Bottoms Up!

Dave and Si Sumo Hugh with Salmon 

I think there must be some trend at large that until now, I have been unaware of.  It concerns the antics of men of a certain age, or to be more precise, male cooks of a certain age, who appear on TV.

My TV viewing repertoire is generally limited to programmes about food, horticulture, and some drama.  I’m not fussed about ‘reality TV’, soaps, sex or violence, although please note that I am no prude, and will see just about anything live on stage no matter what the ‘material of an adult nature’. 

I do like a good cooking programme though, especially if there are some cultural elements involved, or a type of cuisine I would like to experiment with, so the recent series, Skandimania, presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and the Hairy Bikers’ Asian Adventure have hit the mark on   both counts.  What has perplexed me about these programmes is the inclination of these presenters to get their kit off, especially as I’m usually eating my dinner when the programmes air!  The sight of Mr FW’s bare bottom easing into an outdoor tub, or Mr Myers and Mr King in the altogether, dipping into an Asian Jacuzzi, is not my idea of tea-time viewing pleasure.  Apologies chaps, I have nothing against your nudity per se, but I do object to bare bottoms when I’m eating (and in fact I’m not sure I want to see those particular bare bottoms at any stage).  I don’t think I’m being ageist, anti-chefist, or have stereotypical ideas of what the human body should conform to, I just don’t want to see bare bottoms – anybody’s bare bottom to be honest- when I’m chomping on my tofu and mung beans!

So, more interesting cooking shows please, but less flesh!

And it seems I’m not the only one who’s noticed; another blogger has made reference to Dave and Si’s propensity to get their kit off, here:  graced with a lovely cartoon

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream..

Sleeping CatWe all know the line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and we view sleep itself with the same worn familiarity.  Like many things in life, sleep is something we take for granted, that is, until we don’t get any.  When something becomes unobtainable we are more likely to re-assess how we value it.

As children most of us sleep routine hours without a thought for what else we might be doing with those hours.  Sleep is natural and necessary.  We all know ratty children who’ve stayed up beyond their bedtimes.  Being under the duvet can have its attractions, however, and  our relationship to sleep, and our sleep patterns themselves, often change when we are young adults.  We want to live life to the full and squeeze every moment from the day, burning the proverbial candle at both ends.  At college late night sessions doing last minute submissions, and conversations into the wee small hours, were almost mandatory.  And why not?  We’re only young once!  I have never been good at late nights however, even when I was at college.  I knew I needed my sleep, even if it was only five or six hours, and everyone else knew it too!

Starting a family is another time that we tend to pay attention to our relationship with sleep, mostly when we’re not getting any.  The disturbed nature of  our sleeping patterns can have huge impacts on our lifestyles, and relationships, especially if our tempers fray.

We do need our rest.  Science has proved it.  Many leaders, famously Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, claimed to not need sleep, but the reality is that they probably obtained their quota at different times, or in different ways to the norm.  Cat-napping is a good example of this.  I have a friend who can cat-nap anywhere.  He can even decide to sleep for ten minutes, and then wake up refreshed.  It’s an enviable skill, although when he’s fallen asleep on the train after one too many glasses of afternoon beer, and missed his stop, I do have to smile!

Lack of sleep, even disturbed sleep, has an impact.  The list of possible long-term effects from not getting enough sleep is impressive, and includes a potentially reduced lifespan.  People who work night shifts are prone to a number of illnesses, and are even more likely to have accidents.

When you begin to look into the subject, you can see why sleep deprivation was used as a torture.  We can only go a maximum of 11 days without any sleep.  In 1965, Randy Gardner, a 17-year-old high school student, set this apparent world-record for a science fair. Several other normal research subjects have remained awake for eight to 10 days in carefully monitored experiments. 1 None of them suffered lasting ill-effects, but after  2 or 3 days, most  of them showed progressive and significant deficits in concentration, motivation, perception and other higher mental processes; after a relatively short time we start to notice deterioration.

I’ve not had a regular sleep pattern in over 18 months now, and my ability to deal with normal day-to-day stresses is definitely diminished.  My memory is worse than it was, especially short-term memory, and there is some research which suggests that we actually need sleep to lay down memories.  Sometimes I feel like someone’s wiped my hard disc over the last year or so, and that I’ve somehow lost a chunk of life.  Living with sleep disturbance certainly robs you of your capacity and energy, and can make normal functions seem far more difficult.

We know very little about our need for sleep, and what causes disruption, and though there is some research, and a rise in the number of so called ‘sleep clinics’, there is very little real information around considering the importance of the subject, and the scale of the problem.  It is thought that up to 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer with insomnia.  For some it’s a short blip in an otherwise regular sleep pattern, but for others it’s the scourge of years, decades even.  In the UK the  NHS  spend around £50 million a year on prescriptions for sleeping pills, that’s 15.3 million prescriptions and up to 1 in 10 people taking them. In itself, this can lead to long term issues, not least addiction;   diverting some of the spend to research and alternative therapies, could prove to be a more effective solution.  There are several sleep clinics now in the UK, but being referred to one is a lengthy process, variable across the country, and with no guarantee of a successful outcome.

As we age we may sleep less.  We may need to sleep less, or it may be one of the curses of ageing.  Again, there’s not a  whole heap of data to draw conclusions from.  What is certain is that sleep is crucial for our mental and physical well-being, and that a healthy relationship with sleep is every bit as important as a healthy diet.  Some research even suggests that our sleep patterns can influence weight gain.

