Category Archives: fitness

Swim, gym (x2), run, plus asteroids, too few children and a missing pig

Monday saw my first swim for a month. It’s not my favourite thing and it’s difficult to get out of the house on a cold, dark evening, so I surprised myself by going at all.

The session was well attended and I was (mis)placed in a lane with the three fastest swimmers. I stuck to the faster drills and front crawl so as not to get in their way too much – and that meant that I ended up doing 1km, which is further than usual.

I had given a lift to my training partner and his wife. His foot fracture is mending nicely and he is now allowed to swim, although it will be 9 weeks from the date of the fracture before he can get back to running. That seems to put paid to his participation in the Brighton Marathon on 2 April, which is disappointing.

Into the (unheated) gym on another freezing Tuesday morning. It was hard again with the extra arm exercises but the big breakthrough is a long way off yet. Small progress with the (still disliked) gravitron machine now helping to the tune of 25kg, down from a starting 35kg.

I took Wednesday off exercise, other than for the daily diet of push-ups and bicep curls. I’m carrying on with those in a rather unstructured way, whenever I think of them, but it probably means an average of over 50 curls per arm and over 50 push-ups a day.

We are having some work done on the house so no run on Thursday – but I lit a giant bonfire that has been accumulating for some months as the weather and wind direction have been wrong for setting it alight. Only 5ft (150cm) high, but it was probably 15 feet (4.5m) in diameter at the base. It was a recalcitrant beggar and the day was every bit as hard as a gym session but much longer.

Gym for an hour on Friday morning and then three in the bike shop. The bonfire continues to smoulder happily and the wind continues in the right direction (blowing the smoke away from the village).

The breeze had dropped by Saturday morning and the bonfire smoke was likely to go anywhere so I put the fire out. A good result with only a modest pile left from the monster that started out on Thursday. The rest of the day was spent cleaning and tidying before friends came for dinner in the evening. We both had a terrific time.

As befits the excellent Saturday evening, Sunday morning started very slowly but I managed out for a run just after midday for a gentle 11.1km (7 miles).

Having sent off my passport for renewal last week, I have been a bit nervous about turnaround times for getting it back. Last year there was a good deal of national anguish as a high level of applications led to delays and missed holidays. The current official advice is to allow 10 weeks (and we plan to go back to France sooner than that).

A website that gives a real life picture on turnaround times suggests that the average has always been less than 10 weeks and that renewals are quicker than new applications. It says that, currently, renewals take less than two weeks. On Friday I got confirmation that mine has been approved and on Saturday confirmation of it having been printed so now just waiting for it in the post. Phew.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A wise person will always find a way

2. BBC News website: As over-population is an issue in many countries …

Japan’s prime minister says his country is on the brink of not being able to function as a society because of its falling birth rate. Japan’s population is 125 million but estimates suggest fewer than 800,000 births last year. In the 1970s, that figure was more than two million.

Birth rates are slowing in many countries but the problem is particularly acute in Japan as life expectancy has risen in recent decades, meaning there are a growing number of older people, and a declining numbers of workers to support them.

3. BBC News website: We know all about asteroids close to us – or do we

Just after midnight on Friday (UK time) an asteroid about the size of a minibus, passed by the southern tip of South America. Coming within 3,600km (2,200 miles), it counts as a close shave, closer than the orbits of telecommunications satellites and less than 3% of the average distance between the Earth and the moon.

It illustrates how there are still asteroids of significant size lurking near Earth that remain to be detected. This one was only picked up last weekend by an amateur astronomer in Crimea.

Where is Elisha Wood when you need him?

4. BBC News website: This little piggy went to …

A 20-stone pig has been reunited with its owners after apparently being dumped on a mountain. Two-year-old Gertie was found 40 miles (64km) from home, having (presumably) been stolen and possibly hidden for two days.

“I sobbed when I saw her I just burst into tears, I didn’t expect to find her alive,” said her owner. “It’s appalling. Who takes a pig, maybe hides her, and dumps her 40 miles away? It took me 45 mins to get there. She was exhausted when I found her, she was confused.”

I guess you have to know a pig well to tell when it’s confused

Gym (x2), run plus the dog food phone, cake or no cake and criminals as victims

We got back late on Monday, arriving to weather every bit as cold as the alps had been, but no snow. That was followed by domestic stuff on Tuesday, loads of washing, my passport renewal application, car booked for a service and that sort of thing.

I took the car in for the service on a very cold and frosty Wednesday – I thought it was for an oil service but it turned out to need a full service … and front discs and pads …. ouch. Too risky for a run back but I did get to the gym a little later.

My first attempt at some ‘proper’ training for the chin-up challenge involved all the exercises I’ve identified as likely to be helpful, but was a bit random and as horrible as I’d feared. There is every possibility that the only way I can do this is by cutting off my legs to reduce the weight being pulled up – but I’m keeping that option in reserve for now.

It is a significant birthday year for my wife and that, apparently, requires a lot of celebrating. On Wednesday afternoon we booked the first big event – a holiday to Mauritius.

There have been some signs of progress from Wednesday’s gym session – it’s not that I seem closer to doing a chin-up, more that I didn’t ache much on Thursday … small gains are still gains. Another hard frost so no running. I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to get on the turbo in the evening but I have continued a pretty much daily regime of push-ups and bicep curls.

To the gym again on another very cold Friday morning – and the gym was cold too. A hard session as I’m now fitting in the usual regime plus the chin-up exercises. However, another sign that progress is possible as I’ve gone straight from 45kg to 55kg on the chest press machine thanks, I’m sure, to the recently completed 100 push-up challenge.

Bike shop for 3 hours after the gym.

Domestic stuff on Saturday but I (the self-proclaimed cold weather wimp) got out for a run on a sub-freezing Sunday. I doubt I’ve ever run with more clothing on. My fingers were a bit chilly until I realised that I could tuck them into the sleeves of my soft-shell jacket but I even took off my hat half way round and (partially) unzipped the top two of my four upper layers. Fairly gentle but just over 11km – 7 miles.

