September Goals

A whole generation on from my own schooling, the school terms have stayed with me.  September is still the time of year when I make a new start and set some new goals.  My new goal is –

– but we’ll come back to that.

First, meet my friend Lisa.  Lisa had her third baby within a year of me having my second.  When I started exercising again, I lost weight and got too thin for my funky new orange skirt.  Because it’s a very nice skirt, and because I had never had chance to wear it (and because Lisa has, ever since I met her, been a couple of sizes bigger) I sent the hubby to her house with it.

Hubby brought the skirt back again:  Lisa had been exercising and it was too big for her too.  In fact, Lisa had taken up running seriously, joined a club and was ‘training.’

Last year, I am smug to report, I beat Lisa in a fell-race.  But that was only because, once she had been miles and miles ahead of me for quite some time, she ran the wrong way too enthusiastically and got lost.  This year, she did the 9 Edges in less than four hours.  In wet conditions.

Two days after that, you’d think she’d be chilling out.  But no:  she asked myself and a few other nutcases if we’d like to start training for a triathlon.

At first, I dismissed it.

But then I thought:  hang on.  I’ve turned myself from a hormonal lump of blubber to someone who can actually do pull-ups (and did I mention black routes at the works?)

I could do a triathlon (albeit slowly) if I wanted!

But do I?

I’ve not a very good swimmer.  I was taken to swimming lessons every week for nearly ten years as a kid;  mostly kicking and screaming.

And then there’s cycling:  apparently I was the only kid in our Junior school ever to fail the cycling proficiency.  I failed it twice.

Crikey.  The only fun bit for me would be writing another of those irrit – i mean, inspirational blog-posts about how I did it against the odds.

And hubby is gonig away a lot this year.  But never mind!  I could always put Tiddler into nursery every other day so I could train.

And I could –

Once I’d bought a bike.  And a new swimsuit  –

I could – Er –


Maybe not.

It dawned on me that I have no real interest in two of the three main skills required for a triathlon and no child-care to train.

But I was inspired.  Imagine – if I started a different challenge and succeeded as magnificently as Lisa probably will in her triathlon  – then one day I might do this:

or maybe this:

Or maybe even THIS!:

When I was looking for the handstand one, I searched back through some likely people’s Facebook pages for about an hour.  No joy.  So I Facebooked:

-Whoever posted a video of an amazing one-handed handstand please would you send me a link?

And of course (thankyou Linds), the link arrived.

As did a message from another remarkable woman, Bea:  founder of YES!  parenting and probably the most positive person in the whole entire world.

Bea:  Are you working towards doing one? x x

Me:  No, Bea.  Just fantasising.

Bea:  You could totally do this if you chose to x x

Me:  Have you [even] seen this video, Bea?

Bea:  no, but I still believe in you.


I saw Bea a couple of days later.  It turns out, that she is working towards a one-handed handstand herself.

WITH a wall behind her, but still.  She can already do an upside-down handstand squat.  She did one in my living room.

Maybe I could do this too!  I could do pull-ups, after all!  I turned a handstand just to see if it were possible, but the feeling of blood rushing to my head was just horrid.  And when I bent my arms to squat, I couldn’t get them straight again.

And then I realised that pull-ups use the antagonistic muslces.  My push-up muscles are still to be developed.

Damn it!  I wanted a goal!  Like Lisa had a goal and like Bea did.  After all, it’s September and September’s a time for new starts.  But I did want a goal in something that looked promising to start with.  So I kept looking.


The other thing that happens at this time of year, is that I go off to work.  This year, I took two jobs – one at three days a week with the odd Saturday extra and the other two days a week with the odd Saturday.

I promised hubby some climbing days, too.  And then I remembered how many days there are in a week.

On Monday night, I had planned to do some yoga.  But I was tired after my 7.00pm finish an hour’s drive away, so I went to bed.  Tuesday was much the same.  On Wednesday night, I considered yoga.  I got as far as picking remnants of the kids’ squashed dinner out of the carpet.

On Thursday I went climbing because I’d agreed to meet a friend.  But an evil two-finger hand-hold did something sore to my ring-finger tendon.  After work on Friday, I got an e-mail lfrom the Royal Vet College reminding my that I’d signed up for an intensive on-line neurology course that required six hours’ study a week.

