Hysterics with a hula hoop!

Hooping for blogNo pain, no gain, right? That’s what I told myself when I discovered my waist was black and blue after my first day of weighted hula-hooping!  I can’t recall what inspired this latest hobby; maybe it was a rejection of the approach of so-called middle-age: a desire to reclaim my carefree school days, or maybe it was just another way to get fit that doesn’t involve going to the gym!

Jerking my waist in circular motions, I was pleasantly taken aback that I could keep the hoop circling my waist for a few rotations.  And the more I tried, the longer it stayed up, so the satisfaction that ensued meant I overdid the first day or two; just a wee bit!  Not that I realised at the time; it was the discovery of bruises on my waist the next day that gave my stupidity away!

Soon I became in synch with my hula-hoop and as the jerking gradually turned into a fluid rhythm, the bruises became a faded-memory.  But after a few weeks, waist-hooping was not enough and I found myself poring over you tube tutorials on how to give your whole body a workout.  And there I found my quest: lifting the hula hoop smoothly from waist-to-chest.  The tutorials made it look simple; so fluid and so fabulous and yet, however I contorted my body; trying to move the hoop up, it defiantly stayed at my waist.  Frustrated, I read countless articles and avidly-watched tutorials in my determination to achieve this manoeuvre and yet week-after-week and month-after-month, the hula-hoop refused to budge.  Throw in the odd twinge of back pain from jerking my waist into contorted positions and this manoeuvre remained a tempting, and yet, untouchable enigma.

So between frustrated attempts at the seemingly-impossible, I attempted neck-hooping.  Oh my!  As the weighted hoop kept rotating and slamming into my windpipe, I wondered, through the pain, if I was doing something wrong, or whether these online hoopers, who make it look so easy, have de-sensitised rubber necks from months and years of neck-hooping. Not one to give up, I persevered and was soon rewarded with pain-free, neck-hooping; it was just a case of finding the rhythm!

And then I had my eureka moment!  Unbelievably, maybe four months later, having thought it would never happen, I finally lifted the hoop from waist-to-chest and back again and I no longer looked like a strutting chicken in the process!

Fast-forward to the present day and I can smoothly waist-hoop, put my hands through the hoop to neck-hoop and then lower it back down again, as well as lifting the hoop from waist-to-chest.  All without touching the hoop or letting it fall.  Was it worth the months of frustration and regular back twinges?  Hmm…if you want an easy way to get fit, from the comfort of your own home and that is really fun in the process, I’d say so!

Watch your space! (Some) Drivers dangerously overtaking cyclists

As the lorry thundered past me on a rural road, the resulting drag pushed my cycle to one side and nearly resulted in a fall.  Whether the fall would have been onto the pavement, or the oncoming traffic is speculation as thankfully I quickly brought the bike under control.  Although, as a newbie-cleat-wearer, the momentary terror caused by the wobble was intensified!  Sadly, this example is not a one-off, as most times I venture out on my cycle, either a car, a lorry, or a tractor, will inevitably fail to slow down, or give me much space as they overtake.   Having said that, I must herald the lovely lorry drivers I have also encountered; on a few occasions I have been taken aback when a lorry slows right down and patiently waits until they can pass safely!  I read a great article recently which included pictures of cyclists being overtaken by vehicles and certainly provided food for thought.

One of my pet hates is drivers not giving cyclists enough space, or failing to slow down, when overtaking: whether I am the cyclist, or a driver observing another driver’s lack of consideration.  Few motorists seem to have read, or pay attention to, the rules on overtaking in the highway code which stipulate that drivers should:

give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211-213) and (214-215)

And few seem to consider what it is like for a cyclist as they streak past, inches from a cyclist’s side.  On a couple of occasions I have been bruised by passing wing mirrors and I often wonder why some drivers don’t think about the safety of cyclists when overtaking. Surely it is common sense and consideration to leave plenty of space? Or are some drivers so confident in their own driving ability that they think the space is adequate?   Think of the pleasant cycling experience we would have if part of the driving test included riding a horse and a bicycle to experience how terrifying it can be when drivers fail to show cyclists consideration!