A short week because of coming back form France, and a relatively easy week for exercise – were it not for a few hundred push-ups and a lot of bicep curls.

Our pipes are threatening to freeze again – running a post-run bath produced a trickle of hot water – but it looks like there is enough flow through the frozen part of the system (a cold water feed from the header tank into the hot water system) that running some water through will clear it … as the much needed bath did materialise!

RIP David Crosby – for me, 4 Way Street has to be up there with Live at Budokan and The Concert in Central Park as three of the great live double albums.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A fish and bird may fall in love but the two cannot build a home together

2. BBC News website: The dog ate my iPhone?

Consumers are being warned to film themselves opening Amazon deliveries after a Salisbury man’s £1,300 iPhone was switched for a packet of dog food.

Amazon initially refused to refund his money because he had signed for the delivery, telling him that because he had accepted the parcel and given the courier a passcode, and the fact the dog food in the package weighed the same as an iPhone, then he must have received the iPhone.

3. BBC News website: Having survived the 100 push-up challenge, I feel the pain

High school football players in Texas needed medical attention because of a gruelling team workout after the students were forced to do nearly 400 push-ups without a water break.

It is said that more than a dozen players had to go to the hospital after the drill at the school.

4. BBC News website: The biter bit

Using a glitch in a trading website, a £21m Bitcoin fraud netted a UK gang so much money they struggled to spend it, said police.

The plot fell apart when one of those involved rang police to report that her daughter had stolen 15 Bitcoin from her, which at the time was worth about £75,000. That call made the police wonder how the lady, who was living in modest circumstances in a very small rented home in Blackpool, could possess such hidden wealth.

You have to wonder at the gall (and stupidity) of a thief going to the police about the theft of the proceeds of crime

5. BBC News website: Let them (not) eat cake

People should not bring cake into the office for the sake of their colleagues’ health, the head of a food watchdog has suggested. She compared cake to passive smoking and argued that, while eating a piece of cake is a choice, colleagues can help each other by providing “a supportive environment”.

She said it was not enough to rely on “extraordinary efforts” of willpower to avoid overeating in a society plying people with food.

6. BBC News website: He shoots, he scores!

The BBC has apologised to those who were offended when noises from a porn clip could be heard by viewers during the pre-match build-up before live coverage of the Wolves v Liverpool football fixture.

A frenzied studio hunt uncovered a mobile phone taped to the back of the set – a YouTube prankster has claimed he was behind the stunt.

Chin-up challenge

I don’t expect anyone to be daft enough to want to take on a challenge like this but my aim is to be able to do 10 proper chin-ups – starting with straight arms. At present I cannot do any, other than by starting with elbows at 90° – and they don’t count.

The purpose of this post is for my records and to commit myself to the challenge – there’s nothing like the prospect of public failure as a spur onwards.

At least with the recent 100 push-up challenge I could do some to start with, so it was mostly just a matter of doing many more (I did over 3000 during the 6 week programme). When you can’t do one chin-up or pull-up it feels a bit harder to start in the first place.

I’m sure there are plans and programmes available but I’m going to make up my own this time. The gym has a ‘gravitron’ type of machine designed for pull-ups and featuring a platform with the ability to take some of your body weight – it’s the obvious one to use but I’ve never liked it faces straight into an adjacent wall and it’s possible to hit your head on a beam running above.

I hope I get over that, but in case I don’t, or it breaks (and for some variety) I will …

  • do bicep curls with dumbbells – I assume that much (but by no means all) of the challenge is about the biceps and at least I can do these at home
  • use the gym’s Smith machine (the squat and bench press machine): using the bar that carries the weights as a pull-up bar, begin in the final position of chin above the bar, holding that for a count of 30 and then slowly lowering until arms are straight
  • use the Smith machine, setting the bar low, lying underneath it and using it to pull up until the chest is up to the bar, keeping the body straight and pivoting on the heels (the higher the bar, the easier the exercise)
  • use the Smith machine, doing what chin-ups are possible starting with bent elbows and gradually trying to reduce the starting bend.

Gym, France, ski, chin-up challenge plus the gambling winner, ABBA, mobile phones and Romeo (again)

On Monday I gave my friend a lift in to a local hospital to have his foot x-rayed to see if he’d broken a bone while running on Sunday. Having survived the more hazardous cross country run we did together on Thursday, he put a foot in a pothole and went over on the ankle. It is a most unfair injury as he was fulfilling his club ‘run leader’ role particularly diligently, looking back to check on the others.

As Wainwright (of Lake District fell walking fame) said, always stop before turning round to look behind you (not that I ever do).

Despite all the horror stories about the state of the NHS, he got through triage, x-ray and consultation in about 2 hours. His self-diagnosis of a fractured metatarsal was confirmed – such bad luck as he’d run well on Thursday. It makes his Brighton Marathon in early April even tougher – but not impossible if the bone heals quickly and if the run itself is taken gently?

Having completed the push-up challenge on Sunday – the question is, what’s next? I’ve discovered the difference between chin-ups and pull-ups – the former is performed with palms towards you and the latter with palms facing away – and I tried them in the gym on Tuesday. I struggled with both and when attempting to do them properly (a starting position of hanging with straight arms) I wasn’t able to perform one of either. With elbows starting at 90° I could do a couple but that doesn’t count.

I don’t know if that’s pathetic or if most folks would find the same but it didn’t come as a surprise. I do the lat pull-down machine (which is basically a chin-up with the bar being pulled down instead of the body being pulled up) with 55kg against a bodyweight of about 68kg so I’m a few kg short of being able to lift my bodyweight.

I could feel even those gentle exploratory exercises in my biceps on Wednesday (and Thursday). In spite of doing a lot of regular core exercises, I could also feel the effort on my stomach muscles. To be able to do 10 ‘proper’ chin-ups looks like a suitable and hard next challenge for someone with puny runner/cyclist biceps.

