Friday, April 8, 2016

Life's Odometer

Another birthday has come and gone, another click-over on life's odometer, 62 this time, so, once again, it's time to take stock of my health and fitness. I actually train for the week of my birthday as if it is a competition event that I want to achieve well at. Part of the reason is because I am a vain man who likes to impress people with the level of my fitness at what is perceived by most to be an advanced age. I hasten to point out that there are people with far bigger challenges than I, people who are older and fitter than I and people with health and injury limitations who would put my small triumphs to shame.

In fact I have an implacable critic that I desperately need to gain the respect of. It is someone from whom I cannot hide my weaknesses, who knows all the mind tricks, the gamesmanship that I use on myself and others to hide folly or lack of determination. Nobody knows my strengths and weaknesses like I do and because of that, like most, I am my own harshest critic.

My biggest challenge is I'm getting old, there's no denying it. Most mornings, in fact pretty much my whole working day, I feel and move like an old man. Taking stairs slowly, one tread at a time, holding on to the handrail, getting in and out of chairs slowly because of knee pain.

This is in stark contrast to how I feel and perform at the gym. I usually do Les Mills Body Pump and Body Combat classes which basically focus on aerobic training, burning off kilojoules and building lean muscle. I perform reasonably well, in the top 10% of the class. It's true that I am just about always the only man in the classes, but what of it? The average age is about thirty years my junior and if I could keep up with the best of them I'd be built like a Greek God instead of a medieval gargoyle!

My goal is to keep body fat down and build an ectomorph style body: a swimmers body, rather than a weight-lifter's body. This is mainly because my chosen sport is fencing epee for which I need speed and stamina. I've been told that I am a relatively strong fencer, in that I will knock an opponents blade away, but this is not an particularly good thing since it is not an effective offense or defense beyond the fact that I will continue to parry and riposte beyond the normal one or two exchanges.

My long-term training goal should be to increase my stamina so that, should I get beyond the first round of a DE or Direct Elimination, I will have the reserves necessary to play out a competition to the final rounds. I tend to fence on adrenalin, pushing hard and fast but getting drained before the end of the competition. My major training goal for my fencing should be skill-based rather than strength-based. My issue here should be that I need to be a better fencer, a smarter, more skilled fencer, rather than a stronger fencer.

Appearance-wise, I wouldn't mind putting some bulk on around my arms, chest and shoulders. What man wouldn't?. My issue here is that, in the past, when I have pushed myself to my limits of anaerobic weights, I have injured my muscles. This needs more study but my theory is that instead of my muscles developing microtears that heal into larger, more efficient muscles, they simply develop into full-blown tears.

Some days I feel particularly wasted and I know that getting enough sleep is a real challenge which I need to address more firmly. I try to eat more protein than carbohydrates and fats but this recent Easter vacation has been a real binge! Stopping off on two nights for hot chocolate and chocolate eggs particularly stand out.

Specific ideas...

  • Need to do something at home everyday, either planking or pushups, because my stomach and back are weak points
  • A regular stretching routine that I can do at any time would be good. I should perfect my Mok'bara
  • Likewise I need to do something about my posture
  • ...and finally I need to make sure my knees are strapped up for competitions, it took me weeks to recover from the last one and it's still giving me trouble at times.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Safety: Libertarian issue or gender issue?

I was embroiled recently in an online debate that got a little heated between myself and someone who I admire and respect, a free-spirited woman who took offense to a post from a man who was quite transparently wrong in his motives and point of view. I took the opportunity to make my viewpoint on safety known.

Safety is not a gender issue. I am a safety professional in a safety-obsessed industry. My life and career is founded on safety. I live and breath safety. If anything, safety is a civil rights issue. There is a perceived polarity between safety and liberty in that people see safety as an infringement on their personal liberty. Like a true Trekkie I'll try to give the case for both and see if I can craft a middle line that will cover the major issues of both sides.

