Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pokusaj - Get into it

The Cotswolds is a small area in the west country of England, roughly the size of Greater Tokyo. The Cotswolds is mostly famous for being the wettest part of the world, particularly on bank holiday weekends. It is also well known for its many quaintly named villages like Old Sodbury, Little Slaughter and Cold Ashton (it really was colder in Cold Ashton!) and the green rolling hills that separate them.

Anyway, I went to the Cotswolds last weekend to walk in the rain and enjoy the scenery. The trip was organised, like most trips I take, by Joyce and featured a motley crew of under prepared and overly optimistic walkers. The emergency search and rescue team in Bath must have looked on with unusual concern as we milled around in central Bath (the town where our train dropped us off) comparing muesli bars and complimenting each other on the new wet weather gear we'd purchased during the week. Some unusual choices had been made. One half of Tranzie had decided to wear a waterproof tent rather than a waterproof jacket (presumably it was cheaper?) while the other half had gone with a sharp little skin-tight number so as to preserve his aerodynamic profile. Smart. Only Joyce was clever enough to bring waterproof shoes, though in fairness my shoes were specifically designed for off-road use and made clever use of brown suede, which helps disguise mud.

In any case, at the end of the day, no amount of money spent on clothes made from fabrics with fabulous wicking qualities can replace the toughness and mental fortitude that we as a group possessed. So we set off in high spirits to tackle the gentle hills and meandering pathways that faced us. Joyce, as always, had done her work well and chose a terrific route for us to walk. The scenery was beautiful and classically "English" - cultivated, green, soft and muddy. Actually, to be fair, the rain held off for most of the time, with only one morning spent trudging through showers. It did rain heavily on the third day, but we were smart enough not to walk that day, preferring instead the six-seater taxis for which the Cotswolds are also rightly famous.

As an aside, Saturday night featured an impromptu rest-break in Bath where we managed to take in the Eurovision song contest. I hadn't watched Eurovision for roughly 10 years but I intend to never miss it it again. I loved every minute of it (well, every minute of the performances, the vote tallying did get a bit dull about half-way through the 43 voting countries). To do it justice would take a whole new blog posting, and I don't have energy for that. But my personal highlight was "Pokusaj" by Laka - the entry from Bosnia-Herzgovina featuring the most successful Bosnian alternative music act performing today (or so Wikipedia tells me). No joke, the song is fantastic - uplifting, exciting, fast-paced and seriously catchy. But the performance took it to new heights - a strange girl hanging up laundry, four more strange girls in wedding dresses knitting cardigans, an even stranger man in a powder blue suit acting like a puppet. It was all so strangely and fantastically unexplained. I couldn't get enough. Unfortunately they finished mid-table, as the Bosnians didn't have as many friends in other countries as the winning Russians did. Oh well. Look it up on youtube - it'll make your day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My weakening resolve

New Year's resolutions typically last no longer than 3 weeks (20 January being a particularly bad date for breaking resolutions as it is officially the most depressing day of the year, at least in the northern hemisphere, when people wake up to the harsh reality of winter without the promising glow of Christmas to look forward to). However, according to my posting history, mine seems to have lasted a little longer, well at least into February ... You see, I had resolved to try and blog a little more frequently this year, but you know what they say about best laid plans, and I didn't even lay my plan all that well. Worse still, I've been put to shame by a fellow blogger - Tim - who posts about five times a day. I would try and renew my resolution, but I know it's probably hopeless, so instead I'm just going to have to accept the reality that my postings won't be as frequent as I'd like.

Anyway, to get on with business, let's catch up on a little bit of news. I'll cover two noteworthy events. First, the all too brief visit of Tammie and Tom earlier this month. I have been friends with Tammie for as long as I can remember, well actually, come to think of it, we only became friends in year 10 and since I do have occasional flashbacks of life before I was 15yo, I suppose that's not technically true. But we've been friends for a long time. So I was naturally devastated to miss out on her wedding in April to another good mate of mine, Tom. Obviously sharing my distress, the two Ts decided to visit me on their honeymoon - a touching thought if not a little strange. An air mattress on my living room floor is not the most romantic way to spend your honeymoon, though before you worry too much, they were only stopping off in London before heading to Ireland where, in between doing other romantic things, they were staying in a castle. Laughing in the face of jetlag, Tammie and Tom were keen to see a few of London's sights during their short stay and since I've seen almost none of them, I was glad to tag along. We managed to fit in quite a lot during the 36 hours they were here, but the most notable event we saw was the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I think the visitors enjoyed it, but I have to say I think it is the most overrated tourist attraction in London. To start off, you have to wait for 90 minutes surrounded by obnoxious Italian tourists (I'm not saying all Italian tourists are obnoxious, but the ones standing near us were) just in order to have a chance of getting half a glimpse of the action. Then you get to spend 40 minutes watching men in silly hats shuffling around on gravel and shouting at each other. The whole concept of the guards serving a practical purposes is ridiculous. If I was a burglar, I'd get into the palace through the back door (no doubt the door to the kitchen is always left open) rather than try to slip my way through a brass band with 50 soldiers playing the Star Wars theme (really, that's what they did) while each balancing half a dead bear on their heads. There's a reason why they keep the crown jewels in the tower and not in the palace - the security ain't great!

Well, enough about that, the second thing I wanted to tell you about is bikram yoga, which I recently tried for the first time. The thing about bikram yoga is that it makes you feel sick before it makes you feel better. As you'll probably know, the room that you do it in is heated to 40 plus degrees. This has a number of side effects: first it obviously makes you sweat a lot, which helps release toxins from your body, second it heats you up, which helps your flexibility and loosens your body up a bit, and third it helps get your heart rate going, which is good for your cardio fitness. It also makes you feel very ill if you've got any food in your stomach. Which is why my decision to eat a rich three course meal a couple of hours before the class wasn't one of my best (even though I did opt for the fish instead of the pork belly). I've heard that some people who have eaten before yoga have felt very queasy and ill afterwards. Luckily for me, I must have a good digestive system, because I didn't feel that bad. However, that was probably because I was only physically capable of participating in about half the class. Who would have thought yoga would be that hard? I got through the first few breathing exercises pretty easily and the smirk on my face obviously told the instructor I was a bit too cocky. So he threw us into a series of deep knee bends where you have to balance on one leg, bent so that your thigh is parallel to the ground (and therefore holding your entire weight), and then just sit there and stay still for 30 seconds at a time while madly trying to blink the sweat away from your eyes. I got through the first few repetitions but then had to spend the next ten minutes lying on the ground in a pool of sweat trying to get my heart rate back to normal. After that we did more tricks balancing on one leg, including a few that made me feel like something out of a Soulja Boy video clip. After the 90 minute class was over, I felt like a wreck. However, after a cool shower, a healthy "Berry Bliss" juice and about 3 hours of relaxation, I started to feel pretty good. I'm not sure it's all down to the yoga, but it might be, so I think I'll be back (which means that, like blogging, I'll probably do it once every three months for the next year or so and then quit).