Friday, 12 March 2010

"Life is not measured by the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away" - Anon.

Exasperated by the trickle of rejection e-mails and unanswered applications, having flitted between different temp jobs since graduating, I am taking the plunge and fly to Bangkok this afternoon. I insisted for years that I simply didn’t have the travelling bug, but when a friend mentioned chilling out on a beach for a while, I didn’t take much persuading. With little booked (a hostel on arrival) and a very basic itinerary (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Thailand) I am excited, if a little apprehensive. As much as I’ll miss family, friends, my dressing gown and English food, I am looking forward to trying life at a different pace: being temporarily unreachable, exploring exotic cultures and distant lifestyles, not knowing the time, having no plans or deadlines, finding inner peace…! Hopefully, when I come back in three months time I’ll have oodles of interesting thoughts to put in my blog… Watch this space!

Monday, 8 March 2010

The puzzling appeal of air-conditioned, digitally monitored training sessions

I am the first person to admit to being an exercise freak. I am one of those nutters who enjoys getting up at ridiculous o clock to go swimming before work, or who will shoot out for a cycle ride even when temperatures are wallowing below zero. However, whenever my gym-aficionado, protein-shake-drinking boyfriend suggests I join him at his gym, I struggle to find any motivation.

My aversion to the one he frequented last summer was understandable - it was called Winners, had life-size cut outs of Arnold Schwarzenegger plastered on the windowless walls and was dominated by oversized brutes grunting as they pumped iron. I was more optimistic when I recently visited his replacement, Esporta Health & Leisure Club, featuring big windows (albeit overlooking the car par) and a pool complete with Jacuzzi and sauna.

Kitted out in a borrowed, oversized tracksuit, I was mindful to approach with an open mind. However, after shifting restlessly between different machines, I found myself on the conditioning mats doing exercises that could be performed just as well on the comfort of my bedroom floor. After a few half-hearted, poorly performed stomach crunches, paranoid that those working on balance balls with hand weights would be criticising my technique and somewhat put off by the pot-bellied man in the spandex all-in-one (I’m not joking), I plodded off to bother the boyfriend in the weights section.

This body building workshop was slightly removed from the general gym. Filled with ominous- looking, clunky machinery and walls of mirrors, which revealed every angle of my unshapely tracksuit, it was filled with the jaw-clenched and testosterone-fuelled. Needless to say, poignantly out of place, I bid a hasty retreat to the sauna.

I can cycle happily for an hour in the fresh air getting splattered with mud and battered by the elements, but on a stationary bike in an air-conditioned room surrounded by others in intense training… that’s a different sort of willpower.

What most put me off was, ironically, the emphasis on exercise: the hypnotic red digits charting the number of calories burned with painstaking slowness and timing your workout with lengthy, prolonged seconds, the huffs, puffs and grunts of the others around you and the rhythmical pounding of treadmills in action…

It may be that one day, after one too many sodden, cold cycle rides or an icy, cold spell that lasts too long, I am converted to the comfort of carefully controlled, measured, indoor exercise. However, for now, I certainly sympathise with those who would rather savour an extra hour in bed or stay warm on the sofa than haul themselves to the gym. In fact, I’m in awe of those dedicated gym-goers who actually enjoy a daily workout.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Present pessimism versus fond reflections...

During the few weeks that I was working for, a website that serves live links in sync with television programmes, I spent a vast amount of time searching the seemingly infinite internet for links relevant to the programme. It was an illuminating experience to say the least - I stumbled across interactive LAPD crime maps that mark exactly what crimes have happened where and sincere accounts of personally experienced alien abductions, to name just a couple.

However, the websites that I most enjoyed perusing were the loud, colourful jumble of sites that spilled out of google when I searched for links on the 60s. It didn't take many clicks to confirm that the Austin Powers-style depiction of a flamboyant, bubbling decade was true to many. In fact, it wasn't just the nostalgic musings of aging swingers that convinced me – sites that simply catalogued key 60s moments also heralded a certain fizzy excitement.

Martin Luther King had a dream, JFK was assassinated, Neil Armstrong took 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' and the Concorde took off… …England won the World Cup, the Berlin Wall appeared, flower power and festivals blossomed and popular politics exploded…

Clicking my way through wistful websites brought to mind a module that I studied at university: Youth Rebellion in the 20th century. Even fairly dry academic description - 'the first era of extended youth that rejected the parental generation' – didn’t completely nullify the period. The course portrayed a groundbreaking decade of pushing boundaries, shaping the future and making history.

In comparison, the land of the noughties gets little positive press and the capacity to shock and push boundaries has been stunted. Revolutionary rock stars have been replaced with endless streams of celebrity nobodies, students are villainised as binge drinking wasters cushioned from reality by their student loans, idealistic passions have been replaced by dismissive resignation and apathy, and cynicism abounds.

However, despite a pessimistic press, to unquestioningly shelve the noughties as a lacklustre, humdrum era is unjust. It is rare that the media seizes on the positive aspects of the age, such as the passionate environmental protests of the clean and green, or the astounding fundraising fervour of some celebrities.

In fact, the reality of the 60s was probably less upbeat than current perceptions of the decade, which forty years later, are largely informed by rose-tinted reflections. I am sure that, forty years from now, the scathing social commentaries of today will also be diluted by the nostalgia of a reminiscent generation.

The swinging sixties are recalled as decade of hippies, rock stars and liberation. Maybe the noughties will be fondly remembered as an era of diversity and tolerance, glamour and stardom… Only time will tell!