Spare time is like an oasis in the desert – tempting from a distance but as soon as they arrive, the damn things fade away.

And that’s how my shit-it’s-now-actually-past-September goals came about.  My realistic, working full-time goals.  Not to break personal records in my exercise capabilities:  simply to make sure I do some exercise and don’t return to complete un-ninja status by Christmas.

So forget triathlons.  Forget one-handed handstands.  Let’s embrace the acheivable.

I have signed up for a 10k.

The School with the Excellent Students

“The students at this school are excellent,’ says the Head, making very engaging eye contact.  ‘We really do have excellent students at this school.’

I remember some advice I was once given for listening to politicians:  say the direct opposite statement back to yourself.  If that would sound ridiculous to everyone concerned then there is nothing of any substance being said.

If I was in the 1% of the population who doesn’t automatically conform in such situations, perhaps I might raise a hand:

Please Miss!  Are the 4-year-olds at the school up the road not excellent?  How does your selection process sort them out? (as far as I can see, the form only asks for their religion).

But I am one of the 99% so I look as though I’m paying attention, dismiss it as sales-gumph and move on.


Then I lie awake at night:  excellent students?  Has she thought about that statement?  Is she thoughtless?  Or is she patronising me?

And above all:  How do I choose a primary school?

My teacher friends all advised that I follow my ‘gut instinct,’ but my gut instincts seems to be based on personal bias.  The Head’s choice of rhetoric is just one example (and I didn’t meet any other Head Teachers –  maybe theirs was worse).  In the school with the excellent students, pupils automatically learn the clarinet; in another they learn brass.  I was always most successful as a brass player which makes it almost obligatory to regard the clarinet as a fancy bit of firewood.  But surely this is no sound basis for a choice involving your child’s whole education?

I have reasons for not trusting my gut.  People follow their guts when they choose their vets.  I have worked at multivet centres where the person we unanimously agreed was the best clinican was the person the fewest clients wanted to see.  This could be down to something as simple as their accent.  I have heard clients call vets ‘excellent’ who I wouldn’t want treating my pet, but luckily these are few and far between.  More commonly, I have heard clients moaning about a vet who is actually doing a great job on their animals but is noticably less good at sucking up.

Of course, there are more concrete things to rely on – like Ofsted.  Unreliable, say my teacher friends. Anyway, the schools are all “accademies” now so I can’t access recent enough reports.

I ask my daughter what she thinks, but her answers are inconsistent.  Apart from that she wants to wear uniform, which is just as well:  there’s uniform at all the state schools round here.

In the end we pick the school with the religious leaning that matches my husband’s and the kids’.  My husband says church schools are very caring, which is nice.

Personally, I have always judged religious segregation to be a poor way to distribute pupils between schools.  But it isn’t exclusively religious.  And it is also nearby, friendly and lovely to stand inside.  The pupils look happy and my gut feels content with that.  The bemusing Head-teacher, I decide to overlook.  Also, it appears that my husband is actually feeling really very strongly about the religious bit.


So three weeks into Primary School, how is Big Sprog?  She still leaps out of bed, puts on her uniform, bounces out of the front door and is still bouncing when she hits the gates.  It’s a very parent-friendly school and they invite me to ask questions and stay for coffee once a week.  They sent me letters and newletters and communications and all the rest.

All the same, I haven’t a clue what she does there because she ‘can’t remember, Mummy.’  Today she presented me with a peice of paper decorated entirely with variously recognisable letter ‘m’s.  Whether this was a writing exercise or an art project or just something she wanted to do herself, I can’t tell.

How I used to ridicule those scraps of paper detailing every poo, pee, mouthful of food and emotional change during the 6 hours she’d spent at nursery.  What she’d played with.  Who she’d played with.  The only detail missing was the number of farts.

I miss it.  Today I have gleaned the most information yet: Big Sprog drew Ms and apparently she ‘had an accident’.  Why did she do that?  She never does that. Was she frightened or worried about something, or was she just too engaged in drawing ‘M’s to go to the loo?

