Health, Lifestyle, Mens Health, Opinion

Movember. The Importance of asking ‘how are you’?

This will be the fifth occasion I have participated in Movember and it gets more important every year. Some might say the growing of a moustache is some gimmicky, hipster tradition to show the world ‘Hey, I’ll grow some ridiculous facial hair and get away with it for charity’. If you do think that, you are grossly missing the point.

I truly grasped the importance of Movember in the country where the movement originates, Australia. Over there hipsters seemingly lurk on every corner and moustaches are far more readily spotted. There does not seem to be a taboo over comical upper facial hair, but there does seem to be a taboo over men’s health.

Whenever I think of an Australian, I think of the men I met while doing my farmwork. Tough men who would work in the field all day and come in to a steak dinner. One of the phrases I often heard (though barely aimed at me) was ‘Take a spoonful of concrete and harden the fuck up’. Down under, readily talking about men’s health was frowned upon. Men would not discuss how they were feeling, they’d get their head down and carry on. This is largely the case in the UK where suffering alone is a tangible concern.

Few people ask that simple question, ‘how are you?’ My boss asks me that every so often as she knows there are times when I am struggling, whether that be with my workload or battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. She will take me a quiet area and we will have a ten minute chat where I can offload. It makes a huge difference to know that there is someone checking in on you. When was the last time you asked someone ‘how are you?’ and got a truthful response? ‘I’m alright ta’, when really you have just seen them walk in looking as if they have the world on their shoulders.

Getting men to talk emotionally is a huge challenge and admittedly there are few men I speak to whom I know I can truly offload to. Ask yourself, if you were having a hard time mentally, who would you admit that to? The statistics make for distressing reading –

. One in eight men have experienced a mental health problem

. The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide

Men cannot afford to keep it all in and to borrow one of the foundations slogans, ‘Suicide notes talk too late’. Aside from mental health, there are two physical illnesses which Stand Up To Cancer thankfully highlighted last week; prostate and testicular cancer.

. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point

. Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men aged 25-49

And yet, do men talk about this? Not really, which is why the Movember Foundation is so vital. Simply talking about men’s health is one huge step and if that means me growing a moustache to raise awareness then great. Happy to.

 

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Polling Station
Lifestyle

Vote. Choose your party. Just please don’t announce it

“Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one”.

As with the right to vote, everybody has a right to an opinion though at times it is best not to air it in public. Especially not an allegiance, especially not on social media.

Before I was even allowed to vote I knew what a responsible duty it is. That I should do my best to ignore smear campaigns and never waver in my choice. I still base my decision on issues that matter to me making my vote so intimate I become passionately secretive over it, like many others. It says a lot about my own personal preferences and as such I want to keep it to myself. Everyone has the right to vote for the party that they believe best represents them yet please do not try to persuade others to follow suit.

Do not get me wrong, there is a distinct difference in persuading people to go out and vote (OK) than persuading people to vote a certain way (NOT OK). There is also a difference in sparking political debate (OK) and sparking arguments against people who are not voting the same way (NOT OK).

After convincing myself for weeks of how I would vote I still found myself staring at the voting slip. For each of us it is one of the most important decisions you can make yet we still make a compromise. No party’s policies will ever perfectly align with what we, as individuals, want to see set in place. So voting for a specific party does not mean you should be guilt tripped because someone else disagrees with a certain policy. “Oh, you’re voting FGDFSDFS. Have you seen their stance on RGSDFSDFSDF!?” STOP IT.

In an ‘Age of Disclosure’ I already know what you had for dinner and which Instagram filter you used to make it look magnificent. I already know if you’re engaged/expecting as I’ve seen the ring/ultrasound on Facebook. I already know where you’ve been on holiday, I’ve seen your Foursquare check-ins. Knowing which party you have voted for is just another detail I’d prefer you kept to yourself.

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Thai-infused haddock
Fitness, Lifestyle

New year, new diet. Is the Harcombe Diet ‘the one’?

Guess what. It is the start of the year and like so many others I have decided to go on a diet. This is not as daring as you may think, over a decade ago I did the Atkins diet and lost a couple of stone. This gives me prior experience into the rigours of a high protein, low carbohydrate regime and this year’s diet du jour seems to be the Harcombe Diet.

