Fat Boy on a Diet: Gain and Pain

Yesterday evening MWF and I went and joined Chub Club, as both of us are wanting to get a bit healthier and lose some weight before our wedding which is now less than nine months away (eek!). 

I haven’t weighed myself in a while and wasn’t stupid, I suspected that I’d gained weight. But I was thinking that I’d land somewhere between my starting weight last year and the lowest I got to. I figured that 2016 was going to be a case of “two steps forward, one step back”.

Unfortunately this was not the case. In the first quarter of last year I had done pretty good but after stopping Chub Club my drive to lose weight veered off a cliff. Last night I found out I had regained all the weight I had lost, with an extra 2lbs on top. I am heavier now than I was a year ago. In fact this might be the heaviest I’ve ever been.

There were contributing factors, but ultimately the buck stops with me. I got lazy, greedy and made stupid decisions. I chose takeaways when I should have made something healthier. I could have gone easier on the chocolates and sweets, and I could have shown a lot more self control.

So, because I am a greedy fool I have left myself a mountain to climb and less than nine months to do it in. The fridge is now filled with fruit and salads, I’ve googled local gyms, chocolate and desserts are a thing of the past.

Even my beloved Lattes aren’t safe, becoming a treat and not my standard order. I’m going to be drinking black coffee again. Dark and bitter days lie ahead, but it’ll be worth it.

The only plus point is that Chub Club insists on going around the group with everyone sharing how they’ve done. Just watching made me uncomfortable so I definitely don’t want to be sitting there telling everyone that I’ve gained weight.

Eat healthy. Exercise more. Sounds simple, right? Let’s see how it goes.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Scribbles

I need a new winter coat. I have been saying this for some time and yet every month I find better ways to spend my money. But every time I wait for a bus or shiver on a walk to the shop I remind myself that I need a new coat. Of course, once back in the warm this is forgotten.

While shivering at the bus and unable to work out how long the next bus would be (Cardiff Bus don’t have a board up and their website isn’t the best) I looked for a way to distract myself.

Twitter was all innuendo about the next US President and Facebook had already been exhausted before leaving the house. I needed something to distract from the fact that the cold 

Thank the gods for the slack work of Barry Council. The bus stop down the road is used by a lot of school kids and as a result the lamppost there is like a time capsule of teenage expression through Tippex and marker pens.

I love stuff like this. I love that Beth’s scrawl from 2000 is still there, over sixteen years later. 

But don’t condemn Barry too much, in the late ’00s a wall in Briton Ferry was still calling for Thatcher to be removed. Perhaps it’s deliberate? A way of preserving history, and not idleness. Either way, I like this glimpse into who lived there and what was going on with them.

 I love the nostalgia of seeing phrases I scrawled myself again- Y2K and the other years similarly abbreviated, the deliberately poorly spelled “woz ‘ere” and the acronyms under the declarations of love. 

I haven’t seen it or thought about it in years but I instantly remembered that IDT meant “if destroyed true”, a sort of insurance policy should your vandalism be vandalised. Otherwise your love would die as soon as someone came along with a compass or their own Tippex.

I read the lamppost, the insults and slander, the marking of territories and the announcement of relationships. I always wonder what happened to these couples. Are any still together or have these all fallen by the wayside, living on only as faint memories and scruffy graffiti?

Michelle and Flowers saw fit to declare their love twice, were they more serious than the others? Or more insecure? Does either even pass the lampost and feel a tinge of regret, or the soft glow of nostalgia?

I know there’s graffiti carved on the walls of Pompeii and the Tower of London. This need to leave a mark on the places we go seems to run deep, and it makes you wonder if in a few centuries time whether “Buck Rogers woz ‘ere 24K19” will be scratched into some distant moon.

Personally I think keeping old graffiti up is quite interesting and a good thing, and not just because it distracted me from the fact my nipples were threatening to pierce my t-shirt.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell

This is the third nonfiction Orwell book I’ve read (after Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London) and I definitely prefer them to his fiction. This book contains a handful of articles that he wrote which cover a range of topics including his experiences in school and a French hospital, the threat to freedom of speech and books.