We drove out to the alps on Thursday – the original plan had been to have a proper skiing holiday but the snow in most of the alps has been terrible (or completely absent) so far, so we decided on just a few days, with any skiing as a bonus. We last skied in January 2020 (just before everything shut down) and we weren’t able to ski in 2021 or 2022 for the obvious reason, so the lack of snow this year is really cruel.

On Friday the main lift from the village was open so we decided to give it a go. Although the resort runs were shut, it is linked into a much larger area and we were able to construct a few loops (having been going there for over 20 years has some advantages). The runs that were open were in surprisingly good condition and that, coupled with very few people, made for an excellent afternoon’s sport.

As we’d come out with no real skiing expectations, and are going out again in March, we were happy to call that quits, as the weekend would be busier with locals coming to ski. Walking round the village on Sunday I decided to brave the light rain and run. By the time I was thinking of changing, the rain had turned to heavy snow. I chickened out but was later put to shame as two people ran past me, in the snow, as I put the rubbish out.

Back to England on Monday. Sunday’s heavy snow had stopped and the road down the mountain was OK (let’s hear it for winter tyres). The Autoroute Blanche started out OK too as we headed West towards Geneva but then it started to rain. Then it got colder and started to snow – and then snow harder.

Very quickly the outside lane (there are only two) was white and then it was closed putting all the traffic in just one lane, moving very slowly. It carried on like that for many miles and I was calculating at what time catching our channel crossing would have to be abandoned.

There are 4 tunnels on the way out of the alps and, whistling in the dark, I developed the theory that the last of them would signal both the end of the alps and the end of the snowy microclimate. The first 3 tunnels made no difference at all – heavy snow on the way in and heavy snow on the way out but, lo and behold, we entered the last in the snow and came out into dry and pleasant weather – rather like coming through the back of the wardrobe from Narnia.

The first 1hr 40 minutes along the autoroute saw a 70kph average speed (44mph). The decent weather lasted less than an hour and we had heavy rain for almost all the rest of the journey – a frustrating long drive but a great few days (and yes, we made it to the tunnel in time).

1. African wise words: True love means what’s mine is yours

2. BBC News website: Are they taking the … mickey?

Media rights groups say that six journalists in South Sudan have been arrested over the circulation of footage appearing to show President wetting himself as the national anthem played at a function.

Six staff from the state broadcaster were detained this week. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is now calling for their release.

3. BBC News website: Boss of gambling firm paid more than £200m in a year

The highest paid director of Bet365 Group, believed to be founder Denise Coates, earned a salary of £213.4m in the year to March 2022. She was also entitled to at least half of £100m in dividends, despite a fall in profits.

In the year to 29 March 2022, the business turned over £2.9bn in total, an increase of 2% compared with the year before. While sales from sports betting fell, online games revenues jumped by 25% during the year.

Charitable donations of about £100m were made through the Denise Coates Foundation.

Much credit for the charitable foundation but, in general, I dislike gambling

4. BBC News website: The dangers of mobile phones on a new level

Russia has said a New Year’s Day missile attack which killed at least 89 Russian soldiers happened because troops were using their mobile phones which allowed the enemy to locate its target, officials said. An investigation has already begun.

Irrespective the rights and wrongs of the situation, this is sad

5. BBC News website: Bravo ABBA

Despite selling millions of copies over more than four decades, Abba’s 1979 hit, Chiquitita, doesn’t earn the group a penny. Written for Unicef’s Year of the Child, the copyright was given to Unicef.

Chiquitita (“Little Girl” in Spanish) – was the first song Abba recorded in Spanish, becoming a huge success across Latin America. The royalties have been used to address some of the most complex issues affecting Central America – from extreme poverty and a generational culture of machismo to domestic violence and rape. Even alcohol abuse among marginalised, indigenous communities.

6. BBC News website: Parting is such sweet sorrow (let me part you from £417m)

The stars of the Oscar-winning 1968 film Romeo and Juliet are suing Paramount Pictures for sexual abuse over a nude scene in the film. Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey were teenagers when they made the movie but, now in their 70s, they claim director Franco Zeffirelli encouraged them to do nude scenes despite previous assurances that they would not have to.

The two actors are seeking damages of more than $500m (£417m), based on suffering they say they have experienced and the revenue brought in by the film since its release.

In a 2018 interview Hussey defended the nude scene. “Nobody my age had done that before,” she said, adding that Zeffirelli shot it tastefully. “It was needed for the film.”

In another interview in 2018, she said that nudity was common in European films at the time. “It wasn’t that big of a deal,” she said. “And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.”

100 push-up challenge – finale, (plus wanting to be younger and a joke)

On Sunday I tried the finale of the 6 week 100 push-up challenge … actually doing 100 of the beggars in one go. I had completed the training programme on Friday and then given my arm, shoulder and chest muscles a bit of recovery time. I had no idea whether that would be too much or too little but, to be honest, I just wanted the whole exercise finished.

During the training I’d got to 70 push-ups in one go in the ‘to exhaustion’ test at the end of week 5, and 70 push-ups on the final day of week 6 (but that came immediately after 8 previous sets with a total of 214). I had done everything required by the programme so I suppose the odds were in my favour but I wasn’t sure that I would be able to manage the missing 30.

I would like to tell about the agony I went through, the separated shoulder, the torn tendons and the pulled muscles but none of that really happened. As is so often the case, having done the training to the letter, although the ultimate test was certainly very tough (the triceps were certainly shouting and unhappy) – it was not impossible.

The result was 105 push-ups. With much relief, challenge completed.

As the challenge comes to an end, here are some thoughts, should anyone be mad enough to consider doing it too.

Positives:

  • No specific kit needed
  • No great dexterity or technique required
  • Modest time requirement over only 6 weeks
  • Can be done pretty much anywhere
  • Independent of the weather
  • Builds muscle on the arms, chest and shoulders
  • Also pretty good for the core
  • Very satisfying to succeed
  • It’s a real challenge

Negatives:

  • Harder than I expected
  • A ‘bit’ repetitive – I did 3018 push-ups during the whole exercise
  • Difficult to judge if you’re doing it well
  • Probably best to minimise other arm exercises while doing it
  • Of limited value beyond vanity?