Make a regular date with your bed.  It is not time wasted; rather it’s necessary to who we are and how we function.  If you think you have an issue with your sleep patterns seek some advice from your GP and/or look at one of the many support groups available on line.

Zzz  Sweet dreams Zzz

1 J. Christian Gillin, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, conducts research on sleep, chronobiology and mood disorders

2 Sleeping Pills, Britain’s Hidden Addiction. The Guardian On Line ( Lifestyle Article August 2012.

For Further Help and Information see:

NHS Sleep Problems

British Sleep Society

Mood Juice, Self-Help Guide to Sleep

Photo credit Remigiusz Oprzadek  Dreamstime Stock Photos

A Certain Age…

over the hillIt would seem that I’ve reached ‘that age’.  She didn’t say ‘old’, not exactly, but certainly she indicated that I was no longer ‘young’ enough to assume that all will be well!  Yesterday I had my first ECG; not because I have a dodgy ticker, or a family history of heart disease; not even because I’ve reported chest pain, or in anyway indicated that my heart might be suspect, but simply because I’ve hit a ‘magic’ number of years (or nearly).  Now, it must not be assumed that my heart can take the shock of  an anaesthetic.  Last year all was well: I had two anaesthetics, and no questions asked!  This year, however, is a different story – my strong and beating heart must be checked for tremors, palpitations, irregularities and anomalies.  The wires and graphs showed ups and downs in regular rhythm; no sinister beats or skips were recorded on the chart.  My bp of 120/70 can return to its more normal – for me – 100/60, and I can breathe easy knowing my cardiac muscle is pumping away like a good ‘un.

It’s not that I have any objection to being asked to have an ECG, not at all, it’s comforting knowing they’re making sure I’m OK.  What is disconcerting is the concept of this invisible boundary which I’m about to cross.  Last year my heart was ‘young’ and this year it is, well, if not exactly ‘old’, certainly ‘of that age’ where it must be suspect evermore!

Thankfully I still feel young at heart, however the medical profession choose to classify me!

Coming of AGE

This week my goddaughter is 18.  She was 17 last year, obviously, and passed her driving test, so it shouldn’t really have come as much of a shock that she’s 18 this year, but it has!  I remember her metamorphosis : an idea, a bump, a baby.  Her mum, one of my oldest and bestest friends, phoned me from the hospital soon after she was born, and I can still recall with clarity her helpless, endearing cries.  I saw her shortly afterwards, and can see in my minds’ eye, the nick on her tiny face where they cut her from the womb, less easily than imagined. 

I don’t know what happened.  She grew up, and I missed it I guess!  Absorbed in my own changes and happenings, good and bad, a tiny girl has grown into a young woman. 

The thing is, my own ‘coming of age’ (celebrated at both 18 and 21 – we hadn’t quite focussed on which to celebrate when I was that age!) only seems like yesterday. I don’t feel any older than I did then, inside at least.  My body may give the game away, but my mind refuses to accept that decades, not weeks, have passed since then.  I suppose ageing is like that.  It creeps up on us, until one day we look in the mirror and realise we are officially ‘old’.  I am not willing to concede the fact just yet, however!  My father is 81 this year.  He has always been a fit and active man, a semi-professional sportsman when he was younger; he’s never really stopped believing that he isn’t still agile and youthful.  He attempts things that you wouldn’t sensibly expect an octogenarian to attempt.  Thankfully he is still fit, has great reflexes, and is relatively healthy, but after heart surgery and a knee replacement, crawling about on roof tops isn’t necessarily the best form of staying active!  Walking down a gorge last year, a little too close to the edge, I remember him saying that it would be OK if he fell, as he’d just grab onto the sides and haul himself back up!  The thing is, he really believes that his reactions and strength are good enough for him to be able to do that.  He still believes he is young and invincible.  My response is ambivalent – I don’t know whether to applaud or chastise.  I admire the fact that he stubbornly refuses to adhere to the ‘rules’ of ageing: he stays up late and sleeps in of a morning, his appetite is as voracious as ever, and his diary is as full as, or perhaps even fuller, than mine.  I wonder if he feels like his 21st birthday was a few years ago, rather than over half a century away?

The point is not that we age, or that time appears to speed up as we do so, but that we ‘seize the day’ and make the most of the opportunities that come our way.  At 18 you have an entire life spanning out before you: you can do anything, go anywhere, chose who you want to be and what you want to do.  You don’t know, however, if your life will be short or long; whether you will be looking back at 50, or 80, and wondering where the time has gone and what you did with it, or whether your life will be cut short at 30 or 40, or even younger.  I wish I could explain to my goddaughter how fast her life will travel, how soon she will be married with children of her own – if that’s the route she chooses.  Of course, she wouldn’t pay me any heed.  I’m ‘old’ like her mum, to be at best, politely ignored, and at worse, rebelled against and reviled.  I wouldn’t have listened to me at her age either.  I knew best, my parents knew nothing relevant.  You can never put a wise head on young shoulders because it’s life’s experiences that, for the most part, makes us wise and sensible, although hopefully never too wise, or too sensible to ‘act our age’!

The most I can do is wish my goddaughter all the best for the journey ahead.  I won’t ask that she has no pain in her life, but that she always has good friends and family to support her when times are hard.  My life thus far has not been without tribulation, and at 18 I could not have envisaged the twists and turns my life would take, but I’ve survived the rough and the smooth, as most of us do, carried through by the joys and beauty and happiness we experience, and the safety net of good friends and family.  She has had a supportive and loving family, and that will count for a lot. 

Happy 18th birthday Katie!