After half a bag of Haribo, a bottle of treacle toffee stout and a hot chocolate to keep me awake on Sunday night for the Superbowl, my diet started in earnest on Tuesday. A mere five days in and I have already experienced a few positive changes from Phase 1. Increased energy levels, few hunger pangs, few cravings and, more importantly, looser clothes. That is the main reason we diet, isn’t it? To simply lose weight. Whether it is to lose those Christmas pounds or fit into a wedding dress, it seems pretty endemic of society to wish you looked better than you do. But what if you wanted to lose the weight and feel better as part of a healthier lifestyle. You know, keep the weight off and function better, that is what I am hoping for with the Harcombe Diet.

At the start of every year it is hard to ignore the fad diets; the soup, milkshake or cabbage plans. The quick fix diets that shed the weight yet leave you starving. In short, they seem like a one night stand when you really want a marriage. Thanks to my Auntie I have been made aware of the benefits of keeping food simple; of adopting wholegrains and avoiding processed foods. Anyone that knows me would likely say I’m a food snob, I’m not, I simply enjoy making my meals from scratch knowing full well what goes in. In this sense, the diet isn’t that drastic a change, it is simply a case of buying different foods and putting others to the back of the cupboard. I have always tried to watch what I eat, now I am really paying attention.

That is what makes the Harcombe Diet so simple. Instead of calorie counting you work out what you are allowed and eradicate what you are forbidden. Every human body needs energy and the genius lies in knowing what the body requires to function, primarily in this case protein from meat and eggs. Also, instead of largely drawing your calories (arguably as much as 70%) from carbohydrates and vegetables you demand that your body extracts the energy from fats. Let it be known, ‘five a day’ is propaganda. While it remains important to eat your greens, the body can function on less than what many would want you to believe.

Aside from the weight loss one of the bonuses I have noticed is an improved brain function and this is no coincidence. The brain is composed of 60% fat yet it still needs energy. This can come from two sources; glucose from sugar and carbohydrates (BAD) or glycogen from fats broken down by the liver (GOOD). You can argue that a diet mainly composed of meat and vegetables is how a caveman would get his fill yet maybe, just maybe, this is ultimately how our bodies have been designed.

It is only in the last couple of centuries or so that we have adopted more extravagant means of cooking which, in turn, has introduced processed foods and a higher intake of sugar. Incidentally, today’s society is not only nutrient starved but time starved. Without distractions we could find the time to cook a meal from scratch yet we now grab ready meals and cereal bars. These may fill us up but soon enough we get hungry again and snack away, riding the emotional highs and lows of a sugar rollercoaster.

It may just be the pleasing glow that looser clothes gives anyone yet I feel calmer, more emotionally in control. I doubt that this is a coincidence either as only so much quickfix joy can come from a pack of Haribo before your mood turns as the sugar hit fades away. During the past five days I have strolled past open packets of biscuits in the office, added Stevia to my brew with no real qualms and decided against a bag of popcorn to accompany a Friday night film. Even my beloved weekend beers and spirits haven’t really been missed, even if it did mean turning an invite down on Friday evening. One thing I have noticed is that falling asleep has been harder yet with lesser kip I am yet to notice a drop in alertness.

The last few days have been difficult but not as tough as I imagined. Once you have got through the first day you know you can do it again. Once you have dismissed the easy option of a chocolate bar you know it is doing you good. I even managed a boxing class on Wednesday night and could have gone longer. Yet it has not been plain sailing; I have noted that the black coffee from the vending machine at work is barely fit for human consumption and I have really missed fruit and dairy. Apart from that, it is relatively simpler to follow. Just remember, stick to eggs, meat, vegetables (apart from white potatoes and mushrooms), natural live yogurt and a portion of oats or rice. I know what you are wondering so here is what I have had during Phase 1.

