Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Eggs by the dozen? Yes, I think so!

On Sunday, it was reported in The Mail On Sunday that a new EU regulation has been passed which will prevent the selling of eggs by the dozen or indeed, as is more common on our island, by the half dozen. Immediately, the rather surprising number of readers of that particular publication raised their voices as one proclaiming that the European Union have never done anything but meddle in our affairs. There is many an angry person that reads the Mail with the trust afforded to the British press who will believe all of these types of stories, take them under their collective wings and stand as one, opposed to the European Union and everything it stands for. But what should we make of the story? Is Europe creeping at the door and invading everything we stand for, or is this just another example of the misguided half truths that the British press hand us on a platter with the expectation that the nation that will gorge itself?
The answer to that particular question lies in a further article from the daily edition of the paper that went to press on Monday, just one day after the original article. The article, entitled Eggs by the dozen will NOT be banned, say Brussels after backlash by Britain made an attempt to cover the previous articles tracks, although not very effectively, and explain the real laws that had been passed by the European Union. Further reading from other sources reveals the real story behind the hype presented to us by those reporters at the daily mail.
The story behind the myth
The real story, and indeed the proposed legislation behind this report is that the EU are attempting to standardise the way in which food is sold in all shops and supermarkets throughout the nations that it governs. This legislation will require that all items should be sold by weight, or at least have the average weight clearly visible on the packaging. This does not mean that supermarkets can no longer sell items by quantity, but it does mean that the average weight of the package should be in clear view to the proposed consumer. As a result, eggs can still be sold by the dozen or half dozen, but should have an average weight of the contents so that the consumer knows exactly what they are buying.
This law is a step on from the current laws stating exactly what constitutes the size of an egg. There are four official sizes of eggs, those being
- Very large (73g and over)
- Large (63g – 73g)
- Medium (53g – 63g)
- Small (under 53g)
There are many other EU regulations that have been misreported by the British press, and many, many more that have been completely made up. It has almost come to a point where if somebody mentions EU regulations, there is an observable shudder in the shoulders of the recipient to the conversation. So what is it that causes this reaction? The answer, once again is the British press and the lies and misguided half truths that they spout on what would seem an almost daily basis. Every one of us has some story or other that we have heard from the British press which is as much anti-Euro as it is completely untrue.
Straight bananas only!
This is one of my favourites, more because I was aware of when the story first broke, and I have to admit that, for a while at least, I believed it. Alas, it is another one of the Daily Mail’s lazy excuses for journalism. This story comes about from an EU regulation on the size of a banana, and not, as was reported at the time, its shape. Now, I know a lot of people wont see the point in passing a regulation on such a menial thing, and that is probably true in a world where most of the produce we buy is by weight, but if we think of it with a view to the individual banana, this law does actually make sense. If you were to walk into an average sandwich shop tomorrow, you will know doubt see bananas, as well as other fruits on sale for a specific price. The EU regulation states that a shop cannot sell these fruits for the given price if they are under a certain weight. The law was passed to make it fairer on the consumer. If the regulation had not been passed, we may have found ourselves in a situation where a normal sized banana was being sold for the same price as a miniature banana, not half the size of its cousin.
Hair nets for trawler men
Now, this one was actually completely made up. To explain the law that was stated in the press, it was apparent that fishermen were to be forced to wear hair nets whilst fishing in order for the produce to be completely clean from the sea to the supermarket. Once again, the story broke and then propagated around the British press in all of the daily papers to the point where Richard Littlejohn wrote at the time “Oh, what a circus, the safety Nazi’s have forced fishermen to wear hairnets, you couldn’t make it up”. The fact remains, however, that indeed somebody did actually make it up. Two British journalists, who shall forever in this blog remain nameless actually admitted making up the whole thing one night in a bar in Brussels.
In conclusion, whatever your thoughts on the European Union, whether you consider yourself a member of the European Union, or an avid supporter of the island Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, before you begin to believe what you read, take it with a pinch of salt. If you have the time and the resources, research the stories behind what is printed, and do not be too sceptical of the powers that be. Much of the time, their words have been misquoted, or placed unwillingly in their mouths!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Running - A beginners guide from newbie to newbie!

