The Collapse Of Self Control & An Eighth Birthday

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That is February out of the way then with the diet box ticked again with about 12lbs off the back of the truck and one month to go. March 1st is kind of like cresting the summit with 30 days downhill to go, straight into the Easter weekend. It has been a pretty straight forward affair so far with very few moments of weakening resolve. In fact, I've broken just the once. The cause of my downfall was a visiting toddler called Simon. As we were playing on the floor with his Brio Thomas trains, (getting the names right is a very important component of this game), I obviously passed some kind of 'for an adult he's okay,' test for the wee fellow offered me a Hula Hoop. Now we all know how jealously guarded are a toddlers little bowl of Hula Hoops, or a grown-ups for that matter. I was very touched by his gesture. So I ate it. And another..... I couldn't very well stop and try and explain that I wasn't allowed them because I was on a diet. So we did the bonding thing and had some more. Trains and Hula Hoops, it's a grand life.

While doing this period of noble abstinence I have been genuinely surprised by friends who on the one hand kindly say, 'you look better for it,' and then say, 'I could do a month but not any longer; I don't have your self-control.' The reason it is surprising is that most of the friends have in the past done similar, and for longer periods, either as soldiers or as sportsmen. The thing is, and we're all becoming increasingly aware as we get older, that if we don't impose a pause on our own indulgence the doctors will when the body starts screaming 'enough!' 

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To make it easier, I give myself short term targets. After all, with one day of fasting and eradicating all the rubbish most men could lose 5 or 6lbs in a week. That done, they reckon you need to lose around 19lbs for friends to notice a real difference. With one hard core starting week you are already a third of the way there. A stone is roughly equivalent to an inch off the waist, and a collar size, so there's an intermediate target right there, (for women they say 10lbs is roughly a dress size). Day by day and the weeks quickly turn into months. Moreover, the honest truth is if I can do it, anyone can for there aren't many bad things that I don't enjoy. Kettle crisps, give me one I'll scoff the packet. Those disgusting horrible hot-dogs tubby people buy at the cinema? I love 'em. I'll eat them there, from a stand on Fifth & Madison, at the rugby or at a Beerfest. Cornish pasty's, burgers, anything between two slices of bread, hot buttered toast just keep it all coming. Except between January & April. Genuinely, if I can find redemption for a few months anyone can. 

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While we are on the subject of February I am reminded that this year marks eight years of this modest record of my dark descent into middle age. When I started the blog I didn't think for a moment that, with some fits and starts, it would enjoy such longevity, especially as so many blogs have fallen by the wayside to be replaced by 140, recently upgraded to 280, characters or witty one liners on the Facebook which in turn, have become old hat for many, especially the young, who have moved on to one picture and if you are lucky a few words on Instagram. It is especially satisfying that reader numbers have remained more or less constant throughout. Thanks Mum.

A glance at the blog analytics tells us that for another year, the most popular post has inexplicably been Come On Down Anne Lundon from 2014, which looked at the decline of regional accents and dialects although A Bad Day at The Office from 2015 which described the sinking of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands war was a close runner up. To celebrate regional accents being kept alive lets enjoy listening to citizens from some parts of the United States, such as North Carolina, who still after hundreds of years have hung on to their forbears regional accents from notably the West Country and East Anglia.

Day 90

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Day 90 of the extended all or nothing January Detox and my first drink from a ring pull container. Now some people might scoff at the idea of coconut water and although it tastes as I imagine an Orangutang's breast milk to, I am reliably informed by the t'internet that it's very good for you, (more potassium than four bananas). At £3.50 a shout it had better be nothing short of bloody miraculous.

Day 53

Crumble looking a tad more toned on Day 53

I’m now on Day 53 of my extended January detox and am wading through the calendar still on water, green tea and <1300 cal/day. Weight loss has slowed right down though which is a bit dull.

The dream & the reality

Joy of joys however, I am now more than half way through. I like to think of it as cresting the hill and starting on the downward slope. In the far distance, along the valley floor beyond, I see the flickering lights of a familiar hostelry where old friends will greet me, a cheerful landlord with a Jimmy Edwards standard handlebar mustache will serve me  a welcoming pint and pretty girls will laugh at my jokes. Perhaps I'm becoming delusional. April 1st is still a while away and its been a long time since pretty girls laughed at my jokes.

