Top Gear: If UKIP Made Motoring Shows They Would Probably be like this:

 

12 years Batman! When are Top Gear going to knock it on the head?

12 years Batman! When are Top Gear going to knock it on the head?

 

I saw on twitter that Top Gear was doing a segment on cycling. I watched it and really wanted to laugh at it but sadly it wasn’t funny. So you may ask why I am rewarding it with comment. Well: last night’s episode was clearly taking a swing at cyclist, so I just wandered who watches it anyway? Who is it that thinks it is funny to see Clarkson and May saying “F-You” to cyclists?

I wanted to laugh because I have fond memories of watching Top Gear. It used to be a really important show for me. My brothers, Father and I would get together at the weekend and if it was on we would all sit together and watch it. My wife and my sister in law, once lamented that both I and my brother Marcus would just have it on in the back ground seemingly on a loop.

So whilst I would never have claimed to have been interested in cars I did like Top Gear. I found it fun. Fundamentally though (as discussed before: http://bit.ly/1pUz2a5), the format is knackered. It has been going so long that most people could probably script it. In fact I sometimes wander if someone has coded a template on a computer where you just enter the name of the super car and race track at the start and it generates a script automatically. I don’t like watching repeats, because I feel like I am wasting my life: That’s how I now always feel when Top Gear is on. It always seems like you “have seen this one before”. It really saddens me that a once great show has been reduced to the status of wall paper.

You would have to be a spectacularly stupid person to put Top Gear on and still be excited to watch it. Surely no one turns it on and thinks there is a realistic prospect of being informed, or surprised? I don’t mean that to sound harsh. The current format of Top Gear is now 12 years old. There are no comedians I can think of that would be able to withstand the amount of air time this show has had. After a while, stuff just stops being funny. There comes a point when setting caravans on fire is no funnier than being gunged by mister Blobby.

I assume they are aware of this. In the last episode I watched they showed us some activities from the 1980’s i.e. driving around their track, behaving like delinquents, “as they did in the 1980’s”. The implied message was: “Our best days are behind us, so everyone’s best days are behind us”, which is a classic trope of any old man. It is like saying “you should have worked here in the 1990’s; we used to go to the pub at lunch”. The fact is people still go to the pub at lunch: we just don’t invite boring, hard-right wing chauvinists. One of the many advantages of living in the present and not the 80’s is you can use email to surreptitiously organise a trip to the pub without the office knob-head getting wind of it. This seems to be something that has passed Jeremy Clarkson by.

Last night really seemed to be from a different era. There observational joke was that, cyclist read the Guardian or the Independent. Well some do, in transit I might down load a copy on my kindle, but I can’t remember the last time I actually, sat down and read a hardcopy cover to cover as they implied.  Even Clarkson’s first joke; “Work harder and you can afford to buy a car.” It’s just from a different, era of gender relationships.  In Clarkson’s film: A young fit looking man is working late at the office and closing a deal, so he can afford a car, to get him home, safely, so he can see his child, who says “Daddies home” presumably to their mother who is already at home.

It’s a weird post war, image of a family, similar to the one I grew up in, and Clarkson presumably provided for his family, but doesn’t resemble the one many people are providing for their young children today. More to the point it is a very individualistic take on life. I work hard > I can afford a car > I’m safe. Other people don’t work as hard as me > they don’t get cars > it’s their fault they are not safe.

This ideal of car ownership exists in a vacuum. How does that John Wain-esk father, stay in such good shape? Is he using his money to pay for a gym, so running on a treadmill for hours? Would he rather work, and pay for a car, or work hard and contribute to society and make the world a better place for his children? Perhaps he would rather work less hard, and have that time to spend with his family?

My primary problem, with the view Top Gear put forward was that they were comparing the reality, of cycle commuting, with the fantasy of car ownership. The fact of the matter is that on average, cyclists are fitter, healthier, richer and better educated, than the average for the UK population.

Fundamentally, we all know that the choice isn’t between driving a supercar through empty London streets and rocking up to work smelling of sweat. To contrive that shot artificially, they must have filmed very early on a summer’s morning.

The real choice is between, car ownership, which equates to being: poorer, fatter, more exposed the particulate pollution and therefore heart and lung disease or cycling: being thinner, richer, and free to have a drink before you head home. For us London worker-bees, if you don’t fancy cycling, then your alternative probably isn’t using your car, it’s cramming on the tube.