The title piece sees Orwell thinking about how much cash he spends on books and why reading had fallen out of favour. It’s dry and I’ve always found old money slightly confusing, but it’s interesting to see reading weighed up against other pursuits and Orwell observes that it is not just cost that can be blamed.
The book works at it’s best when he’s writing about personal experience which gives him an opportunity to use his keen observation and description to great effect. When talking about a hellish hospital in France or his miserable time as a schoolboy he writes in evocative style, honest about his emotions and recollections. The events and characters are utterly real to the reader, and his insight is keen.

But his talent is linking these personal experiences with wider themes and ideas. He talks about how doctors and medical attitudes have changed, how the hospital in France could never exist in Britain and how his schooldays represented the end of an era of snobbishness and petty cruelty which he celebrates being consigned to the past.

Most interesting is his writing about his patriotism, his feeling as World War II loomed that he would do what he could for his country. He writes openly about how as a teen he dismissed all patriotism as foolish, but now writes about it in a different way. His patriotism seems to me the same I feel, a love for country which doesn’t mean blind acceptance or faith. He knows Britain is flawed, but he knows it is better than the Nazis and has good points.

It’s a quick, interesting read and Orwell is an immensely talented writer. The dryer parts drag a little, and it’s dated but the keen observation and intelligence shines through.

Verdict: Not every essay is a winner, but it’s all written well and Orwell impresses with his ability to express his memories in such evocative and full fashion. A good book to dip in and out of. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Alone No More by Chris Philbrook

My new year resolution may have been to broaden my reading, but here we are back with the zombies. The second part in the Adrian’s Undead Diary series this picks up where the first left off. Our narrator, Adrian, is an ex-soldier who after the dead start walking and biting has holes up at the remote, elite boarding school where he worked.

Alone he tries to gather supplies, fortify his home and build a new life, all while dodging the undead who hunger for flesh. His only comforts being his cat, Otis, and the journal he writes.
The book is told in these foul-mouthed entries as he details his exploits and vents on his fears, theories and regrets. The journal format works as the missing days usually mean something has happened and the insight into Adrian’s mind set is well done. While a laddish, vulgar narrator at times Adrian is likeable enough and relatable, showing flashes of dark, self deprecating humour.

Philbrook changes it up with short chapters from the perspective of other character’s caught up in the apocalypse. Often people who have crossed over with Adrian’s story. In the first book these often ended badly but here there are a few that hint that life endures elsewhere.

As the story implies Adrian meets living people once again and these sections are quite moving as behind the bluster you can tell it means a lot to the frazzled hero to have company.

It builds to a strong ending and number 3 is on my wish list now. I’ll just have to fit some different books in between.

Verdict: Improves on the original and Philbrook impresses with his ability to capture his characters. The changing world works well and the arrival of more characters is a nice touch. A solid, entertaining zombie book. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Theatre Review: Mary Poppins at Wales Millennium Centre

This show was in the words of Bert the chimney sweep “a bit of magic”. I went along with my mother, sisters and MWF to see this on Wednesday evening for my little sister’s birthday the upshot being that MWF is a massive fan of the movie version. 

When I went to see the stage version of Singin’ in the Rain I talked about how the cast faced a problem competing with the iconic screen versions of their characters. Of course, trying to match Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke was going to be a big ask and while Zizi Strallen and Matt Lee don’t come close they still do a damn fine job.
The plot differs from the movie in that there’s a new villain, different fantasy sequences (after much speculation of how they would do it there are no dancing penguins) and a change in the story as to why Mr. Banks gets into trouble at work. It’s this change to Mr Banks’s story that hampers the show the most, with it lacking the emotional impact of the original movie and robbing the show of the big feelgood ending.

The other change to the plot is that the Banks kids are a lot more unpleasant here. In the film they’re mischievous in a normal way, smashing against the rigid confines of old English society, but here they’re kinda d**ks. They come good eventually, but at the start you want to knock their heads together. Their slightly stilted performances hurt it too.

But these flaws are easy to overlook thanks to a script which is frequently funny and charming, boasting a few solid musical numbers along the way.

And the execution is superb. The choreography is faultless, full of life and fun, with dancers throwing and spinning themselves about to great effect. They capture the chimney sweeps, the regular Londoners and the characters of the dayglo fantasy sequences.