At any rate, the teacher stopped and asked me to impress unpon her that there was nothing to be worried about.  That she mustn’t be scared to come and tell her next time. That’s a sign of a teacher with her interests at heart, I thought.  My daughter says she’s ‘nice.’

I trust that she is.  Sending my kids to school, I am finding, is an exercise in trust.  Trust that they treat her well, feed her decent food and that she’d tell me if she were unhappy.  Trust that they’ll support her and help her grow.  Trust, indeed, that she remains the excellent wee soul, both when wetting her knickers and when writing her first sentence, that she is right now.

It doesn’t seem so strange any more that the head said they had excellent students at that school.  Every school is full of excellent children, with parents just as worried as me.  Maybe she wasn’t contrasting with other schools; maybe it was just her way of reassuring us that she’d noticed their excellence.

So, I am mollified.  But I still can’t say I’m looking forward to hearing that clarinet.

My Minor Success (and other stories)

I haven’t been writing about my body very much this summer, because small successes don’t make good stories.

Better to write about the time when I went tripping across a pub beer-garden wearing a single flip-flop.  I was trying so hard not to drop the three pint-glasses that I let go of Tiddler’s foot with my elbow and I dropped him instead.  He fell from my shoulders onto concrete.

And no, I hadn’t had ANYTHING to drink.  And didn’t get anything after that, because the guy on the next table called 999 and told them Tiddler kept loosing consciousness.

And no, Tiddler wasn’t loosing consciousness and I knew that.  He was trying to go to sleep, which is why I’d made for the pub beer-garden in the first place.  But his sleepiness certainly worried the paramedics so I let them take me to hospital just in case.

And no, the paramedic couldn’t wake him up either when he went to sleep in the aumbulance, which is when they decided they were putting the blue lights on.

And no; we didn’t wait for triage at all…..

Which is when TIddler decided it was far too exciting to sleep any longer, sat up and started to smile and coo.  Little bugger.

Anyway:  where was I?  Better stories than my small success.

A routine hospital visit this time:  a nightmare thirty-minute wait.  We trooped to the loo together to do a sample (Mummy, Mummy!  Are you going to drink it?), read Hello magazine and sang Twinkle Twinkle on loop.  Unfortunately Tiddler still got restless and decided to drive his toy car up the leg and into the crotch of a mortified bloke.

When we were finally called in to see the nurse it was a great relief that she had a young woman with her who clearly wanted to play with the kids, allowing the nurse and I to concentrate on my diabetes in peace.  It was only after the appointment that I was asked to fill in a survey about the doctor I’d just seen.

‘I didn’t see the doctor.  I just saw the nur- oh, hang on.  That doctor.  Right.  Yeah, that doctor was excellent.’

So misconceptions can make interesting stories too.

But not so minor success.

You know the feeling.  Someone posts their training run on Facebook and you’re not supposed to think: ‘that’s not very far / fast,’ or ‘what a total show-off.’  You’re supposed to think:  ‘Go them!  Look at that developing athletic prowess!’

But lately I’ve noticed myself becomming more supportive.  ‘Proud’ should be encouraged  and ‘smug’ (derogatory-speak for ‘proud’) should be spun more positively or else shouldn’t exist at all.  Pride in your body is what keeps you exercising and it helps if your friends are proud of you, too.

I would say that:  I’m a smug person now.  It started with a few core exercises and then a bloke with wince-worthily shiny muscles: thank goodness this was you-tube because I couldn’t concentrate on his face.  Never-the-less it was a useful experience;  I was soon seeking out playparks with monkey-bars to exercise the kids in – and  learned to do a pull-up.

And the thing about being a tiny bit stronger is, you start to climb harder too.

‘Really?’ our friend Gareth dripped sarcasm.  ‘Who’d’ve thought it?’

But it wasn’t long before he installed a pull-up bar in one of our doorways.  I’m pleased to report that I can do three pull-ups now.

And do you know about campus boards?  Those big intimidating things at the climbing-walls, that the likes of me compeltely ignore?

‘Are you sure?’ I say to Gareth.  ‘Isn’t their some unwritten rule that I’m not actually allowed on there?’

