Wednesday 21 May 2014

Treadmill versus trail, starring as fairy godmother

So, really, who on earth wants to exercise indoors when the sun is shining? Come to think of it, who wants to exercise indoors at any time?  I mean, which view would you rather have?  This? 

Or this? 

Okay, so I’m very lucky. I live in the most stunning place, but surely anywhere has to be better than a sweaty old gym? 

I’m back for another shot at learning to run (the last couple of attempts ended ingloriously with injury and a lot of sulking) and this time I’m determined to crack it.  But I didn’t want to run indoors on the treadmill – I have this image (yes, yes, I know it’s never the way we imagine in our heads but still) of myself running free over the moorland, over the fields, by the river, up the hills (oh, okay, let’s save that one for a few months down the line, eh?).  But Exmoor is tricksy – no neat running trails here; it’s all uneven terrain.  So, I figured, what I needed was some trail trainers. heard my wish and went all fairy godmother on me, saying I could pick a pair to try out – seems they’re all for encouraging people to jettison the gym and get fit outdoors (see, I’m on trend for once). 

Slight problem.  Too much choice.  I’m a simple soul – I tend to go with the tried and trusted, so started looking at ASICS.  ‘Nooo,’ shouted a friend who’s a keen trail runner.  ‘You have to get Inov-8.’ 
‘Hell no,’ said another, equally keen.  ‘Saucony, you need Saucony.’
So I looked, and looked, and seriously, there is way too much choice.  In the end, I figured this is Exmoor and although I loved these…

And these…

And even quite liked these…well, I like the day-glo green bits but the pinky bits are mank...

...I really needed something waterproof to cope with bog, stream and puddle.  So chose some Goretex beauties.  And they’re fab.  I took them to Spain on my Body Retreat weight loss and fitness break and they laughed at rocky trails, sniggered at perilous descents and managed to stay looking cool, calm and collected at the end of every outing. 

Now then…these are all well and good if you’re going off-road like me but, be warned, they’re not suitable for road-running and absolutely not advised for treadmill bashing.  You want nice normal running shoes for those (and, yeah, Sportsshoes do a shedload of those too).  Why?  Because there’s just too much grip on the trail runners and you run the risk of injury if you wear the wrong shoe in the wrong environment.
Incidentally, you probably know this but I hadn’t realised that, if you are running on a treadmill, you should always set it to a slight incline – once again, it’s all about preventing injury.  

So, wanna join me?  Let's go...  

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Magic and memory, the sea and the stones, red and reader...

So, I wanted to go back to Culbone, to the tiny church in an isolated Exmoor valley that helped inspire my first attempt at fiction, WalkerBut memory plays strange tricks and the path I was sure would lead up into the woods, led instead down to the beach...
And the pebbles were speckled and spotted, seal-smooth pelts.  And water-washed wood, with all the weight sucked out by tide and time. So we turned back and found the true path, tucked away where it shouldn't be, where it wasn't, at the back of the pub.   
Through tunnels of green, the kind of hidden hollow-way, the kind of secret steps that have joyed my heart since childhood. What is it about that play of green on green, of shadow and light, of moss-embraced stone?
The path climbs up through woodland, sometimes you glimpse the sea, mainly it hides and you just hear its sluice and shunt.  And I worried.  Would the magic remain?  Could it? And oh...oh...the little wooden hut (the one which let you make your own cup of tea, take your own biscuit and maybe buy a book or two; the one which trusted you to leave your pennies in the pot) was now disavowed...forbidden. A stern sign announced that this was Private Property - and that one should Keep Out
And Vivienne had warned me that it had changed.  And she was right.  It was all fenced off and signed away and oh, oh, we humans love to fence and surround and name and own, don't we? 
And even in the church itself, it was somehow all about private property and keep out.  Thou shalt not.  
And I felt bereft.  The magic had gone. Lost under strictures and rules, fences and knots. Trespassers Will be Persecuted. 
 But then, as I sat at the foot of the cross, I started noticing different things. Things I hadn't seen before.  Magical things. A face peeping out of the green on an old, old window.  Can you see it?  A merry imp?
The red red lichen on the gravestones - and so many of the people whose memory they marked were named Red.  My Name is Red.  Good book, btw - have you red it?

