Saturday, October 25, 2014

Health and fitness

Though I hope this post will be of interest to readers, I'm writing it largely as a personal aide memoire of details which are very important to me - though that's pretty much the purpose of the whole blog. One day, I'll want to look back on this part of my life, and the blog will remind me of details I might otherwise forget.

After Christmas 2012, my weight was 13 stone, the highest it had ever been. I'd lost some weight when we first started living on Kantara, then put it back on again, started walking to try to get fitter and lighter, then got my exercise bike (and stopped the walking). I bought and read a book called "Younger Next Year" which really inspired me.

But alongside that, Grace especially became interested in new thinking about nutrition. Then I discovered High Intensity Interval Training, and we both started Intermittent Fasting. And then something happened.

My weight has been just under 11 stone for two or three months now. This morning, I'm at 10 stone 10 pounds. I've lost that two stone plus through a combination of just over an hour's cycling a week, various changes in my diet, and intermittent fasting. Grace has lost significant weight, too. She doesn't cycle, but uses a "stepper" sometimes.

As I've written here before, High Intensity Interval Training is a fairly new approach to exercise. It involves no more than three sessions a week either running or cycling, following a particular regimen.
  • 5 minutes warm-up
  • 30 seconds of "flat-out" cycling/running
  • 90 seconds at warm-up speed
  • repeated 6 to 8 times (any more than that is not recommended)

Expert proponents of HIIT say that this kind of cardiovascular, aerobic exercise is far better than jogging or the cycling equivalent. (In fact, there seems to be a lot of evidence now to suggest that jogging may be bad for you.) Many people jog or cycle to lose weight, but it's not why I do it. In fact, I doubt that the calories I burn in three, 20-minute sessions a week amount to enough to represent a significant weight loss. I do HIIT for the sake of my cardiovascular health, and over the year and a half in which I've been doing it, my blood pressure has gone down to the mid 120's over mid 60's, and my resting heart rate is around 50-55 bpm. 

The changes in our diet have evolved over the past three years, and may still be evolving, but basically amount to this. 
We're not stupidly strict about this. We eat out if we have to, or as a treat, happily. We treat ourselves to chocolate and ice-cream from time to time (and Grace has found a source of original milk gums!), and have croissants and jam and pains au chocolat for breakfast every now and then. We often drink wine, cider, lager, Guinness (though we're trying to cut down!) Grace sometimes makes cake or biscuits, too, though these contain butter rather than margarine, and less sugar than bought cakes do.

Intermittent fasting is probably the main reason for our weight loss, and the loss speeded up when we started this. It basically involves missing our normal breakfast; eating nothing between our last meal of one day and our lunch the next. The purpose of this is to bring about a change in one's metabolism in such a way that the body burns fat for energy, and not sugars. This results in the loss of body fat which we have experienced, and the consequent loss of weight.

IF isn't, in itself, about cutting calories, since we may eat the equivalent of three meals a day if that's we feel we need. All meals just have to be fitted into an eight-hour window, with 16 hours of fasting (7 or 8 of which will be spent in bed). I do have to say, however, that though we may have a small snack occasionally during the afternoon - a piece of cake with tea or coffee, perhaps, or a handful of mixed nuts - we never feel the need for anything more than that, so it is likely that we do consume fewer calories by missing breakfast. That's incidental, however, and not the point of the fasting. And recent evidence suggests that IF and HIIT complement each other extremely well.

Again, however, we're not strict to the point of craziness about this. If we're really too hungry to miss breakfast, then we might have toast, croissants and pains au chocolat, or even bacon, egg and tomatoes. IF isn't intended to be punishing, simply helpful. Monitoring our weight regularly means that we're can be totally in control of it.

All in all, we're both fitter and healthier than when we started life on Kantara -and we're three years older, too! "Younger next year" is a reality which we hope to maintain.

A break from the wind and the rain

For the first time in over a week, the weather was sunny and welcoming this morning when we woke. We had been wanting to take the boat out for a couple of hours to heat the engine so that I could bleed the skin tank of air, which I'd failed to do completely while we were on the cut. We'd then fill both tanks with oil on our way back in (diesel bug is less likely in a full tank of oil, where there is little air), and the boat'd be ready for its annual service and winterising before we go back to the house for a couple of months at the end of November.

The sun didn't last very long, though, and a strong wind blew up, so we decided against the short cruise, and went instead to see the church at Lower Shuckburgh which we'd seen from the canal on a number of occasions. The fact that we missed a turning on the way, and did a longer journey, was no problem. The sun was out again in time for us to enjoy the lovely country scenery - gently hilly farmland painted in autumn colours under a bright blue sky. It was lovely.