It’s here where Matt Lee as Bert shines. Vocally he’s not the strongest and there are moments his accent is more Erinsborough than East End, but as a dancer he is superb. One sequence where he dances up the sides of the stage is jaw dropping and immediately topped as he hangs upside down, still singing, to cross the stage at the top. It’s one of many fantastic pieces of wire work on show.
The spectacle is captivating and for a lifelong Poppins fan it moved MWF to joyous tears. For me it was utterly charming, and I loved the way it was all done.

Well, almost all.

A scene where the kids’ toys come alive is creepy as all hell, and features clowns. I bloody hate clowns.

But moving past this the show is a marvel, and one of the strongest aspects is the ingenious set design which features a towering house, distorted bank and park landscape, all done extremely well due to clever interlocking parts and smooth transitions. From our seat among the gods we could see the tracks and strings, but seeing the intricacies actually made it all the more impressive as you saw the thought and work that had gone into it.

The cast are on point throughout (kids aside, but they’ll learn) and there are no weak links. While it didn’t move me as much as the film, and some aspects failed for me, it was still a vibrant, entertaining show with great music and a charming story.

Well worth catching if you can just because of the invention, skill and fun on display. When it works, it really works.

Verdict: 7.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Kindle Single Bumper Edition

A little bit of a change today as I’m going to review three books in one post. Over the Christmas period I read a few Kindle Singles, the short books Amazon offer for their e-reader. I’ve grouped them together as I thought it would be better than trying to fit three separate posts in.

First up was I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant, a charming read which sees novelist Grant talk about the dilemma she faces as she prepares to move to a smaller place and realises that amazingly there is such a thing as too many books.

Grant describes her sprawling, book filled house in a way that would make a book lover green with envy and during her clear out touches on how the books we read and keep often carry more than what is on the pages in between. Writing with easy charm she talks about the memories attached to some of the books, how her personal library both shows how she has changed over the years while also influencing those changes.

What could just be one woman’s clear out is far more involving thanks to skilled writing with a light touch. Addressing changing attitudes to books and reading, the influence of new technology and the passing of time, Grant writes beautifully and in a way that reader’s who hoard books like me will relate to. 

While Grant talks of one woman’s small scale story, M. J. Foreman’s Bomber Girls deals with several women who played a part in a larger story. Shining a light on a corner of World War II that I was unaware of, Foreman writes about the female pilots of the ATA (Air Transport Auxillary) who during the war were responsible for transporting planes to wherever they were needed.

These brave women flew a variety of planes, often in poor conditions and with little training on that model. They encountered sexism and danger along the way, and while Germany and Russia had female fighters and bombers, the Brits refused to let the ladies carry ammunition, leaving them defenceless against attack.

Unfortunately the book highlights the flaw of the Single format as Foreman is unable to provide any real depth or insight into the women and their war. It’s an interesting enough read but really only a taster, and I feel that I’ll probably look into more books about these young women. Perhaps focusing on one or two pilots would have been better, but the scope is too broad and so we get intriguing snapshots rather than a detailed account. It also suffers as Foreman is a rather uninspired writer.

If Foreman’s prose feels flat this is not a problem afflicts Mishka Shubaly in Are You Lonesome Tonight? I’ve read a few of Shubaly’s Singles now, and while they’ve been a mixed bag there’s no denying that the man has a talent for honest, raw writing.

In this book Shubaly opens with an angry, tear filled argument in the street and a suggestion of lies being revealed. He then jumps back to meeting and connecting with a woman online. Detailing their online communications and his growing affection with open emotion the reader sits uncomfortably, drawn into his warm words but aware it will end badly.

The bad ending arrives with a surprising twist at which point everything crashes down around him and the recovering addict struggles with a tumult of emotion. It’s written in such raw terms that it’s like watching a friend break up, feeling their pain but unable to help. That’s not that Shubaly is a whining heartbroken wreck, his writing is well done with a good eye for metaphor and visceral description and also some dark humour. A great read of heartbreak, betrayal and obsession.

Verdicts:

I Murdered My Library: Well written and relatable look at books and our relationship with them. Book lovers will find themselves nodding along. 7/10.

Bomber Girls: An interesting story but handled poorly, with not enough depth to satisfy. 5/10.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?: Brilliantly written and involving, Shubaly is a gifted and genuine talent. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


2017 Resolutions

That time of year again.

1. Lose Weight

This was a resolution last year and started well but fell off in the second half of the year. Hopefully, with MWF and I now having our own place this will be easier to stick to now.

