Saturday, 29 January 2011

"But it's a wonderful game"

~ Quote attributed to Queen Elizabeth II

I write to you from my toasty warm living room and yet I am shivering and cold to the touch. Am I ill? For once, nope (yay!). I am, instead, still chilled to the bone from standing outside in the cold for two hours this afternoon. And why would I do such a crazy thing when my toasty warm living room, pyjamas and laptop were sitting unused at home? Why else, but for the love of the beautiful game.

Ever since I was a wee tote I've lived fairly close to Seaview, the ground for the Irish League football team Crusaders FC, and I was probably a season ticket holder there before I could even spell "Crusaders". Indeed I have spent most of life supporting the good old red and black "hatchetmen" and even when I spent a couple of years living in Yorkshire I regularly checked to see how they were doing in my absence (not great as it turned out, since they were relegated the season after I moved away and promoted again the year I returned - I could read something into that y'know!).

There aren't a great deal of female football fans out there - in my experience those girls who do appreciate the sport either grew up with lots of brothers or, like me, were dragged along to matches from an early age - but I think that men hold a certain respect for a woman who not only understand the offside rule but can go head-to-head with you on a debate about a decision. I'm not saying I know all the rules in intricate detail but when I hear half the things the men in front of me on the terraces are shouting I sometimes think I have a better grasp on things than some. My only fault (if you can call it that) is that I tend to be a bit too unbiased. If there's a bit of a tussle during a free kick and the referee blows his whistle and rules in favour of the opposition, those around me will inevitably be up in arms about it, while I'm thinking, "meh, they were as bad as each other...", which I've learned is fine as long as you don't say in aloud, in which case you are instantly relegated to a "typical bloody woman not understanding the rules of game!"

I must admit that I'm not quite as enthralled by the action on the pitch as my male counterparts. If there are just a lot of long balls going on or it goes out for a throw-in every two seconds, my mind does wander. I probably drive the Yorkshireman mad with random comments about the sky looking weird today or asking him random questions that have formed themselves in the strange depths of my mind, like whether he thinks that the assistant referees and fourth official can relieve the referee of his command if they think he had become emotionally compromised and is therefore no longer fit for duty, à la Star Trek. To give you an idea of how much pity you should feel for my poor husband, these are just a few examples from today's match. Whether my interest is not an intense because I'm female or just because I'm a bit of a daydreamer, I'm not sure, but I really do like the game. There's nothing quite like the thrill of seeing the ball fly over the goal line of the opposition's net. I often jump for joy... literally. And woooo. I woooo a lot.

But never mind a lack of female fans - the problem with Irish football is a lack of fans in general. It seems so strange to me that if you ask any football fan from Northern Ireland which team they support, they'll more than likely name an English club. Even when you prompt them which team they support in the Irish Premier League, most of the time they dismissively say something like, "oh I don't really support any Irish teams." I think it's such a pity. I mean if you live in Belfast and support, say, Chelsea, how often do you actually go to Stamford Bridge and watch them play up close and personal? Granted there are those nutters you always see at the airport on Saturday morning adorned in their team's colours who spend a freaking fortune buying season tickets and then flying back and forward for all the home games on another land mass, but the more usual scenario is that the person you ask has maybe only been once or twice, if at all. And sorry but watching on TV is just not the same - you only see what the TV cameras decide you should see for one thing (which isn't great for me - how am I supposed to tell the Yorkshireman how weird the sky looks if I can't see it?) and also you just don't get the atmosphere and the feeling of camaraderie you get in person in the stands or on the terraces.

It's a shame for the Irish football clubs too. Most of them are in debt and on the verge of financial ruin because they're just not getting enough people through the turnstiles. Okay so the condition of the grounds and the facilities aren't exactly the greatest, but it's a vicious circle: people don't come to the games, so the club has no money, so they can't afford to repair or upgrade anything, so the ground falls further into disrepair, so people don't come to the games... etc. And it's not like the IFA is forthcoming with much money to help the clubs improve things either. Well, except for Linfield. Oops, did I say that out loud?

That said, the clubs are trying their best to muddle through with the few resources they do have. Unfortunately the biggest resource needed is money and the biggest source of money is the fans. Crusaders are lucky in that, whilst we don't have a lot of fans, the fans we do have really get behind the club and are willing to support it in any way they can. There are constant fundraising efforts from the supporters' clubs and the club's Special Efforts Committee to make sure the club stays in business and is able to compete with the bigger clubs like Linfield and Glentoran. They really deserve a lot of thanks because most people, like me, are kind of lazy and quell their conscience by giving money rather than making an actual effort. So thanks guys and gals, if you ever read this.