As a young man, as is the wont of young men, I took chances. I loved to run the ragged edge of danger. In some cases I did it without knowing and I can only recognise it in hindsight. Walking though Capetown alone and calling into a random bar for a beer. Truly God looks after children, innocents and trusting Aussies. It is in the nature of young people to run the ragged edge of danger, some people never grow out of it and that is a viable choice for them to make with their lives.

However, whilst I agree with and support everyone's right to travel, practice extreme sports and take any chances they wish that are neither illegal nor unethical, I do not respect people who flount safety. I will support a person's right to do so if it is legal but, no, I stand fast on my principle that it is *NOT* something I admire in people to place themselves in danger needlessly. I don't care whether it is a boy, girl, Aussie, American or the King of France!

My daughter rides a motor bike. We've talked about it once and she knows where I stand on this: she is a grown woman and I support her desire to experience the thrill of riding a motor bike. I support her desire to be wild and free but I also admire her choice to ride responsibly and defensively. I would support her decision to ride no matter what she did but if I knew she was not riding safely I'd tell her she's a damn fool. I would have exactly the same conversation with my son if he rode a motor cycle but he doesn't, he rides a bicycle through Sydney streets which is probably more dangerous.

The media and the establishment have tried to use travelling safety as a rod to whip feminists, saying that they are foolhardy to place themselves at risk. I fully support feminists when they point out that, if this is so then the fault lies with the men who perpetrate the acts of violence and that the victims should not have to take any special care. As the Guardian points out in the case of the two young Argentinian women, MarĂ­a Coni and Marina Menegazzo, killed while backpacking in Ecuador, "All travellers should take safety precautions, regardless of age or sex. Nobody is suggesting that women shouldn’t make the same sensible preparations as their male peers." Women should not need to be placed under any sort of restriction, specific or implied, that men are not. Violence upon them is the guilt of their attackers and, even if they have not been prudent, even if they have taken chances, they have the same right to do so as any other person.

As a mature man I get stereotyped. I sometimes feel that people have a photograph of me - or someone who looks like me - in their pocket labelled, "Always supports the establishment: ignore". It gives them a a convenient 'get out of jail card' whereby they don't have to consider what I say because it's 'old fart talk'.

Never discount anyone. "Even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story." When I am trying to talk about are sensible safety practices, no one - male, female, white, rich or poor - is immune. Discounting my words as sexist or anti-libertarian is a cop-out. If you have a counter argument, great, I would love to hear it, but if you are riding on a wave of bravado, you're fighting a losing battle

I abhor the very real danger that some men represent. It goes against my upbringing, my instincts, my philosophy, my ethics... but it exists. It exists at home just as much as it does abroad, as my friend pointed out, she is statistically in more danger from someone she knows than a stranger. I absolutely agree that the fault lies with the perpetrators, the men who have these attitudes and the society that condones and perpetuates it. However you have to accept that the danger exists and take it into account. 

You can say exactly the same about racial discrimination and prejudice or road rage or gun proliferation. These are all contentious issues but ignoring them won't keep you safe. A fool buying a firearm without storing it and using it responsibly might puff their chest out and spout about their libertarian right, but if his son finds it and kills himself, it will not bring him back to life. A black man expecting white supremacists in America's south to respect his rights is being just as foolhardy as a white American frat boy expecting North Korea to have a sense of humour about a prank.

Do what you will within the law but if you ignore safety and tragedy strikes I shall weep with you. There are no winners when this happens. Everyone loses.

Monday, March 28, 2016

This is your child

See this? This is your child.

You have this wonderful person, this piece of you,  for eighteen years. During that time you cherish it, protect it, build all sorts of fun and loving memories with it. You don't want to let it go but that's it's nature...

You wind it up, point it in the right direction and then let it go, watching them as they race across the horizon.