Although there is some technique involved in a push-up (position of hands, width of elbows, straightness of the body and how far down to go), I guess the programme is mostly about building the relevant muscles and developing their endurance.

My natural style (if it can be called that) is with relatively wide elbows – I believe this puts more emphasis on the chest compared to narrow elbows that focuses more on the triceps. Whichever way it’s done, building muscle is harder the older you get so I probably wasn’t the best person to be testing the programme but I have certainly put some muscle on my triceps, chest and shoulders.

If it worked for me it should work for most people who are prepared to stick with it but it does take some determination and bloodymindedness (luckily, one of my strong suits). I started out looking forward to push-up days but that changed in week 5 when it all got a bit serious. Based on my first test before starting the programme I could have jumped straight into week 3 – I’m glad I didn’t.

I went into it hoping that the programme had some silver bullet that would make the 100 push-up finale easy – but there seems to be no secret formula that can replace simply doing a lot of push-ups. The number and pattern of the sets may well be finely judged – but doing a shed load of push-ups seems to be the key.

I’m very pleased to have finished the challenge and will carry on with push-ups – perhaps I’ll ty them with different elbow widths to round off the range of potential benefits. I believe that the push-ups I did certainly were ‘proper’ push-ups but I’m sure they could be better (I cannot pretend mine went down to touch my nose to the floor) so I can improve them… but 100 may not be the target.

As far as the next challenge is concerned, I’ve never been any good at chin-ups or pull-ups (perhaps I’d better find out what the difference is between the two first) ….

I had no real input into the question of what programme to follow (I simply went along with the choice of another blogger who was taking on the challenge – but who has been ill and hasn’t been able to complete it this time) but the one I followed is here: https://hundredpushups.com/test.html

Interesting stuff in just a day or two

1. African wise words: Wisdom is like fire. People take it from others

2. BBC News website: What’s wrong with wanting to be younger?

Cameroon’s Under-17s footballers face a race against time to field a team for regional African Cup of Nations qualifiers after more players failed age tests. Of the initial 30-member group, 21 failed the tests. BBC Sport Africa now understands Cameroon have suffered a fresh setback as 11 new players also failed tests on Tuesday.

A statement by the country’s football ruling body said “strict instructions” were given for the actions to be taken “in order to put an end to the tampering with civil status records which have, in the past, tarnished the image of Cameroon football”.

3. A joke

David Beckham’s second son, Romeo, has joined English football club Brentford to train with their second team (true).

When he arrived he asked what number shirt he should wear. The coach replied ” Wear four out there, Romeo”

Run (x4), gym, push-ups (x822), plus cruising, Canada and ‘can I push now?’

The 100 push-up programme went back to 5 sets on Monday: 45, 55, 35, 30, 55+ (I managed 65) for a total of 230.

I ran with my wife after the push-ups – she’s just getting back into it after a break. We did 5.75km (3.6 miles) taken gently, thank goodness, as the push-ups are getting to me now. It’s not just the arms, chest and shoulders but also the cardio vascular system and everything used to hold the whole body straight during the exercise.

Continuing to mess with my head, the programme went to 9 sets (45 second rests) for Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday was 22, 22, 30, 30, 24, 24, 18, 18, 58+ (I struggled and managed just 60). Of course, it’s not that I’m nervous about the challenge itself but I did do another 60 later in the day.

After that I ran again with my wife – the same run as Monday. Mild and dry, but it was blowing a gale.

On Thursday morning I ran with my friend who is starting to think about training for the Brighton Marathon in early April. He chose the route (11.7km – 7.3 miles) and it was very largely cross country along field edges and muddy tracks. I lost my heel out of my shoe twice as it stuck in the mud, but the shoe stayed on and neither of us fell. I nearly always run on roads and well compacted farm tracks so it made for a hard run – but a really nice change. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps wearing my trail shoes would have been a good option.

Friday was the final session of the push-up challenge training with sets of 26, 26, 33, 33, 26, 26, 22, 22, 60+. I got through it (70 for the final set) and that is the 6 week programme finished – I did 822 in the final week. Secretly, I had hoped that a miracle would occur and I’d do the whole 100 for the final set – but that was never likely.

Now all that is left is the attempt at the real thing – one hundred push-ups in one go. I’ve done all the training so it ought to work (?) but I doubt that they set up the programme with 67 year olds in mind. I think my arms need some rest before trying it.

Afterwards I went for a short session in the gym and then to do my usual Friday morning at the (newly relocated and reopened) bike shop – very smart it is too.

Domestic stuff on Saturday so on Sunday morning I tried the finale of the push-up challenge. I was going to leave it until next week but simply got to the point where I wanted it finished. How did it go? I’ll do a post on the whole experience next week.

Later on Sunday morning I ran with my wife (the same route again) and then we are off out to supper with great friends – it will be an excellent evening.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: If money were to be found up in the trees, most people would be married to monkeys

2. BBC News website: Just as you thought it was safe to go back on the cruise ship

Hundreds of passengers have been stranded on a cruise ship off the Australian coast after a potentially harmful growth, “biofoul” – an accumulation of microorganisms, plants, algae or small animals – was found on its hull. Officials said the ship’s hull must be cleaned before entering Australia.

The ship was also, reportedly, denied permission to dock at Christchurch, Dunedin and Hobart. Passengers had not been able to leave the ship since 26 December and four scheduled port stops had been missed.

3. BBC News website: Bricks and mortar stay at home

A two-year ban on most foreigners buying homes in Canada has come into effect aiming to help ease one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the world. As of this summer, the average home price in Canada is C$777,200 ($568,000; £473,700) – more than 11 times the median household income after taxes.

New Zealand passed similar legislation banning foreign homebuyers in 2018 as the country grappled with its own housing affordability crisis. Inflation-adjusted home prices have continued to rise since the ban came into effect.

4. BBC News website: I wonder what influenced his decision?

Cristiano Ronaldo says his work in Europe is done, but he had “many opportunities” from clubs in Brazil, Australia, the United States and Portugal before joining Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr.

