aware that the weather could break at any given second and bring with it that predictable grey that bleeds into a charcoal, so often found in the UK. It does nothing for morale!

On top of the clouds we have the wind; there never seems to be a still day at this time of year. Unless of course we get a bright autumn day where I might get some washing out to dry and then the gale becomes a breeze, becomes a veritable vacuum where literally nothing moves! It’s the time of year when sometimes you feel like nothing will ever go right for you. And that’s a feeling that can quickly multiply as a teacher.

The wind, the rain and the general feeling of an almost permanent mist hanging over the season can be a terrible combination for your classes. I’ve certainly learnt over the years that if it’s windy and raining I’ll get at least one class who are completely off the wall for the hour. They come in, soaked because they didn’t feel the need to get undercover, and then complain about the weather. This will often then morph into complaints about whatever it is we might be doing and however we attempt to do it. And it would seem that once they’ve been knocked about by a windy day, kids can’t help shouting out and making daft noises, which will inevitably lead to fits of giggles. Not ideal for the flow of a lesson!

Sitting at a desk going through what should be a familiar routine can prove impossible. You might as well present them with a pair of mittens and a Rubiks cube each. And all this because it was blowing a gale, the rain was travelling sideways and my students didn’t have the common sense to stay out of it as much as they could.

The dark mornings and dark evenings also make the winter term a real pain. It shouldn’t make a great deal of difference really. But it does. It’s no fun leaving the house in the dark and it’s even less fun getting to the end of your day and driving home to find, light wise, it’s night time! It does strange things to your state of mind. Being greeted by a dark classroom that resembles the inside of a walk-in freezer doesn’t help either. I imagine it’s a bit like living in the far north of the planet near the Arctic in Sweden or Finland and having either almost permanent daylight or long, dark days, depending on the time year. Probably an over-the-top comparison, I know, but please feel my pain. Sometimes, the only daylight I see is through a window and it can start to get you down. Add in the weather and how that can disrupt the commute and it’s quite the pain in the rear end!

Speaking of the commute brings to mind the simple fact that it can be awful at this time of year. A few parts of my journey into work are prone to flooding and we get more than our fair share of rain here in West Yorkshire. I think our monsoon season is between January and December. There are a couple of places where it can be a real hazard and times when I wonder if some sort of amphibious vehicle might be a better option.

And then there’s the snow. Now, I’ll preface this with the fact that the UK can come to a complete halt if there’s a centimetre of snow and that looking at other countries who cope admirably with far more, we’re a bit rubbish really. However, it doesn’t change the fact that snow always makes me shudder about my commute. Over the years I’ve had multiple journeys to and from work that have involved sliding around roads and spending what have felt like endless hours getting to the end of my journey. Last year, I managed to get into work on a snow day only to find out that the school was being closed and that I faced a long journey home. Little did I know however, that it would take me over 6 hours to drive home! So any snow this year will be approached with dread!

As I write, we’re a week into the new half term. Just 6 more to go until it’s almost Christmas and a blissful two weeks off! In the meantime though, I’m hoping for less of the wind, rain and snow that will lead to the inevitable terrible in school behaviour from some of our students. I’m hoping for less moans and groans about the temperature in my room. Amazingly, there are many times where I have students complaining that it’s cold while others are asking to take their blazers off and claiming they can’t work because it’s too hot!

There are other daunting features of the next six weeks to come too. These include marking mock exams, data collections, avoiding secret santas, avoiding having to take part in our department production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ and avoiding colds, flu and COVID!

One thing’s for sure…this next 6 weeks will feel like years!

Poetry Blog: Lost

This is the latest in a long list of poems that I’ve written and then forgotten about. It was one of about half a dozen that I discovered in a notebook a couple of weeks ago.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to place these type of poems simply because firstly they’d been forgotten and secondly because often I write a poem and don’t give it a title. In the case of this poem the title was just a question mark, which didn’t seem very helpful at first!