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Green salad with salami and honey mustard dressing

Day 1.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad of little gem lettuce, baby tomatoes, red onion, red pepper and salami coated with a honey mustard dressing (yogurt, honey, wholegrain mustard and lemon juice). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Gammon steak with brown rice and steamed red cabbage. Six tbsp. yogurt

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Lamb chops with rice and wilted spinach

Day 2.
Breakfast – Two rashers of smoked bacon with a fried egg
Lunch – Same as Day 1
Dinner – Two lamb chops with brown rice and steamed spinach

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs

Day 3.
Breakfast – Two scrambled eggs (oil instead of butter)
Lunch – Same as Days 1 and 2
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Chicken breast with steamed red cabbage, wilted spinach and roasted sweet potatoes

Day 4.
Breakfast – Porridge with water and cinnamon
Lunch – Salad nicoise (green salad with a tin of tuna and olives). Half a carrot, cut into strips, and a pepperami
Dinner – Chicken breast with steamed spinach, red cabbage and roasted sweet potato. Six tbsp. yogurt.

Thai-infused haddock

Thai-infused haddock

Day 5.
Breakfast – Two rashers of bacon and two fried eggs
Lunch – Small green salad with a balsamic vinaigrette and a pepperami
Dinner – Thai-infused haddock, steamed with lemongrass, chilli flakes, soy sauce, ginger powder and lime juice.
A glass of red wine

And on the sixth day, Lord Harcombe said let there be fruit and low fat dairy and there was. Hallelujah.

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Lifestyle, Opinion

Katie Hopkins – The High School Bully Given The Airtime She Desperately Craves

Let it be known that this has proven to be one of the hardest things I have ever committed to page. Put bluntly, there are certain people that should never be given the oxygen of publicity, the banteriffic Dapper Laughs as a recent example. Katie Hopkins also falls into this category and I am reminded of that luminous pink slime in Ghostbusters 2 which gets stronger the more hate it receives. I really do not want her to be an inspiration for anything, let alone my own writing, yet the poisonous witch is on her own personal crusade to inspire people to lose weight. Or so she thinks.

Any publicity is good publicity but I really do not want to help promote her dangerous new show, ‘Katie Hopkins: My Fat Story’. This is a woman who craves attention like The Daily Mail designs hate-fuelled headlines. A brief synopsis then; woman goes from 8st 12lb to 11st 13lb and back again to prove how easy it is to lose weight. No surprises that this is due to air in the first week of January when many are ruing those extra treats during the festive period. To have Hopkins choose to pile on the pounds to then smugly declare how easy it is to lose the weight is close to insulting yet she has history here.

Alarm bells should be ringing that her initial claim to fame came from The Apprentice, a show that rewards selfish, egotistical behaviour with a bumper business deal. This is a woman who really does not care what people think of her and seems to revel in the hatred that her poisonous views provoke. Anyone that can anger Holly Willoughby has to be a special case.

Let’s just check out some quotes from the show shall we –
Re: putting the weight on she said, “After I put on my first stone, I stopped having sex with my husband. As a fat bird, I stuck to my pyjamas and getting naked in the dark. A fat belly is not an attractive thing, fat people aren’t sexy”. This is to paint a poisonous picture of what the ‘universally perfect body’ is (hint, it doesn’t exist). There is a significant proportion of men who fail to find skinny girls sexy, are you going to try and persuade them otherwise Katie?

Later on she said, “It is just ridiculous what people do to themselves. Fat people, I mean I really I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror.” So ‘fat-shaming is in and beauty is not in the eye of the beholder then apparently. What this also spectacularly fails to note is that despite what Hopkins may hope, a significant amount of obese people are actually comfortable in their own skins, presumably by the support of their loved ones who actually do like seeing them naked.

According to Hopkins; “Being fat is hard work. You can’t be that fat and happy. If you’re too lazy to make a change then you’re going to be fat.” This is a mercilessly naïve statement which fails to address those that really do want to lose weight but for various reasons struggle. Some suffer from low metabolism rates as well as low self-esteem after trying various diets and not losing much weight. Some are suffering from crippling bouts of depression and find it hard to face the world, let alone go out for a run. Some lack the skills and time to cook healthy, nutritious meals for themselves.

If Hopkins really wanted to encourage obese people to lose weight she would, hopefully, be displaying a modicum of compassion. She would at least be trying to be helpful and sympathetic to obese people, maybe come up with a few healthy eating recipes of her own. Presumably we have seen this before and gotten bored of such noble behaviour from the likes of Jamie Oliver. Yet however disturbing her views on obese people are her methods are worryingly flawed, rapid fluctuations in weight have been proven as dangerous on the body, particularly the heart. Following Hopkins’ example is certainly not encouraged by any health practitioner.