That's on the naughty list then

 

Still, I’ve been finding out some fun facts and I’m happy to share them. We all know sugar is killing the population in a quiet and insidious fashion. The extent of how sugar has pervaded the national diet has though, taken me back somewhat. I downloaded a free app called ‘Sugar Smart,’ which scans barcodes and tells you how many sugar cubes are in the scanned item. All well and good but there are some surprises. Who would have thought that a standard 530g jar of Sharwood’s Mango Chutney has 59.2 sugar cubes in it? Won’t be touching that food-of-the-devil again.

With the accelerating rise of diabetes and obesity, and falling revenue from smokers, it is only a matter of time before sugar is taxed. All that is missing is the political will but the NHS, and the country, can ill afford to allow things to continue on their current trajectory.

January Detox & Fat Birds II

January Detox hits hard with the M&S wholefood salad with some smoked mackerel for lunch. What is there not to love..... hmmmmm, yumety, scrumety......

After a genuinely enjoyable, amusing and indulgent Christmas, which was quickly followed by a ripping New Year it's time again to pay the piper. I've done the January good boy thing for so long now I enter into it more with dogged resignation rather than spikey irritation. I don't count calories or any similar such nonsense. We all know what the bad stuff is and we all know how much is enough. I drink water or green tea and will lose over a stone by February. It's not difficult, just dull. I then cheat by having the annual health check and blood test just when the pipes are at their cleanest. Unfortunately, the plan unravels spectacularly every single year when the Six Nations hoves into view. One of these years........ I really must see it through.  

 

 

So, the blog is six years old next month and I took a wander through some old posts and came across this beauty from Jan 6th 2011, January Detox and Fat Birds. One of the best I think you'll find...... even though it was written when I was in a somewhat less than sympathetic mood to fellow humanity.
 

Bankers Bonuses & January Detox

A friend, apparently with my best interests at heart and mindful of the increased stress levels associated with the January detox thing, kindly sent me a copy of "Falling Down," the Michael Douglas movie about a middle aged man who comes unglued with mounting frustration and anger at modern life. A kind, if not witty thought but given recent events the timing could be better. Maybe I need to get some new friends................. or come off the detox.

There is indeed though, and unfortunately, a simmering frustration and anger across the world which occasionally bursts out onto the streets or in individual meltdowns. Witness the recent food riot by Chinese students in Guizhou over a very modest rise in cafeteria charges, Algerian students rioting over food prices, Bangladeshis rioting over a quick stock market correction after a steep rise, student discontent in the UK and rioting in Greece over austerity measures last year are self evident. Were it not that we are in the middle of a deeply protest unfriendly winter I'm sure the levels of street violence would be considerably higher, both in the UK and abroad.

Guizhou Students Riot Over Cafeteria Price

Voters have much to be angry and frustrated about. Most work hard to provide for their families but are being asset stripped by a combination of growing inflation in the things they need, such as energy and food, whilst seeing deflation in their assets such as their houses, whilst carrying a higher and growing tax burden. Whilst they bear the consequences, most of those who were either at the political levers of power, or those steering the banks onto the rocks, or indeed those charged with regulating the system before and during the financial crisis are either still in place or have disappeared happily into the sunset.

Worst of all, the "had it all," generation who enjoyed years of growth, low inflation, house price growth, full employment and fully funded pensions, (having asset stripped the country at a national level), are now set to retire, put their feet up and leave it to the new workforce to provide the tax income to fund a growing and aging population. Oh, and just to remove any last morsel of incentive, "here's 50 grand's worth of debt to start you off with son." I won't dwell on student financing but it's a fair bet that no one has thought through the structural implications for the economy in 10-15 years time of the proposed loans. It's already created a massive imbalance in applications this year prior to the rise in fees but there will be an impact on the housing market in the future and on emigration rates. I'm not even going to go near the inequity of English taxpayers funding EU students to go to Scottish universities at rates which are far less than their own children can go to university either in England or Scotland.

There is creeping inflation in the system, we see that every day at the petrol pumps and at £6 a gallon of unleaded it's only a matter of time before there are mass protests in the UK. Food inflation is growing too. A combination of harsh winter conditions in North America, the Australian floods and the Russian export ban is sending wheat parabolic. Nothing gets people more angry, or on the streets more quickly, than when they are hungry. Watch this space. For the moment though, inflation in the UK is not running out of control, despite warnings from politicians that interest rates may have to rise. Inflation in the UK ex indirect taxes remains benign; it will change but not yet.