Once I’d read through the poem the subject matter became a little clearer. For the record this is a poem about my state of mind at a certain time. I still feel this way at times now and it’s been a feeling I’ve had throughout my life. I think it affects lots of us though. Having read this poem through a few times and had a bit of a think I think it’s about just everyday life and the sense that this might be all there is. Certainly, I look at what I’ve achieved in life and often wonder if it’s enough. I suppose it’s a sense of slight dissatisfaction at how things are. There are lots of reasons for it as well. It might just be wanting to impress people, like your parents or it might be linked to the dreams you had as a kid. There are definitely references to self esteem in there too.

Whatever the reasoning this is a poem about a moment in time. It’s about looking back and regretting decisions, but it’s also about simply wondering whether you’re satisfied with your lot. I guess that in my case, it’s about getting to the verge of a milestone birthday and just reflecting back or having a good old think about things. I think when I wrote the poem I felt quite down about a lot of things, but mainly about me and my worth as a person.

Lost

Imagine not knowing how you got here.
The feeling of a half life, 
the wondering behind a thousand what ifs
and the nagging feeling that it all somehow won't matter.

Imagine the lack of identity.
The uncertainty of what you are
and who you are and whether you matter
tugging at your sleeves, like restless children.

Imagine the sense of loss.
The statelessness, the weightlessness,
the sense that however hard you swim, the tide has 
other ideas, a plan for you more powerful than dreams.

Imagine that this is all there is
and not understanding how that feels.
That the child lost among a crowd of unfriendly faces
is you, for the rest of whatever this is.

There’s also a sense of not really feeling like an adult here. When I was a kid and I’d hear adults saying how they still felt like they were 18 in their heads, I’d roll my eyes and think the worst of them. Now I’m very much an adult, well I often don’t feel like one! When I’m joining in training with the team that I coach, I still feel like a kid. My body is quick to remind me that I’m not, but I still feel that way. It can be the same in my job, teaching in a high school. Sometimes it’s all too easy to get off topic and just resort to making jokes, which was all too often my problem as a pupil in school!

Finally, the poem is about growing old. Lately I’ve been thinking about the future and I guess what we’d call the next stage of my life. I’m tentatively planning for retirement or possibly a change in work or working hours and I think all of these thoughts and ideas are in the poem too.

I hope this is a poem that people can relate to. It feels like a much broader topic than just me worrying about me, that’s for sure. As ever, feel free to leave any comments about the poem as I always enjoy a bi of feedback.

Thanks for reading.

How to unravel at half term.

I didn’t realise how tired I was until the first Saturday of half term. As an early riser I’m normally fine with being out of bed and able to function at the very least. But not on that Saturday. I still dragged myself out of my warm bed, but in truth I could have stayed there for a few more hours at least.

I’ve spent the rest of the week, from that point onwards, slowly unravelling. It’s the following Friday and I can’t recall having felt more like my age than I do now! My knees ache, my shoulder is still sore – a now months old injury that still hasn’t quite healed – my back hurts and of course I’ve managed to develop the traditional teacher’s holiday cold on top of all of this! With a list of jobs to go at, it’s been just great to feel so terrible!

One of the jobs on our list was to have my daughter’s bedroom painted. It was something I’d started a few months ago, when she was away for the weekend doing her Duke of Edinburgh expedition. So, the hope was that finishing it off wouldn’t be too big a job. Turns out that hope was – and pardon my turn of phrase here, but in my defence it couldn’t be more accurate – a load of bollocks.

Years ago I’d vowed to just steer clear of my daughter’s room. It was, in short, a shit hole – again, the most accurate term I can find – and I just got to the point where asking her to sort it out or trying to do so myself was causing too much conflict, so I stepped back. I also vowed never to have a hand in decorating it either, such was my level of dissatisfaction. But, in a moment of weakness I stepped up to the plate and began the task. Now I needed to get it finished.

