Sep 012013
Red weights on a blue background.

I’ve never been a very good sleeper but after a recent rapid decline in the amount of sleep I was getting, I decided to hit the nail on the bed and try and improve the quality of my sleep. A bit of research later and I concluded that the pattern of my sleeping was the key to improvement. Each night’s sleep mattered but the overall pattern of sleeping was the key to success – much like it is for exercise.

A friend of mine started on an exercise program entitled something like, the 30 day shred, a rapid, intense work out that will ensure dramatic improvement. Such a course is doomed to failure. After a month’s holiday around Southeast Asia, I hit the weights again once more and my body did not like this one little bit. Despite a relatively easy workout, my muscles were sore for a good week. A 30 day shred for someone who hasn’t exercised for a long, long time if ever is ridiculous. I doubt the 30 day shred earmarks days 2 to 6 for ‘REST BECAUSE EVERY MUSCLE IN MY BODY IS PURE PAIN’.

The 30 Day Shred and similar programmes are close to useless for improving one’s health. What is the 30 Day Shred designed for? To get the participant exercising quickly and to see a rapid physical improvement? No. It is designed to make money for its creators. The internet is littered with adverts that promise to reveal a secret, ‘one funny little trick’ and son, that will allow for a quick loss of weight, rapid muscle growth and so on.

Of course it’s all baloney – there are no short-cuts to greatness. One can wake morning after morning at 6am so in the evening you are tired or you can pop a sleeping pill – but only one is a long-term solution.

Exercise, weight loss programmes and many other plans for improvement ignore the key to success. Discipline. Now some people reading this are thinking, ‘obviously’. You know the ones, conversation-killers who drop the ‘obviously’ bomb to kill the conversation when you bring something up for discussion. Well to you guys I say that not everyone is like you – thank goodness.

But this group can be divided into two. Their are people who have discipline and use it to achieve success and to those guys I say well done. The other group, I think would say that it’s obvious that discipline is vital but in reality they have got little or no discipline in their lives, so maybe it’s not so obvious.

Few exercise programmes for the beginner seem to try and teach discipline because the short quick fix seems is so appealing. Intense short bursts of effort are rewarded with quick gains. On some level perhaps we just can’t face the idea of slow but steady improvement.

People can spend years talking and thinking about losing weight or getting more exercise with little if any long-term improvement. The long-haul approach is vital to achieving change. The individual exercise session or one day’s efforts are important, they are the building blocks of the wall but getting used to doing something day after day is far more important.

Forget about the high-intensity effort of any single session but rather about implementing a long-term plan that is low-intensity but regular.

Have you tried everything to lose some weight? Well have you gone for a 30 minute walk in the morning and then again in the evening, every day for six months? No? Well maybe that might do it. It’s long, boring and the only way it will happen. I suppose you can eat less too but I can’t quite get my head around that. One thing at a time.

Anyway I’m off for a bike ride. I decided to cycle every day when I wake up (after writing!) for 30 minutes. I am on day four of a ninety day plan. I’ll let you know how it goes.

May 142012
Bolton Wanderers 1920s

“I’m Bolton till I die,

I’m Bolton till I die,

I know I am,

I’m sure I am,

I’m Bolton till I die!”

A rather dramatic title perhaps but I suppose that is the point and I do not think a more gentle way to describe my feelings regarding Bolton Wanderers Football Club would be appropriate.

There are two kinds of football. There is the football you play and then there is the football you watch. This second kind of football really makes very little sense and it is the sort of football that I am writing about.

I am not sure that I like football. In many, many ways I don’t understand football but I love Bolton Wanderers with all my heart and I think always will.

What is Bolton Wanderers or any club for that matter? A name? 11 players? A stadium and some supporters? Well it really isn’t any of those things, although they are all requirements. Perhaps it is simply – history. The celebration of every goal and every fan who ever dreamed that this day may be our day.

Some people laugh when they find out that I am a Bolton fan or think that it is somewhat strange – why not support another team, a more successful team? I find this a bewildering attitude.

You don’t choose a football team to support! Your football team chooses you! It’s not a calculation or a decision. One day, you realise that you support a team and that is that. I can think of few deeds worse than that of changing which football team you support (with a possible exemption for children).

I admire and respect the dedication and heart that people put into supporting their football team. I never think, ‘really?’ I take my hat off to them and wish them well, unless they are playing Bolton Wanderers that week.

My first memory of supporting Bolton Wanderers is from January 1993. We were in the third tier of English Football. We hadn’t been in the top flight since before I was born. We were to play the FA Cup champions, Liverpool, the most successful club of recent years, certainly before the soon to take place rise of Manchester United.

We were written off. No chance, no hope, the result a mere formality.

I listened to the match on the radio. We were 2-0 nil up at half time! I can recall the unbelievable feeling of exhilaration as the goals went in. I think, and could well be wrong, that it was John McGinley and Jason McAteer who scored. In the second half Liverpool got two back and the game finished 2-2. We went to Anfield for the replay and miraculously, won. This would set the bar for my expectations rather too high for the years that followed. But we did have the odd few moments of glory in the FA Cup over the next few years. We would rise to the dizzy heights of the Premier League in 1997 after coming down from 3-0 in the Play Off final to win 4-3.

I think the hardest day for me as a Bolton fan was losing to Aston Villa in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. It was the last final to take place at the old Wembley Stadium before it was demolished. Bolton won the first FA Cup final that ever took place at Wembley, way back in 1923, and what an idea, that we might be in the final of the last FA Cup final to be held there. And who knows – we might even win…

But it was not to be. Bolton came desperately, heartbreakingly close to winning. The ‘golden goal’ system was in operation (the next team to score would win). But no-one did and it went to penalties and Villa won. Bolton weren’t in the premier league at the time and I remember the commentator saying how great it was that the final would have two premier league teams in it and he added that it would be a final, ‘worthy of the occasion’.