Of course, Westminster has been trying to direct and focus the wrath and indignation of the "people," at the City, but in an unfocused and indiscriminate way. "Billions of pounds," and "bankers bonuses," appear to be the battle cry but insofar as virtually no one in the City understands what they want, apart from money and no spotlight on they own tawdry affairs, the politicians don't appear to understand what they want either. If they do, they've certainly failed to articulate it but they have generated lots of fees for law firms and accountants to whom all the banks have fled to over the past two years in an attempt to get some clarity. Consequently, the governments attempt to increase the tax burden on the City has failed.

Odd though, no one ever mentions the accounting firms, law firms and regulators with regard to their part in the debacle, or indeed their compensation.

If Westminster took the time to educate themselves about the City, rather than turning up very occasionally for lunch and a campaign contribution, they might learn from past mistakes. To date, there is precious little evidence that they have done so.

Before the last meltdown, most investment bankers were compensated with a basic salary and annual discretionary bonus. The salary level rarely went above £100-120k although there were exceptions, notably one German owned former British merchant bank where salaries were a good deal higher. The bonus pool was then approved by the board contingent on the banks profitability for the year and then allocated by department and then by department heads to individuals. Most, but not all, firms paid a mix of cash and shares and some, including Lehman, had a claw-back if profitability in year 2 went into the red. This meant that when Bear and Lehman went down. thousands of staff collectively lost millions of pounds and much of their savings. The obvious aim was to enfranchise and align the staff with the company and enhance staff retention. On the flip side, it is hard coded in the DNA of investment bank staff to orientate themselves and fight hard for their bonus 365 days a year, both as departments jockeying against each other and as individuals.

So how are bonus's calculated? In short, bonuses should be paid for performance over and above what might be expected as a normal rate of return for the business. Bonuses shouldn't be, and normally aren't, paid for people just turning up. Patrick Hosking discussed this with a shrewd explanation in Saturday's Times and is worth a read, (unfortunately, it's behind a paywall).

I would however, make two points. The first is that such is the compensation culture in the City that as soon as Westminster started talking about bonus taxes then banks immediately started ramping basic salaries. Those salaries that I mentioned earlier are now in the order of £200-300k and in some cases up to £500k. Bonus's are still paid and it remains to be seen if the lower level of expected bonus's that staff were told to expect when these increases were announced transpire. Certainly, fixed costs have gone through the roof and without banking friendly central bank policies they would be unsustainable.  Most people in the City are, anyway, expecting a vicious round of redundancies this year. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that Westminster was out flanked before they even started the debate which they have now anyway lost.

The second and real issue for Westminster however, and specifically for the government, is that it is more important for them at a macro level to learn what the source of profitability in the banks is that creates the bonus pool, how much leverage is involved and what risk remains on the banks balance sheet, and for how long, after the revenue has been booked. These are much more important than how much a trader is paid. Also, and for what it's worth, it's common to blame everyone in banks for a meltdown which they certainly not responsible for as individuals. For example, many banks over leveraged themselves through decisions taken at board level and entered into structures created by corporate financiers that any floor trader would wisely never have touched. As I said earlier, most of those who are culpable got off scot free, yet the entire population must foot the bill not only for the UK but as a result of that supine fool Alistair Darling we must contribute to the PIIGS too; I'd have him in the stocks for a starter. (I still believe we should demand a national audit to find out exactly where and how the last administration managed to get through quite so much money but it will never happen).

Enquiring minds might like to know what happens to a City foot soldier if he comes under suspicion of illicit activity, and we're not talking major fraud here. Well, you can comfortably expect the front door to be banged on at 3am when you're safely tucked up in bed. Your home will then be filled with police and FSA guys clomping around scaring the children while they remove every bit of paper and anything with a chip in it, including the kids Playstation. You'll be arrested, your name released to the press in an all points bulletin and your assets will be frozen. On completion of a short exploratory interview you'll be sent home with a "we'll call you," farewell but won't be allowed to work. So, with no assets, no way of earning an income and with your reputation ruined you can then expect to wait for a year or more to be called back to be told if there is a case to answer. Fred and his fellow bandits got a couple of hours in front of a clueless select committee for blowing up the entire banking sector.

Anyone wishing to hear a pretty good debrief on the financial meltdown could do worse than watch this clip of Charles Ferguson, speaking at MIT which I found at Infectious Greed. It's as erudite an explanation as you'll find.

