The wait is over, time now to lose the weight

Dumbbells

Between 2006–2007 I lost six inches (15 cm) off my waist, through a combination of changing what I ate, lifting weights, and regular cycling. My motivation was to get fit in anticipation of our IVF treatment working and us having children; we now have three.

Fast forward seven years and sadly I’ve put it all back on again. A combination of being on the parent-of-twins’ sleep deprivation programme, two back injuries (from lifting babies and pushing buggies), two neck injuries (what happens when twins jump onto your head from behind), and last year’s episode of meningitis.

Back in September my GP told me not to push myself: meningitis takes it out of you. He predicted that my stamina might return in January or February of this year. Now we’re approaching the end of February I feel it’s time to start working myself a little harder. The fact that it’s Lent — traditionally a time of increased discipline — should also help.

My plan is that I’m going to start gently and gradually build up my level of fitness. My immediate ground rules are:

  • Drink more water
  • Go to bed earlier (sleep is really important)
  • No chocolate
  • No fizzy drinks
  • Lift weights (dumb bells) 2–3 times a week
  • Cycling 1–2 times a week

I have to admit to feeling a little nervous. I know that I’ve done this before, but back then I was younger and I didn’t so easily experience the back and neck pain that I can now. I’ve never really been good at pacing myself, it’s time for a crash course (I guess, without actually crashing).

I’ll report back with my progress.

The boys ‘helping’ me with my studies

Boys on the desk
Reuben, Joshua and Isaac ‘helping’ me with my studies

 

For the next few days I’m on a course at work looking at DSDM Atern agile project management. It’s certified, so I have exams on Wednesday morning (foundation) and Thursday afternoon (practitioner).

When I got home last night, after dinner, I decided to sneak upstairs and get about 45 minutes of study in before the boys had to go to bed.

It turns out Reuben, Joshua, Isaac and monkey had different ideas and came to ‘help’ me study.

NYCGB alumni in Sheffield

NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)
NYCGB alumni in Sheffield (Photo by Rob Colbert)

Last weekend I travelled down to Sheffield to meet up with about 40 other alumni of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain ()for a weekend of singing, reminiscing and a lot of laughter.

Last year we had our first get-together and concert in Spitalfields in London, and decided that this year we ought to meet in “the north”.

Friday

I arrived in Sheffield on Friday afternoon, after a five hours’ train journey south to reach the north; remarkably there was a direct, cross-country train from Cupar to Sheffield.

After buying a hat (to replace the one I accidentally left in my car in Cupar) and having been accosted by a couple of “chuggers” both on my way to and from Marks & Spencer, I made my way up the hill to Broomhill to check in at the Rutland Hotel on Glossop Road.

Rutland Weekend Wallpaper
Rutland Weekend wallpaper

The room was… interesting. A kind of modern, 70s retro with a photograph of a giant woman’s head on the wall behind the bed. Other friends staying there reported similar photographs in their rooms. I guess you can never really feel lonely in those rooms.

In the evening I met up with my friend Simon (aka Goose) and we took a walk over to the Ranmoor area of Sheffield to meet up with more friends (Mike and Rachel, Duncan, Simon W) at the Ranmoor Inn on Fulwood Road, and yet another friend (Sworrell) at the Ranmoor Tandoori a few doors down.

What fun and jolly japes we had. Although, the chicken dopiaza wasn’t nearly as good as from our local Indian restaurant (the signature onions were not cooked enough). I finally crawled into bed around 01:30.

Saturday

Rehearsals began shortly after noon, in St Mark’s church, Broomhill which was conveniently right next door to the hotel.

It was so good to catch up with people, some of whom I’ve not seen for 15 or 20 years. And yet we just picked up from where we left off, and soon the years disappeared and there we all were like teenagers again sitting in rehearsals… and misbehaving!

I sat on the back row (of course!) between my good friend Andy and a guy called Will who left the National Youth Training Choir last year. It was so good that we had alumni there from all eras of the choir, from when it started in 1983 right to last year.

Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal
Ben Parry conducting our rehearsal

There is something wonderful about creating music as a choir, creating something out of nothing using only our voices. There is something intimately personal about that because our voices are so unique to each of us, and in the choir we listen to one another and blend our voices together in music. And there is something magical about the sound that NYCGB makes.