That in a nut shell is why cycling is gaining traction in London. It is simply a more efficient way for 7 million people to slide past each other and get from where they live to where they work. The only way to keep London growing is to increase the efficiency with which people can move around the city. So better infrastructure will make more people feel safer and happier to use the cheapest, healthiest mode of transport we currently have.

This week Top Gear has picked on cyclists, next time it will be someone else. That is Clarkson’s modes operandie. It looks like it has done everything it is going to do artistically and editorially. Top Gear is in a strait jacket of its own success. They have a very limited ability to experiment and try new things.

Like Homer Simpson and Joey from Friends before him Clarkson can only keep it going by increasing the stupidity of his onscreen persona. In order to court attention they have to throw slings and arrows. Like all shock Jocks, in order to maintain their core they have to alienate more and more people. Eventually, the only people they won’t have upset are your Godfrey Bloom types. They may as well have a segment on the show where they cut to Nigel Farage to say something bone chilling or rude about immigrants.

The real question is are Richard Hammond and James May going to have the courage to bring this thing to an end, or are they going to let their boss “Britain’s Foremost Motoring Journalist”, cement them into their graves beside him as his sidekicks?

 

Fast Exercise: Week 4/6: I have my doubts.

I’m now two thirds of the way through my exercise experiment.

I’m in week four of my fast exercise regime. This is two days a week where I take 20 minutes out of the day and sprint up a hill near my house for 30 seconds. I then take three minutes to walk back down the hill, have a stretch and catch my breath before I sprint back up the hill for 30 seconds. I repeat this four times, that’s “Fast Fitness”. On another two days of the week I do “Fast Strength”. This means I do as many press ups as I can for 30 seconds, then have a 10 second rest before moving on to another 30 seconds of strength building exercise like squats. Between each different strength building exercise, I have a 10 second break and do 10 sets.

This means that four days a week, I’m doing around 2-7 minutes intensive exercise, the rest of the week, I don’t do anything, unless my normal day-to-day activities require me to. So, for instance; on Sunday I did some gardening and last week I cycled into town for a meeting.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve tended to come home after my exercise and just note down a few thoughts and feelings. Looking back over the last two weeks; this record has proved to be a useful resource.

Far from reducing my weight, it seems that fast exercise has caused me to put on a reasonable amount. I’ve topped the scales at 14 stone 7. I suspect that this is because I have been rather lax recently with my “sweet thing” rule. I normally try and allow myself to only eat one sweet thing a week. Frequently, I fail and end up eating two sweet things in a week, but I know that the rule is one sweet thing, so usually the guilt of having broken the rule once in a week, prevents me from eating a third sweet thing.

Clearly the problem with engaging in an exercise routine is that it gives you an excuse to indulge. I think one week I had about four puddings, and that’s led me to clamp down hard. I’ve decided that for the remainder of this six-week period while I experiment with Fast Exercise, I am not going to have any sweet things at all. (I was seriously regretting that on Sunday night).

As a result, I do seem to be back down at 14 stone 4. So restraining myself for a week seems to have removed three of the four pounds I gained.

My main issue with exercise for exercise sake is that it’s very boring. Last week in an attempt to make things a bit more interesting I went to the park for a change of scenery. There; flatter hills seemed to make it a lot easier, and the walk back to my house provided a nice “warm down”. The only problem was that this turned the usual 20min work out into, more like, a 50min work-out.

I am a fully-fledged hypochondriac, and purchasing a heart rate monitor has given me another way to worry about my health. After some sprint sessions I have found the veins on the sides of my head up for hours. There has also at times been the sound of my heart beat in the back of my head which I can hear in my right ear. Also I see that on the sprint days my heart rate stays slightly elevated for several hours and one night before I went to sleep I swear I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest.

Another problem is that it’s not that easy to find a place in London where you can sprint for 30seconds uninterrupted. On the pavement near my house, I have to dodge, ladies working on their front gardens and men arsing about in the back of vans. In the park, you hurdle dogs, and try not to scare the life out of women pushing buggies. There is nothing worse than trying to stop yourself from breathing like a serial killer, as you walk away nursing a stitch, hoping your distorted  facial expression can convey that you are just trying to get fit, while a panicked mum, turns on you in terror.

None the less, I am noticing performance gains. Looking back at my notes I can see that for the last two weeks, my warm up jogs have got really easy, even sort of fun. I now feel like an accomplished jogger and I hate jogging. But today I really felt like I could have gone for hours, I even consider going on a “jog”. Luckily sense prevailed and I didn’t.