The church, too, was most attractive, but unfortunately locked, so our visit was rather shorter than planned. But it was an enjoyable drive back.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Judge

With our colds almost gone now, the tickly coughs subsiding, and the weather tempting us to stay in, we joined just three others at the cinema this afternoon to see "The Judge".
  1. A successful lawyer returns to his hometown for his mother's funeral only to discover that his estranged father, the town's judge, is suspected of murder. He sets out to discover the truth and along the way reconnects with the family he walked away from years before.
Starring Robert Downey Jnr and Robert Duvall, it was an excellent film, and unusually long at 142 minutes. The director made the most of every minute, though, and Downey and Duvall's performances were exceptional.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Three years ago, when Grace and I started to go to the cinema with much greater regularity, I wished I'd kept a log over the years, with details of all the films and plays I'd seen. I did start to write in this blog about new films seen, however, and I'll keep that up.

Three years ago, when I started reading far more books per year than in any previous year of my life, I wished I'd kept a log of the books I had read in the past, but failed nonetheless to start any kind of record of new reads. Sigh.

We're very fortunate to have an ever-growing lending-library in the marina, and Grace and I use that a lot. (New shelves have just been bought to deal with the overflow from the original ones, and I'm going to be helping with that task in the next few days.) When we're at the house, we have a good local charity shop which has a huge stock of good books, so we use that a fair bit. And then there's the books from our own shelves in the house, which have sat there, unread, for decades, and a big pile of Jess's books which she's lent me. Our bookshelves on the boat are pretty limited, so I actually have box on the car which is stocked with books to replace read ones on the boat.

Despite this plethora of good reading material, I have from time to time been madly inspired to buy a specific book which I think I ought to have read years ago, and need to read now. This, of course, is some kind of stupidity, but I am occasionally prone to such moments.

Such purchases have included...

...discarded as a total waste of time after battling through half of it,

...still unopened, from Kindle, and not yet started,

...also free from Kindle, not yet completed, but much enjoyed,

...another freebie from Kindle, started, but I'm finding it hard to be enthusiastic, and

...challenging(!), but I'm seeing it through.

Since retirement, I've become aware of the availability of used, good condition books, CDs and DVDs on Amazon and the like, and I've made it my habit to buy them this way all of the time. Many's the time that I've bought items for as little as 1p, plus £1.23 postage, and I've never been disappointed. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

AA and RCR - well worth the money!

Having had to call out River Canal Rescue last week, it was with a wry smile that I summoned the AA when we got back to the marina. My oldish Honda Jazz Sport has been totally reliable since I bought it, and was assured on that occasion that it had been so since the previous owner had had it from new. Indeed, the AA man who attended this week said, "A Honda Jazz? They don't go wrong!"
It was only a flat battery. Well, a battery, one cell of which had died totally. The reason, said the AA man, was that I use the car too little, and allow the battery voltage to drop too low. I leave it for weeks at a time, several times a year, and even when we're living in the marina, it often doesn't get used for over a week at a time. So what happens, I was told, is that the plates in the battery cells develop deposits of sulphates, and these can eventually cause a short circuit between adjacent plates. This is what had happened to one cell in my battery. Time to get a new battery.

Mr AA man jump-started the car and left it with a charging pack for ten minutes, after which I took it for a spin to charge it more. The car would restart and drive several times that day, he said, but it'd be useless the next day. I checked on the web, and found that the Rugby branch of Halfords had a battery in stock, so I drove over and bought it, and fitted it there.

The AA guy also told me that the way to prevent damaging the battery through under-use was to buy a car battery solar charger to keep the battery fully charged all of the time. The AA had these on special offer on their website, so I duly ordered one, and await its delivery.
Thank goodness for these rescue services!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The weather dominates

On Friday, we set off late, our energy low because of colds, but the sky was blue, and this continued all day. We descended Cape Locks with another boat whose crew weren't in the mood for talking, and on to Tesco, where we bought five bags of shopping. After lunch, we moved on out of Warwick, and through Leamington Spa. Radford Lock and the three Fosse Locks were the last for the day, and I was glad.

We looked now for a mooring, and found too often that the water was too shallow at the bank - it seemed likely that someone had left lock paddles and/or gates open recently, the level was so low. Finally, we moored between bridges 31 and 30.

On Saturday morning, it was raining again, and our colds were really getting us down, so we decided to stop where we were and have a lazy day, hopefully to recuperate somewhat. We needed an Elsan disposal point, and the nearest one was 28 lock miles away, but, with three cassettes in total, we thought we'd be all right.

However, with the weather now warm and promising, and us feeling better as the morning progressed, we had a substantial brunch, and set off at 12:30.

We navigated Welsh Lock and Bascote Locks alone, and moored at Bascote Bridge for water. And it poured! And poured! With thunder and lightning, too. We waited until it stopped.