Apparently helmet-wearing, gender and position on the road are all factors associated with how much space a driver tends to give when overtaking a cyclist.  Controversially, research from Bath University showed that cyclists not wearing a helmet were given 8.5cm more clearance by cars and when donning female wigs, the researchers were given even more clearance, (14cm) than apparent males in helmets.   However, the cyclists’ position on the road changed everything; cancelling the difference in space at times.  Dr Walker, the traffic psychologist from the University,  told the BBC that he thought the reason drivers give less room to cyclists wearing helmets is because they see them as “Lycra-clad street warriors” and believe they are more predictable than those without.

Quick to highlight the importance of helmet-wearing, the BBC also quoted a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents who insisted:

We wouldn’t recommend that people stop wearing helmets because of this research. Helmets have been shown to reduce the likelihood of head and brain injuries in a crash.

A friend, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, fell off his bike a few years ago (no car involved) when turning a corner and after being told at the hospital how lucky he was not to have suffered worse injuries,  he vowed he would always wear a helmet from then on.

I always wear a helmet so can not comment on drivers passing space with, or without, helmet; but I have found that if I hug the curb, drivers tend to think it is okay to speed past with very little space, whereas when I venture closer to the middle of the road, cars tend to slow down before overtaking.  Is this a case of you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t though: hugging the curb you are presumably less likely to be hit by a car, but closer to the centre you are less likely to experience the drag-wobble as vehicles would have to slow down? This is not a position for the faint-hearted though!

Perhaps the way forward is to scrap the lycra and don spike-encrusted cages…maybe after a few scratches, drivers might approach cyclists with more caution…not sure about going uphill dressed like that though!  Maybe instead we could settle for lots more cycle lanes and ones that are more than a few inches across!



The frozen joys of winter cycling

Pure water!

Pure water!

Red mottled skin around the thighs; ice-cold to touch, icy ears as the biting-wind whistles past, painfully numb fingers and a red patch where my cycling tights end and my over-boots fail to meet: welcome to the joys of winter cycling in the UK!

At the end of last summer, I wrote a post about the cyclist’s tan: the fetching white thighs, white upper arms and white hands, contrasting with tanned skin that has been exposed on many bike rides; making for an interesting look in a swimsuit!  So I found it mildly amusing, after peeling my lycra off, to re-discover that even in the winter, cyclists encounter different patches of skin colour.  Although – unlike the cyclist’s tan – the red and white winter combination fortunately only lasts for a few minutes post-cycle! Wearing a new helmet for the first time, I was also rewarded with a V-sign imprinted to my forehead: V for victorious I mused as I clocked it in the mirror, although V for valiant effort, is probably more appropriate!

Today was a milestone for me as I normally prefer to hang up the helmet in the winter months; preferring the warmth of a spin class instead, but acutely aware of losing confidence with cleats, I knew that I needed to get back on the saddle and brave the elements! Frozen-fingers and ears, barking guard dogs and muddy roads aside, breezing past the long, open fields with only cows, horses and tractors for company, today’s winter cycle ride will hopefully spur on a few more!

The trend for extravagant teachers’ gifts

Gifts for teachersPressing his bag of homemade biscuits into Miss Smith’s hands, little Billy’s eager face looked expectantly into her eyes and as she expressed her heartfelt thanks at such a thoughtful gift, he felt a warm flush of pride.  Next in line, little Polly handed over her exquisitely-wrapped present and smiled in joy as Miss Smith un-wrapped a beautiful large box of high-end toiletries…

Parental gifts to teachers have become increasingly expensive in recent years, with tales of exorbitant gifts on the rise: Tiffany bracelets, a Mulberry handbag, £200 of opera house vouchers and gift vouchers worth £1000 were reported in the Independent, 17 July, 2014.  Many of us will have witnessed mothers tottering in the school gate, weighed down with their luxury, high-end gift bags; leaving others to feel they need to shuffle through the door with their box of biscuits, or bunch of flowers from the market, or their garden.  Apparently the phenomena is becoming so commonplace in some schools, that they have had to introduce rules to cap the value of presents that teachers can accept.