Once again, I find myself in a position where I am beginning to tell people that I have started running again. As stupid as this may sound, it is actually quite a common occurrence for me to start running, and then a few weeks/months down the line, give up the ghost and stop again. There are many reasons for this, some of them to do with my general level of fitness, others to do with my state of mind, and my expectation of what the exercise will bring me.
This time, as with every other time, I hope that my new found desire to pound the streets will last. I always hope it will last, right up until the point when I realise that it hasn’t lasted. The one thing that I am really bad at doing though (apart from actually carrying on!) is actually analysing what it is that has made me stop running, what makes it so difficult to get back out there in the afternoon and chase whatever realm of glory I am chasing.
And that, is the biggest thing that I have decided to change about my running habits this time round. I have begun to discover the sort of person that I am when it comes to exercise, and the flaws in my personality that stop me doing it, and I honestly believe that many of these things are the same for other people around me. For this reason, I would like to offer these pieces of advice to anybody who is considering starting running, or indeed, any other exercise.
Do not let other people tell you what you should be doing
This is probably the most important piece of advice that I could ever dispense. One of the biggest reasons that I give up running, and decide that it is a waste of my time is the reactions I get from other people when I tell them the distances and times that I spend running in an average week. We are, all of us, individuals, and we all have our own styles of running, and our bodies naturally progress to what people would term “full fitness” at different paces. I know that it sounds like an excuse, I know that it should not affect me as much as it does, and I know I should be stronger in my mind, if not in my body, but if somebody tells me that I am running at too slow a pace, I have a tendency to up the pace on the next run. Inevitably, my body decides to let me know in no uncertain terms that it is not ready to do it, and I become disheartened, my mind crashes, I lose concentration, and eventually, give up. So, the most important thing that I have decided to do is accept the fact that I am not at this time, and may never be, as fast as my peers. I may never be able to run the distances of which they speak. I will get there in my own time, in my own way, and just enjoy the ride.
Listen to your body
Your body, no matter what you think of it, is a wonderful machine, and needs to be treated as such. When you are running, as much as possible, try to be completely aware of how your body feels. If you feel a twinge, no matter how small, in your leg, or anywhere else, stop, have a feel around. Try walking on it for a few minutes to see if it still feels bad, and then start running again, but slowly. If it still feels bad, then walk back to where you started, sleep on it, and see how it feels tomorrow. Nobody will give you an award for bravery if you run on a bad leg, and the likelihood is that you will only make the situation worse.
Similarly, listen to what your stomach is telling you. Many people when they start running will notice that they begin to feel slightly sick, or appear to have acid indigestion after a little while. This is the bodies warning sign that it is dehydrated. Take this on board, and when you next go out for a run, make sure that you are hydrating yourself properly beforehand. Be aware though that just drinking four pints of water in the ten minutes before you actually start running is not going to hydrate you. It needs to be controlled over the course of the hours, or even days, before the run.
A further point I would like to add to this is to listen to your body more than you watch your body. We all have things within ourselves that we do not like, and if you keep up the running, this may well change over time. But it will take time. Crash diets do not, and have never worked, and are extremely unhealthy. Instead of weighing yourself every morning to see if you have lost that extra pound, notice the other things about your body. The things that we generally take for granted. Begin to notice how much easier it is to walk up the stairs to your office in the morning. Notice how the tone in your legs is slowly changing. Be aware of how much lower your heart rate is when you are sitting in front of the television. These are the inward signs of becoming fitter, and these things almost always change before any outward signs. And remember, most, if not all of the people around you like you just the way you are. Those who don’t, don’t deserve to be your friends!
Do not put your iPod/Generic MP3 player on shuffle
It’s rare these days that I actually run with an iPod, as I get frustrated when the headphones keep popping out of my ears, but if you are going to run with an iPod, one piece of advice is to not use the shuffle mode unless you are really sure that you want to listen to every song that it might land on. There are very few things that will break your concentration more than having to stop to change the track because you don’t like the song. Choose an album or a playlist that makes you feel good about yourself. Something that you find yourself tapping your feet to every time you hear it.
Don’t be too aware of what is going on around you
One of the traps that I often find myself falling into is that of being too aware of what is going on around me. For me, personally, this can include several things, such as adjusting my running style and speeding up when I see somebody coming towards me in the hope that they wont judge my speed. This counts especially in a gym environment. It is in the very nature of the human being to be competitive with those around us, and our entire body language and running style may change if we begin to take notice of those other people. Don’t. Running is your personal experience and changing your personal style may very well hinder you much more than it impresses anyone else.
Enjoy yourself
Last, but by no means least, enjoy yourself. You are about to embark on a personal journey that only you can direct. There is absolutely no point in continuing something like this if you don’t enjoy it. If you find yourself not enjoying it, try to think about why that is. Have you been pushing yourself too hard, or maybe not hard enough. If you get to the end of every run feeling absolutely exhausted and on the verge of collapse, then you are not going to want to get out and do it next time. There is no harm in taking a little time half way through to slow the pace down, even walk for a while. You will find that you cover the same distance feeling a lot better about yourself, and will have something of a desire to get back out there in a few days time, or whenever the mood takes you.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the point that I am by no stretch of the imagination a professional runner. I consider myself barely into the newbie stage, perennial restarter. The advice that I give here should be taken as that. Everybody has their own running style, and their own way of gearing themselves up before a run, and relaxing afterwards. I do not claim to hold the key to success, although sometimes I wish I did!
Happy running J