And it struck me that it's folly to expect magic to remain the same.  How could it?  Places change. People change. Everything changes (while still, in some way, remaining the same). We cling to our memories of how things/people/places are - we demand that they remain - but that entombs them.  And maybe, just maybe, when we cling to old magic, it prevents new magic from being seen?
Anyhow.  It struck me that I was being precious about Walker.  I'd taken it down from Amazon because I felt dissatisfied with it, unhappy with my writing.  I thought I'd maybe revisit it, rewrite it, re-magic it.  But then, sitting in the tiny church, watching a shaft of sunlight on the list of rectors, that long line of rectitude scripturing-stricturing back to the 14th century, I changed my mind.  Let it be.  

Click on the cover below to buy and see if I made a mistake.    

Sunday 4 May 2014

Five flat stomach myths - and how to lose the ab flab

Don't laugh but I went shopping.  And I bought:
- a small rucksack
- three pairs of sports socks for James (I'm all heart)
- a t-shirt that says 'Aaaaggghh'  (because, well...)...
- a bikini

Yes, you read right.  Now I haven't possessed a bikini since I was eighteen. But there was this Monsoon voucher I've had for about seven years (yes, I'm that bad at shopping - in fact it was so old it was actually a paper voucher rather than a plastic card) and I thought, what the hell?  That pic on the left is it - nothing to scare the horses, huh?  And praise be that shops now recognise that not everyone is, well, in proportion.  So I got a size 16 top and a size 10 bottom - yes, I AM Barbie - though without the ten inch waist.  Anyhow. It looked sort of all right in the dim lights of the changing room but, when I got home, it looked definitely all wrong. Not remotely the bikini's fault - it's all down to my flab.

And it got me thinking ('Meditations on Flab?') This is the time of year that you start reading all sorts of flannel about how to get a bikini body.  And us gullible fools start doing a thousand crunches a day or buying the latest new super pill that promises to slice pounds off precisely the bits you want and...oh enough already.  Let's say it again, for the hundredth time, you really can't spot reduce.  You can target and build muscle in a strategic way (to a degree) but fat has a mind of its own. It's not just me, is it?  Please - for the love of all that's holy - don't tell me that you all have washboard stomachs.  

So I asked Henlu, aka Captain Oblivious (the guy who strung me out on a TRX and had me weeping over push-ups in Greece) what he would do if he were a woman who needed to look relatively tolerable in a bikini. And, really, it's seriously good advice - not just if you want to look halfway decent in a bikini, but if you want to be overall healthy.   So, without further ado, I'll hand you over to the fabulous, and distinctly washboarded, Henlu van der Westhuizen...who's going to tell you about the Five Flat Tummy Myths...

Myth #1: Do extra crunches to flatten your abs.

Excessive crunches aren't the answer for tight abs. In order to achieve a toned look you'll have to focus on burning off the layer of fat that is covering up your tummy.
  • Tip: Don't obsess about crunches - instead focus on fat burning.

Myth #2: Take diet pills to speed results.

I know it's so tempting! The ads make compelling claims about the power of popping a pill, but don't fall for it. There is no ‘magic pill'. Diet pills are more likely to burn through your purse than to slim you down.
  • Tip: Don't pop a pill - instead burn calories with intense exercise.
Myth #3: Turn to packaged diet products to boost results.

Don't fall for the foods that are packaged as ‘diet' or ‘weight loss' aids. Quite often these products are packed with refined sugar and other artificial ingredients that your body doesn't need, and certainly won't help you attain that tight tummy.
  • Tip: Don't eat packaged diet foods - instead stick with nutritious whole foods.

Myth #4: Avoid all carbohydrates in order to achieve tight abs.
Carbohydrates have been given a bad rap, which is unfortunate because you can (and should) eat carbs while slimming down. The key is to stick with whole grains, oatmeal and brown rice while avoiding processed and refined flours and sugars.
  • Tip: Don't give up all carbohydrates - instead stick with wholesome carbs.
Chia and berry porridge...
Myth #5: Starve the chub away. 

