5 September 2009

"I need a moment to reflect, on the friendships I have wrecked..."

Having felt the benefit of my personal music taste as I shift the sweat down the gym, I figured we were long overdue a round of iPod roulette. If you can pinch more than an inch, try these...

1: Somewhere Down The Crazy River - Robbie Robertson
"That voodoo stuff don't do nuthin' for me!" Described accurately by the estimable supply-jock-in-chief Nicky Horne as "a song you would have loved to see being recorded", this is just one big piece of atmospheric narration and sounds great. I know little about Robertson, or whether he is responsible for the contrasting vocals on verse and chorus (deep, Burton-esque narration on the former, pleading melodiousness on the latter) but this song sends the shivers both up and down my spine and I love it.

2: Tomorrow's Just Another Day - Madness
"Some who've closed the door before, say I can't carry on no more..." The whole of Divine Madness is currently on my iPod so it could have been any Madness offering, and I've always thought this was one of their weaker efforts; indeed, when I bought the two initial compilations - Complete and Utter Madness - this was the only one of their singles that didn't register with me. It's fine but still lacks something for me, though has a superb middle eight that offers some salvage. The liner notes on Utter ... were, as I remember, a mini-novel about a bloke having a drink while staring at photos in his wallet and trying to decipher who they were of.

3: We Can Work It Out - Beatles
"Think of what you're saying..." Everyone has a favourite Beatles song, and this one's mine.

4: All I Wanna Do - Sheryl Crow
"Hit it!" In my early days as a Facebook convert, I happened to put one random early line from this song on my wall, and two female friends promptly alternated between themselves in response to complete the whole song. Most odd. The imagery in this is fabulous, that of lager bottles rotating on the floor and suited men scrubbing their motors when they should be having wraps and coffee. Sheryl Crow has always struck the right note with me, whatever she's done but this busked, improvised song is still arguably her most sublime.

5: I Gave You My Heart (Didn't I) - Hot Chocolate
"Searching and searching, love's always hurting..." Oooooch, where did this come from? This was from 1984 and the band had been irrelevant for a good few years, yet their longevity (and unique statistic next to their name for the 1970s) helps their reputation to this day. Errol was a terrific charismatic presence, of course, but this wasn't one of their better or best known efforts though I do like it enough to have it here. I can't say much more, except that I'd probably flick past it if it came up while milltreading...

4 September 2009

Let's get physical... #2

So, almost two weeks of gym use so far and I do feel better, even if it's more for psychological reasons than through any improvement in my physical being.

I've put on a pound, and the nicer people I know claim it's because muscle is starting to develop and that weighs more than fat. They are saints. They have stopped me from bursting into tears, cancelling my membership and collapsing on the settee with a large Cooplands custard pie.

I've grown to enjoy the treadmill, and a good thing too as I have already vowed never to use a cross-trainer or stepper again as they are the devil's exercise machines. I'm up to doing 30 minute sets at between 6 and 7.5kms an hour, and now with an added incline of 2m. The time drags by unless you have music you like wiling away the time in your ears, as the gym is still playing 4Music constantly, and therefore we get Daniel Merriweather and Beyonce on dreary 35 minute rotations. I have really got into the Empire Of The Sun album via my iPod, and it's all thanks to the treadmill.

On one occasion while milltreading, I took the speed up to 7.5kms, the fastest I've ever managed. I walked in that mincing manner that race walkers use, and really went for it. Then I clutched the heart-rate handlebars, more for respite reasons than any interest in my cardiac exertions - and was promptly warned that holding these monitors was "not advisable when running". It appeared that I was walking at a speed which the treadmill only recognised for joggers. I must have been doing something right if I was able to walk at a speed regarded as above the norm for an extra-brisk stroll. But I really can't run, and refuse to. I'm told running is easier than fast-walking. It bloody well isn't.

The settings I use for the treadmill also counts the calories I shift in a 30 minute session and as I staggered off, a female trainer on duty in the health suite asked me how I got the calorie count up. She worked in the gym and yet I, the total novice, knew how this was done and she didn't. She'd been working with a middle-aged woman who was slow-walking on the treadmill next to mine and had, apparently, been moaning that the machine didn't count the calories, prior to noticing mine. I suspect a restart course is in order.