For eighteen years you have your most cherished possession. You take pride in teaching them all that you believe is good and right in the world but you know that you won't be there to guide and protect them all their lives so you encourage them to become independant and make their own decisions. As a teenager you have the right and responsibity to correct them if you think they are going wrong but once they reach adulthood you have to let them go. In modern society we say that eighteen is the cut off point although some mature earlier and sadly some never reach maturity at all.

When that time comes, you have to stop correcting them, you have to accept that they are freshly minted adults, accept their independence and hopefully forge a new relationship with them as friends. You no longer have the right to correct things that you might perceive as wrong, the best thing that you can hope for is that they will reflect the respect that you show them and build on the start that you have given them.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Horses for courses

If you are the type who flicks through previous posts you'll see that I haven't used this blog for years. Like most I have various blogs littered about the interwebs like tombstones to my id but in the truse spirit of environmentalism I am going to reuse this one rather than create another monument to my ego. For the last year or so I have been using Facebook for my commentary but I find that it is clumsy and wand to put some of my ideas into a more literary context.

Ergo Blogger. Horses for courses.

Like a diary you've never read for years it is hard to reconcile what I wrote against who I am today, but I cannot deny it as my thoughts of the day and the pressures I was under at the time. What matters more is today and what I want to say now, in five years time will I again cringe at my raw emotions?

Who knows? Is it a reason for not speaking out?


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spelling it out

My idea at the start of my course of treatment was that I would use this blog to record my trials and tribulations and use them as springboard to deep and meaningful thoughts. The reality is that, whilst adversity has given me many new and unwanted insights into the world and my place in it, the trials and tribulations have more usually beaten me into a relatively zombie-like numbness!

If you are going through the treatment right now or are thinking of doing it, this is not the post you should be reading! My advice to everyone is to do it if you possibly can. It will be one of the most challenging things you've ever done, but when you complete it you will have not only rid your body of a long-term, degenerative disease, you will have accomplished something that you can be immensely proud of.

If you are likely to start the course any time in the near future though, avoid reading to much about the side-effects and possible complications, it will set your expectations (there's a whole post to be written on psychoneuroimmunology) an scare you off, perhaps needlessly. However at some point I need to put down the specifics of the Hell that I'm going through, not because I want to impress people - as I've said many times, one of the things that keeps me going is the fact that I realise there are people who are suffering a whole lot more than me and don't have the luxury of knowing that their problems will stop at some point in time. For many it is a life sentence!

No, its just a statement of fact - make of it what you will. Condemn me for a weak fool if you will, suffering is relative and you might have a greater challenge, but never, ever pity me. Sympathise, understand, make allowances, even appreciate your own health more, but don't you ever pity me! I am exactly the same man I was when I started this course of treatment and I demand you treat me the same way - love me or hate me! To pity me means I am less than what I was and I might be weaker, more fuddled, more emotional, at times a physical wreck, but inside this confused, feeble, plodding shell is the man who started the course and the man who will be even better when he has damn-well finished it!

So welcome to my Year of Hell - tread no further if you are thinking of starting your own!

I take an injection of Interferon once a week, Friday evenings, I'm so used to it now that there's no mark or discomfort any more. It can be an itchy rash and if you do it too often in the same place can cause necrosis.

I take three Ribavarin tablets, twice a day. They seem to be what affects my appetite and hemoglobin levels and aren't a major problem to take.

The major problem is the four Boceprevir I take three times a day. The side effects that I can attest to are...
  • vile, metalic taste at all times of the day
  • reduced hemoglobin, T Cell and White blood cell counts
  • extremely hard to digest: stomach gas and acid bowels
The accumulation of the three - I can't point to one and say which is the culprit for sure - have given me a range of major and minor problems both physical and psychological hat are frankly destructive to my body and mind.

I have no appetite and when I do eat, most food is either tasteless, dry and spongy, or just plain bad-tasting! Things I know I love - coffee, chocolate, honeycomb ice cream! - no longer taste good. Even though I eat less my body's metabolism still needs that minimum number of kilojoules to survive and so it burns my reserves. Unfortunately muscle is the first thing to be burned if I let things slide so that I will become feeble and flabby.