Also going into 2017 I have more drive to lose weight as there will be wedding and honeymoon photos which I’d like to be able to look at without hating how I look.

I’ve also decided that as part of this I’m going to blog about it more often even when things aren’t going well. Sharing it online will hopefully motivate me to do well, so if I go a few weeks without writing about it feel free to remind me in the comments.
2. Be Nicer

I could stand to be kinder and more patient, and make more of an effort with people.

3. Stop Just Daydreaming and Actually Follow Through on Stuff

From the bucket list to my writing, I’ve always got half baked plans I’m my head but I need to knuckle down and work to achieve them. Thankfully I already have 1 and 1/7 bucket list items planned, butI want to do more.

I need to actually try and not just spend ages fantasising.

4. Broaden My Reading

This year I read a lot of zombie, superhero and Ed McBain books and while I enjoyed them and will read more, I feel I should try and add a bit of variety.


5. Remember the Good Stuff

Going to make sure I take time to appreciate the good stuff and might even keep a list.

Only five this year, but hopefully ones I can achieve. Keep reading to find out how I do.

Anyway, if you have any words of encouragement or resolutions of your own let me know in the comments. Happy New Year! BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Books of 2016

As ever split into fiction and nonfiction. Fiction first.

5. Deception Point by Dan Brown

Brown isn’t the best writer and some of the characterisation and dialogue is wooden but you can’t deny he crafts an easy pageturner and I ploughed through this.

4. Lady Killer by Ed McBain

When the detectives get a note taunting them about a murder which will be committed in twelve hours it kicks off a ticking clock thriller as they try to work out who the killer is, as well as their target. Proves writing under pressure works.


3. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

A warm easy read about life, death, fate and the connections we form in our lives. A nice read and wonderfully unpretentious. Review.

2. Ex-Purgatory and Ex-Isle by Peter Clines

Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series gets better and better with two clever installments. The first sees a bizarre parallel universe and the second sees the heroes discover a new group of survivors while tensions mount back at home. Quality stuff and the full reviews are here and here.


1.  Killer’s Wedge by Ed McBain

I am loving McBain’s Precinct 87 series and this is probably the best yet. It starts with a woman entering the detectives’ office and announcing she has explosives in her bag. The rest of the book is a tense face-off as the cops try to work out what to do and Steve Carella, her target makes his way for the precinct. Full review here.

Honourable mentions, all the other Precinct 87 books I read and Adrian’s Undead Diary by Chris Philbrook. 

And now nonfiction.
5. Spectacles by Sue Perkins

Perkins’ memoir is warm, funny and incredibly moving in places. I liked her going in but I liked her even more afterwards. A real gem. Review.


4. A Life Inside by Erwin James

An honest, clever look into the life of a prisoner James has a knack for observation and telling quick, short stories which are still insightful. Full review.

3. Are You Dave Gorman?/Too Much Information by Dave Gorman (and Danny Wallace)

Massive fan of Gorman and his funny, fussy and friendly writing. Whether looking for his namesakes or examining the weird customs and conventions of modern life, he is an affable, funny narrator and I enjoyed both books.


2. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson delves into the world of online jobs and shaming in a clever, funny and well researched book. He writes with compassion and he goes off in different directions. Review.

1. Playing the Enemy by John Carlin

A book that moved me immensely, delving into the political and personal stories behind Nelson Mandela’s ambitions for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The great man comes across wonderfully and the optimism and healing powers of sport had me quite misty eyed. My full review here.


Honourable mentions The Football Neutral by Jim Smallman and D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz.
Any recommendations for the coming year? Let me know in the comments. BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Films of 2016

So, I saw a fair few new movies this year and these were my favourites.

10. Doctor Strange

Marvel goes magical as Benedict Cumberbatch dons the cape as the sorcerer supreme in a hugely entertaining and gorgeous to look at movie of a selfish man forced to reassess his priorities and become a hero. Full review.

9. Ghostbusters

Rebooting a much loved and well crafted movie was always going to be tricky and the makers of this flick caught a fair amount of flak. I loved the original but the new version worked for me. It kept the laughs coming and the four leads all did their jobs well. As good as Murray and Co? No, but still pretty damn good. Review.