So, if you get your kicks (pun fully intended) from penalties and corners and your favourite team happens to play a few hundred miles away, why not give a local game a try sometime soon? Although given that I returned home over two hours ago and my feet still feel like blocks of ice, I would maybe recommend waiting until the temperature rises a few degrees... brrrr!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Is The Biggest Loser the winning contestant or the obsessive viewer?

Apologies for the lack of posting recently. As the Yorkshireman has explained on his blog, we've both been having a few health problems. Thankfully he seems to be on the mend anyway, with only a little residual mucus still causing a problem (mainly for me, since he keeps coughing or blowing his nose when I'm midway through a sentence, which drives me nuts). As for me, well, as Facebook would say, "it's complicated" but not particularly worth whining and moaning about, especially since it's not even serious enough to get me out of work, dagnammit! Funny how some things in life can simultaneously be a blessing and a curse!

So, how are you all enjoying January? I'm not a big January fan, since I always end up broke, cold, tired and verging on Seasonal Affective Disorder, and at the moment I'm also running the risk of breaking myself every time I step out the door on to the slippery frost/ice combo out there. It's apparently -3°C outside at the moment so it doesn't look like it'll be any less white out there tomorrow. Thankfully it's the weekend, so I can spend the majority of my day indoors in my classy Primark pyjamas. Actually I think my current nightwear is a George D'Asda creation - clearly I felt like dressing up a bit this evening.

One good thing about January is that a lot of good TV shows are back on our screens. Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of "lots" and "good" really. Most people would, I imagine, not join in my delight that there is not just one but two series of The Biggest Loser on at the moment (British and USA versions), but surely you have to love a bit of Glee? No? Really? Ah, you clearly have no taste but we'll agree to disagree.

I do love a good weight-loss show though and The Biggest Loser is one of my favourites, so I was highly excited when I learned that series 9 of the US version had started on LivingIt (so excited, in fact, I mentioned it in the blog post I was writing at the time). Then, when I was checking the TV Guide website for the next showing of said show, I accidentally stumbled upon the new series of the British version starting the next week! How thrilling!

It's hard to describe why I love The Biggest Loser so much, especially when most of the things I mutter about when it's on are fairly critical. She's annoying, why did he bother signing up, they're cheating, that's sneaky, oh they're not going to be happy about that, etc. But like all reality TV shows that's part of the fun. I like to hear people's stories and figure out what makes them tick, but if there's a juicy argument or some duplicitous underhandedness to observe along the way, all the better! It's entertaining. But then why would I merrily watch The Biggest Loser and yet remain so scornful of I'm a (D-list) Celebrity Get Me Out of Here or Big Brother?

I guess it's because the people who sign up to The Biggest Loser are (for the most part) doing it to improve their lives and those of the people who love them. What they're doing will help them to live longer, learn more about themselves and gain confidence and skills they probably only dreamed about possessing, and you get to watch the transformation, week by week. It's inspiring. The eejits on those other reality shows, on the other hand, are only after money or fame and quite frankly I don't really care who they're flirting with or why. Heat magazine would definitely go into my Room 101 because it's that kind of "celebrity" gossip obsession that only encourages more and more reality shows about uninteresting, superficial people with no discernible talent and are about as entertaining as watching algae form (with the IQ to match). I prefer my reality TV with, well, a point really.

So, whilst I realise that watching bossy personal trainers yell at fat people to run so hard they end up vomiting is not everyone's idea of a good night in, I really do enjoy it. There are two episodes in each series that I particularly enjoy. The first is when the doctor guy does a full health assessment on them all and then tells them just how bad shape they are actually in. I'm actually gutted because I accidentally missed that episode in this series of the US show and now cannot find any form of catch-up online for it that NBC hasn't had removed for infringement - bah humbug! In one of the previous series I remember the doctor asking one guy how healthy he thought he was and the guy said something like, "well I know I'm a big guy but I'm fairly healthy - I mean it's not like I have type 2 diabetes or anything", to which the doctor replied, "actually you do." There's a conversation-stopper!

Yes there probably is an element of schadenfreude in liking those bits, but really I just find it fascinating, both from a medical perspective (the effects that weight really does have on your body's ability to function) and also from a psychological perspective (watching years of denial that "it's not that bad" instantly drop away and a vulnerable, scared and highly motivated person emerge).

The second episode I like so much is the makeover episode, where they take people who have lost loads of weight very rapidly and whose heads probably haven't really caught up with their new and improved bodies, they give them amazing haircuts and put them in flattering clothes they would never have even considered before, and then show them the finished product in a dramatic mirror reveal. They always look completely amazing, even when they're still relatively big, and then just when they're overwhelmed by how great they look, they bring in someone really close to them who is gob-smacked by all the changes too and they inevitably cry. Even the men. In fact the men are often worse, especially the Aussies. It's so touching and it just makes you feel like you can achieve anything if you have the right attitude and resources.