But apparently not: Gareth and Naomi showed me some simple exercises.  That opened my mind a bit.

The biggest breakthrough however, was one day at the kiddy-wall.  The kiddy-wall has colour-coded routes according to their difficulty, and in my head these colours could be split into two groups:  ‘routes that Liz can attempt’ and ‘routes that Liz will never climb because she took up climbing too late / isn’t strong enough / doesn’t understand how anybody actually gets hold of those holds / has too many children.’

Except, one day I looked around and realised that I had now done all the Lizable routes.  Wow.  If I wanted a new project at the kiddy-wall, I was going to have to venture into the second territory:  I was going to have to try a black.

So I did.  I was sure to pick one tucked away in a corner so that no-one could see that I was trying it.  The bad news was, no-one saw me succeed.

So I put something on Facebook.  Like, I did a black.  Does that make me a real climber now?

The replies proved that my Facebook friends are nicer people than me.  I think someone used the word ‘inspiration….’

But hey, you must be bored already.  Let me tell you a good story – perhaps about the night Big Sprog vomitted all over my sleeping bag – instead.

The Image of Yoga

You say ‘yoga.’

Who do I picture?

Here, in the UK?


1) white

2) middle-class

3) slim

4) female

5) herbal-tea-drinking

6) smug

…and I myself tick five and a half out of six of these boxes.

The half is down to a poor commitment to the drinking of herbal tea.  I prefer caffeine in a morning.  I prefer caffeine at night.  And even mid-way through the day if there’s breathing-space (mid-way through a bouldering session, for example).  Herbal teas might be healthier.  They might even smell interesting.  But the taste rarely lives up to the aroma and – worse – they are completely caffeine deficient.

In fact, whenever I buy the things (they help me to feel temporarily smugger), I’ve learned to go for the red ones because at least when I don’t like it, I can let it cool down and feed it to my poor naive kids, who think it’s ‘juice’ and get absurdly excited.

And yes, I admitted to ‘smug.’

Well, what is ‘smug,’ anyway?  As far as I can tell it means being pleased with yourself / proud / confident when the user of the word thinks such feelings are inappropriate.  I have plenty of cause, I’m sure, for owning that label – even when I’m talking about myself.

But back to the stereotypical yoga woman:  I both love and hate that she exists.  Love to notice patterns; hate that people accept them as rules.  Or even, actually, as real patterns.  Patterns are a trick of the light. plus-sized-yoga-jessamyn-stanley-2.

I decided I loved yoga in India, and breifly once while pregnant.  If I haven’t followed up on it, it’s because I haven’t wanted to conform.  It’s almost as though being a Mummy and owning a baby-sling automatically suggest yoga as an appropraite use of ‘me-time.’  Or at least, it’s an obvious option.  Kung-Fu or fox-hunting would have a more interesting social impact, that’s for sure.

* * *

The 30-day ab. challenge (which took me 45 days) made a massively appreciable difference to my body.  I can put my hands on my waist feel something slightly firm.  I’ve even got suggestions of the start of paired vertical lines on my abdomen (rectus muscles?)

But like any crash diet, it was painful and boring and when the effects are no longer being admired and the commitment no longer a novelty, the tendency is to forget about it.  I simply don’t want to make time to do 100 sit-ups, 200 crunches, 100 leg-raises and 2 minutes plank every day, let alone extend this so that I can make some form of ‘progress.’  If anyone is so motivated for the sake of two little lines on their tummies, they are – quite simply – vain.

I need to be getting more out of my exercise.  And preferably I need exercise that I can get more out of at home, while the sprogs are (at best) in bed, in a bit of lounge 3m by 4m and with little in the way of specialist equipment.

Suddenly I’m no longer surprised that so many Mummy-types choose yoga.  I sigh and start to google.

Stereotype City.

‘Weight-loss yoga.’

‘Work-out that tones your butt, abs and legs’

This sort of headline came out tops in every search.  ‘Stress-boosting’ and ‘mind-energising’ and ‘feeling good’ were there too though, so hope was not lost.

