…To Be A Dad.

"Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a Dad." ~Author Unknown

…To Be A Dad. wedding day

You? On a diet?

June 3rd, 2013 · food, health

michael moseley trousers

Dr Michael Moseley. Life-changer?

“It’s not a diet”, I smiled, lining up the spark to further inflame my colleague’s casual indignation at the thought of any diet, let alone this new fad. “It’s a lifestyle”. He turned away, spluttering his displeasure, much to my amusement.

And it’s true. I’m not on a diet whose sole, or even primary benefit is to lose weight. I’m on a diet to live longer and healthier. Though weight loss certainly does follow too.

Last summer, The BBC showed a TV programme in their long-running science series, “Horizon”, called “Eat, Fast, Live Longer”. For me, like many others it has been a life-changing hour of TV.

Frustratingly, the copyright holders (BBC Worldwide) seem unwilling to publish it online (though I have found a few copies on Vimeo). There has at least been a follow-up book – an Amazon best-seller – by the presenter of the original programme, Dr Michael Moseley: “The Fast Diet”.

The book and TV programme both detail the science behind this diet, but in a very crude nutshell, there is strong evidence that periodic fasting causes the body to go into a recovery mode that prolongs life. The other result of the fasting is, unsurprisingly, weight loss.

So what do you have to do?

It is very simple. For 2 days a week, you limit your daily intake of calories to 500 for a woman or 600 for a man. The other 5 days of the week you can eat anything. That’s right: anything.

On fasting days I tend to eat 2 meals of 300 calories – one in the morning, one in the evening – and simply skip lunch. Sure, I get hungry around noon but by about 2pm the feeling has passed and rather than hunger there is just a vague awareness that I could eat something. I fill the day with fruit teas and keep busy. It’s a combination that works for me.

So how has it affected me?

Well, first the simple stats:
I have been doing this for 3 months.
I have lost 5.7Kg (12.5 pounds).
My body’s fat has dropped from 21% to around 17%.
My body’s muscle has increased from 36.5% to around 38%.
The score for my body’s amount of visceral fat (the fat around organs) has reduced from 7 to 5. (Measurements courtesy of my Omron scales.)
My waist size (for trousers) has gone down from 34″ to 32″.
My blood pressure has reduced from 140/90 to 130/75.

Secondly, how I feel. Obviously I am pleased with the results and what they should mean for my health, so psychologically it has given me a lift. I had been trying to exercise away my unwanted “spare tyre” for some time without success. And I had been at a loss as to how to lower my blood pressure. So to make this change in just 3 months is a welcome step. I also have more energy. Even on fast days I commute to and from work on my bike. The only down side is that sometimes after fasting my sleep seems more unsettled (but I’m not sure how co-incidental this is).

The next step for me is to rebuild the muscle that has dropped off me since trips to the gym with the beautiful people got replaced by trips to the ball-pit with little people. So my focus is turning to exercise. I would like to keep fasting, perhaps a 6:1 regime in place of 5:2, so that the benefits are maintained. Expect an update here in a couple of months time.

In the meantime I am seeking out any new research in this area and, of course, others’ experiences… starting with any comments here and the chatter over at the 5:2 Fast Diet Forum.

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May 3rd, 2013 · music

I lost my mojo. I don’t know where. I don’t know when. But one day I woke and realised it was gone.  And not just any old mojo: my creative mojo. My blogging mojo was bad enough, but worst of all, I realised I had lost my musical mojo.

There was a time that it was unthinkable for me to spend a weekend without picking up my guitar and trying to write a song. Suddenly I found years had gone by without me so much recording a single line. Oh sure I’d pick up the guitar from time to time and sing to myself, but apart from what got stuck in that giant tape recorder called the human brain, by the time I put down my instrument there would be no trace that I ever had an idea. I left no mark.

Then I noticed something else. I had no enthusiasm for listening to music. I searched my music collection, I searched iTunes, I searched internet radio in the hope of rediscovering the music I loved many moons ago. But when I found it I was mostly let down or was soon bored. This is a kind of emotional death I never faced before. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, when a man is tired of music, perhaps he is tired of life.