8. Captain America: Civil War
The biggest Marvel movie so far pits hero against hero as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chris Evans) clash over new restrictions on the heroes. Great fight scenes and a solid story ensure this is an entertaining super flick up there with the best in the MCU. It also introduced the latest on screen Spider-man who’s probably the best so far, and that’s just after a few minutes.

I’m Team Iron Man, by the way. Find out why.

7. Pete’s Dragon

A gloriously warm and charming story about a boy raised in the wild by a dragon and his journey to find a new family. Reduced MWF to tears and left me a little choked up too. Magical filmmaking. Review.


6. The Revenant
A gritty and at times grim tale of survival features a fantastic central performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and is utterly gorgeous. Thoroughly gripping throughout. Full review.

5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I have mixed feelings about the Harry Potter films but this prequel/spin-off really worked for me thanks to the fantastic beasts living up to their hype and a core group of very likeable characters. Really charming film. I rave about it here, but there are spoilers.

4. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets the superhero he deserves as he plays the crude, wise cracking mercenary granted superpowers and out for a cure. Gloriously OTT violence, postmodern humour and a real sense of fun this movie was a real winner for me. Read me barely containing my man crushing here.


3. Moana
The latest Disney movie features a strong female lead embarking on an exciting adventure and a scene stealing turn from Dwayne Johnson. Great fun. The full review is here.


2. Zootropolis
A Disney film with a buddy movie vibe fused with a noirish conspiracy this is a wonderful movie with a good message at the heart. There’s also a fantastically creative and innovative world created. Loved it and it stands up to repeat viewings. Review.

1. The Jungle Book

A remake of a much loved classic that I was nervous about which actually blew my socks off. Fun, moving and gorgeous this was a masterpiece. The voice cast is good, the thrills gripping and the characters loveable. A gem of a movie and I gush about it here.

Have I missed one of your personal favourites, or picked a movie you hated? Let me know, but keep it civil!
You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Deception Point by Dan Brown

I’ve only read one Dan Brown novel before, The Da Vinci Code, and quite enjoyed it. Sure it was largely forgettable but there’s no denying that Brown knows how to craft an incredibly effective page turner and for me this book falls into the same territory- not a great book but a gripping read while it’s in your hand.

The story follows Rachel Sexton, who works for the National Reconnaissance Organisation (NRO) who run a network of spy and observation posts. Her working for the government is a problem for her father, Senator Sedgwick Sexton who is in the running to be the next President due to his stance of attacking government overspending. One of the rods he beats President Herney is NASA’s budget and failures.
Herney calls Rachel in and asks her to help with something very hush hush. He needs her to authenticate something as her job ensures she knows how to spot faulty or doctored evidence. She winds up in the Arctic where NASA have found a meteorite containing fossils of bugs. Big news.

Unfortunately some of the evidence is shaky and when Rachel investigates with some of the independent scientists called in to verify NASA’s findings they are attacked. 

Meanwhile her father’s campaign aide and one-time mistress, Gabrielle Ashe, is alerted that Sexton’s anti-NASA stance may be financially motivated and begins digging.

Is the meteorite genuine? If not, who has faked it and why? Who calls the shots for the elite soldiers after Rachel and the scientists? And how dodgy is Senator Sexton?

The plot whips along quite nicely and Brown does a good job in making the tension build up throughout. There are enough thrills to keep you going and by using quick, short chapters Brown keeps it moving so you find yourself racing along and ignoring some of the book’s flaws.

And there are quite a few. There’s a lot of scientific blather delivered through heavy handed dialogue and the characters are underdeveloped. Even the lead Rachel is a shallow, hastily created figure. Aside from a fear of water, a dead mother and a grudge against her dad she has nothing to her and the romance that develops with another character doesn’t feel right. It springs up so quickly and under such pressure that the bloke’s feeling that he can finally move on from his dead wife feels stupidly premature.

Incidentally a memory of his conversation with his wife is so cheesy and TV movie like it actually made me laugh aloud.

It won’t change your life and I doubt it will stick with me but it’s a gripping yarn and passes the time well enough. I blazed through it rather quickly and despite some dialogue that makes you roll your eyes it’s an engaging and gripping thriller. I was hooked in early and involved in the adventure, and am grateful I had it to help pass the time on an extremely boring shift.

Verdict: Brown isn’t the best writer but he does know how to create tension and keep the reader hooked. The pacing is done well and the central conspiracy involving enough that you forgive some of the failings and go along for the ride. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.