And there are hundreds – literally – of videos to choose from.  Although of course, they heavily feature slim women with manicured eyebrows, magazine bodies, sports bras and frequently make-up, demonstrating a range of work-outs.  The one exception I’ve found so far was a video narrated by a man, though with a sculpted female following his instructions in front of an ‘atmospheric’ fire.

Other exciting locations include the desert and underneath various trees.  There is a surprising absence of ‘sunset’ films (google stills of yoga and there are hundreds); presumably it doesn’t work too well for the camera.

But there are plenty of other irritating features: ‘soothing’ Muzak riffs; camera shots that are too busy admiring the woman’s body to pan out and show you the shape you’re supposed to be copying; commentary that feels patronising (‘just sit it out if it’s too hard for you’) or else dismissive (‘just flip up here, like this’ as her toes elegantly tickle the backs of her ears).  Some of the exercise routinres around my level are labelled ‘hardcore’ in  some sort of amusing marketting bid, which is helping to make up for smugness lost when I am feeding strawberry tea to my kids.

But do you know the worst thing?  That I am enjoying it despite myself.  To go with some of the jargon:  there is something satisfying about getting ‘deep’ into a pose; getting your body to relax when it is, in a way, under stress; to pushing it deeper.  Alone, in my room, not worrying about people watching, I find I can get into the state they call ‘flow.’

In fact, I might be finding my exercise outlet:  it’s making me feel great.  I’m feeling toned despite sillhoette-altering side effects not feeling like the main advantage.

The only problem is that I’m distracted by a trick of the light: being the sort of person who is interested in yoga might be something with which I never, completely, come to terms.

About Kindness

Kindness is an old-fashioned virtue.

Alexander McCall-Smith characters muse about things like kindness.

My Grannie was a character and she talked about kindness a lot.  She wasn’t from Edinburgh or Botswana, but perhaps Alexander McCall-Smith met her once.

* * *

Anyway, I did an Internet personality test the other day and encountered the question

‘Would you prefer your children to grow up kind or smart?’

The version of Grannie that lives inside my head took it to mean ‘Would you rather your children were kind or formally dressed?’

I mentally explained that ‘smart’ means ‘clever’ nowadays.

‘Frightful Americansim,’ complained Grannie. ‘And awful grammar, too.’

She would have answered ‘kind’ though.  I ticked ‘smart;’ didn’t give it another thought.

* * *

‘You DID?’ Asks my friend Kai Lai, looking startled.  ‘Smart?  Why are we friends again?’

There is an awkward pause.

‘But hey!  Opposites attract,’ she adds cheerfully..  ‘That’s why we’re friends.’

* * *

I always loved June: days that go on forever, evenings you can climb a few V-diffs in (even if you worked til 7pm) and bats flickering across dusky skies.

But then kids happened.  Opportunities to appreciate bats and climbing are limited when lone-parenting.  Long days play havoc with sleepy-time.

‘It can’t be, Mummy.  The sky’s still light.  Why do I need to go to sleep when they sky’s so bright?’

‘Because you’re tired.’

Tears.  ‘But I’m not tired.’

‘Big Sprog. Just go to bloody sleep can’t you.  I need five minutes to myself before my bed-time.’

I’d like to pretend I don’t say things like that to my children.  I’d also like to pretend that I didn’t try to fob her off with stories about doing your best growing in your sleep (she now thinks that Auntie Kai Lai, who isn’t very tall, suffered from childhood insomnia).

And I’d particularly like to pretend that I haven’t tried to bellow her into submission.  But for the record, shouting ‘Go to SLEEP!’  doesn’t work either.

Tiddler is worse.  With Tiddler my only tactic is to exercise him until he’s knackered, timing it so that he falls over with exhaustion somewhere around 8pm.  If he drops too early or naps in the car driving home, I’ve had it.

Anyway, he wakes up early too, like a computer-game zombie that refuses to stay down.  ‘Hewwo, Mummy!’

I open my mouth to say ‘Hewwo, Tiddler,’ but other words have a nasty habit of slipping out.

This was the state of affairs before the heat-wave.  Add extreme heat, heat-rash, Mummy fear of sun-burn, child fear of sun-cream.  And imagine.  The only way I could get a smile out of Tiddler was to sit him in a bucket of water. Tiddler sat in a bucketful of water in the garden for the best part of two days.