My performance has markedly improved. I know which fence post I used to get to and can now run well past it. I can also get further on my second sprint. In addition on my forth sprint I no-longer feel like my head is going to explode. Basically I feel stronger and am finding it a lot easier to maintain my stride length and keep my head up, so am getting a lot more out of each stride.

My only issue is that I didn’t do this because I wanted a new party trick. I don’t want to impress my friends with my ability to dart up slopes. I was quite honest about why I got into this: Vanity. To date I can’t see that fast exercise is getting me noticeably closer to that goal.  Exercise does seem to be an ineffective way of losing flab.

Although I will cut sweets out for the remainder of the course: That isn’t something I am willing to do indefinitely.  In fact the visual impact of this exercise has so little effect that I have ended up taking a topless selfy so I can try an establish if the next few weeks have any effect at all. I am not going to publish it. Because I think topless selfys make you look mental. In fact, I am slightly worried that the act of taking said selfy may even be the first sign of madness.

So I can’t wait to see, how the next 2 weeks pan out. Early indications are that I am fitter. My resting heart-rate is down below 50 bpm and I am feeling a bit better. But there is no way I can keep cutting sweets out, so unless the flab starts to evaporate in the next two weeks it is doubt full I will keep this going.

Electric Bikes in Kent and Sussex

Electric Bikes in Kent and Sussex

Electric Bikes in Kent and Sussex

Yesterday, during a gap in this hideous weather I went out, on an electric bike.  I borrowed a Spencer Ivy from my local bike shop Blue Door Bicycles.

At the moment my cycle commute is around an hour. I typically cycle from Crystal Palace to Hammersmith. This takes me about an hour and its 11 miles each way or a 22 mile a day round trip. There are times when I work 10 minutes further on at the BBC in Shepherds Bush.  When I am contracted there I find by the end of the week I have physically cracked and can’t get into work on the Friday by bike, so I take the train. I have often wondered if an e-bike would be the solution.

“Drive till you qualify”: means that when you are house hunting, you get in your car and drive away from where you work until your income allows you to afford a house big enough for your needs. At the moment Hayley and I are very happily living in a 2 bedroom flat in Zone three, which we own. I don’t own a car, so to get this place I pedalled till I qualified. That has some quite interesting effects.

Cycling saves me about £1472 a year.  It’s not masses, but I wouldn’t want it taken out of my net income. I know, physically I am on the edge of my daily range. I wouldn’t want to cycle any further to work. When we need a bigger place, I will tip over and have to change my mode of transport. This will mean, cycling to a station and getting the train the rest of the way into town.  But what if an electric bike can bridge the gap? What if an electric assist will give me the extra range I need to buy that house I have always wanted, keep cycling, stay fit and perhaps hang onto some of my £1400 pocket money?

Well, they are pricey, the one I had a go on was reduced from £1800 to (I think) £1200. So in the first year that only leaves you with £270. Mind you that will get you a door mat and a few tins of paint at B&Q for the new house: At least enough to paint one or two impact walls behind the beds in your new bedrooms, though not enough for the extra beds, this dream house will require.

Straight away, I could see that this electric bike would not fit into my current life. I live on the top floor of our building. It was big and heavy and the Brookes saddle dint sit on top of my shoulder, so I couldn’t just throw it up there and walk up the steps like I can with my road bike. If you don’t live on the ground floor, this particular e-bike might not be for you, it weighs 20kg.

The next thing is getting used to battery anxiety. There are three speed settings. High,  Medium, Low. I ended up forgetting a lot and leaving it on high. This did run the battery down quite quick but I have to be honest. I don’t know when it would have run out of juice completely. I would love to do a dead run and see how far I could get before it totally ran down. It would definitely have got me into work and I expect back. But I haven’t worked out how far out I could have gotten from my office.

On the flat the Sit Up and Beg style of this bike, wasn’t what I was used to.  I did love sideling past other guys going up steep hills on what appear to be an old school shopper. And in the final analysis, I did the seven hills of crystal palace, in less than an hour without breaking a sweat. So there are massive benefits. I am also always surprised how much I like bikes with step through or Lady’s frames. It is so much better than doing the splits in mid-air to get your leg over a bike. You can see why post men have that style.

I do hope to get one at some point. I think when we have kids an e-bike will be a good addition to our transport mix. I can also see how they would be a massive help to anyone who has space for one on the ground floor. The one I road was big and heavy and I am sure some of them are less like this. But the biggest benefit I can see is that they make a greater number of journeys cycleable.

The key to using exercise to stay healthy is to do a little and often.  As e-bikes still have a significant exercise component, but they mean you can get further without breaking a sweat, so they should help increase your general fitness and well-being.