At Cuttle Bridge, we had to decide whether to risk the weather and carry on up Stockton Locks, or not to take the risk, and moor up until the next day. We spent some time under the shelter of the bridge by the Two Boats Inn, waiting for the heavy rain (again) to abate a little before deciding to go for the locks. The weather really did look as if it would improve, and we were feeling well enough, at least for the time being!

At Stockton Bottom Lock, we had the fortune to meet a solo boater in an anonymous boat going our way. He suggested it would be best for us to breast his boat alongside Kantara, and tie them together. Grace would then drive the pair of boats, and he and I would manage the locks together, alternating between us to go ahead and prepare the next lock in advance. Grace had never done this before, but was happy to try, and somewhat flattered by the man's trust in her management of his boat. It worked a treat. Grace took to it very quickly, and was deemed "brilliant" by the other boater. (Why do we never stop to exchange names with people we meet?) I proudly agreed.

The tied boats leaving top lock
We finished the flight of nine locks in excellent time, with only light showers to dampen us. We moored in bright, sunny weather about half way between Birdingbury Wharf Bridge no. 21, and Gibraltar Bridge 20.

Sunday morning was very foggy, and the fog lifted slowly to leave a beautiful mist hanging heavily over the countryside by the time we left.

But the day was cloudy and chilly for the most part. We travelled fairly fast, for us. Calcutt Locks,

then Wigrams Turn, and Braunston by 2:00pm. There was a lot of traffic on the canal that day, and Braunston moorings were almost full, with just one space available, immediately after turning right out of the junction bridge.

The weather on Monday morning was foul, with very strong winds driving heavy rain. We waited for the first break in it, then departed Braunston, but it simply got worse after that. We took Braunston Flight alone, and were glad for the tunnel, a short respite from the weather. After that, we ditched the idea of mooring at Norton Junction and completing the return journey the next day, and set our sights on Yelvertoft. We were wet and cold, and couldn't get much worse!

Our ascent of Watford Locks was unimpeded, and fast. Crick was frustratingly slow because of all the moored boats. As we had imagined it would be, the wind across the Yelvertoft marina was strong and gusty. Grace wanted to reverse into our berth, and almost made it, but the wind took her bow hard over 90° to port just before she managed to get far enough into the space, and the boat ended up across the back of Cream Cracker and the berths beyond. Undaunted, she turned her around and went in bow first, with help from Nick on the bow rope, and not without giving Cream Cracker a bit of a bashing on the way in. Darren was very forgiving - the wind was ridiculous!

It was good to shut ourselves in to the boat, and get warm and dry. It had been an enjoyable trip, and the weather hadn't spoiled it - it had just added... interest!

102 miles and 186 locks in 21 days.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hatton Locks again

On Thursday, we started earlyish under lowering skies. There were few boats around. NB Koffee and Kream was ahead of us, but he joined another boat at Hatton Top Lock, so, after a short wait to see if another boat should come along, we carried on down alone.

Sculpture below top lock
At the second lock, however, we realised there was another craft behind us, just entering the top lock, so we waited for them, and were in due course joined by NB Bascote. The crew were a nice couple who'd been on the canals full time since 1990. He used a bike to speed up and down between locks, setting them up ahead of the paired boats, then flying back to help close the lock they were leaving, so I did no more of the to-ing and fro-ing I'd started to do.

It rained on and off, but from about half way down, it rained hard, very hard, very, very hard! We were all soaked through by the time we got to the bottom. We drove on past the Saltisford Arm, moored, had a hot shower, put on dry clothes, and enjoyed an indulgent fry-up for lunch! The descent had taken us three hours again, made quicker and all the more enjoyable by the couple on NB Bascote.

We stayed where we were moored for the rest of the day and the night, though the rain had stopped and the sun come out as soon as we'd moored! My cold hadn't gone, but thankfully I was well enough to have done the locks and endured the rain.

Lots of weather!

Wednesday was wet and chilly. Autumn was certainly here. The rain had stopped by 9:00, but we'd had a bad night because of my cold, so we weren't in a hurry to move on. When we did, it started to rain again within half an hour, and carried on like that, on and off. We locked our way up the Lapworth flight - 11 locks in 2 miles - and it was raining hard by the time we got to the top.

We turned right out of Kingswood Junction and moored for lunch in the Lapworth Link.

When the rain cleared - we were considering staying there for the rest of the day and the night - we carried on back onto the Grand Union, stopping between bridges 62 and 61 for the night, close to Foxwood Aqueduct.
Kingswood Junction
Foxwood Aqueduct
Now the heavens opened, and there was thunder and lightning - very impressive, and not something we'd seen for a long time. Needless to say, the skies were clear and sunny by 5:00pm!