Friday, 11 June 2010

Did somebody mention a football tournament?

Tomorrow, it begins. The blind expectation that consumes every fibre of my being, in spite of everything that has happened before. The heart stopping moments of fear and wonder that could lead either to utter joy, or sickening misery. The feeling of wanting to shout in anger at the television, whether everything is going right, or it is all going sp desperately wrong. I am, of course, talking about the World Cup.

Of course, I make absolutely no claims to be a big football supporter. For many years, I have claimed to be a Liverpool fan, without ever really making plans to watch a full game. Come the end of the domestic season, I generally find myself only vaguely aware of which team came top of the table, and which teams have been relegated to the depressing depths of the lower leagues. I try to make myself aware of events such as the FA Cup final, but only because knowing when the matches are being played at Wembley helps me plan my travel around the area. My knowledge of the events is only slightly better than my knowledge of the teams themselves, and moreover, the players. I could perhaps name a few of the Liverpool players, and maybe a few odd players from other clubs, but I would not have a clue as to the typical starting line-up of any of the major clubs on an average Saturday.

So why, then, do I find myself in a position where I am genuinely excited that the World Cup is starting tomorrow? What is it about the beautiful game that is so much more attractive when set on a world stage? Is it the carnivalesque atmosphere which emanates around the travelling supporters from every corner of the Earth? Is it the look of undeniable belief in the eyes of every single one of those supporters that their team will make it this time? Is it the look of utter despair on those same supporters faces when their dream comes to an end? The answer of course, lies in all of these things, and so many more.

I remember from tournaments gone by, being one of the spectators, standing with my fellow supporters with a pint in my hand, and a belief in my heart, and feeling like I was part of something, and that it was my duty to be there, singing for my team, and my country. I remember with great joy the moment when Michael Owen scored that goal and a torrent of happiness washed over me like a waterfall. I remember the great sadness and utter disappointment of losing 3-1 on Penalties to Portugal. I remember, the dread of being tied a the end of 120 minutes, and thinking “oh, god. Not another penalty shoot-out!”

But through all of these memories, be they painful or joyful, the thing I remember most is the spiritedness of the competition itself. Despite us all supporting different teams and sharing banter about who was the better team, the better player, who had the luckiest draw, and who keeps diving in the penalty area, there was never any real malice there. Of course there are always a few people who spoil that atmosphere, and take it too far, and shame on them, whatever nationality they represent. We all have our louts, and our hooligans, but despite what they say, they are not football supporters, merely supporters of unadulterated violence, and should leave with their tail between their legs and seek refuge elsewhere, whilst we, the mass populous enjoy the entertainment.

Football is a great divider, but at the same time, it brings with it a great spirit of community. For the next three weeks, the battles being fought on the pitch will overshadow any battles being fought in the deserts and the jungles. There will be tears, there may even be a little blood-shed, but once it is all over, we will go back to our lives and things will be the same again. We may stand on the other side of the fence with our neighbours when we play each other, but once it is over, we will shake hands and declare that the best man won, and “wasn’t it a good game though! Same time in four years!?!”

So once again, I shall be there, in front of the TV, screaming for my team to give the other side a good trouncing. I hope we win, I really do. But, above all, I know in my heart who the real winner will be. The real winner, as it always has been, and always should, will be football.