Monday, January 23, 2012

Hate o'clock

"Oh no," you say. "It's one of those posts about yoga."

Yes it is, but I promise if you bear with me I'll reward you with a kitten video or something at the end.

So I've been doing Bikram yoga now for just over two and a half years which in itself is pretty remarkable seeing as I only really planned on doing it for a month or so to sort out my neck after that ditzy girl went all smashy-smashy with her car into the back of my car. In that time I've had yoga highs and yoga lows; no two classes are ever the same, and my practice is constantly evolving.

By far my greatest yoga achievement was when I did a 30 day challenge back in 2010; it was epic, and in preparation for writing this post I've just read back through what I wrote back then (I blogged the whole thing like a complete loon). If you want to relive it, start here, although I apologise in advance for the horrific spelling in places as the 30 days progress. Clearly 30 days of yoga took their toll in ways that were not readily apparent to me at the time.

Anyway, since then I've continued to toil away with my regular practice, popping into the hot box around four times a week. I've thought about doing another 30 day challenge, but last year was just a weird old time with the incredibly busy first half of the year followed by the whole job imploding thing so I never got around to it. And to be honest, I was kind of thinking of new challenges. Some people at the studio have done 101 day challenges but, y'know, you say that to me and I'm like all kinds of WTF?!

So that left two options:

• A double class (i.e. doing one class immediately after another)
• A stupidly early class

Now, the idea of a double is interesting because, y'know, three hours of yoga would practically make you superhuman. On a purely practical level, though, it's quite difficult to work out exactly when you're up for the challenge as you can walk into a class thinking you're going to have an awesome time and then 10 minutes later just die on your mat. Tragically, the few times where I've actually thought I could quite happily do a double have conveniently coincided with occasions where I've got other plans such as meeting someone for coffee straight after class. Shame that.

So that left me with the early morning thing.

Anyone who has seen me early in the morning knows that I barely function at the best of times, let alone having to do a strenuous yoga class; I'm basically like a heavily-tranquillised sloth until around 10am or until I eat something that's packed full of sugar. I still find it quite remarkable that I manage to haul myself out of bed for a nine o'clock class on a Saturday morning. That being the case, a stupidly early class obviously presented me with a what I would call A WORTHY CHALLENGE.

The stupidly early classes at the Chiswick studio are 6:30 in the morning. You might be forgiven for thinking that's not really too bad until you realise that I've got a half hour drive to get there, so basically I have to get up at five to eat and drink something, manage to get dressed without putting my shorts on my head backwards in an adorably dazed fashion, and get over to West London's finest yoga studio for some stretchy stretchy. All in all a terrifying prospect. And yet one I let myself get talked into because I am a SHEEP.

And so last Monday I did my first stupidly early class and it was … well, just brilliant thankyouverymuch.  Maybe my expectations were set ridiculously low, but I ended up having a brilliant class (although I'll admit I was a little tighter in the old hammies than I usually am, which is saying something). By the time we finished at eight I felt properly energised, and even by the time I picked up a coffee, narrowly avoided an encounter with a former colleague and got stuck in some traffic I was still home and at my desk ready for the day by just after 10.

Eager to see if last week's amazing experience was just some sort of incredibly cruel trick the universe had decided to play on me I resolved to give another stupidly early Monday morning class a whirl today. Perhaps out of sheer excitement I actually woke up a little before three and didn't really get back to sleep properly, yet I had another awesome class. As a result I'm coming to the slightly terrifying conclusion that 6:30am might just be a good time for me.

And I won't lie to you: I do feel incredibly smug afterwards.

Now, well done for making it through. Here's the kittens I promised you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Making a dead tree book is fun!

Longterm stalkers readers will remember last August how I shared the exciting story of how I made an ebook. It was a thrilling tale of swearing and adorable tiger faces before I ultimately emerged victorious. And while the ebook remains available on Amazon for the princely sum of just 77p (a great value reduction from the previous 86p that I did not authorise but which I'm too lazy to do anything about), the story doesn't quite end there.