Then a few months ago a friend tweeted the name of a new artist to me and I heard for the first time something that made me believe that, despite the dross on TV and the so-called talent shows that seek out the most marketable product with the lowest common denominator of appeal, there was after all hope of finding music that was vital, alive and and life enhancing. My saviour? A 19-year old who has been called the council estate Dylan: Jake Bugg.

A few weeks after this discover I browsed without much hope through the recommendations of Deezer. I hit play on a track by a woman with a distinctive appearance to find she had an equally distinctive voice with which she sang a beautiful song. It was “Father Father” by Laura Mvula.

Finally, today, I trusted in another recommendation and was rewarded with an album so full of musical and lyrical talent as to take my breath away. The opening track alone – Things that Stop You Dreaming – contained some of the best lyrics I have heard in years. The album was “All the Little Lights” by Passenger.

And with these new voices I feel perhaps I may yet rediscover my own voice. But even if I publish nothing for weeks, months, who know how long… at least my faith in music is somewhat restored. And with it, I feel, my musical mojo.

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BBC News – Al-Shabab radio gives weapons prize to Somali children

September 20th, 2011 · Uncategorized

What hope is there for these children in a culture with this sort of mentality.


BBC News – Al-Shabab radio gives weapons prize to Somali children.

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Final word (on this whole “both kids in same school” thing)

September 16th, 2011 · lucy, school, Uncategorized

Last October’s post:

I am picturing a little girl. She has blond hair and blue eyes. She is wearing a polo shirt with her school’s emblem on its breast. Holding a picture she has drawn for me, she shouts “Daddy” as she runs towards me from her classroom, the same classroom in which her brother spent the previous year on his entry to school.

Today’s post:

Mission accomplished.

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The Long and Winding Road

September 9th, 2011 · education, lucy, oliver, reflections, school

Way back in October last year, I wrote a post about picturing my daughter in her school uniform going to the same school as her big brother. It was a battle cry, asserting my dream and my intention to grasp it whatever it may take.

This week, the dream became reality and I had the privilege of taking Lucy to her first session at the school. It was a session where parents stay and play, get to know the teachers and help settle their children in the new environment.

Lucy loved it (as did I!). She was literally skipping around the classroom.

Today Hayley took her to the second session, this one without parents. There were no tears whatsoever and she enjoyed her time once again. Fantastic.

But best of all, a little piece of last year’s dream came true today, when both kids walked to school together and Hayley was able to take this picture. Such an ordinary picture, with such an extraordinary story.


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Blasts from their Pasts

August 16th, 2011 · lucy, music, oliver

Tonight before the kids went to bed, I told them I would play them the songs that remind me of each of them the most and they had to guess which was theirs. To help hold their attention I found Youtube clips of each song.

Oliver guessed the first was his. Lucy abstained.

Oliver was right, though his reasoning was somewhat off – that because a man was singing it, then that song must be for him. (In fact men sing both songs.) When we played Lucy’s song she was rather unimpressed, but I think that was more to do with the video being rather abstract.

So here they are. Both songs take me straight back to when each of my little ones was a mere bump.

This one is Oliver’s.

And here is Lucy’s.

Despite the deep emotions these songs stir within me, I managed to restrict my emotional outpourings to giving them both a big hug and telling them how much I loved them… only to spoil it all by rambling at length about the meaning of their final video of the evening, Oliver’s favourite, where “the whites keep going, don’t they Daddy” as Lucy put it.

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Home alone (with a radio)

August 5th, 2011 · heaton moor, house, music, radio, sleep

I have been deserted. In a nice way. Hayley and the kids are visiting friends and family in Wiltshire, so I’m home alone. So how am I coping?

Well, despite my confidence that I would maximise use of my available time, both to do jobs around the house and to enjoy a little “me time”, I have thus far performed like the archetypally inept bloke.

I started my solitary sojourn by spending about 90 minutes finishing my working day (even though I was at home on my sofa by this point). This continued until I got a text from a friend reminding me I should be at a comedy club. Bugger.

So resigning myself to an unfunny evening in front of the TV, I got an early night with the intention of getting to work bright and early the next day… so that I could leave at 12.30pm and start to make better use of my time. My usual alarm clock is Oliver coming in to the bedroom no later than 7am. As he wasn’t available, I set my radio to come on at 6.30am and turned in for the night.