Ronaldo is reportedly set to receive more than £177m per year in a deal that runs until 2025.

I’m generally pro free-market … but £177m p.a?

5. BBC News website: Congratulations, it’s a … (immigration scam)

Spanish police are searching for 14 people who ran from a commercial plane flying from Morocco to Turkey after an emergency landing in Barcelona – which was forced by a woman ‘faking’ that she was about to give birth.

Authorities say that, once the plane touched down, a group of 28 people exited and “tried to flee”. Police managed to stop half of the group, but 14 escaped and remain at large. The woman, who was pregnant but not about to give birth, was arrested on suspicion of public disorder offences.

Run (x2), push-ups (x638), turbo, plus tigers, Welsh, a proper marathon man and a fail. Happy New Year!

Full of Christmas food and drink, day 1 of week 5 of the 100 push-up challenge made for a tough start to Boxing Day. It required sets of 36, 40, 30, 24 and 40+ which I (just) managed (45 for the last set).

We’d had a great Christmas Day and had managed to have a video call with our older son in who was in Quito for a few days before setting off for the Galápagos Islands. Interesting(?) fact: most of what we know as Panama hats are made in Ecuador.

The only blot on the weekend was me sneezing and wheezing somewhat – but not otherwise feeling too bad. In a bit of a kill or cure exercise I ran with our younger son on a cold but bright Boxing Day morning. He got a place for the London Marathon through the ballot and will soon be starting a training plan but we just ran a fairly gentle 6.3km (nearly 4 miles).

In the afternoon the two of us (my wife declined to come) went to watch our nearest football league team (Swindon Town, in Division 2). Swindon were probably the better team in the first half (but horribly lightweight up front), scored but then conceded the equaliser (an own goal) in stoppage time just before the break. The second half was fairly even but Swindon looked like they were running out of steam and ideas and Walsall scored a very late winner, again in stoppage time. Humph!

We all took it easy on a wet Tuesday dedicated to domestic things but the Hundred Push-Up Challenge threw a bit of a curve ball on Wednesday as it suddenly went from 5 sets to 8 (and shorter rests between sets) – I have no idea why. I’m hoping that there is some clever science behind this programme – otherwise it just looks like ‘if we get the idiots to do a silly number of push-ups, they are bound to get better at them’.

Whatever the thinking, my job is just to follow blindly, so I did. Sets of 19, 19, 22, 22, 18, 18, 22, and 45+ (I managed only 48) were dispatched with increasing desperation and decreasing style for a total of 188 push-ups. It’s getting seriously difficult now but I’ve come this far so I’ll carry on until I can’t do any more.

With an uncertain rail service (and a lot of luggage) I drove our son back to London on Thursday and we then put Christmas back in its many boxes – it has been a good one, despite missing our older son.

Still with the 8 sets of push-ups for Friday: 20, 20, 24, 24, 20, 20, 22, 50+ making a minimum target of 200 (I managed 205). I staggered through it and that’s week 5 of the 6 week challenge finished – apart for the usual ‘push-ups to exhaustion’ test which I will try over the weekend.

On the turbo on Friday early evening – 30 minutes @29.5kph (18.3mph). At least it’s easy on the arms.

Push-ups to exhaustion on Saturday – I could have done with another day’s rest but the target was ‘only’ 60 – and postponing to Sunday would just make Monday’s harder. I managed 70 but made the mistake of looking at next week’s programme which is a bit scary. Is another week and then a couple more days of rest going to be enough to make up the current shortfall?

Up to London later in the morning – we hadn’t got our act together early enough to get a table anywhere for the evening but had an excellent late lunch at a pub in Fulham (but it is the only Michelin-starred pub in London) and saw in the New Year at the flat.

I kicked off 2023 with a run along the Thames Path in London on Sunday morning – nearly 7.7km (4.7 miles) .

That’s a wrap for 2022. For exercise, it saw nearly 1500km of running, only 1200km of cycling, 70km of walking but over 40km of swimming, ‘active’ for more than 280 days. The 100 push-up challenge is work in progress.

Most importantly, we are all healthy and solvent (despite the Michelin-starred pub) and the year saw our sons settled in relationships and careers, even if the older is currently on a sabbatical – and is now in the Galápagos Islands (may they have a great trip and return safely). Despite the inevitable ups and downs life throws at us, I hope anyone reading this has had a good year, with an even better one to come in 2023.

Thank you for reading, be kind, stay healthy and be happy.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Dine with a stranger but save your love for your family

2. BBC News website: Tension fail of the year

In October, all eyes (no, not mine) were on The One Show as viewers waited to find out whether Glasgow or Liverpool would be hosting Eurovision 2023. The host was about to reveal the winning host city, building the tension with the kind of needlessly long pause that is standard when announcing anything on television.

The tension would have been palpable if some viewers hadn’t already spotted the words “Eurovision Song Contest Liverpool 2023” on the back of his card.

3. BBC News website: Welsh language schools in Patagonia need more teachers

The first Welsh settlers arrived in 1865 aiming to build a safe haven for the language and today it is estimated that between 2,000-5,000 Argentines speak Welsh.

Welsh is spoken mainly in the Gaiman area of Chubut province some 650 miles south of Buenos Aires, as well as in the towns of Trevelin and Esquel close to the border with Chile. The British Council funds three Welsh language teachers in the Wladfa settlement, but recruitment has been a problem since Covid.

I like traditions and culture being kept alive but hadn’t guessed Argentina and Wales shared anything much. According to the 2021 census, the Welsh-speaking population of Wales aged three or older was 538,300 (17.8%) and nearly three quarters of the population in Wales said they had no Welsh language skills

4. BBC News website: Suitcases, check; bags, check; tiger …

Police in Mexico who stopped a couple on a motorway for a minor traffic offence were surprised to find a tiger cub in the car boot, wedged in between suitcases and bags. Officers said they grew suspicious when the couple reacted “aggressively” after being flagged down. They also found four guns and almost 100 cartridges.

