In which a fat girl thinks about fitness

Fitness is a funny area for fat people.

I mean, I say funny. What I actually mean, for this person at least, is fitness is an area filled with potentially traumatising flashbacks to PE at school, where you’d get told off for being unable to hit a rounders balls, or throw a shot put, or serve in tennis, or shoot in hockey, but were terribly good at ‘fielding deep’, ‘fielding deep’ being the classic PE euphemism for ‘go and sit a long way over there and make daisy chains, and don’t get in the way of the sporty children.’ I was never naturally gifted in the areas that make for being good at competitive sport. I’m not naturally quick. I’m clumsy. I lack basic hand eye co-ordination. My first instinct when faced with a ball coming towards me is to get out of the way. My second instinct, unfortunately, is usually to stop the damn thing with my face.

And, under the age of 16, fitness and sport are treated as if they’re the same thing. PE stands for physical education, but the key piece of education that was never offered was the simple fact that if you’re no good at netball and detest long jump, it’s just as good for your physical fitness to just run about or go salsa dancing or learn to snowboard. For me it took about 10 years after leaving school to realise that being terrible at PE didn’t actually preclude doing exercise as an adult. Since then I’ve tried a lot of different exercise options outside of the world of competitive sport. I’ve been to gyms. I’ve swum. For one very bleak winter I ran. I’ve danced, and boxed, and lifted weights. I yoga’d and zumba’d. I’ve never managed to get consistently thin, but I have definitely got fitter, and as I’ve got fitter I’ve got more confident about what makes a good or a bad exercise instructor, and what makes an exercise programme something you’ll stick with or something you’ll give up, and given that I have a whole corner of the interweb set aside specifically for me to reckon things about stuff, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with you.

Here comes the inevitable list-bit (it’s a bit fitness class oriented but that’s what I’m into so tough)…

  1. If the instructor makes you feel crap, they’re a crap instructor. Yes – they need to be motivating. Yes – they need to encourage you to work hard. But, if they make you feel like a big fat failure because you can’t do a move, they’re doing a crap job at both those things. There are other classes. There are other gyms. There are other instructors. Time to move on.
  2. Find something you like enough to still do when it’s raining and you’re running late and it would be easier to just go straight home. It turns out I really like dance-based group classes. I would happily zumba or bokwa for hours on end. I really really detest running – I wish I liked it. It’s so handy – a pair of trainers and a positive attitude and you can do it anywhere. It’s by far the easiest way to keep up a fitness programme if you’re away from home a lot or don’t have much routine in your week, but it’s just horrible on every level. It’s boring, and repetitive, and it makes me feel like I might sick up a lung. Find something that makes you feel better about the world, not worse.
  3. Be prepared to try stuff you don’t think you can do – a few weeks ago I tried a class called Metafit. Now Metafit is freakishly hardcore but super short in duration, and realistically I could only do about 50% of the moves, but I felt amazing afterwards – all achievementy and proud. And it was horribly hard work, but it was only horribly hard work for 20 minutes, so it didn’t have the never ending relentless quality of attempting to run 5 miles. I haven’t been able to go back yet, but I’m planning to make it a regular class.
  4. If you really can’t do something, be prepared to say so or do something different instead. If you’re used to being terrible at PE, it’s really easy to think that not being able to do a particular move is your fault, and to just hide at the back of the class not being able to do it and feeling a bit meh. Don’t. A decent instructor should be able to give you an option that works for you.
  5. If you don’t like a class, think about trying the same class with a different instructor. It’s incredible how much difference a good instructor makes to the whole tone and feel of a class. Instructors are individuals and their teaching styles, choreography etc. vary massively even in classes run under the same branding or title. There are types of instructor I know I just won’t get on well with – usually the very shouty, hyper-competitive ones. But there are plenty of other fitness fishes in the sea.
  6. Remember that your instructor or trainer doesn’t know what it feels like for you. A lot of fitness instructors have never been fat – that means that when you point out to them that their super simple ‘body-weight’ training plan is way way harder for you because you’ve got a lot more body-weight to heave about the place, it can, occasionally, be a revelation. That’s fine. Just embrace the joy of having shared some knowledge. Sharing knowledge is always a beautiful thing.


