Tricks for staying warm

“No-one is perfect; I myself am susceptible to drafts.” Oscar Wilde

I don’t know about you, but I have been getting cold lately. However when you look around, it seems that there has never been a time when we have been better protected from the cold than we are now. But that in itself is intriguing how did people stay warm in the past? And why do we still get cold?

Obviously people get cold when the temperature drops but if you are healthy, your body will be kept at a steady 36.5–37.5 °C despite the cold. The reason we need to stay at this temperature is that it is the one that our neurons work best at. If your core body temperature gets between 32-35 °C you are hypothermic and will start to see neurological symptoms including confusion. However you are pretty robust and your body has a number of strategies that stop this happening too easily. Not least making you feel uncomfortable so you take action to get warm.

Maintaining body temperature is an active physiological process, so your ability to stay warm when you are in a cool space is by definition a type of fitness. I suppose you could argue that there are two sides two this: there is perceiving the cold and your body’s ability to combat the cold, and they are not quite the same thing.

Who feels the cold?

The old and the young feel the cold. The bad news is that if you are over 60 you will have a reduced ability to contract blood vessels in your extremities. So it is hard for you to shunt blood into your vital organs. This will make it harder for you to maintain a higher “average” blood temperature and that will intern effect your ability to stay warm. Your blood will be getting cold in your arms and legs; whereas when you were younger it would have gone into your torso to get warm, sooner.

Interestingly babies have a lot of brown fat. Babies don’t shiver. They don’t yet have the kind of autonomous control over their bodies that we adults have. Instead they have a lot more Brown fat. This is a type of highly metabolically active fat. It basically warms the babies up by burning through itself. Babies are able to burn fat to produce heat and stay warm that way. Sadly adults don’t have much brown fat so we can’t get thin by simply staying in cold rooms. It turns out that anyone under the age of 14 is also unlikely to be able to shiver, or shunt blood as well to keep warm. So it is important to understand the age of the people in your group and make concessions for those outside of the age range: 14-60. (FYI mum, if you are reading this: I am sorry for being difficult about putting the heating on last time you were at mine. I didn’t know then what I know now)

Other than the old and the young there is also the skinny. 90% of your body heat is lost through your skin. The rest is lost through your breath. The rate at which you lose heat is dictated by your volume to surface area ratio. If you are big, you have a larger volume in proportion to your surface area. So the small will get cold more easily. There have been times when I have been twice my wife’s weight, so it is hardly surprising that some people get cold quicker than others.

Metabolic rate is critical

The heat that comes from your body is the result of calories being burned. The higher your metabolic rate, the higher your burn rate, the more heat you are generating the warmer you will be.

Roughly tent percent of the calories that you consume are turned into heat as a result of the energy required to process the food. Ironically Fatty food doesn’t contribute much to warming you up. On the other hand protein is really good. Up to 35% of the energy contained in protein gets expelled as heat. So if you are cold it may help to increase the amount of protein you take. That doesn’t necessarily mean meat; there are plenty of plant based sources of protein such as peanut butter.

Physical activity is the most obvious way to raze your metabolic rate. It’s a good idea to move about during the day: Animal studies have generally shown that an individual bout of exercise will help you stay warm for the rest of the day, and that regular exercise will also increase your resting metabolic rate, making you better able to cope with the cold, even despite the fact that you might lose your insulating layers of fat. Reff

Clothes help. It’s often said that loose most of your heat through your head. This isn’t actually true. You lose about 25% of your body heat through your head and neck. That is roughly what you would expect, for the highest point on your body and for a part of the body that is that size. However hats do obviously help you stay warm. Dressing properly, is clearly the most cost effective way of staying warm. In fact 25% of hypothermia deaths are the result of people removing clothing. So if you’re cold, stay clothed.

The other problem with not being appropriately dressed, even in doors is that it makes you more susceptible to drafts. Perhaps Oscar Wilde needed to put a few more layers on. I can say from personal experience that one of the best money saving tips is to build yourself secondary glazing. (here) We have old style sash windows. Double glazing is really expensive and the payback time is not great but, there is a much cheaper home grown alternative. Buy acrylic, and magnetic tape, and stick the large sheets of acrylic over your windows, for winter until it’s time to start opening the windows again. We have this. The drafts dramatically reduce and the added bonus is that the road noise is also cut. On the down side, a good gust of wind does sometime blow them off. I was the only person in the house when that happened and got quite a shock.