Hopkins has the assumption that obesity is caused by apathy. In 2012 she told an obese woman that she wouldn’t employ her because fat people are lazy. This documentary is her chance to prove the misguided view that obese people are unwilling to lose weight. That is disputable, it can be incredibly difficult for a lot of people, it was for me.

Back in 2005 I was forced off alcohol and decided to go on a diet to lose some much needed weight. I had the time and know-how to cook my own meals but the most important thing was that I had the moral support of friends and family. The last thing I would have wanted was to see some smug TV personality tell me it’s easy. This isn’t an attack on freedom of speech, rather an attack on the editors and TV executives that allow her to be heard. Everyone is entitled to their view yet Hopkins is the high-school bully gifted a dangerous amount of publicity. The real contempt should not be aimed directly at her but at the media that continues to give her airtime.

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Lifestyle

Where have all the gentlemen gone?

I admit it, I hold doors and I’m proud of it. While that may not sound impressive it goes against a worrying trend, that gentlemen are becoming an endangered species. Let me explain.

At the main entrance of the office where I work there are three doors. A revolving door flanked by two which are opened by a security pass. I always opt for the one on the right and take a look back to see if I can hold it for anyone. Granted, this won’t win me any favours with the security staff yet I see it as a necessary, painless gesture of goodwill. I would like to say that I’ve received a smile and a thank you every time I’ve done this but half of the time it barely gets noticed.

This is my problem. I was brought up to be a gentleman, Ps and Q’s are a given. When you hold a door, especially for a few seconds, and it goes unnoticed you wonder what the point is. You begin to question your own good intentions, no wonder gentlemen are in short supply. I won’t change yet so many men find it easier to act like a douchebag and there is a market to be tapped.

There is a wider issue at hand here, the worrying growth of ‘lad culture’. A few weeks ago there was an encouraging response to the sexually violent preaching of Julien Blanc and the irksome, misogynist comedy of Dapper Laughs. However, a video from Blanc teaching men how to sexually assault women in Japan amassed over 50,000 views while 364, 454 followers of @dapperlaughs cannot all be wrong.

The two gained notoriety as they were so popular and had found a willing audience. While those two have grabbed the headlines it’s the cheeky memes of a woman’s place in the house is in the kitchen, etc. that are becoming dangerous. Funny? Not really. Frivolous? Certainly. The underlying message of disrespect towards women remains the same and there are men who find this sort of ‘banter’ acceptable. It isn’t.

The main worry is that acting as a gentleman is now seen as weak. When I go out to a pub or club I see a fair amount of ‘peacocks’; lads dressed to impress, necking shots, being loud and proud of it. Simply getting served is now a challenge in itself with various vexing techniques employed. From waving notes to grab attention to forcing an arm between other patrons so you can squeeze in the gap.

Alpha male culture is in, gentlemen are on the way out.

Mums' Days



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Lifestyle

Movember. Final thoughts

That’s it then. Another Movember gone and more funds raised to change the face of men’s health so what have I learnt? Moustaches went out of fashion at some point in the 80’s. In the present day there is something dangerous, even malevolent about them. After the strange ‘is he doing Movember?’ glances during the first two weeks and the ‘he is yknow’ stares for the final two weeks it’s been a strange month. People really find moustaches a little odd.

Apparently I suit a moustache. Several friends and family commented that it didn’t look out of place. My hometown newspaper, The Sentinel, asked for photos on Twitter and mine appeared as the lead photo on the gallery on their website. Nice. Then I received a mention on December 1st to say that I’d won their competition (I have no idea who voted but thanks) and I’ve won a wet shave and a shaving giftset.

The fact is I was constantly aware of its presence like a huge spot and would spend several minutes in thought gently strokīng it. Come the morning of December 1st I could not wait to shave it off, save for a couple of Charlie Chaplin poses that will never see the light of day.