So there you go – six random thoughts about exercise, from the point of view of a fat person. And there endeth the lesson for today. Go forth and exercise, or if you don’t fancy that, snuggle down under blanky and read books. That’s always nice too.


In which I tell you what I did on my holidays (part 1)

Hello world. I’ve just got back from holidays, which is my excuse for the, otherwise inexcusable, lack of recent blogular action. This week that will be very much rectified with an unprecendented five blogposts in five days. Let the bugles be sounded and the batons be twirled in excitement, at least until about Wednesday when I will presumably become distracted from the whole endeavour.

Anyhow, let’s start as we mean to go on with not one, but two, posts about what I did on my holidays. First off I went to the Commonwealth Games where there was athletics and badminton and hockey and gymnastics and rugby sevens. Here’s an actual picture of actual Usain Bolt to prove I was there.

Usain Bolt (in the middle there, honest.)

Anyway, I’m not going to bang on too much about the Commonwealth Games. I like a bit of sport, and this was a very jolly bit of sport, but I’m guessing that those of you who are right-thinking enough to be interested will have watched it on telly for yourselves. Seeing the sport live is much the same but with a slightly poorer view and no red button for switching to iPlayer part way through.

What I am going to bang on about, however, is the Edinburgh Fringe which occupied week two of the holibobs period. I’ve never been to Edinburgh during festival season before and can only concede that that was a colossal error of judgement on my part. The fringe is awesome, and massive, and overwhelming, and weird. Really really weird in places.

Not a weird bit of fringe. An entirely normal bit of zoo.
Not a weird bit of fringe. An entirely normal bit of zoo.

EngineerBoy and I took a day off midweek to go to the zoo and watch Bake-Off, but still managed to fit nineteen shows into the remaining five days in Edinburgh. We probably could have done more, but not without being reduced to jibbering, entertainment-overwhelmed shells of human beings. We tried to work out how many shows were on at the fringe in total and gave up. There are over 400 fringe venues, many of which house multiple performance rooms, which each host shows throughout the day from morning until well after any sane person is all tucked up in sleepy land. We didn’t even scratch the top layer of the outermost bit of surface.

What we did manage to see was *deep breath*: Bob Graham, Danny Bhoy, Lucy Porter, Mitch Benn. Richard Wiseman & the Creative Martyrs in ‘And the Goat Remained a Goat,’ Shappi Khorsandi, the Cambridge Footlights, Nina Conti, Sara Pascoe, the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Complete History of Comedy, Susan Calman, What Does the Title Matter Anyway? (a show that bore no resemblance at all the TV show ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’), Set List, Tanya Byron, Nicola McAuliffe in ‘I Killed Rasputin,’ Cal Wilson, Tom Stade, and Andrew Maxwell. And most of them were brilliant. Only one was awful. If you come back tomorrow I shall be splitting all of them into entirely arbitrary categories, one of which will almost certainly be called ‘Other Stuff,’ and recommending my favourites.

In the meantime, as ever, if you want to read more by me, I have books. You can do buying of them here.

In which there is a World Cup and a great and wondrous literary festival

So it’s that time in the four-year cycle of four yearness where my newsfeeds and social life are suddenly dominated by one thing and one thing only – the tiresome, repetitive, inescapable, all-encompassing deluge of people going on and on and on about how uninterested they are in the football, specifically, the World Cup.

Now we’re an inclusive, tolerant sort of corner of the internet. We welcome all-comers, and hold a deep and abiding respect for each and every one of your rights to hold and express whatever opinions you like. However, there are some occasions on which those opinions are simply wrong. I’m aware, for example, that there are some of you out there who don’t like marmitey toast, or who think that Nigel Farage seems like a damn good bloke. Now I wouldn’t be expected to smile benignly while those travesties of opinions were expressed, and this is no different. I understand that some of you don’t like football, but you are, I’m afraid, based on the available evidence, simply and categorically wrong. And by ‘based on the available evidence, simply and categorically wrong,’ I mean that I reckon something different.