I’ve tried. And I’ll keep trying. But short of taking every last bit of furniture and tat out of said room and then just painting non stop for a good couple of days, it can’t be done. If you could see said room you’d understand my reluctance to move everything out as well. I have a genuine fear that I’ll reach to get something and be bitten by some kind of small animal. Or become trapped in a giant hair ball, ending up feeling physically sick, but with a great idea for a B-movie. So, let’s just say that progress has been slow. Slow in the sense of the movement of the glaciers as well, rather than just walking pace.

Stuff has got in the way as well. You know stuff, don’t you? Cleaning ,walks, trips to deliver things to charity shops or pick up prescriptions, that kind of stuff. Not to mention ridiculous shopping trips where you stand in a shop debating whether to buy a 6ft tall light up, inflatable snowman before leaving with no snowman but the bonus of three Christmas gonks and a mirror. I mean, we’ve all been there…

I must admit that my body and mind unravelling and shutting down has made ‘stuff’ unavoidable. So, as much as I’ve reminded myself that I need to finish decorating or I need to mark books or plan some lessons for Year 11, my aching shoulder or the fact that every time I get up I get shooting pains through one of my knees, makes shopping for Christmas gonks or family sized bags of crisps all the more appealing. And before you know it you’re 4 days into the week and nothing’s got done! But your Christmas gonk game is the envy of all of your friends, who are now frankly playing gonk catch up.

On Thursday we went to a theme park in a desperate attempt to inject some fun into our week. And it was fun…for three quarters of the family. However, it felt like purgatory for me. In short, I’d prefer to spend the day working in a Siberian salt mine than being at a theme park, but sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and go along to please the family. And I couldn’t get a flight out of Leeds/Bradford airport to Siberia at such short notice anyway.

I’ve never understood the thrill of theme park rides. To me it’s just a terrible feeling of being completely out of control and deliberately making yourself feel sick. There is no thrill. And if there is – and there isn’t – you have to stand in a massive queue for ages for the dubious pleasure. Add in that this was a theme park in North Yorkshire on a cold and windy October day and the fun was even more minimal than usual for me. I even wandered into the zoo section of the park at one point, while my family were queueing for yet more thrills and having wandered around for a good 10 minutes, I made my way back into the park having clapped eyes on not one solitary animal. Everything was sat inside where it was no doubt warmer than me. Meanwhile, my mind was unravelling, just like my body had been for the previous few days.

We did manage to order a cooker earlier in the week, so a major item was being ticked off a list there. But then we had to refuse delivery this morning when we discovered that new gas fitting regulations would mean that we couldn’t actually have it fitted! So just when it looked like we’d achieved something quite major, we had to reverse our decision at literally the last second, as the delivery men were unloading the cooker from the van! And as I stood explaining myself to them at the bottom of our drive it began to rain heavily.

All in all, it’s been a fairly forgettable week. Instead of a glass of wine at night, or a beer, I’ve sat in front of the telly more than once nursing a cold and flu drink. My daughter’s room still has work to do. And it’s still a shit hole, whatever the colour or state of the walls. We couldn’t replace the cooker but managed to waste a good 10 hours or so researching one and then buying it. And , of course we also had that day at a theme park which three of the family really enjoyed while the other member slowly froze while getting ever more bored and confused. But there were gonks…Christmas gonks. So you know, it’s swings and roundabouts isn’t it? Isn’t it?

As a kind of post script to this post and week, let me tell you about the latter part of my Friday afternoon. Determined to shake off the feeling that my body had been broken by 7 weeks at work, I went out for a run. It really hurt. Towards the end I could feel pain in my right ankle, my asthma was kicking in and making me wheeze a little bit and my hamstrings were beginning to cramp up. I was fine with this though as I had ran the furthest I’d ran since the middle of August when my shoulder injury kicked in and stopped me altogether. I was delighted. So delighted that I decided to cook a fresh pasta sauce for my tea in the spirit of health and fitness. Fresh garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, some sausage and some fresh chillies. The week was finally taking a turn for the better. And then, while chopping the chillies I managed to squirt quite a bit of it into my eye. So now that doesn’t work either…

It’s not been the week I expected.

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