In the space of a month I can go from looking like I’ve missed my top lip on a morning shave,

Missed my top lip while shaving

Missed my top lip while shaving

To a prickly caterpillar

The Prickly Caterpillar Stage

The Prickly Caterpillar Stage

To Charles Bronson

The Charles Bronson Stage

The Charles Bronson Stage

To a serial killer

The Serial Killer Stage

The Serial Killer Stage

To one of the Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven Stage

The Magnificent Seven Stage

To a full on Handlebar

The Trucker Stage

The Handlebar Stage

To a Trucker

The Trucker Stage

The Trucker Stage

To a South American despot

The South American Despot

The South American Despot

If you would still like to donate then feel free at uk.movember.com/mospace/3678097

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Morph
Lifestyle, Opinion

Looking Up To Kim Kardashian’s Arse

Is it wrong to be worried for today’s youth? Looking back with hindsight can paint a distorted picture yet growing up never seemed as difficult as it is now.

Back in my formative years Girl Power was an actual thing. The girls I grew up with would have seen a female Prime Minister leave office then The Spice Girls lead the charts while Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell ruled the catwalks. These were empowering times and some of the girls from my school year have gone on to achieve greatness in their careers. While we all struggled through puberty some are now doctors, veterinaries and tree surgeons. As far as powerful, successful role models went they had a few to look up to. I look around now and I start to worry.

After a week in which Julien Blanc had his Australian visa revoked, the misogynist views of Dapper Laughs were cancelled for a second season and Ched Evans began training for Sheffield United I wonder who teenage girls could look up to? Then it happened.

Kim Kardashian broke the internet, only she didn’t as I wouldn’t be able to upload this. By Thursday afternoon even the stoic elders of my office were all too aware of her greased behind. The reactions were not of disbelief but grimacing revulsion. We have come to expect as much from celebrities as it gets harder and harder to provoke a response. As a PR stunt this worked brilliantly, in the run-up to Christmas she needs to get people talking to sell her range of perfumes and whatever else the Kardashian brand has attached itself too. Judging by the amount of memes on Facebook walls, this has gone viral.

The frightening thing is to look at it through the eyes of an impressionable teenage girl. ITV2 commissioned a series of Dapper Laughs where his ‘harmless banter’ instructs boys to “show her your penis, if she cries she’s just playing hard to get.” Julien Blanc could still be on his way to the UK where he can set up workshops to teach men how to pick-up girls through persistence, psychological abuse and sexual violence. An unrepentant convicted rapist has been welcomed back to train with the club he tarnished through association while his victim is in police protection.

Out of all that who does she look up to? Charlie Webster and Jessica Ennis-Hill have made their stand on Ched Evans by disassociating themselves from Sheffield United. That’s great, until you realise the dirge of thousands of internet trolls and rape threats. Standing up for women’s rights should not occur with such danger inevitably attached.

Then Kim Kardashian bares her arse, the damage is done and suddenly it seems a whole lot harder to find responsible role models. What can girls aspire to when a woman can bare all and the world seemingly stops in its tracks? Kardashian herself may take the plaudits and the brunt of the response yet this stunt would not have been solely orchestrated by her. It has been choreographed and managed well enough by her team to be seen as somewhat acceptable, no matter how much gratuitous, greased up flesh is shown. It has also been pointed out to me that the image has racial undertones that TheGrio.com have pointed out, undertones that I suspect Kardashian is unaware of and that her team will strenuously deny any knowledge of.

As if pornography wasn’t giving teenage boys enough unrealistic expectations of women already. In the eyes of a testosterone-addled teenage boy the fact that the photo (memes included) is all over the internet indicates that it’s clearly not porn and people are finding it funny therefore it’s fine. The expectation remains that if you’ve got it, flaunt it so girls should bare as much skin as possible. Cheers Kim.

When men are treating women like objects to be plied to their predatory whims they should have better placed role models than Kim Kardashian helping to prove that you don’t need a brain or forthright opinions to get noticed and be ‘successful’. All you need to do is keep a figure, make a sex tape, marry someone rich and famous then ensure you keep everyone aware of how low you will go to remain in the public eye. A dangerous role model for impressionable young girls.

Women can do so much in this world. They can be doctors, nurses, writers, campaigners, artists, film-makers, soldiers and yet one world can bare her arse and the whole world stops to gawp.

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