My next conscious moment was when I looked at the clock, wondering how close to 6.30am it was, only to find it was 8.58am. Bugger.

Thereafter things did improve. I escaped work mid-afternoon, mowed and strimmed the garden, then rewarded myself with a trip to the pub for a dinner of cheese ‘n’ onion pie and a pint of Marco Pierre White’s “The Governor” ale. I have justified this to myself by equating the calories expended in the garden with those consumed in the pub. (No need to check my figures folks, trust me.)

But how am I coping without the constant hustle and bustle of my family around me. I kid you not when I say that I already miss that. Sure, it’s nice to have some peace. And the infrequency of my blogging is testament to its rarity. But the silence is eerie at times.

No matter. I have a constant companion: the radio. Mostly tuned to BBC Radio 4. Already this week it has educated me in the arguments about how to fix the economy; entertained me this afternoon with a play about someone who applies the duodecimal system a little too enthusiastically; intrigued me with an account of how Mikael Gorbachev lost his grip on power thanks to his own democratic initiatives; and this evening rekindled memories of my youth as I listened to Simon Day interview Pete Hook.

That interview was particularly resonant. Hook described how after 30 years he is playing music he wrote as a 21-year old bassist in a band. And when he performs this music now, his own 21-year old son plays bass in his band. “Spooky”, was his assessment.

I would love my own son – or my daughter for that matter – to one day play music with me. Of course they already do. For example, singing and playing percussion to my rendition of Daydream Believer on the guitar the other evening at bedtime. A priceless experience. So I hope their love of music – and tolerance of their Dad’s playing – will continue for many years.

Tomorrow I’ll get busy, decluttering the house of some of the old and broken toys the kids would no doubt claim are indispensable were they here. And then I may set up the PC to record some music. But whatever I get up to tomorrow, you can be pretty sure my usual background soundtrack of two cacophonous kids will be replaced by my trusty radio.

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July 24th, 2011 · lucy, oliver, school, siblings

It was back in December 2009 that we had to choose which school Oliver would attend. I can still picture that fateful day. We were driving along a road close to our home under a grey sky. It was almost the toss of a coin between his catchment school and another equally good school that was closer to our home but actually in a different catchment area.

“Well”, we said “if he gets into the out-of-catchment school then so will Lucy, because siblings are highest priority after kids in care or with Special Educational Needs. And if he doesn’t get a place there, so be it. They’ll both go to our catchment school.”

Three months later he got his place at the out-of-catchment school, the closer school to our home. Job done. All happy.

Or so we thought. It was a chance conversation overheard in the park only a month later that set in motion 15 months of struggle and stress. Another local Mum was saying that the local education authority had changed the rules such that the only siblings given a high priority to get into a school were to be those living in the catchment area. This meant Lucy was at risk of not getting into her brother’s school.

We immediately asked about changing our choice of school for Oliver, but basically it was too late.

We (along with 40 other parents similarly caught out) objected to the change in rules, complaining that we hadn’t been properly consulted. This was not only borne out by the fact we had no idea about the possibility of a change in the rules but also by the fact that the local authority had missed deadlines to publish information in the local press (which in any case was a tiny article buried in the back of a free local newspaper – hardly a sure-fire way to reach your intended audience of busy mothers and fathers).

Despite the validity of our objection, to our amazement, our objection was not upheld.

We lobbied local councillors and even our Member of Parliament who was supportive of our position. But the local authority would not budge.

We thought about moving house. We eventually decided against and gambled that Lucy would still get a place at her brother’s school.

The gamble failed. She was allocated a place at her catchment school.

So we played the final roll of the dice before she would start school. We lodged an appeal for her to gain a place at Oliver’s school.

As I mentioned in my last post, that appeal was heard on Wednesday. We didn’t hold out much hope as the law supports class sizes of no more than 30 children, so to award an extra place required a very large weight of evidence that to do so would be unreasonable in the extreme.

Yesterday we got the letter telling us the result of our appeal.

It was upheld. We won!

It was a moment of inexpressible euphoria wrapped up in a blanket of shock and semi-disbelief. I had to read the letter several times to convince myself it was real.