It is not illegal to own an exotic animal in Mexico, as long as the owner can prove it came from a certified dealer and was born in captivity. However, many of the animals seized in recent years were bought illegally or had been smuggled. Mexican law also bans the walking of tigers in public.

I remember the 1960’s Esso ‘Put a tiger in your tank’ slogan but this is taking it too far

5. BBC News website: A marathon a day for 2022

A man who vowed to complete a marathon on every day of 2022 to raise £1m for charity has begun his final run. The 53 year old from Cumbria often ran his 26.2-mile (42km) route before starting work. He has gone through more than 20 pairs of trainers and will have run more than 9,500 miles (15,300km) by the time he finishes his final marathon at about 14:00.

Sadly missed and died in 2022

This is the time of year the newspapers print list of celebrities who died during the year. Of course, each is its own tragedy and family loss but for me Queen Elizabeth II, Sidney Poitier, Angela Lansbury, Nichelle Nichols, Vangelis, Christine McVie, George Cohen and Pele stand out simply as being people I remember particularly well.

I like what former Hungary great, Ferenc Puskas, said about Pele. “The greatest player in history is Alfredo Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pele as a player. He was above that.”

Swim, run, gym, (and 497 push-ups) plus secretaries, actresses and cockfighters all missing. Happy Christmas!

Monday’s 100 push-up challenge required sets of 21, 25, 21, 21 and 32+ (I did 40). After this extensive research, I can confirm that push-ups are just as tough when done at my brother-in-law’s in Surrey as they are at home in Oxfordshire.

We drove home later in the morning, via our older son’s place in Kingston, to check on it and collect a sofa we are having re-covered for them.

In the evening I actually went to the swim doctor session, my first since early October. The water is usually about 27℃ (80℉) but for some unknown reason it was 33℃ (91℉) I have never known a pool in this country to be too hot before. About 900 metres with various drills. I sneezed for the rest of the evening.

I took my own advice on Tuesday and gave the gym a miss in the hope that my arms would be better recovered for the next set of push-ups. The programme requires sets of 25, 29, 25, 25 and 36+ …. 140 of the blighters.

Overcoming the disappointment of (yet again) not being named among the UK Sports Personality of the Year contenders, I did the push-ups on Wednesday. I managed to do them all plus an extra 4 for the final set making 144 …. this challenge is getting really tough, it was a gross experience.

After that I went to the gym. Another 5km on the treadmill – 27m 45s – and then 30 minutes of weights, performing a bit like a kitten on the arm machines.

I ached on Thursday, I hope nothing more than might be expected after the push-ups, run and gym on Wednesday. I drove down to Bournemouth to check on the house down there – all was well.

If I thought doing 140 push-ups was bad on Wednesday (and, believe me, I did), 160 on Friday (with an extra 4 on each set) was a good deal worse – but I managed to do it all plus an extra 5 for the final set. At least that’s week 4 done … almost … as it finishes with another test where I have to do as many as possible, to exhaustion.

I still felt sore on Friday – mainly knees and back (it can’t be running on the treadmill instead of the road, can it?) so I did domestic things and finished my Christmas shopping – a day earlier than usual. Our younger son got back from skiing and made it to his flat in London before the next round of rail strikes. I drove the 3 hour round trip to collect him in the evening, getting back a bit before 11pm.

I should have saved the push-up test until Sunday – a treat for Christmas Day itself and an extra day’s recovery time, but I decided to have that day off so I brought the test forward to Christmas Eve. Ho, Ho, Ho, what a festive delight it was. By definition, doing push-ups until you can do no more is going to hurt and I collapsed after 60.

One son safely home and one in Peru, we are ready for Christmas. It’s been a tough year for many and more difficulties still to come in 2023 but I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and successful 2023.

Stay safe in the storms, American friends.

Football World Cup

With Argentina beating France to win the World Cup (and with Croatia beating Morocco for 3rd place), Qatar bows out.

Of course, the most important result of the entire competition was that I recaptured second place in the Fantasy Football league. I had slipped to third after the semi-finals by making the terrible rookie error of confusing the two French Hernandez brothers and transferring into my team the brother who was injured and not the one who scored and got a clean sheet bonus.

Older son’s travels

Our older son and his girlfriend decided that Peru was not perfectly safe (!) with the man who was president now in detention after what the constitutional court said was an attempted coup; his former prime minister gone underground and his former running mate now in power.

There is a nationwide state of emergency to quell protests in which hundreds have been injured and apparently tourists have been stranded in Machu Picchu as the rail link was suspended. Good call on their part. They decided to go to La Paz earlier than planned – it took three flights to get there but they arrived safely – albeit without all their luggage. After a few days on the salt flats and other Bolivian delights they got back for their luggage and are now in Lima.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: No matter how beautiful and well crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death

2. BBC News website: The 97 year old who went on the ‘run’

A former secretary who worked for the commander of a Nazi concentration camp has been convicted of complicity in the murders of more than 10,505 people. She was taken on as a teenage typist at the camp and worked there from 1943 to 1945. Although she was a civilian worker, the judge held that she was fully aware of what was going on at the camp – she was given a two-year suspended jail term.

When the trial began in September 2021, the 97 year old went on the run from her retirement home and was eventually found by police on a street in Hamburg.

If conviction merited only a 2 year suspended sentence, did it merit a trial? I guess it’s the symbolism that’s more important here

3. BBC News website: Enough fentanyl seized in 2022 to kill every American.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says they intercepted 379m potentially deadly fentanyl doses, more than double what they seized in 2021.

The highly addictive substance, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin, is said to be the deadliest drug threat facing the US. The drug is so powerful that a lethal dose is is just two milligrams, small enough to fit on the tip of a pencil.

4. BBC News website: Controls are too weak for a Fortnite?

The maker of popular video game Fortnite has agreed to pay $520m (£427m) to resolve claims from US regulators that it violated child privacy laws and tricked users into making purchases. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said the firm duped players with “deceptive interfaces” that could trigger purchases while the game loaded. It also accused it of using “privacy-invasive” default settings.