When it got too hot even for that, we had some lively one-sided discussions about why he couldn’t bring the bucket of water into my living room where it was cooler.

* * *

Anyway: compassion fatigue happens.  It’s alarming how bored you get when they fall over for the hundredth time that day and start to bawl their eyes out through sheer exhaustion, hotness and frustration.

And of course, it’s not just them getting wound up.


‘I mean, Big Sprog.  Or whatever it is you want to be called these days *sigh*

‘Have you got your shoes on?

‘Put your shoes on.

‘What?  You’ve taken your socks off?  But I just put them on you.

‘Oh, for – OK get your socks on then.  Hurry up.

‘Oh for heaven’s sake come over here and I’ll do it for you.

‘NO!  Face me, Big Sprog.  TURN AROUND!

‘Look!  I’m helping you so you need to help me.  FACE ME!

‘Keep your FEET STILL!  Just behave yourself!

”Tod – Big Sprog.  Look down and PUT YOUR FOOT IN YOUR SOCK PLEASE!’

‘Right. Where are your shoes…..

‘What are you doing?  I thought you were looking for your shoes!   Stop pretending to be an aeroplane and PUT YOUR SHOES ON!’

And that’s straight after morning coffee, when I was about as fresh as it got.

* * *

That day it was fractionally cooler, so we went out.  We’d just got to the playpark when the sky went black and the clouds started to flicker.

No coats.  I put Big Sprog in the buggy with Tiddler on her knee and started to push them both home.  They were still smiling at this point.

But not for long.  I was just crossing the road, trying to pop the front wheels up onto the kerb, when I I realised the load was too heavy to lever up.  Shit!  The driver of the car that had stopped for us looked pissed off, but a nice man passing by lifted the front of the buggy up the kerb to help me out.  The buggy instantly buckled under the weight of two kids and the frame bent irreparably in half, spilling the children onto the pavement.

And then the rain arrived.

The passer-by should have bolted.

Instead, he offered to make a detour and carried one of my kids up the hill.

And waited while I rifled through the wreck of my buggy to find my keys.

And then waited while I admitted I’d lost my keys and broke into my house through quite a high window.

By the time I’d managed to open the door from the inside, the rain had stopped and the kids and bloke were standing, sopping wet, in the sun.  He politely declined a cup of tea.

I put the kids into a warm bath.  But the little one wanted to go outside in his bucket.  The first time I shouted was about that.  What made me shout even louder was when they argued over a shampoo bottle.

* * *

Then I remembered Bea Marshall ( ) saying that actually, it’s all about kindness:  being kind to your partner, your children and yourself.

So I phoned ‘Auntie’ Kai Lai and told her I needed help.  She turned up still in her work uniform with a takeaway and gossip.  She played with the kids for me til bedtime and an hour later I was feeling much better.

I’ve been working on kindness to myself since then.  I’ve never been another week without Ninja training, no matter how hot it’s been.  In an evening I sometimes do my core yoga even if I’m supposed to be doing another job.  And when I went to see the in-laws for a scheduled break, or drove them to Cornwall for a wedding, I let other people do a lot of the work.  My family are very kind.

And do you know?  Kindness pays off.  Because I am beginning to find the mental energy to be kind again. To calm down and hug them instead of shouting so much.  And often that’s all they want actually, and then they’ll co-operate and go find their shoes.

Of course we’re getting used to light nights and the weather’s a lot cooler now anyway.  Unless there’s another heat-wave, there’s no real ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison to be made and it’s all guesswork.

But I know now that Kai Lai, Bea Marshall, Grannie and (I suspect) Alexander McCall-Smith are all going to turn out to be right.

Kindness is important after all.

Chore Exercises

I have done exercise before.

I have walked for hundreds of miles because I love the fresh air, the landscape and the solitude.  I love the curiosities that I come across and the moment when an unexpected animal dashes across my path.

I have trailed along behind climbers because I love a climber.  I also love the adventure, the challenge and (some but not too much) excitement.  I love touching rock and I suppose I love swinging around on the end of a rope, remembering that various butresses are bigger, stronger and more awesome than me.