Going back to our imagined Miss Smith, I wonder how she feels unwrapping her high-end gift set?  Is she delighted, or embarrassed, at the indulgent gift?  Grubby fingers and runny-nose-worries aside,  do the homemade biscuits mean more to her – due to the thought and time that has gone into them – or now that expensive gifts are on the rise, are homemade ones quickly discarded?

And what drives the parents to spend so extravagantly?  Is it a case of keeping up with the Joneses, is it a demonstrative show of wealth, are they trying to curry favour with the teacher (and if so, does it ever work?), or is it simply a kind thank you for an exceptional and demanding job? Should the expensive-gift-givers stop to wonder how it makes the other parents, or teachers, or children feel; or would they even care?

One friend, who has four children, pointed out that with multiple children there comes multiple teachers and teaching assistants to buy for: in her case a minimum of eight presents!

It adds up to a small fortune…to say thank you to someone who has simply done the job they are paid to do.

This made me wonder; is it any different to the corporate sector?  Where some people might receive a bottle of wine, or champagne, to say thank you for a job well-done: some expensive, some not.  There is one major difference though: the audience!   Teachers might be opening gifts of varying value in front of small, eager and expectant faces.  Maybe the schools who cap a value on gifts have the right idea and maybe parents should consider the impact on other children that their extravagance might have.  After all, this endemic could reach ridiculous proportions if parents increasingly feel the need to compete through gifts!

How do the children feel:  are they embarrased handing over their homemade gift; if it is later trumped by someone’s surplus spending, or do they even notice?  Maybe they are proud that they have put time and effort into their gift, as opposed to just handing over their parents spending power?  Little children are less likely to realise, or even consider, a gift’s value:  it was only recently that my youngest asked for a packet of jellybeans for Christmas.  But as they get older, there’s potentially more chance for embarrassment, or snide comments!

An ex-teacher revealed:

The best present I ever received, which still brings tears to my eyes, was a half-eaten biscuit wrapped up in a sheet of loo roll!  The little boy came from a  family who had very little and he was desperate to give me something, like his friends; so he only ate half his break-time biscuit and gave me the rest.  We shared his present because it was such a kind thought.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned:

That teachers gift giving was becoming over-commercialised and competitive and said that teachers’ most treasured gifts were cards or pictures made by pupils. (The Independent, 17 July, 2014)

Thinking outside the box can be a way round the increasing expenditure on gifts.  A friend’s four children collectively wanted to buy 15 gifts; to cover teachers and teaching assistants whom they wanted to thank; so she bought consumable gifts from a shop, took them out of their cardboard boxes and re-wrapped them with a beautiful ribbon and added the childrens’ cards!  She was delighted to hear that one of the teachers professed:

 Ooh, I’ve only ever seen these in cardboard boxes before, this looks very posh!

So what do you think?  Do you feel pressure, as a parent, in deciding what to buy for a teacher?  Do you feel you need to spend more to keep up with this trend?  As a pupil, do you feel embarrassed, or proud, handing over a homemade gift, as opposed to an expensive shop-bought gift?  And if you are a teacher, do you wish each school would set a cap on how much should be spent on gifts, or do you think that might exacerbate the spending further?

Not your everyday view of the Red Arrows!

The Eagle Formation over Akrotiri, 14 April 2011.  Image taken by Sqn Ldr Graeme Bagnall and located here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/487725834620802258/

The Eagle Formation over Akrotiri, 14 April 2011. Image taken by Sqn Ldr Graeme Bagnall and located here:

One of the many benefits to living at Akrotiri, in Cyprus, is the thrice-daily Red Arrows display in the spring!  Sitting with a coffee on your patio, or venturing to the cliff tops, residents are treated to a variety of exciting aerobatic manoeuvres as the Reds undertake their annual spring training.  However, this photo above is one spectacular view residents never get to see!


Short Diamond Loop over RAF Akrotiri. Photo located at: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/82331499410594535/

Many love the opportunity to watch the Red Arrows at close quarters and away from the crowds and others (eventually) look forward to the quieter times when the Reds return to the UK!  Excitement or quiet-seeker aside, most residents agree that it is one of the wonders of living at RAF Akrotiri!