Fortnite has more than 400 million players around the world. The game is generally free to download, but makes money from in-game purchases of items such as costumes and dance moves.

5. BBC News website: A no de Armas

Film studio Universal can be sued for false advertising after two fans complained a movie trailer was misleading, a US judge has ruled. The fans of the actress Ana de Armas rented the 2019 film ‘Yesterday’. The actress is seen in the trailer but the pair were disappointed to find she had been cut from the final film.

The plaintiffs each paid $3.99 (£3.31) to rent Yesterday on Amazon Prime and are seeking at least $5 million (£4.1m) from Universal in the case, which has been filed as a class action on behalf of other disappointed fans.

How disappointed do you have to be for it to be worth $5 million?

6. BBC News website: Cockfighting not just dangerous to the cocks

Six people have been charged over the kidnapping of a group thought to have been abducted on their way to a cockfight in January.

Meanwhile, three former police officers have also been charged with allegedly abducting a cockfighting enthusiast from his house in August 2021, according to the AFP news agency and at least 27 people connected to the lucrative industry remain missing.

While taxes from live-streamed cockfights helped the government replenish its finances after the Covid pandemic, online fights were eventually banned, while traditional cockfighting was allowed to resume.

“I wouldn’t even want to call them missing cockfighters, but probably dead cockfighters,” Justice Secretary Jesus Remulla said this week.

The Justice Secretary eschewing politician-speak – but, sadly, probably telling it like it is

Push-ups (even more of them), turbo, run (x2), gym (x2), plus fusion, fish and fakes

Another week, another load of push-ups. On Monday the programme called for 14, 18, 14, 14 and 20+ and I managed 25 for the final set. The honeymoon (if there was one) is over as this week’s three sessions call for at least 80, 100 and 120 respectively. That seems pretty unreasonable to me.

It was too cold to want to go out to swim so I got on the turbo Monday evening – a chilly and lacklustre 30 minutes @28.6kph (17.8kph). To the gym on Tuesday for a 28 minute 5km on the treadmill and then half an hour of weights.

Wednesday’s push-up sets were 20, 25, 15, 15 and 25+ (I did 30) and it was hard. Doing arm exercises in the gym 24 hours before a push-up session might not be wise but I’m going to have to suck it up as I enjoy my visits to the gym. Perhaps the thing to do is go to the gym after the push-ups to give my arms a proper rest on the following day.

The challenge has been fairly easy up to now but the increases this week are brutal and I’m not sure where Friday’s extra 20 are going to come from. Later on Wednesday we drove to London and went to our younger son’s PGCE (post grad teacher training) graduation on Thursday morning. Very proud of him, as always.

Afterwards we drove to some friends for a late lunch. My friend’s late father was a captain of industry and turns out to have been a mentor and great influence on the career of my brother-in-law’s late father-in-law (if you are following this, well done). We were putting them together as my friend did not know a lot about her father in business and it gave her the chance to learn more about him, if rather remotely.

Back home on Thursday evening. Friday was push-up day: 22, 30, 20, 20, 28+ (I managed 35). That’s 127 push-ups in 5 sets with just 4 breaks of one minute each. Looking at the future training plan (which is scary), it’s astonishing how many push-ups seem to be needed to get rid of just those 4 minutes of rest. At least that’s week 3 done – half way through the plan … but am I half way to doing the 100 push-ups?

Into the gym later – another 28 minute 5km and half an hour of weights (with tired arms). In the evening we went to a drinks party, I’d been rather on edge as the day wore on, first trying (without success) to unfreeze our water pipes, and, secondly, worried about our younger son and his girlfriend getting out of London to her parents after work, to go skiing on Saturday.

There have been continuing rail strikes so I was on call for emergency transport to get them to her parents that night, or the airport early Saturday morning. Happily, they got a train just before the next strike started – but I’m also on call for getting him back on the 23rd or 24th.

I managed to unfreeze the pipes later Saturday afternoon after hours of crawling along the eaves amid dozens of pipes. With the house being so old, each extra bit of work done on the water and heating systems over the years has probably been very sensible in itself – but you end up with something no one would have ever envisaged if starting with a clean sheet of paper.

Village supper in the evening, catering courtesy of the Women’s Institute – excellent.

I did 90 more push-ups on Saturday and Sunday, that’s 407 for the week. I’m nervous about next week’s programme and thought some extra homework might be in order.

Sunday we drove to my brother-in-laws house in Surrey for a family Christmas do with my wife’s other brother and their families. Lovely.

Hundred push-up challenge

The author of the ‘runanother’ blog, who started the idea of taking on the push-up challenge, reported on his week 1 success – but had gone ominously quiet (including no replies to messages) in the two weeks since. I hope he’s OK and that it’s just a lack of reporting on success … but it looks like I may be on my own on this one.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A good deed is something one returns

2. BBC News website: Band AI(d)?

Since their debut single ‘I’m Real’ in 2021, K-pop girl group Eternity have racked up millions of views online. They sing, dance and interact with their fans just like any other band. The big difference between them and any other pop group is that all 11 members are virtual characters, hyper-real avatars made with artificial intelligence.

While I like the irony of the title of the debut single, I do rather despair at this

3. BBC News website: Breakthrough in the race to recreate nuclear fusion

Nuclear fusion is described as the “holy grail” of energy production and physicists have pursued the technology for decades as it promises a potential source of near-limitless clean energy. On Tuesday researchers confirmed they have overcome a major barrier – producing more energy from a fusion experiment than was put in.

Experts say there is still some way to go before fusion powers homes. The experiment produced enough energy to boil about 10-15 kettles and required billions of dollars of investment. 

Only a little more, per boiling kettle, than we are now paying domestically in the UK

4. BBC News website: Police rescue art installation

Two police officers saw a woman slumped over a table in the locked Laz Emporium art gallery in Soho, central London and forced entry to go to her aid.

But the “woman” was actually lifelike sculpture – a depiction of the gallery owner’s sister, Kristina, with her head in a bowl of soup. It was made of packing tape and foam filler, and had been commissioned by Banksy’s former agent.