Trying to lose weight by starving yourself is not only ineffective it can also be dangerous. It may seem that severe calorie restriction would deliver the quickest weight loss, but your body is complex and by doing so you'll disrupt your metabolism and slow your results.
  • Tip: Don't starve yourself - instead eat small wholesome meals throughout the day.
Now that you know what not to do in order to achieve tight abs, it's time to go over your flat tummy game plan. Here's what you need to know in 3 simple steps:

Step One: No more junk food.
The best way to do this is by cleaning out your kitchen. Throw out the sugary, processed and fat-filled foods. Once the junk has been cleared out, don't buy any more of it. Remember that your beach-ready abs depend on what you eat – don't eat junk!

Step Two: Eat whole foods.
Replace the junk food in your life with plenty of the following: cooked and raw vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, moderate amounts of seeds and nuts, lean meats and low fat dairy. Clean eating really is that simple.

Step Three: Come train with me.
This is the most obvious step. You're ready to get into great shape and I'm in a unique position to make that happen for you."

Jane back:  Yes, well, re the last step, he would say that, wouldn't he?  But truly, if you live in London, he's a great trainer...or treat yourself to a week of super-training and amazing detox eating on one of his Hellenic Healthy Holidays.

Find out more about Henlu's training at
You can sign up for Henlu's newsletters (which give great tips, recipes and so on) by dropping him an email at

Thursday 1 May 2014

Come on baby, light my fire! Beltane, May Day, sex and freedom.

It's May Day!  Are you gonna light your fire?  Here's a snippet from my book The Natural Year, now available for Kindle.  

The lessons of May are about freedom, about energy and about determination. It's a dynamic time - not just of growth but of destruction too. An old friend of  mine, Shan - a pagan priestess and therapist - says, "Freedom is stressful - it means making decisions, balancing opportunities, it means the freedom to break." 
She points out that many marriages and partnerships cannot take the sheer scrutiny of May and break up around this time. It's also a season when many people choose to die. "It's a natural time to end things," she says. "It's like new energy being put into an old vessel. If the vessel isn't strong enough to take the energy, it will break."
Of course, this all ties in with the principal festival of May which is May Day.  Forget all that Labour Day nonsense, in the ancient calendar this was Beltane. No point in being coy about it, Beltane is the great sex festival of the pagan year. The maypole is a blatant phallic symbol plunging down into the fertile (female) Earth. It is said that the pole also stands for the movement of energy between heaven and earth, the vital energy of the sky coming down to combine with the growing Earth which brings about the fresh new upsurge of spring.

As an interesting aside, it appears dowsers can detect spiral energy patterns in the places where may poles used to stand.  My pal, Vivienne Tuffnell, points out that many maypoles were erected over underground springs and water sources, which usually give a spiral reading when dowsed.

All kinds of greenery were used to celebrate this vibrant festival. Houses were decked with the fresh branches and leaves of spring - why not revive the custom and decorate the house with garlands and wreaths or, if that seems a bit embarrassing to explain to the neighbours, make sure you have plenty of flowers around using masses of greenery and leaves. You could even follow the old custom of going "a-Maying", bringing in armfuls of the freshly flowering hawthorn. However be sure to obey the old rule that the blossoms only stay in the house for the one day. Branches of rowan can be picked too and placed over your front door as a protection. Or twist a wreath from birch twigs and give it to your beloved - a traditional gift at this time.

In the old days Beltane was also a great fire festival - like Halloween. Our ancestors had a practical use for the fire - they burned magical and medicinal herbs in it and drove their livestock through the smoke to fumigate them against illness. But fire is exciting as well as purifying and, above all, Beltane is an exciting time, almost a dangerous time. People jumped through the fire - not necessarily a custom I would advise you reinstate unless you are pretty agile. If you don't have access to anywhere to enjoy a large bonfire then light a festive fire in your grate.  No grate?  Light a candle. 

Traditionally the Beltane fire was lit with a bundle containing three pieces each of nine different types of wood - birch (for fertility and the Goddess); oak (for the male principle or God); rowan (for life and protection against evil); willow (to represent death); hawthorn (for purity and purification); hazel (for wisdom); applewood (for love); vine (for joy) and fir (for rebirth, the symbol of immortality). 

While you watch the fire burn, toast the fresh new year with a May bowl - simply place a few flowering sprigs of woodruff in a bowl and pour over a bottle of white wine and a wineglass of strawberry wine or strawberry liqueur. Mix and sweeten if necessary.

Happy May Day!  

You can buy The Natural Year here - it's only a couple of quid!