One Friday last November, you see, I woke up one morning and made the spontaneous decision that I desperately, desperately wanted a real physical version of my book. A dead tree edition, if you will. Because however great the ebook version is, and however much the great unwashed masses are embracing digital editions, I'm old school. I love real books that I can love and hold and call George.

So that day I rushed down to my computer and furiously started googling various ways of actually printing some books. I quickly came to the conclusion that the two best options were CreateSpace and Lulu. Years ago when I first started looking at print on demand publishing I came to the very same conclusion, and although I never actually did anything about it, I decided that if I were to publish something I'd go with CreateSpace because it was an Amazon company and I trusted them. And I'll be honest, I took against Lulu based purely on the fact that I have an irrational hatred of the singer Lulu.

Back to November. So I'm sitting there once again comparing CreateSpace and Lulu (the publishing website, not the singer) and it boils down to two things: book size and ease of service. Now, I won't lie to you: my book is pretty short, and CreateSpace's smallest book size is quite big, which basically meant that if I went with them my short book would've ended up being more of a pamphlet. Plus, I like small, stocky books; what ever happened to paperbacks you could shove in a pocket? Turns out that Lulu offer a nice small, pocketable book size, and they seemed to be getting a lot of love for ease of use so I decided to give it a go with them.

Now, I'm obviously writing this two months down the line and as we all know my brain is full of images of cats doing anarchic things and Erica Durance in a star-spangled bikini so complete recollection is nigh-on impossible, but I do recall that Lulu (the publishing website, not the singer) made self-publishing a lovely simple process: I downloaded a template for the book size I wanted, pasted my text into it, then uploaded it to them. Even the cover was pretty straightforward, which was remarkable because I was being all needy and wanted a cover design that wrapped around the front, spine, and back. All in all good times. It was done in just a couple of hours, and all that was left to do was order a proof copy so I could give it the once over before unleashing it upon the world. I hit BUY and I waited.

And I waited…

And I waited…

And I waited…

And basically Christmas came and went and even when you take the annual festive postal snafu into account I came to the conclusion that yeah, it'd gotten lost somewhere along the line.

So I emailed Lulu (the website, not the singer).

I got a response back pretty quickly. Usually around now I announce how I'm using a fake name for the person I ended up dealing with because that gives me the opportunity to be brutally honest about how appalling they were without them ever finding out. But I'm not going to do that here. The person I ended up dealing with was called Tracey, and I'm using her real name because she was utterly brilliant. Tracey agreed with my assumption that the book had gone AWOL and immediately put another copy on order for me. Not only that, but she also put it on express delivery at no additional cost to me. We exchanged a handful of emails over the course of a couple of days and Tracey provided what was without doubt the best customer service experience I've had in a good long while.

What I'm basically saying here is that if anyone from Lulu (the website, not the singer) is reading this, Tracey is a genuine star and you should give her a massive bonus. Or a car.

Anyway, just a few days later this turned up.

And that, my friends, is a real, honest-to-God book.
Nothing quite prepares you for actually holding your own book. I think we shared a special moment. What's particularly impressive is that it actually feels like a real book - I always had this little bit of doubt with print on demand services, like there would be something not quite right about it, but that's not the case; it honestly feels like it could've come from a real publisher.

Still, having had the opportunity to look it over, I decided there were some things I wanted to change - nothing major, mind, and certainly nothing to do with the story itself. I just wanted to add in a copyright page, add in a bit of blank space at the beginning of each chapter, fiddle around with the alignment of the words on the spine to appease my OCD tendencies and perhaps most importantly of all, give my cover designer the credit he so richly deserves, because I left his name off the ebook by mistake and have never been arsed to go back in and add it (shame face).

So there we have it. Making a dead tree book WAS fun. And now - shameless plug - you can grab yourself a copy RIGHT HERE. Admittedly it's a tad more expensive than the ebook version, but hey! You can lick this one.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


It's now been six years since I moved out of Sparky Ma and Pa's house and into my own tiny abode and much to everyone's surprise - myself included - I'm actually still alive to report this fact. Good times, I think you'll agree (unless you hate me). Anyway, when I moved out I obviously took with me everything I thought I needed to survive, and by that I mean books, DVDs, and clothes (although truth be told the latter is probably somewhat less vital; I'm pretty sure I could thrive here naked, though I guess the short hop, skip and jump across the road to the car park would take on a slightly more terrifying aspect for any neighbours unlucky enough to catch a glimpse of me).