We rehearsed for about four hours and I must have smiled and laughed through most of those 240 minutes. The small, informal concert that we put on at the end of the day (which I meant to record but erm… forgot that I needed to press record TWICE on the Zoom H2 digital recorder), even with so little rehearsal, still sounded better than every other choir that I’ve sung in… even when we busked elements of it (I’m looking at you, page 7 of “Butterfly”).

Our programme:

  1. My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land—Elgar
  2. L’amour de Moi—arr. Swingle
  3. Wie Liegt die stadt—Mauersberger
  4. Sourwood Mountain—Rutter
  5. Three Shakespeare Songs—Vaughan Williams
  6. And So It Goes—Billy Joel arr. The King’s Singers
  7. Butterfly—Makaroff
  8. The Bluebird—CV Stanford
  9. Shenandoah—arr. Erb

Songs rehearsed but not performed

  • Hymn to St Cecilia—Britten
  • Evening Song—Kodaly

In the evening we piled back to the Rutland for dinner, which I didn’t particularly enjoy but at the end of the day it wasn’t about the food but the company. We inevitably retired to the bar for more chat, memories, and laughter and I finally found my bed sometime after 02:00.

More photos are on the NYCGB alumni site.

Sunday

Survivors' breakfast
Survivors’ breakfast

The following morning the survivors’ met for a hearty breakfast before returning to our own particular corners of the UK.

Goose kindly dropped me at Sheffield station where I caught the train to Edinburgh… and stood most of the way due to a lack of seats. Or rather, it had a lot of seats—it’s just there were other people sitting in them.

Many thanks

A huge thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible and such a success. Thanks to Ben Parry and the staff at NYCGB HQ, particularly Emily. Thanks to Mike Jeremiah for his local knowledge and helping finalise the venue. And finally thanks to all the alumni who gave up a weekend to relive their youth.

Next year…

Well, that was fun. Let’s do it again next year. I propose back in London. Maybe we could even get the Royal Albert Hall. It would be fun to perform there again.

Backpack hack

Cabin Max Tallinn
Cabin Max Tallinn – Flight Approved Backpack for EasyJet & BA hand luggage

About a year ago I bought myself a new backpack, the Cabin Max Tallinn, for about £25. The reviews were favourable (average of 4/5 stars) and when it arrived I was delighted with it: mainly because it was more compact than the large rucksack that I bought for a trip to California about a decade ago.

I packed it and headed off to Glasgow and then London to seek my fame and fortune attend the first NYCGB Alumni choir singing day. It was a timely opportunity to road test the bag.

That four day trip identified two main issues. This wasn’t quite the bag that I thought it was.

However, I don’t like throwing stuff away, and I don’t like sending stuff back because it’s not 100% what I want it to be. This bag was about 95% the way there. I like the whole computer hacker culture (not to be confused with the illegal ‘cracker’) so…

Open zipped pocket

Zipped pocket that I've now sewn up
Zipped pocket that I’ve now sewn up

The first issue was that in the middle compartment there was a small, meshed pocket with a zip. I looked at that and thought it was the perfect size to store a passport, for example.

There was one small snag: the top of the zip wasn’t sewn down. So even when the zip was closed you could still slide items into the meshed pocket beneath the zip.

Who designed that?! It was like a shirt pocket with a redundant zip sewn into the top seam.

I wrote to Cabin Max and asked if this was a fault or a feature. It turned out to be a feature. I told them this was ridiculous and whoever it was I corresponded with agreed and said that she would pass on my feedback.

So I got my sewing kit out and completed the job: I sewed the zip down so that when the zip was closed it was… well, closed.

No inner straps

Cabin Max Tallinn inner straps
Cabin Max Tallinn inner straps

It wasn’t until a later trip last year that I realised there was another problem: if I didn’t pack the back completely full (as I had done for the London trip) then my clothes and whatever else I put in the large, main compartment just rattles around in there.

What this bag was missing, that every other rucksack or suitcase I own has, were straps inside that would allow me to tie down whatever I place into the main compartment.

So today I added my own. Having bought a couple of quick release tie-down straps online last week—the kind that people use for strapping things to their golf caddies (I believe)—this evening I measured them up (using the straps in my giant rucksack as a template) glued them in and sewed them down. Job done.

This weekend I’m heading to Sheffield for the second NYCGB alumni concert. I’ll report back how I get on with my two alterations to my bag.