I must admit that I don't like the British version of the show quite as much as the US version. The trainers aren't as personable (stereotypical English coldness I suppose) and some of the accents and things the contestants say make me facepalm in shame for our nation. That said I have a bit of a girl-crush on Davina McCall, who has taken over presenting it this series, so that's a plus point. I can still get my Bob and Jillian kick from the US version after all.

It's quite early in both series so I haven't yet developed any favourites, although I have taken agin' a few people already. In the British version I'm glad the orange team got booted out because they were just taking the piss really. "Oh I'm too sore to work out today" - boohoo, that's what you signed up for! In the US version the red team seem to be throwing the weigh-ins at the moment and I really hate cheaters; so does Bob if his rant to them during last week's weigh-in is anything to go by. The green team really annoyed me last week too. "We didn't come here for you to change who we are". Actually you kinda did. The white team are sort of bugging me too. Alright so the guy is over 500lb and yes it's hard to get around never mind work out when you weigh that much, but he needs to stop messing around and annoying the other contestants when they're trying to work hard and get his head in the game. My opinions tend to change as the series progresses though, so I look forward to seeing how everyone gets on.

So tomorrow evening my entertainment will be the British Biggest Loser (ITV at 9pm) and then Glee (E4+1 at 10pm) - it's a little sad but whatever gets you through a cold, miserable January Monday, right?

Friday, 7 January 2011

Warming up while it's cooling down

Flip me, it was a bit nippy out there this morning, wasn't it? I felt literally chilled to the bone as I stood waiting for my buses to work and indeed sitting on said buses. So cold, in fact, that my first task of the day when I switched on my office computer was to check on the temperature. Apparently, according to Wunderground, it was -7°C in Belfast Harbour (the City Airport to me and thee). I knew it! Very chilly indeed! The same source reliably informs me that it's now a toasty 1°C in comparison - typical, now that I can sit indoors in fleecy pyjamas with the heating on instead of turning slowly into a human icicle waiting for the delightful sight of a big pink bus appearing on the horizon!

Further freezing temperatures are supposedly expected over the weekend, so I'm glad there's no match on at Seaview this weekend to shiver through. Instead I shall be staying in my fleecy jammies and watching Arsenal v Leeds (come on the Leeds!) in the FA Cup tomorrow afternoon and then baking a Victoria Sponge Cake - so pretty much my usual tomboy/girly-girl mixed up kind of weekend then!

The Yorkshireman and I may also return to our new gym sometime over the weekend. We've just joined Pure Gym, a 24/7 gym which has just opened its first Northern Irish branch in Belfast. We used to go to our local Council gym but the opening hours weren't really ideal for us, so it's quite exciting to think that we could now just pop down the road for a bit of a workout at 3am should we choose, although I must admit to preferring my bed at that time, whilst my naturally nocturnal husband would probably prefer watching a good NHL game and meandering through the Internet. Besides, we're reliant on public transport and unfortunately late night/early morning buses in the City are an area Translink could do with improving upon greatly! If you want to go anywhere between 11pm and 6am, you're kinda screwed.

We made our first visit to our new gym this evening to check out what we'd actually signed up for. I must admit I was quite cynical about the website's promise of over 170 pieces of equipment ("yeah, are you counting each dumbbell individually there by any chance?") but I was actually quite impressed. It really is a pretty big facility and they have loads of equipment, all new and shiny-looking. The first thing I saw when I entered was a veritable sea of treadmills (I wonder what a large group of treadmills should be called? A flock? A herd? A murder, like crows, seems most appropriate!) and then as we ventured further in it was like a magical land of fitness! There were rowing machines and strength machines and loose weights and even more treadmills and cross-trainers and every type of exercise bike you can imagine, including some with arm rests that I will be intrigued to try next time.

Please don't get me wrong here: the Yorkshireman and I are not gym bunnies in any way, shape or form. We do not have sculptured abs or flat stomachs (far from it indeed!) and our fitness levels are probably akin to someone in their 60s. With asthma. And sciatica. I also find exercise quite tedious and fail to understand why anyone would actually enjoy hurting themselves or getting out of breath. However I would quite like to be a bit healthier than my usual sickly self and, y'know, live for quite a long time to come and stuff. Popular medical opinion seems to suggest that exercise is required to achieve such goals and therefore is unfortunately a necessary evil. Realising this a couple of years ago, I decided to give our local Council gym a try and the Yorkshireman followed suit soon after when I came home declaring it "not that bad actually" in a surprised tone.

It was the first time either of us had ventured into such a place but we soon realised there was something about the gym that appealed to us both. Namely, our competitive natures. We didn't often compete against each other (because I would always lose and I am not a good loser... except for the leg press - I can out-leg-press any one of youse - bring it on!) but we're both sad individuals who like to compete against ourselves. Every visit we would try to burn more calories than last time, or run faster, or run for longer, or increase the weight, or crank up the level. It was a good challenge and sometimes was the only thing that kept me interested during the mundaneness of a 15-minute treadmill session.