Finally have a think about how you are losing heat. Some materials are thermal conductors, such as metal. Touching these materials will wick heat away from your body so it is a good idea to put a layer between you and a material that is a thermal conductor. Sometimes this is obvious, put dry gloves on before handling metal tools. Other times it is less so. The best tip we learned this year on wine rides, is to put a blanket between you and the airbed when you are camping. There is large volume of cold air in an airbed. So overnight you lose a lot of body heat into the airbed. If you have blanket, it is better the put it under your sleeping bags as an extra layer of insulated, rather than on top of you. This is because the airbed is conducting heat away from you.

Finally heat the spaces you are in. Some people think it is more cost effective to keep a room warm, rather than let it cool down while you are away. I am reliably informed this isn’t the case. The most cost effective thing to do is heat the room when you are in it. It is also cheaper to keep internal doors closed and only heat the rooms you plan to use. I am a big fan of data, so I also think it is worth knowing the temperature you tend to get to before discomfort sets in. I know for me it I 16.5 C, at that point the heating has to go on. But I also know for some people that would be way to cold. The best thing to do is get your thermostat set up for how you like lit, and for when you are actually in. for me anything above 16.5 °C is easily manageable with all of the above, but any time spent bellow that will result in me needing the heat up for the rest of the day.

If you have any tips not listed above, then get in touch I would over to hear them.


This changes everything?

There is this new book out by Naomi Klein and she seems to be asking us to change everything. Frankly that makes my mind boggle, and leaves me feeling scared and unsure of where I could start. So if I could change one thing this is what it would be:

I am staggered how few free and desirable public spaces we have. How many middle age men are sat in pubs alone drinking a pint in silence with only a newspaper they purchased for company?

I know this because my wife went out on Saturday to meet her sister without me. I headed out to find some company. After a while, I stopped on my own and had a pint. Not sure if drinking alone was ok, I looked up in the room to see three or four other men doing the same, none of us able to say a word to the other. In the past the pub would have had a pool table. These have been phased out probably because noisy men having fun playing pool is off putting for the more profitable diners.

The economyA lot of what this boils down to is the Love Economy.

Basically, you don’t want to pay for stuff, if you can get it for free.

Our economy is built up in layers like a tiered cake. At the base are the world and all its natural resources.

Above that is people and what we are willing to do for each other in kind.  Then there is the black market, where you pay close friends and family for services but don’t declare it to the state.

The layer above that is the public sector where we pool resources and are obliged to pay taxes in return for services and finally at the top of the pile, is the private sector. Each part of the cake has and inherent desire to get bigger.

So people like me in the private sector want to do more for you in exchange for cash. I would like to plan your next holiday in return for money. This is so you don’t have to worry about the logistics and know that all the painful or boring bits have just been done.

All the other sectors are also trying to expand. Your local counsel wants more tax revenue to lay on more services. Your Teen ager would like more pocket money. They may even be willing to walk the dog for it. But a big part of where you spend your time is in the Love economy. That bit is you.

My job means as a producer, I am in the private the sector. But for everything other than cycling holidays I am a consumer, right? Wrong. I am in the Love economy. You pop up in that part of the cake as well. Sometimes reluctantly, you would like to pay “The-Man” to just get the job done, but you don’t have the cash right now to do that, so for example, you paint that spare room yourself.

It could be that I am just a very odd bod but what I relish is the times when I drag things I want from the private sector all the way down into the Love Economy.

It is not always possible to take things out of the public sector and drag them into the Love Economy. I haven’t yet set up my own police force or army in my flat but don’t thing I don’t try. A friend and I got to know each other by helping our neighbors load free software onto their computers, so they can be recovered if they get stolen. If you want you can do a bit of crime fighting as well. (here)

The point is that it’s often easier than you might think to take a service that a private company supplies and work out how to deliver it for yourself. People will tell you it’s not worth the effort, but that’s wrong, very often it is. The times when I feel most empowered are when I have these little victories. Amazon would like me to buy a new kindle every time the fragile e-ink screen breaks. They have fleeced me for 2 kindles to date. They have also sold me so many books that the switching cost of abandoning kindle is too high. But you can take kindle away from amazon. I have found that Kindle 3 is easily repairable. If you have that model, next time the screen breaks go on e-bay, buy a new one and just replace it by following a free online video.