5. BBC News website: Sadly, the fish cash in their chips

A giant aquarium containing a million litres of water in the lobby of the Radisson Blu in Berlin has burst, flooding the hotel and nearby streets. The “AquaDom”, home to 1,500 tropical fish, – is (was) 15.85m high (52 ft) and was described as the largest free-standing cylindrical aquarium in the world. Two people were injured by falling glass.

Police said there had been “incredible” damage, video showed an empty tank with water pouring into the hotel lobby. A spokesman for Berlin’s fire brigade told the BBC the vast majority of the fish had died with the cold weather making rescue attempts more difficult. The tank had contained more than 100 different species.

Push-ups (many and often), gym (x2), walk, turbo, plus (insufficiently) fast food and persistent staring

My back ached on Sunday – to fail the push-up challenge for anything other than inadequate muscles would be cruel but, happily, it eased overnight and I started week 2 of the challenge on Monday. Session 1 required sets of 14, 14, 10, 10 and 15+, I did them all (20 for the final 15+) but my back was getting a little unhappy by the end.

I’ve found that fantasy football leagues can rather spoil the game. I put three of England’s attacking players into my team on Sunday and found myself hoping we would concede a goal (but still win) to deny clean sheet bonuses to competitors with England defenders. How pathetic is that for a low-key fantasy league with a £10 entry fee?

My three forwards managed two goals and two assists, before two were substituted off after about 64 minutes. Does the manager not care about my fantasy team?

I was going to the swim doctor session on Monday (honestly, I was) but it got cancelled. To celebrate I had an hour in the gym on Tuesday (largely to feel better about not wanting to run in the cold). It was tough as I put up the weights across the board with increases between 10% and 20%.

I think my painful back is due to bringing in over 30 potted geraniums, 2 lemon trees and two olive trees on Saturday as I could feel it again when moving a third, larger, olive tree to a more sheltered position on Tuesday. I bought a fleece jacket to protect the large olive tree – I’ll buy some more for next year so more plants can stay out.

On Wednesday we woke to the first proper frost of the year – and a couple of colder weeks to come. The push-up challenge is ramping up – it required sets of 14, 16, 12, 12, 17+ (press-ups find out if your back is not 100%!) but still OK – I did 25 for the 17+.

In the evening we went to the theatre in Oxford. Our last two visits were for the opera (Tosca) and Bob Dylan – I am ashamed to say this time it was Mamma Mia. Benny and Bjorn wrote many fine and catchy pop songs but cramming 22 of them into just over 2 hours was a bit much for me. Not exactly my thing but I’d promised my wife that I’d take her and a promise is a promise. It was a very good production and a very strong cast – and my wife loved it which was the main purpose of the exercise.

Thursday was even colder but we’d arranged for a walk with friends so we braved the freeze in what was otherwise a lovely crisp, bright day. A fine walk nicely followed by a very good pub lunch – 8.7km (5.4 miles).

Friday was week 2, day 3 of the 100 press-up challenge and required 16, 17, 14, 14, 20+. I worked hard to get to 30 for the final set, making it 238 for the week so far. I now have to do a test to see how many I can manage in one go – and that determines the programme for the next two weeks.

To the gym with my friend and training partner after the push-ups, neither of us was feeling the love for the weights but, in my book, that means the effort counts double.

I took the push-up test on Saturday morning and managed 38. I’d hoped for 40 but it was just a day after doing 91 of them and a gym session, so perhaps the small amount of muscle I have was not fully recovered. The programme has different plans for people managing between 16-20, 21-25 and over 25 in the test – so I guess it’s OK. Later, 30 minutes on the turbo @ 28.8kph – 17.9mph.

In the evening, England were knocked out of the World Cup at the quarter final stage. We had more possession than France, more shots than France, more shots on target than France, more corners than France … sadly, it appears that it’s the goals scored that really count. Ho, hum.

It was snowing when I woke on Sunday (but not as badly as the picture which is of the garden a few years ago). To commemorate the occasion I repeated the ‘push-ups to exhaustion’ test and managed an improved 45. That’s 321 in the week.

Our older son and his girlfriend have done the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, shared photos of their meal of guinea pig and chips and are now on the Amazon.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Love is a despot who spares no one

2. Comedian John Bishop: Being an England supporter is like being the over-optimistic parents of the fat kid on sports day

3. BBC News website: No sex please, we’re Indonesian

Indonesia’s parliament is expected to pass a new criminal law this month that will punish sex outside marriage with imprisonment of up to a year. Cohabitation before marriage will also be banned and those convicted could face a six-month prison sentence.

The law, if passed, would apply to Indonesian citizens and foreigners alike and business groups have expressed concern about the damage the rules might do to Indonesia’s image as a holiday and investment destination.

4. BBC News website: When fast food isn’t fast enough

The Kraft Company markets microwaveable cups of Velveeta Shells and Cheese as “ready in 3.5 minutes” but a Florida woman is suing them on the basis that it takes longer.

The $5m (£4.2m) lawsuit claims the time advertised does not include preparation time – opening the lid and sauce pouch, before adding water and stirring.

What? $5m for a few seconds is one heck of an hourly rate

5. BBC News website: The madness continues

Twenty-five people have been arrested across Germany on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. The group of far-right and ex-military figures is said to have prepared for a “Day X” to storm the Reichstag parliament building and seize power.

The plotters are said to include members of the extremist Reichsbürger [Citizens of the Reich] movement and QAnon adherents who believe their country is in the hands of a mythical “deep state” involving secret powers pulling the political strings.

6. BBC News website: Are you looking at me …?

Sexual harassment on the street will be made a specific crime in England with jail sentences of up to two years. Wolf-whistling, catcalling and staring persistently will be criminalised under government plans.

Sexual harassment is already illegal but it is hoped creating a new offence for street harassment will encourage more people to report it to police.

Of course, any harassment is unacceptable but it’s a sad society that needs to legislate against persistent staring