Where was I? Ah, yes: so as far as I'm concerned Sparky Towers is fully outfitted with everything I need, and six years ago as I jauntily sauntered out the door I told Sparky Pa that anything he might find of mine that remained could be junked and I wouldn't give a damn. And yet, every six months or so this happens:

• Phone call from Sparky Ma:

Sparky Ma: "Dad's found some of your old [insert name of random stuff] and wants to know if you want it?"
Me: "No, you can throw it away."
Sparky Ma: "Just have a look at it next time you're over. You know what he's like."
Me: *sigh, emo-esque eye roll* "OK."

• Text from Sparky Pa:

To which I reply:
No, it's OK you can junk it.

To which he replies:

Invariably I don't, and often I'm forced to take it away anyway. Which leads me to this point: does anyone want one of THESE?

Anyway, just after Christmas I was hanging out with Big Bro, who moved out a couple of years back and is also on the receiving end of the occasional uppercase text message offering lost wonders from his misspent youth. As we're sitting there chatting he mentions that Sparky Pa is having the loft insulated and had been up there to empty it of junk treasured items, apparently finding several boxes of my stuff in the process. I found this news somewhat terrifying (the boxes, I mean, not the fact they're having the loft insulated - that's quite a prudent move).

"It's stashed in the contemplation room," he added.

The contemplation room, as if you couldn't have guessed, is Big Bro's former bedroom. When I moved out Sparky Pa swooped in from the cold (and I mean that literally) and transformed my bedroom into his new office (he'd previously been exiled to a small shed in the back garden; see, I wasn't joking about coming in from the cold), complete with desk, filing cabinets, and a nice shag carpet. When Big Bro departed, the parents were left somewhat uncertain of what to do with his room. For a brief time I think they entertained the idea of making it into a walk-in wardrobe, but dismissed that as being a bit grandiose for a West London suburb. One thing they never considered, which I think you'll agree would be the obvious answer, was the notion of leaving it as a spare room with a bed for visitors; I assume this never even came up for discussion as a result of their mutual fear that one of us might surreptitiously try to move back in. Instead, they popped some new carpet down and whacked in an armchair, and thus was born the contemplation room.

So on New Year's Eve Big Bro and I go over to Ma and Pa's house and within about an hour or so Sparky Pa says "do you want to go up and have a look at what's in the contemplation room?" as if I actually have any say in the matter.

"You can chuck it," I say.

"Just go and have a look," he replies in a tone that is the verbal equivalent of an uppercase text message.

And so I trudge upstairs like a chastised child who's been sent to their room without dinner.

What I find in the contemplation room is a treasure trove of days gone by - all of it utterly useless to a manchild in his thirties, but delightful all the same. Basically, it was boxes and boxes of toys.

I was joined in the contemplation room by Big Bro, who was there primarily to gloat about the fact that none of it was his, and together we delighted in rummaging through everything for far longer than we should have; I mean, seriously, we should've just walked in there, seen the toys and done a complete 180 because we're grown-ups now. Instead we went "ooo - toys!"

The first things to catch our attention were about four or five nice Bburago cars. As kids we were nutty for these, and apparently I'd left a handful - a couple of Bugattis and Ferraris - behind, all of which were still in their boxes. As lovely as they are, however, I just don't want a load of model cars gathering dust around Sparky Towers. And to be honest the sheer amount of Star Trek stuff bunging up the place is probably off-putting enough for any potential date I might happen to invite back to mine without adding toy cars into the mix.

Next up was a box of real gems. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but I loved buses when I was younger. And when I say 'loved' I mean 'LOVED' - I genuinely had hundreds of toy buses and was eyeing-up a career as a bus driver from an early age; I used to ride around the park on my bike as a kid pulling over every 30 metres or so to let theoretical passengers off. It's all a bit sad when I think about it now.