I imagine that the early adopter could benefit the most. If there is a big enough transport saving compared to a car, and the range increase is big enough to get me into a cheaper part of London then being one of the first people to adopt this technology will be a huge help. But the trouble is they still seem to be very expensive compared to a normal bike.

I think before I bought one for myself, I would like to live with it for a while. That’s why with the Help of Blue Door, we are going to rent two out on wine rides at £100 each. This compares with the £42 it cost to rent a normal bike from us for the weekend.  I won’t make any profit on this but it will give me a chance to see what they are like to live with. It should also give some of our guests who worry about their fitness some comfort as they will know that even if they are a little slower than the others on the flats, when the hills start they will be able to zip up them like they aren’t even there.

If you are interested in e-bikes and want to try one out, why not book on one of our weekends and add the e-bike to your order. For an extra £58 you can have an amazing holiday and see if one of these bikes is the right machine to whisk you into work?

 

Fast Exercise: Just a Quick Up date.

I’ve been doing Michael Mosley’s fast fitness for two weeks now, and I thought it was time that I should do an update. As I said before, I plan to follow this regime for six weeks and then take a view on whether I want to continue based on what progress has been made. I’m now a third of the way through that plan, and I thought it was time to reflect on what has happened.

It is so hard to get up in the morning when I know I have Fast Fitness to do. These are the days when I have to leave my flat and run up and down the hill near my house four times fast. It’s absolutely brutal, there’s no getting away from it. The only way I can persuade myself to get out of bed on those days and put my jogging clothes on is to remember: the first sprint isn’t as bad as you think it will be and to keep in mind that the fourth sprint is bad, but you get over it quicker than you think you will.

I am surprised to get on the scale and find my weight seems to be increasing 14.4 stone. Judging by the half-dozen times I’ve stood on the scale since I started fast exercise, I’m on average a pound heavier than I was before I started this exercise. The scales are obviously a notoriously bad measure of health because your weight is comprised of bone, muscle and fat. As my weighted plateaued for a long time and the 5:2 diets seem to have stopped reducing my weight, I’m going to assume that this pound is a pound of muscle rather than a pound of fat: Although it’s very hard to know whether the exercise is causing me to eat more during my non-fast days.

I think I do look better. But as yet there is no sign of that elusive sixpack. Certainly, I think, that my arms and chest are getting bigger. But it’s very hard to tell, and to be honest, that could just be wishful thinking.

Fast strength does seem to make my fasting days easier. What I mean by this is if I do the seven minutes of press ups starred jumps and squats, et cetera on a day when I happened to be eating only 600 calories, then I don’t get as hungry. But if anything I would suggest that when I’ve done fast fitness, on a fasting day that made it a lot tougher. Wiping myself out first thing in the morning on a day when I planned to eat, not very much was quite hard to recover. I’ve only done this once, but basically on Monday. I couldn’t concentrate at all.

Even with a six min warm up, you can be done in 20mins, but in total, with posing in front of the mirror there is no way of getting done in less than half an hour.

Don’t operate heavy machinery: Fast Fitness is not without its risks. Knackered, I dropped my egg timer on the floor and broke it. I walked up to the fridge after one of my workouts and tried to put my egg timer back on the fridge, the wrong way round. The non-magnetic side did not stick to the fridge and it smashed on the floor when I let go. It is hard to think straight after the sprints, so it’s probably worth avoiding making important life decisions straight after one of the workouts.

Finally, much to my enormous irritation, my new “thin clothes” are now too big. I don’t know if this is because they’ve stretched out, or because doing the fast strength has reduced my waistline. But this morning I had to cut a new hole in my belt to stop my trousers from falling down. I know that would usually be intensely good news, but this is the third set of “thin clothes” I’ve had to buy.” On the last shopping trip: I bought several sets, so dropping a size now is slightly irritating.

I don’t plan to measure my fitness again until the end of the six weeks, because if there are, by chance, counterintuitive results. I don’t want that to demotivate me but the anecdotal evidence is that two weeks of doing these exercises has improved my strength, fitness and waste to height ratio.

I’d really be interested to know, if there is a difference between men and women doing this exercise regime? In Michael Mosley’s book. The lady he writes it with implies that she doesn’t do the fast strength workouts. As I find fast strength quite easy, and fast fitness quite tough. I’d be really interested to know if ladies experience the opposite. If anybody knows a girl who is trying out the fast exercise regime: I’d love to hear from them.