But the 30-day ab challenge is different.  Nobody is pretending that there is any motivation for doing this other than having exercised.  Exercise for exercises sake:  for nothing but changing my body.


We thirty-day ab challengees are not alone.  Plenty of people who run on roads to improve their fitness have told me that they hate running.  And I find it unlikely that the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK with a gym membership all love the inside of a gym.

Never-the-less, the girly magazines would have me believe that this sort of exercise is the norm; that it’s ‘good for me’ to keep fit.

I’ve heard that I should exercise to loose weight.  To avoid diabetes (ahem).  To have a good figure.  No pain, no gain.  Remember:  the tedious chore of uncomfortable exercise is important because it will make me look good and feel healthy in the end.

One might use similar language to persuade a young child to eat boiled cabbage.  Is it any surprise that each generation is doing less exercise than ever before?

And the worst thing is, that none of it is true!

Exercise doesn’t have to look like THIS:

It can look like THIS:



Or THIS! plus-sized-yoga-jessamyn-stanley-2.

You saw the This Girl Can promotion.

This Girl Can. Sport England

This Girl Can. Sport England

It’s full women loving what their bodies do for them!

Relishing the feel of endorphins running through their veins.

Because here’s the secret about exercise:  get it right and it feels good!

I used to have a pet rabbit called Misty.  Like many animals, you used to see Misty running up and down the garden for the sheer joy of it.  You never saw him counting his bunny-hops or doing X reps of 50, in order to promote his wasit-line or long-term health.

Sometimes it was different though; sometimes he’d run because he felt that he had to escape, either because I was coming to put him back in his hutch for the night, or once because he was chased by someone’s cat.

Which brings us nicely to physiology.

Say that Mistry is being chased.

His body goes into flight-or-fight mode, or stress mode.  The heart beats faster, the lungs breathe deeper.  Things that aren’t essential in that moment – salivary juice, gastric secretions, distracting sexual feelings (Misty had lots of those) get switched off.  Oh yes, and the sugar in the blood?  Well, with those cats hanging around, you never know when you’re going to need extra energy.  The stress-steroid, Cortisol, actually encourages it to be stored as fat for later.

Now comes the bit that I learned from a TED talk today (the speaker seems a bit nuts but she’s a biochemistry professor so I trust her).   It’s good:  watch it later at

The pace of modern life versus our cavewoman biochemistry: Dr Libby Weaver at TEDxQueenstown

Humans following an exercise program can force ourselves to train harder.  We can squeeze in a work-out that we don’t feel like doing between the office and home.  But in doing this, we risk persuading our already-stressed bodies that tiger-eating must be about to happen.  The body turns flight-or-fight mode on.  Blood cortisol increases.

Sexy feelings reduce.  Fat deposition increases.  And so on…..

I’d like to mention smugly that the fat thing’s OK by me because I’m not doing exercise to loose weight.  I rarely weigh myself nowadays – I no longer associate low numbers with awesomeness – and that’s very liberating.

But I AM doing the chore-abs by numbers because I want to feel stronger, firmer and more Ninja-like.

And it’s currently working.  I’m half-way through an feeling pretty good.  I can do handstands and monkey-bars like a kid again.  At the moment, I’m loving it because Becky and I are spurring each other on.  Because there’s rapport from the online team and it’s cool to see my body change.

But isn’t that like a crash diet just before you go on holiday?  The dieter would feel skinny, better-looking and more confident.  Yet research has shown that participants in diet projects are more likely to have gained weight 2 years later than people who never dieted in the first place.  Because despite initially fantastic results, maintaining a diet is hard for us:  we’re programmed to store food not waste it (that’s the cortisol kicking in), especially if it’s in short supply.

And guess what?  Maybe when core exercise ceases to be a novelty , it will become a daily chore – a stressor – that I have to fight to keep up.  Perhaps the stress steroid Cortisol will strike.

And it also may be possible that i am not narcissistic enough even to do one hundred daily sit-ups for the sake of my tummy.