It wasn’t so much that we lost that bothered me (though it did, enormously), it was the idea that we didn’t deserve to be there in the first place. We weren’t just defeated. We were dismissed from the right of even competing.

To those people that laugh at the idea that someone would support Bolton Wanderers, I have a rather simple message: go fuck yourselves! To hell with your ridicule and your mocking.

It’s not just about winning! It’s about your team winning! If it was just about winning everyone would support Manchester United and in many, many ways that would not be a world worth living in.

Bolton Wanderers got relegated yesterday after 11 years in the premier league. I remember when we got promoted back in 2000, there was no sense of entitlement, we had earned it and we knew that we would have to earn it each and every year. We half expected to get relegated the very next season as we had done just a couple of years previously.

Some people support what they consider ‘big clubs’. Some club’s supporters believe that they have a right to a place in the premier league, even a right to success. If there is such a thing as a ‘big club’, you earn it, one tackle, one goal and one match at a time. No football club has a right to anything.

As a Bolton fan, I will never complain that we are not where we deserve to be (though of course, I reserve the right to complain about horrendous refereeing decisions). For better or for worse, we are exactly where we deserve to be, and I am right there with them. There is only one kind of victory in football that means anything to me and that’s a victory for Bolton Wanderers.

Bolton Wanderers is my football club and it always will be. God forbid that it should cease to exist one day, but if it did, well then I would have no team.

So here’s to next season, to the heartache and disappointment of defeat and to the ecstasy of victory and to the sometimes too cruel hope that this year may be our year.

To those of you that do not understand why I support Bolton Wanderers – I pity you. To quote Thomas Paine, ”What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” That it so hard is what make it worth doing. Though sometimes I wish it wasn’t quite so hard.

Jun 282011
An old bike against a wall

There’s not many good things about learning to ride a bike when you’re 30. It’s not only hard learning to ride itself but there’s a whole load of complications that come along with doing so when you’re 30. People look at you and aren’t really sure what’s going on. You have to get on your bike, fall off and ignore all the people looking at you and then do it again. And again.

It doesn’t even ease up when you’re finally on the road. Pedestrians and other road users assume you can ride the bike, after all you look like someone who can ride a bike: ie you’re a grown man and you’re on a bike.

Except that you can’t ride the bike or at least ride it very well. Long, straight bits of riding are mastered pretty quickly but as far as anything else is concerned you don’t really know what the hell is going on. Turning left is fine but I can’t put out my arm and indicate or I might fall over and as for turning right, forget it. As a friend pointed out, I’m the Zoolander of bicycles. Yes, I have the same comedy attribute as a fictional character. Bugger.

Small children wonder why you’ve not overtaken them. Why? Because uou’re afraid you might be killed by the car behind you at any moment if you try to take to overtake. The fear of death is not the ideal way to start your day but what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. But for a while it is genuinely terrifying to not be in full control of some peddle-powered contraption while 2-tonnes of metal races past you about 20 centimetres away. People will say ‘you just need some confidence’, well yes, but confidence isn’t a switch you can just flick on, it’s some you have to work at.

When you arrive at your destination, people don’t seem very impressed when you announced that you got there by bicycle, by bicycle! Can you believe that! They look at you look like they are not really sure what’s so impressive about that or they notice that you appeared to have briefly assumed the characteristics of a 5-year-old. Which you have. You’ve learnt to do something most people managed when they were a kid.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t learn to ride a bike when I was younger, it just never really happened and then you get past the point where you want to be seen learning a bike. Then you get to 20 and then you get to 30. I’d almost given up hope but public transport can be an awful, dispiriting experience especially when you have no other choice. You have to get on the bus, you have to pay for the privilege and you have to an hour for the bus, frequently.

Margaret Thatcher said a man should consider himself a failure if he doesn’t own his own car by the age of 25. But then Thatcher was a mad women who when not destroying the fabric and economy of society, hated working class people and thought a person should value themselves based on whether they own a motor vehicle.

Spend thousands of pounds on a vehicle so I can drive to and from work and never go any where because I have no money? No thanks. Also I don’t really want to help pollute the planet. It would be nice to be able to get in to a car on the odd occasion – road trip! – but to go to work everyday? I have a number of other ways to be part of the machine and generally kowtow to the Man.

So the cars out, walking sucks and you start to hate public transport. But you can’t cycle and then there’s the niggle. That awkward feeling that you’re not doing something because, well you a big fat coward. And cycling would help with the fat. Sometimes a man has gotta do what a man has a gotta do and sometimes that’s getting on a bike and falling off.

But there are a couple of great things about learning to ride a bike when you’re 30. I’ve learnt it’s never too late to do something. That the more difficult it is to do something the greater the reward. And that humiliation and fear aren’t really the obstacles that they may sometimes appear to be. All clichés but all true. I learnt to ride a bike, finally, in about a minute. All it took was an empty car park, some encouragement and a bit of courage to look like a complete and utter fool every now and again.

The best thing about learning to ride a bike is that you can bloody ride a bike! It’s amazing! It’s fun and it gets even more fun when you turn right – you can go almost anywhere! And it’s fast, really fast, places become a lot nearer all of a sudden.

You can also give your bike a really cool name. A lot of people give their bike or car a name like Bob or Geoff. How ironic. Forget it. Give it an awesome name. Call it Phantom or Speed Demon. Sir Bike-a-lot is taken.