I cannot maintain my muscle bulk by exercise because my decreased hemoglobin levels mean I just can't transport enough oxygen fast enough to keep my muscles moving fast enough and long enough to have a training effect on them. However the less I do, the less I can do! It is a viscous cycle of  do less, become capable of doing less, do even less...

Psychologically the drugs artificially create or enhance depression, lack of drive and determination and most especially my control over my emotions. If I do not watch for and avoid the tell-tale start-up signs I can become an angry, shouting fool or a sobbing wreck. Of all the side-effects this is the most disturbing since, although I can forgive myself for physical weakness, society has conditioned me to find such extremes of emotion as unacceptable. Usually I can see what they are and fight them by berating myself for giving in to a self-indulgence, by recognising that they are not my emotions but something artificially created by the drugs however sometimes it just gets too much and I have to allow them to sweep over me and just pick up the pieces afterwards.

I've only really lost my temper once to any great extreme over a silly, stupid argument and I just walked away and went to bed so that the next day we could both apologise, ignore it and go on with our lives. I didn't let it fester because, although I do have a quick temper at times, in most cases I can control it and only lose it over important things that I want to make an issue over. In this case it wasn't me that was angry, it was the drugs and as Kang said, "Klingons fight for their own reasons!"

By the same token I will admit to being more soft-hearted than the average man, I find it especially hard to maintain my composure at the death of children or great heroism or sacrifice. I find it embarrassing though to be now moved to tears by movies, children suffering or just plain depression. It distresses those who are close to me - I don't think my kids can handle it, it must confuse the Hell out of them!

I've got to point out that these are extremes and I've developed tricks and strategies to avoid them. I put Hemp cream on the dry skin on my back that is so itchy it is driving me up the wall! I am as careful as I can be to try to keep to my timetable for taking my medication, not just because this is most effective for the treatment but because if I don't, my bowels become incredibly acid! I berate myself for any emotions that are self-indulgent - feeling sorry for myself is not a sufficient cause for losing control. By the same token I try to keep my bad temper down to grumpiness or obscure irony that is lost on most people.

That's just the tip of the iceberg! I'm thoroughly fed up with this and I want it over with now! Unfortunately I have 16 weeks to go! What can you do for me? Cut me some slack. Don't think too harshly of me if I don't perform as per normal - I've told the people I work with that in none-work or family oriented matters I might not be reliable.

Just don't pity me. It makes me angry. You won't like me when I'm angry!

[Lighten up - that was ironic humour!]

Sunday, July 22, 2012


The good news is that, for the second time in 25 years my body is now free of Hepatitus C - my last blood test showed a zero viral load! The fact that it only took 12 weeks with this course of treatment rather than 6 months in 2008 is a testament to the the new drug, Boceprevir. The bad news is that I now have 36 weeks to finish the course to make sure I don't relapse again!.

The side effects are getting more pronounced. My lack of appetite and the vile taste I have all day, conspire with the sponge-like taste and texture of most food to reduce my kilojoule intake so that my body is burning my remaining muscle bulk. This in turn is making me more feeble and less able to turn my food into muscle rather than fat - a viscous circle!

I was determined at the start of this course that I would not give up on my gym classes as early as I did in 2008 - I caved in to pressure from the clinic nurse at the time who convinced me I had an unrealistic expectation of myself by continuing. It took me nearly two years to recover anything like my normal fitness. Up 'til this week I've been still getting to the gym twice a week - aerobic weights on Tuesday and aerobic combat class on Thursday - but I don't know how much longer i can keep that up.

I would be a fool if I didn't admit there were safety concerns - after thirty eight years in the rail industry I live and breath safety! The problem is that my lowered Hemoglobin levels are causing stress on my cardiovascular system. My resting pulse rate is abnormally high because it is having to pump more blood around my body just to stay alive! When I exercise it puts that system under even more stress.