The other thing that keeps me going is, of course, a good soundtrack. I mean, imagine jogging on a treadmill. Actually picture it in your mind - all the sensations you would experience, jogging along on the spot, your limbs gangling around, maybe struggling to keep up. Imagine the whirring noise of the belt beneath your feet and the sound of your own ragged breath. Imagine looking at a wall or at other gym equipment while you're running, the dreary scenery unchanging. Imagine looking down at the screen thinking "surely it must have been at least 10 minutes by now?" and realising it's been 2 minutes and 35 seconds and you have another 17 minutes and 25 seconds left. Yawn. It's all so bloody boring! But! Now imagine jogging along with the theme from Chariots of Fire playing loud in your ears:

You can feel the inspiration. You can almost imagine you're running, wild, young and free on a beach instead of on a machine in a room full of machines, going nowhere. The imagination is a powerful tool after all.

Personally any upbeat song will get me going, be it rocky or cheesy pop... even classical can get my blood pumping. I was practically doing jazz hands walking along through the City centre this evening listening to 'Maybe This Time' as sung by Kristin Chenoweth and Lea Michele in Glee. So some good music is an essential part of my workout routine. The only problem now is that I can't find my ye olde first generation iPod Shuffle from the last time I was at the gym about 700 years ago and so I fear that I may be musicless on my next trip to the gym! Woe and alas!

Still, it gives me a chance to work on an updated workout playlist. We No Speak Americano has to go on there, as do most of the Glee songs (shush, I am a Gleek and proud of it!) and the Avenue Q soundtrack. I'm only sorry that the festive season has now passed, as I quite fancy cross-training along to Marshmallow World or Dominick the Donkey, but there's always next year!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in - Napoleon Bonaparte

Well here we are in 2011.  Hope everyone had a lovely time in the festive season and has been enjoying our new year thus far.  Preferably with water and without burst pipes.

2011 has been grand for me so far.  Yesterday the Yorkshireman and I spent our bank holiday sleeping late and then firmly in denial that we would unfortunately yet inevitably have to return to work the next day.  I finished my current book (Welcome to my World by Miranda Dickinson - not bad though a little predictable) and browsed the Interwebz for a nice off-peak summer holiday later in the year.  The current favourite is Alcúdia, since the Yorkshireman has never been to the Balearic Islands, but it's open to change.

Then today it was back to porridge, trawling through unread emails and watching the clock for home-time.  I hadn't held out much hope for lasting the whole day (only this morning my colleagues and I were musing about the merits of some kind of phased return system for coming back to work after a break and came out in unanimous favour) but somehow I even managed to make up a good 50 minutes of flexi time - a good start to the year.  What has made it even better is the start of Season 9 of The Biggest Loser USA starting on LivingIt this evening - another of my not-so-secret shame reality TV shows!  I had no idea it was starting until my very kind (and equally sad) mother just texted me.  Excellent surprise!

My darling Yorkshireman has already ruminated upon the new year being a good opportunity to reflect, both on lessons learned during the last 12 months and also on any goals or ambitions you would like to fulfil in the coming year.  I had already planned to do the same but don't worry, I'll keep it short and I'll refrain from any mention of reality TV shows!

What an interesting year, where I think my main focus has been on learning a lot:
  • January... in which I learned that pneumonia fecking well hurts
  • February... in which I learned that no matter how nice you are, some people are just pricks through and through
  • March... in which I learned that I can be as stubborn as a mule if I feel strongly enough about something
  • April... in which I learned that I can do things I never would have thought possible
  • May... in which I learned that my fellow UK citizens are depressingly easily led by empty promises and plastic-looking men
  • June... in which I learned that "perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did" (Newt Gingrich)
  • July... in which I learned that Command Strips are an amazing invention
  • August... in which I learned that extra firm control underwear from Debenhams really is worth the money
  • September... in which I learned that even the farthest-seeming finish line does eventually arrive
  • October... in which I learned that even a rainy day in an English seaside resort can be fun with the right company
  • November... in which I learned that there are many reasons why people really do ♥ New York
  • December... in which I learned that happiness is wherever you're willing to look for it
Hopefully this will be another interesting year, for all the right reasons.  I don't believe in new year resolutions on the principle that if you're truly ready, willing and able to do something, you should just go ahead and do it regardless of the date.  That said, there are some things I would like to do this year.   I'll keep most of them to myself, but the main principles are (in no particular order):
  • To try and stop stressing out so much about things I can't actually do anything about (tricky for a worrier like myself)
  • To seize every opportunity to do the things I really want to do (be it to relax with a book in a coffee shop or to visit somewhere new and exciting)
  • To spend quality time with those I love and care about

So here's to 2011... let's hope it's a good 'un!