So when it’s all over, and Becky and I have hi-fived each other and felt smug, won’t we just flop back to wobbly-belly syndrome?

Unless, of course, I find a way to turn chore exercise into joyful-like-Misty-in-the-garden exercise – exercise I am motivated to do for the joy of it.  The only woman I know who actually maintains a daily core work-out (and has done for the two years I have known her) does it because of the joy it brings to her climbing.


I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Ninja Training

“I thought you said you were going to become a ninja?”  asks hubby.

With alternating three-month blocks of locumming and childcare, my life is neatly split into chapters.  This means I’m always reiventing my goals:  I have more fresh starts than Miranda and Gary.

A childcare chapter is just beginning and the search has begun for something physical I can work on while supervising a Toddler and a Tiddler.  Hubby, as ever, is full of answers:

‘I thought you said you were going to become a Ninja.’

But what constitutes a ninja – exactly?  I didn’t really mean that I was going to join the medieval Japanese mercenary (although I’m sure I’d have blended right in).  Neither does modern-day martial art appeal: I’m a hippy at heart.

Yes, I hear what you say.  But Ninja’s such a cool word.  Perhaps I could just redefine it to mean someone who looks good in a cat-suit?

No, wait…..

Maybe just someone who feels fit?  Who ripples as they walk around?  (I, for the record, have occasionally been fit after mountain walks, but never in my life have I rippled).

And of course, when I was fit I didn’t ‘feel’ fit.  I suspect I’m someone who takes any fitness I have for granted and concentrates on the fact that I’m not fitter.

The problem I am leading to, of course, is that there’s no objective goal here.  How would I identify that I had reached ‘Ninjadom’ even if I ever got there?

But there’s no point worrying about the finer details.  It’s the start of June, hubby’s about to leave and nobody’s come up with a better idea.

Ninjadom it is.

On Facebook there’s a thing called the June Abs Challenge.  I click, because Ninjas probably need good abs.

I see a guy who might be South African or Australian or from somewhere else in the world entirely, who is so busy pumping iron that he doesn’t do any gardening.  You can see the dandilions pushing out between the flags on his backyard.  He has set up a Facebook event involving the mass performance of a 30-day abs workout.

Like the Personal-Trainer stereotype in my head, he is warm and likable but talks downwards.  He tells me unequivocally that I need to use a yoga-mat if I do my exercises outside, then neglects to use one himself.  ‘I don’t use one down to personal preference,’ he mutters at one point, to show that as an immortal soul his own rules don’t apply to him.

Then he apologises for his ‘form’ in the sit-ups, adding that he never does sit-ups himself.

What is this?!?!  And yet you want me to do hundreds of the bloody things?

Then again, he probably does one-armed leg-raises on the monkey-bars or something instead.  And he isn’t asking me for any money.

I decide that I can probably once again put up with being a pu- pu- punt- p- punt-arrrghh!


One sit-up completed.  Nobody saw me tugging on the weeds coming up from between the flagstones of my patio there, did they?

Oh good.  So how many more of these things do I have to do, then?  Gotta say; the ground’s really hard around here.  I could do with a yoga-mat or something.

Anyway; day three.  I’m sticking with it.  I have an extremely tidy lounge (I have to clear the kids’ train-track and Duplo away every time I want to exercsie in my own living room).

Yes, I hear what you say.  It is high summer and life should be full of opportunities to exercise outside.  But not so.  My garden is horrifically sloping, making sit-ups either very hard or very easy.  And when I tried to do my challenge at the play-park, the planks ruined the whole thing.

That is, the wobbly planks that the kids walk on:  one of them’s on a pivot they kept needing me to get up and hold their hands as they walked along it.  I would like to say that they also walked along my planks, but –

Yeah.  I’m sure you don’t need me to describe the pile of Tiddler and Toddler on top of a very flat Mummy on the floor.

Then there were the three young guys with six-packs who kept balance-walking around the top of the fence around the playpark.  Climbers, I suspect.  When they turned up, I prosponed the whole project until after kiddy bedtime.

Yes, yes.  I hear what you’re thinking: a ninja wouldn’t care about what other people thought about them.

But you know something?  Becoming a Ninja probably takes time.