Anyway, what we found was the mere tip of the proverbial bus-based iceberg, but I think you'll agree it was impressive enough. Well, impressive enough that Big Bro ripped the shit out of me about it.

Buses. A lot of buses. My favourite is the green one. Just to clear up any potential confusion, please note that the Batmobile and KITT from Knight Rider seen here are not buses.
Amongst that sea of primary-coloured buses you might notice a more monochromatic addition. This is, of course, the 1981 Limited Edition Prince Charles and Princess Diana Wedding Bus.

The 1981 Limited Edition Prince Charles and Princess Diana Wedding Bus, as if you hadn't guessed.
I'll be honest, I also had a limited edition bus to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee. Corgi clearly had a nifty sideline in sparkly Royal buses designed to separate gullible young public transport aficionados from their hard-earned pocket money.

In addition to the buses, and making a cameo appearance in the first picture above, I also found a Batmobile circa 1989. As I turned 12 that year this is probably one of the last toys I ever bought. I actually seem to recall being a little bit self-conscious when I took it to the till as I feared the assistant might say something like "aren't you a bit old for this?"to which I'd shriek "NO - I HATE YOU!" in response, then start crying, vacillating between being upset about not getting a Batmobile and concerned that some girls might see me crying as a result of not getting said Batmobile and start pointing and laughing at me.

Unlike the version seen in the movie, the toy Batmobile has a massive batsign emblazoned across the roof just incase you somehow managed to mistake it for anything else lurking in the depths of your toy box.
And finally we come to perhaps the most remarkable find of the evening: Superman's … well, er… Now look: Superman is supposed to be the strongest man on Earth, right? Faster than a speeding bullet? More powerful than a locomotive? Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Yes, exactly! Than why did he need this?

If you squeeze a knob at the back the fists pop out a bit.
"Oh look," I said to Big Bro. "It's Superman's fist-car."

We both looked at it a bit awkwardly. Then I squeezed the knob at the back causing the fists to violently pop out a couple of centimetres.

"I don't think they'd be able to get away with something like that in this day and age," said Big Bro.

I nodded in silent agreement, put the fist-car back in the box, and went back downstairs.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


I don't know about you, but in recent years the festive season can be condensed down to just two things for me:

1. Presents
2. Gingerbread lattes

2011 was a particularly successful festive and jonge-fuelled season (as I shall refer to ginger from here on in) because I got lots of lovely Christmas presents, and in addition to the numerous jonge lattes I awarded myself, I managed to secure one of these:

Yes, that's one entire litre of Starbucks gingerbread - I mean jonger-bread - syrup to add to my coffee or rub on my face, or basically to do whatever the hell I feel like doing with it. I genuinely thought this bottle would see me through to around April, but as I type it's down to about the halfway level, suggesting I'm going to be terrifyingly jonge-starved come the end of January.

But it's not just the jonge lattes that have made the last month so wonderfully jongey: there was also some limited edition jonger-bread porridge that I trawled around several different Waitroses in the hopes of finding. Sadly, when I did manage to get some I discovered that it tasted less jongey and more 'a-bit-like-someone-stirred-some-mercury-in-it.' Maybe I should add some jonge syrup to spice it up? If not I'm saddled with about 10 packets of the odious stuff.

Finally, there's jonge people. I'll probably get a slap for saying this, but my bro has jonge hair. He's tried fobbing it off as 'auburn' and 'strawberry blonde' over the years, but it's jonge. And after 30-odd years on the planet he finally seems reconciled to that fact.

So there we were over Christmas watching Captain America: The First Avenger on DVD, and I don't know if you've seen the film or not but there's a bit in it where some horrible Hydra agent grabs a jonge kid and uses him as a human shield before mercilessly chucking him off the side of a dock to what you assume to be a watery grave. Fortunately the kid can swim and urges Cap to go get the bad guy, but that's by the by: y'see Big Bro wasn't paying much attention at this point, so I said words to the effect of "look - he just tossed the jonge kid in the water! Don't you care about your brethren?"

"Not really," replied Big Bro absentmindedly. "We jonges are a naturally buoyant people."