Yesterday, for example, we went to see "Dark Knight Rises" at the cinema and when it finished I had only got through the doors before I recognised that I was hyperventilating: light-headed, losing balance, pulse racing... Sharyn was with me so I leaned on her until I could get to a chair and started slowing my breathing down. Later that night I had a hot bath which had pretty much the same effect so they're out until next year as well!

I'll keep pushing with the gym classes for as long as i can but I need to think of the next step because i can see that I'll not be able to keep them up until the end of the treatment. To paraphrase Yoda, "There is another" I just need to find something that will excercise my system without stressing it!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Vulcan Thought for the day

OK, so I'm a Trekkie, so sue me! I love the iconic extremes that Trek has given us with the Vulcan and Klingon stereotypes to mention only two


Vulcan's are not unaware of the disdain with which most species look upon our desire to master our emotions but to us it is simple: to master the mind is to master reality.

You who are reading these words right now, how do you experience reality? Through your senses, of course. Some species have more highly attuned senses than others, for example a wolf has an acute sense of smell and a dolphin can hear sounds in different frequencies just as some animals can see into the infrared or ultraviolet. However all of these senses render your reality and its amazing array of colours, scents and harmonies, that can range from the repulsive to the sublime, into simple binary code signals flashed along nerves to the physical brain that sits, in all humanoid species, atop your spinal column.

What is the objective difference between the nerve impulses that signify beauty and those that tell us the opposite? Are they positive and negative? Is it a matter of degree, frequency or other biochemical parameter? It is none of these. The difference is in the interpretation that your mind puts to the signals.

To put it in the words of one of your Earth homilies, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Vulcans are not immune to the aesthetics that define beauty, justice and love. In fact it is because we understand these abstract values far better than you who wallow in them, that we control them so rigorously.

You say that we are the poorer because we do not 'experience' the extremes of reality yet it is precisely because we do know the depths and heights of despair and euphoria that we severely limit them. Vulcan history is a garish panorama of the very best that we can be and the very worst and whilst, on the one extreme, our art and culture is so good as to be almost painful in it's appreciation, on the other extreme the horrors of the terror and depravity that we reached is such as to be almost unbearable.

What you, who say that you experience reality, do not realise is that you make your own reality. A man and woman might look on the same child and experience polar opposite emotions, the one seeing the beauty of procreation, the other seeing evidence of their mortality. Who is right and who is wrong? Neither? Both! Two men with identical jobs can see it as an over-burdening responsibility and a challenging opportunity. Which is it? The importance of the question lies in the way that they react to their perception of reality. Because of his positive attitude, one man might do his job far better than the other. For love, a mother might run into a burning building giving her life in the hope of saving her child.

The Vulcan Academy of Science theorises that it is because of our innate telepathic abilities that, historically, we Vulcans have been vulnerable to the extremes of emotions and must be ever on our guard against both extremes which is why we must react to them objectively and logically.

For humans it is different. Your society is based on choice, the idea that for each situation that you face, you can choose how you react to it. You can choose to be positive or negative. Ultimately, you can choose to be good or evil.

But ask yourself this when you need to make such a choice next, what am I basing this on? Is my perception of the facts objective and thus statistically most likely to be correct? Is it tinged by fatigue or despair?

Or can I manipulate my reality and work onwards with an optimistic view of the data? Humans can use their minds to control their bodies just as we Vulcans do – it is called psychoneuroimmunology. Two people can be given the same course of medication, one told that it has a 70% chance of success the other that it has a 30% chance of failure. It is statistically proven that the former will have a greater success rate than the latter.

Sometimes all that is needed to tip the scales in favour of a desired outcome is that we are actively working, consciously and subconsciously, towards success rather then resigned to failure.

To quote one of your 20th century icons, "There are always alternatives."