Fixing my kit or painting my own house is not a sign of failure. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t pay, it means I didn’t need to. In fact the only emphatic victories are when there was a choice.  “I could have paid to get that done, but I would rather do it myself”. Or “I could have done that myself, but I had the cash to just pay someone else to do it well”.

It is about whom is in charge: Me or Jeff Bezos? If we want to save the planet then we need to be empowered to stop over using resources. Every time the screen breaks I don’t need a new casing, mother board, 3G card etc., I just need a new screen. Send me that, tell me how to pop out the old one, put in the new one and I will only use what I need. In fact the margin on the screen could be the same as the profit from selling the whole devise. Amazon wins, I win and the planet wins.

This is why I am not worried about re-nationalizing the railways or the power companies, I am worried about bringing community spaces into local public ownership. My sister has the same kindle. If her kindle were to break, it would now be incidental, for me to fix it. I would enjoy doing it. However I hate moving furniture. I am a big guy and I have been asked to move furniture so many times, it is something that brings me no joy. Unfortunately furniture removal is the thing I am most often asked to do to help others. The trouble is no-one knows that. We don’t know each other well at all. So our Love Economy is ceasing to function. We don’t spend time together. We have outsourced the job of filling time to the private TV companies, and we consume their products alone. So we have no idea what human resources are around that we could access for free and tax free. There is no VAT on favors.

The one way the state could improve all our lives at a stroke, is to give us back our space. Yes there are parks and they are under constant attack from private interests. We also need warm dry, clean community spaces that have some free entertainment that enables people to get together at low cost and exchange skills and stories.

Until we get these spaces happiness will decline because we will all continue to feel control slipping from our grasp and into the hands of the state and Big Business. I really believe that there is nothing wrong with capitalism; it’s just how we are using it. It’s great that Amazon can send me a book in seconds, but that will never make me happy. Only other people can do that.

Until recently I had forgotten that we need other people in our lives, not just family, but friends and community.  At the moment the planet is in a death spiral of over consumption. That is because we are trying to consume ourselves happy. It sounds trite to say it, but what makes us happy is hanging out with other people. Until we get back to a point where you don’t have to buy something to inhabit a public space and be with other people. Nothing will change.

Reference: Social Brain

Reference: Social Brain

Reference: Money



Dads Guide to looking after the Kids

What are some fun things that dad can do with the kids so Mum can get away with her mates for a few days? Well below is a list of sensible time consuming suggestions. Then we have few dangerous and exciting things that will make dad seem super cool, but are frankly so dangerous he will have to be on his game.

Sensible “Mum approved activities”

Visit the library: and discuss the kid’s favorite books

Plan a Picnic: Let the kids pick and pack the food. Mums away so it doesn’t have to make any sense or be any good for them

Play Board Games.

Play Ball Games

Go to the Cinema

Go Swimming

Plan a hike: then actually go hiking, otherwise it’s just a lesson in disappointment, and life has plenty of those.

Photography Day: take photos anywhere, and then have fun editing them on the computer and even print the best ones on glossy paper.

Cooking or Baking, get your kids to cook their dinner (with lots of help.) Or bake something.

Make Massive bubbles.

 Do some drawings

 Play computer games

 T-shirt printing: Buy the iron-on paper and make your own T shirts.

Dangerous activities

 Bair in mind that above you agreed to “go swimming” and statistically that is the most dangerous thing you can do with the kids. Below are a few hero activities that Dad can do which apparently “haven’t been approved by Mum” but are actually pretty safe so long as there is adult supervision

Take an electronic devise apart and put it back together. Even if you don’t know what the parts do, trying to work it out is really good for your mind. That old Nokia mobile phone you have lying around is perfect for this.

 Let your Kids drive the Car: Take the kids to an empty car park and let them drive the car.

Play with fire: Build a bonfire and let the kids light it.

Buy a pocket knife: Sharpen a stick. Teach them to cut away from themselves and that blunt knives are what cut’s you, sharp knives are safe.

Build a bow and arrow and fire it. This teaches concentration and responsibility.

Throw a spear.

Go jogging.