My next step In Michael Mosley’s Footprints

Fast Exercise

I am increasingly becoming a bit of a fan of Michael Mosley. I have never worked with him on a TV production. We did both work in the same BBC office for a short time, and at one point grunted at each other, while negotiating use of the office kettle, but I don’t know him.

His Horizon on exercise, actually came out before the one on the Five:Two diet which, is responsible for his stratospheric rise in notoriety.

I have written about my experience of using the 5:2 diet to reduce my weight here: http://bit.ly/1lDyd5R. In short it has worked very well for me. I have lost almost 3 stone and find it to be a very easy way of restraining myself.Until now I haven’t bothered with HIT training. High Intensity Interval Training is supposed to be a very time efficient way of getting exercise. As described here: http://bit.ly/1cZBmY5 exercise is an ineffective way of losing weight. I already take a lot of exercise, so although minutes of HIT training has the same benefits as an hour of low intensity exercise, I didn’t see the point of starting HIT as I get hours of low intensity exercise by using a bike.

However I have lost a lot of weight now. I did Five: Two and then cut sugar out and am in the best shape of my life, but I am again at a plateau. I am now 14 Stone 2, and finally feel quite good about my current weight and how I am looking. In the past I have been in good shape, but have generally lapsed back. I hope this won’t be the case again and that I can carry on doing 5:2 indefinitely. I certainly find it easier than committing to hours at the gym. This 5:2 experience has made me feel that there is little point engaging in a health intervention unless you think there is a realistic prospect of sustaining it indefinitely.

I now feel in a position to have a go at HIT training.  The appeal is that you only do 7 minutes a day. I wish I could say that I wanted to do it for health reasons, but that isn’t true. I want to do it because I still have a bit of subcutaneous fat (flab) on my stomach and I wander if I do HIT weather I will be able to get that “ideal” muscular body that men are supposed to have. To be honest, if it doesn’t work, or it does work and I laps back to my current state then I won’t be devastated: My venture into HIT is purely about vanity.

So what have I done so far? Last week I bought Michael Mosley’s book, Fast Exercise. http://amzn.to/MvwmA1. It’s cheap, there is good info in there, but it did feel to me like it didn’t need to be a book: a pamphlet could have covered it.  I learned the exercises, and worked out where I would do my “Fast Fitness”. That is sprinting up a hill at full speed for 30 seconds four times.

I also tested my fitness and established a base line as the book suggested and bought a heart rate monitor. http://amzn.to/1bzg7vc. Oh and bought an egg timer so I know when 30 seconds is up.

I can do 39 press-ups in a minute which for a man of my age is excellent, though not Superior, I need to get another 12 in to get to the top bracket. Using the monitor I did this test, where you walk for a mile at top speed and then record your heart rate at the end. Having done that I have established I have an estimated V02 max of 56. This puts me in the excellent category (just) which is the top group. So I am already very good at converting oxygen into C02. I also measured my waist: 36inch and my right bicep is 14.5 inch in circumference.

My plan is to do the 4 HIT sessions a week that they recommend in the book for the next 6 weeks. That is about 2 hours and 40 minutes exercise in total in the next month and a half. So in a way I will be absolutely astonished if that makes any difference, but how amazing if it does?

From the first couple of sessions I can tell you that I find the “Fast strength” sessions much easier than the “Fast fitness”. Fast strength is doing as many press-ups as you can in 30 seconds, then have a 10 second break, then doing 30 second of another kind of strength exercise like squats, and so on for 7 minutes. Fast fitness is sprinting on foot or on a bike for 30 seconds with four minutes rest between sets. That is totally hideous! Sprint training was the thing I hated most, when I played rugby and Fast fitness is basically a particularly nasty version of that. But it is over very quickly so although it is unpleasant. It is quite hard for me to talk myself out of doing it: Which seems to be the main selling point of all Michael Mosley’s health interventions.

However the first time I tried to do the four 30 seconds sprints half way through the third one I felt like I wanted to die, and just stopped running and walked straight back to my flat and crashed on the couch. I have since managed four sprints.

I think the idea is that this exercise can be a bit like brushing your teeth. It’s not the highlight of the day, but you kind of know that you have to do it, and as a result you just get up in the morning and get it done.

From what I have read, if you have lots of weight to lose, don’t bother with this. It will be a waste of time. Judging by my fitness test: If you have a life style with activity built in i.e. lots of exercise base transport then there can’t really be any health benefits either, I don’t believe increasing my fitness as measured by V02 max beyond where it is will significantly improve my life expectancy but there is still that vanity thing. As for that, I will just have to let you know how I get on.