After all these months, the appeal panel not only awarded Lucy her place on the basis of our personal circumstances, but specifically mentioned the fact that we had not been properly consulted with the result that we were placed in the position of having children at separate schools.

Not only that, but it would appear that all the siblings in the same position had their appeals upheld. So six extra children need to be accommodated. The school have some sorting out to do there, but to be fair, we pointed out to them lots of ways to accommodate a few more pupils were we to be successful. And on top of that, Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Education) has recently announced an extra £500million for the extra places needed this September. (I can hardly believe I have him to thank and praise for doing so!)

So my dream of seeing Lucy going to school with her big brother is going to come true after all. I can’t tell you how happy that has made the whole family. And I really do include Oliver and Lucy in that. As soon as we told Lucy the news yesterday she was so excited and told people about it all day long. Even friends noticed how happy she was about it and how confident she suddenly seemed. It really was uncanny. Quite unprompted, when round at the house of a fellow Dad yesterday evening, she even sat on his knee and cuddled up to him, which is an absolute first for Lucy.

So last night we celebrated with champagne and some damned fine pie courtesy of some friends who are fellow parents at Oliver’s school. It felt like the end of a hard road. But it also felt like a new beginning. A very happy new beginning.

I would like to thank all the friends who have been so supportive for the last 15 months. From those who babysat the kids while we attended meetings to those who gave us such valuable advice and to those who simply offered encouragement and words of support on-line. We couldn’t have got through this without you. You know who you are and we thank you.


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July 21st, 2011 · lucy, school

Many months ago I posted about the long struggle to get both our children into the same school. After deciding to take our chances and gamble that Lucy would get a place at Oliver’s school, even though the local authority had changed the admissions criteria, we got the bad news in April that our gamble had not paid off.

So faced with having our children in different schools – not to mention a whole host of exacerbating circumstances that I won’t go into here – we decided to appeal.

Yesterday was the day of our appeal.

It’s the closest thing I have ever experienced to going to court. The local authority put their case as to why our daughter should not get a place (which is basically that they have allocated 30 places and can’t go over that), then we got the chance to question them on that.

Then we put our case. I drafted it in full to make sure I missed nothing. All in all it only took about30-40 minutes to present it, but I can tell you that the months, weeks and days leading up to it as we compiled our case were some of the most stressful I have ever experienced. I’m used to presenting arguments to meetings at work, but never with so much hanging on the outcome. (My apologies to those I work with who may feel my daughter’s school is not as crucial as their multi-million pound contract…. but it is.)

The panel make their decision at the end of the day of the hearings for the school in question. And today the result will have gone into the post.

Tomorrow we find the result.

The criteria to succeed is so demanding – and the success rate in cases such as this that are covered by Infant Class Size regulations so low – that even the specialist firm of solicitors we contacted basically told us we had a 50-1 chance and virtually told us not to bother hiring them. (So we didn’t.)

Nonetheless we felt we had a good case and consequently went ahead. There’s really no knowing how it went. The panel played poker faces and at times seemed distracted. Their questions too were limited and somewhat seemed to have missed the point of what we had been telling them. But all these impressions were shared by others who had appeals yesterday, so it tells us nothing for sure.

So we await tomorrow’s post.

Meanwhile, I have been told this week that my job is under threat of redundancy. About 1 in 7 of my department is to be made redundant. The assessments were made today in private for ratification tomorrow and Monday. From Tuesday onwards everyone is told their fate. My appointed slot to find out is not until Thursday afternoon. So I have a further week to wait to find out my future.

So all in all, much of my life is in limbo. Thankfully the kids are oblivious. So if you’ll excuse me I’m off to put them to bed. Because that’s a pleasure no limbo can spoil.

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The Fresh Air Fund

July 20th, 2011 · Uncategorized

OK, I’m going to break my blogging silence very briefly to reward the tenacity of Sara over at The Fresh Air Fund, an organisation that connects families who are prepared to open up their hearts and their homes to kids from the city to give them a fresh air experience that could change their life forever.

Let me say now that this appears to be limited to the east coast of the USA, which is not exactly my patch, but as someone who grew up in the countryside and never lost his love of it, I think this is a simple idea worth supporting.

You can read more over at the Fresh Air Fund website where it will tell you in which areas they are seeking host families.

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