Break a Law: illegally down load a film.

Cook something in the dish washer.

Build a Den or tree house

Climb right to the top of a big tree

A Mum’s weekend away can be a chance for Dad to take center stage. Your kids may see him in a new light. You never know, they could end up having a great weekend and you can enjoy hearing all about it when you get back.


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Losing weight and Staying thin.

Now and then

Now and then

In September 2012 I made some changes to my life that I have stuck with to date. I have no weight loss products to sell. I sell holidays. You are very welcome to buy one. That is not why I wrote this post. I am writing it because I want to contribute what I know about weight loss, in the hope that others who find this post can avoid some of the false starts that I went through.

What works for me is the 5:2 diet, when I first started blogging about it not many people had heard of it. At least the newspapers hadn’t got onto it. Thankfully the “craze” has now passed and it is in the weight loss tool box along with other effective strategies like the Atkins diet.

On October 26 2012 for the first time in years I found myself below 16 stone. On April 29th 2013 I was no longer obese. On the 26 September 2014 I was no longer over weight (13st 5).

I presently ware my wedding ring on my right hand as it keeps falling off the ring finger on my left hand. I am always being told that you can get rings resized. The reason I don’t is that this is the ring I got married in, and there is an argument for saying it will be a different or at least changed ring if I have it modified.

I worry that my circumstances will change and I will put the weight back on. So having the ring on my right hand means that if I do put the weight back on, I have the option to just move it back. And I won’t have the shameful episode of getting a ring enlarged that I had shrunk. The ring is a constant reminder that my weight can go up as well as down. Which I think is helpful.

The most helpful thing I think I can say to someone who struggles with their weight is that it probably isn’t your fault. The saying that stuck with me is “he was born on the finish line, and thinks he won the race”. It is not equally easy for everyone to look thin. Some people have a more robust build. That will make them look fatter at lower weights than other people.

Everyone does it: People tend to have self-serving biases. Often, people who have a desirable trait are quick to attribute those traits to their own good virtue, rather than luck. It is very hard to convince someone who is thin that part of their thinness is down to their physiology, and it isn’t all to do with their brilliance.

This isn’t the case. There are tall people and there are short people. There are stocky people and there are lanky people. If you are stocky, you will look fatter.  There is also variability in how people cope with sugar. Some people over produce insulin: Of the people who over produce insulin, some turn that into fat. Those people will be fatter than most, and their hormones will be dramatically effected.

I have always been very fit. I cycle 2 hours + a day and did when I was big. But for years despite all my personal experience to the contrary I believed that exercise was a good way of loosing weight. I had to read it in black and white, before the penny dropped for me. Exercise is an ineffective way of losing weight.

You can lose weight through exercise but it will involve a huge investment of time and effort.

That is why however you go about it; I think a critical question you have to honestly ask yourself is: “Would I be happy to do that for the rest of my life?”.

I plan to be on the 5:2 regime for the rest of my life. When I think about not fasting, the idea that I will certainly put on 3stone + if I don’t is what means it is a no-brainer to just do it and get through the fast. It was hard to start, but now the cost of stopping are so high, that it is easier to just do it. Whatever you do long term it has to require very little time and effort. So favor methods that are cheap, slow, steady and sustainable.

If you are embarking on a plan to lose weight then I want to say: good luck, you can do it.

If you want to know what worked for me look here

Above all my advice would be, only try one intervention at a time, otherwise how will you know what is working?

Give each thing several weeks to take effect, and keep records of your progress.

Try to look at other measures of health, not just weight e.g. waist measurements, VO2 max, resting heart rate.

If you are persistent and systematic you will get to the weight you want to be, and you will be much happier for it. I promise.

Surviving winter:



I don’t know about you but at this time of year I start to feel a bit glum. At the weekend I popped out to the shops feeling decidedly tired and glum. It was that feeling you get when you have a few too many the night before but the problem was that I hadn’t had to many the night before the issue was, we are now getting much less sun light that we did in the summer.


As we head into October we are now in the accelerating part of the graph where we are losing day light fast. In fact we are pretty much equidistant from the longest and the shortest days of the year.


This is a graph that I have become well acquainted with over the past year as it dictates when Wine Rides can run. Between May and September is when we have enough daylight to get dinner on and get everyone fed. It’s not easy to cook a 3 course meal in a field kitchen in the dark.