I've no idea what the various weights apparatus are called, but there's one where you sit down and pull a wide handle down to your chest and then let it back up again. Well, use of this piece of kit has, thanks to the aching sensations I experienced for the following 48 hours, woke muscles in my shoulders and chest I never knew I had. The fact that I am still using this gear and those muscles no longer hurt must mean something is clicking into place somewhere.

And I have been back in the pool. I did 500m in 45 minutes, mainly a medium-paced breaststroke, as it was a public session and it was quite busy and much zig-zagging needed to be done. Most of the swimmers were what the assistant manager of the sports centre, an old competitive swimming buddy of mine, calls "hairdo swimmers" - women who do very slow breaststroke for half an hour without getting their hair or face wet. This makes someone like me feel mildly guilty when doing freestyle (front crawl) as there is severe splashing potential, so I waited until a few had got out. I decided not to do any butterfly...

The pool is one I first entered as a toddler and was where I learnt to swim in 1979. The walls, floors and spectator benches are the same as they have always been. Within my swim I did a couple of my own "hairdo" lengths in order to take a look around the place. It's heartening to see that the classic "Will patrons kindly refrain from..." notice is still in use, albeit given a facelift from the one I remember. So iconic did it become that it was soon made into a T-shirt. Looking back, I reckon I broke every one of those orders within a pool environment except for smoking...

It's also far less heartening to see the "No Photography" sign which councils everywhere have now installed in their pools, supposedly in an effort to stop perverts getting pictures of semi-naked kids but in reality merely preventing proud parents and grandparents from getting souvenir snaps of their child's achievements in the pool.

Anyway, I'm settling into a routine, at the moment, of three gym sessions and one swim a week. Once I feel up to it fitness wise, I might yet go back to proper Masters swimming training, though I think that's a while off yet.

There's a sauna at the gym, by the way. I've only ever been in a sauna once in my life and found it deeply uncomfortable, yet some people turn up purely to go in it, then go home again. Why?

2 September 2009

A day is a long time in schooling

Two old school pals of mine, twin lads Andrew and Robert, celebrated their birthdays yesterday. They were, therefore, the eldest in my year.

The threshold you cross between August and September if you have a child due has always fascinated me. Had these two esteemed lads popped into the world earlier by a day, or even a few hours or minutes, they would have started school three months earlier and, more to the point, finished school a whole year earlier.

There was an article on the BBC website on August 31st claiming that these days parents-to-be at this time of year want to hang on, if possible, until September before bearing their new child as it offers greater advantages in the new arrival's future education.

I suspect a generation and more ago, parents-to-be were hoping for an appearance in August just so the youngster would be out of their hair and in school, and later in work, much quicker...

Andrew and Robert would have gone to their local infant school in September 1977, along with all other kids in their village born in the autumn section of 1972. A child born almost exactly a year later would have not walked into the same school until after the Easter holidays the following year, and yet within 18 months they would have been sharing a class, learning the same things and deemed to be the same age and same year.

I was born in May, so I was one of the summer kids, albeit in an adjacent village, who registered for school for the first time after the 1978 Easter holidays. My summer lot were joined by the next batch in September 1978, who eventually ended up as the year below me at school. And so on. What I do know is that by September 1979, I was in the same class as the Andrews and Roberts of my school, despite spending eight months fewer than them in school.

What do the September-December kids do while they're waiting for the rest of us to catch up? Colouring in? Extra gym? My first full year at school involved lots of reading, some sticking together of cereal boxes with glue and lots of time in the sandpit, plus hymn singing. That's kind of it. Did the elder kids than me do an extra eight months of this?

Maybe there is an argument for being born in August after all. I'm assuming that, unlike the House of Lords, an accident of birth that makes you the eldest doesn't offer you special advantages here. When the May-August kids, including me, joined up with the veteran September-December kids (and the ones in between), everyone seemed pretty equal. That could mean that the extra months at school undertaken by the autumn-born children is a fantastic waste of time.

I have one other question, one which I'm sure must have been in Notes & Queries at some point. If Andrew and Robert had been born ten minutes apart but either side of midnight (let's say Andrew at 11.57pm on August 31st, Robert at 12.07am on September 1st) would they have gone to school separately? Would they have been twins divided by the state? Would they even have technically been twins?