That’s not to say that there’s nothing wrong with the state of world football and there isn’t lots that will irritate me over the next few weeks of World Cup jollity. In fact there’s lots of bad in amongst the good. I shall innumerate some of that bad forthwith…

1. Fifa

Corrupt, out of touch, apparently incapable of dealing with racism in a way related even slightly to the 21st Century. Pah.


2. The advertising industry’s World Cup obsession with all things football

Yep – every advert on TV for the next month will feature the beautiful game in some way or another. Some of these adverts will be for sportswear companies – that’s just about ok. Most of them, however, won’t. They’ll be for cars, or supermarkets, or shampoo, or any one of the hundreds of other businesses that have sod all to do with football, and they will be tiresome in the extreme, and they will never convince me that a flake free scalp has significant impact on goalkeeping performance. Ugh.


3. Yes – I’m a girl. Yes – I’m a girl who writes romantic comedies for a living. Yes – I understand the off side rule.

It’s 2014. This really really isn’t news, but at some point over the next month I’m pretty damn sure it will be commented on. Likewise, there are plenty of blokes who couldn’t give a stuff about the World Cup. They’re misguided (as previously explained) but also not noteworthy. Interest in football is not governed by one’s possession of a y-chromosome. That clear? Good.

It’s also not mutually exclusive with having other interests, even interests that some people might (wrongly) describe as a ‘tad girly’. In addition to football, I also quite like books and theatre and cooking programmes and spending too much money on ebay and drinking wine in the garden, and I imagine I’ll manage to squeeze most of those activities into my summer as well. Which brings me onto…


4. The pressure to be a ‘proper’ fan

I’ll be honest- I’m not sure I have the ‘proper’ fandom gene. I’m a casual football fan. I’ll watch the World Cup. Outside of that I probably watch most England matches, a smattering of Champions League and a random sample of Match of the Day. I don’t go and stand on the terraces every weekend. Some ‘proper’ fans will be irrationally offended by that, in the same way that I have friends who will be upset by the fact that I ‘quite like’ Buffy, or generally only own those CDs that everybody owns – the ones put out after bands were famous. It’s good to be a casual fan. It frees up brain-space for more activities, and saves you from ever having to convert your loft into bespoke storage for your Doctor Who figures.


So there are just some of the things that will aggravate me during the World Cup, but actually none of them are anything to do with football. They’re all just part of the kerfuffle surrounding the football.

Football is sometimes referred to as the beautiful game, and it is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity. Football is the game that groups of eleven year olds would invent, given a patch of ground and a round thing. It can be played badly by pretty much anyone, and played brilliantly it can be exhilarating to watch. It can be nail-biting, infuriating, gut-clenching, ecstasy-inducing and pretty much all emotions in between. Football is brilliant. It’s made me hide my face behind a cushion while watching TV more effectively than any dalek. It’s made me yelp for joy in the street when being forced to listen to an England match on the radio on account of ‘having to go to work.’ It’s made me cry in public (Euro ’96 – Gareth Southgate, oh Gareth Southgate).

So, football, yeah. I quite like it.


I do also, however, like other things, and with that in mind, please allow me one brief moment of shameless promotion. Next week, on Saturday 21st June I’m hosting a rather lovely literary event as part of the Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe. I’m going to be hosting an afternoon with top writers Christina Courtenay, Sue Moorcroft and Liz Harris who will be talking about books and writing and anything else I, or the audience, choose to ask them about. This may or may not include the World Cup. So anybody who loves books and is around in Worcester on 21st June, please come along. It should be lots of fun, and there will definitely be cake. You can download the full LitFest programme (which also includes 3 novel-writing workshops with yours truly) and book tickets here.