Like a professional cricketer, I probably feel this shift in seasons more dramatically at the moment than most. I have gone from getting 150+ hours of sun shine a month on my skin to being cooped up indoors for most of the week with only the glow of a laptop screen. What you may not know is that this is not a trivial problem for any of us.


We tend to think that the sun is a bad thing. We have been taught to worry about exposure to the sun. There are good reasons for this but I tend to think that that advice is advice against extreme stupidity. It is about saying don’t lie in direct sun light until you burn.


We shouldn’t let worries about skin cancer stop you from going out and getting exposure to sun light. Sun light is another example of how our modern lives are making us ill. Death from heart diseases are 100 x higher than death from skin cancer. In fact heart and vascular diseases account for more death’s than all other forms of illness combined and for most people they are entirely preventable. Just let that last sentence sink in for a moment.


Of course, the trouble is that the things that course the problem tend to be bloody delicious, and in our experience the things that ameliorate that situation are terribly dull.


However I think that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Exposing your skin to sun light produces Vitim-D and that stops you getting rickets, but the sun also does something else: It liberates Nitric Oxide. When you eat fruit and veg you build up a store of Nitrates in your skin. But that isn’t the end of the story, in order to get most of the benefit from your good diet you need to go out in the sun. The sun breaks down these Nitrates and turns them into Nitric Oxide, this works as a signaling molecule and causes vasodilation, reduces blood pressure and reduces the risk of heart disease.


There are a few ways we know this. People with high levels of Vitim-D are known to have lower levels of heart disease, so boom. Just give people Vitim-D and you should see a corresponding reduction, in heart problems. Well that has been tried and Nada, nothing, it doesn’t work.


Vitim-D is a signal. It tells us that there is something about the folks with good hearts: they go outside a lot. Ok, yeah the guys that go outside and exercise regularly, they are the ones with healthier hearts? Certainly that is true, but it isn’t the whole story. People who live in the south of the UK are healthier than people who live in Scotland. That’s “whole population”, so there is no way that everyone in the south is doing enough running to account for the differences in health we find.  Your risk of popping your clogs are about 20% higher if you live in Glasgow rather than London and you’re about a 3rd better off if you live in Australia rather than London.


So what is to be done? 


Sell your car: then blow the money on a Wine and Cycling holiday, hell why not buy some cake, hats and shoes. But your car is a problem. The trouble is that a car is all you can eat transport. It whisks you from one indoor environment to another, and on cold days you have the windows up and therefore are reflecting most of the UV light away from you before it can have any beneficial effect on your skin. Switch from a car to cycling, and you will see a noticeable improvement in your health.


Start gardening.  Grow your own food. I know that they sell potatoes in the shop. I also know that if you cost in your time, you don’t plan well

Grow Your Own

Grow Your Own

and you spend too much on tools and toys, in the end it doesn’t even save you money, but if you grow your own food, you have a year round obligation to get outside.  It also means you eat more fresh veg and that’s what provides the Nitrates you need in the first place.


Take up sport again: Participation in team sport is falling off massively. These days it is hard to find 22 guys all available on the same day to kick a ball about. But there is still 5 a side, and in my case 3 aside touch rugby.  Or join a cycling club. What’s important is that you have an obligation to other people to go out and take part. This will keep you motivated, even when it’s raining outside and your body is screaming “don’t do it”.


Find a Buddy: The major advantage that I found from playing Touch Rugby is that it put me in touch with some other guys that want to get fit. I now meet twice a week with a neighbor who lives a few doors down and we sprint up our nearest hill four times fast. This is called High Intensity Interval training or HIT. Research from the University of Loughborough has shown that 2 minutes of highly intense exercise has most of the benefits as an hour of jogging. It seems unbelievable, but you really can improve your strength and fitness in about the time it takes to brush your teeth.


Have something to look forward to: Think about something you can do with your friends next summer. Contact your mates now and see if they want to get together for a fun weekend away. Why not book a Wine Ride? It is fun healthy and adventurous. While you are out and about on short rides or walk’s you can imagine what it will be like when the weather improves and you will have a goal, something to keep fit for. If nothing else, it will get your summer off with bag and give that injection of sun light you will have been missing all winter.