Where then does that then leave us? Well, the outlook for the summer is decidedly murky and more protests can be expected, both in the UK and overseas. They will come more quickly with warmer weather though, especially if there is no respite in fuel costs. The financial sector will plough on but there are significant economic headwinds ahead. Little has been done since the last meltdown to restructure both over the counter markets and regulators and rating agencies who previously abdicated their responsibility.  Meanwhile, banks accross Europe remain undercapitalised with assets on their books at prices way above market prices. The UK is being strangled by covert tax increases but government spending will be higher this year than last. Our young are being forced to shoulder huge debt to get an education (and face a future of falling living standards which will be lower then their parents and grandparents enjoyed), but without reform of the universities who are the beneficieries of the fees.

Wish I could be more optimistic but then, life is like that when you're on a January detox.

 

January Detox & Fat Birds

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It's been a wee while since I've touched on this subject but given I've embarked on yet another much needed January detox I thought I might fleetingly return to it. Incidentally, this year I've decided to go a step further than the usual alcohol, coffee and tasty but artery thickening food ban; I'm binning the television for the month. Unfortunately, my aspiration that we spend more quality time as a family has been met with something of a wall of silence from the kids, except for the youngest who spiritedly pointed out that, "Monopoly doesn't bring families together Dad, it causes divorces." Not to worry, they'll come round.

Meanwhile, as I trudge through the month attempting to shrug off the pounds accumulated from too much good claret, Mrs Flashbang's world famous roast Sunday lunches and the occasional malt I only have to survey the scene around me in the office whenever enthusiasm is flagging.

Most girls around any office generally brighten up the scenery, are cheerful and well disposed. Very occasionally though, you come across one of the others who no more brightens your day than would a giant Zeppelin flying overhead at 100 feet. I think you know to whom I'm referring; you all know one.......... the fat delusional bird.

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In fact, I was just having a chat in the little canteen area here with one of my colleagues who is something of a marathon runner when the FDB waddled in and overheard us talking about sit ups. Unbelievable; she started giving us unsolicited advice about the best way to do them, "so you don't hurt your back."

Do you know what love, there's another good way of not hurting your back. Don't carry so much excess weight that it's equivalent to spending your entire life giving a fireman's lift to a middleweight boxer. The closest she's ever come to actually doing a sit up was a few weeks ago at home. She was walking across the kitchen carrying a stack of syrup covered pancakes. She got a bit of a speed wobble when she couldn't decide whether to go to the fridge or the biscuit tin and slipped onto her back, sending the pancakes violently skywards. From her prone position she could see them stuck to the ceiling. She stretched her arms towards them but couldn't reach. 1 sit-up.

Have you noticed how really fat birds do that walk where they have to constantly shift weight to stop their shin bones shattering under the compressive force of several hundredweight of reconstituted chicken nuggets and to stop the chafing of their legs rubbing together and inadvertently starting a fire?

They also have to avoid man made fibres, as the build up of static charge ensuring their hair stands on end like a "Russian mental patient" and they shock anyone that comes within 20 feet of them. You can spot them coming, they look like they're trainee fire walkers, taking every step like it's agony.

Today though, it's her birthday and she's covered her PC monitor in tinsel, no doubt to act as a beacon to the other chubbies for the inevitable cake-fest later. I can see them moving in their seats already, nervous that they might miss out in the stampede to reach the first consignment of eclairs. Obviously, she's got a bag of grapes on her desk because, "I'm watching my weight." Yep, sure thing love. There's nothing Darwinian about any of this either. There always seem to be more of them, all wearing clothes two sizes too small. You know, the tight leggings and the cardigan with the big buttons because their fingers are too fat to undo normal ones. You'll see them at your local supermarket, shuffling along in herds, stocking up with cases of crisps and fizzy drinks to get them through the next 24 hours. Funny too, how they always seem to pick up a Mars Bar at the checkout just to see them accross the car park.

They're the ones who waddle along in herds until they get in close proximity to the iced bun shelves and start to perspire when they get a whiff of freshly baked bread. Ordinary shoppers and small children rush to the safety of the whole grain bread section as the tubbies develop a speed wobble, thundering toward the iced buns. You can see the manager twitching nervously as the man-made fibres they're wearing begin to smoke and he lifts his radio ready to shout on the tannoy, "heavy lifting gear to aisle 13," if they spin out of control. Mercifully, most of the time they make it and graze peacefully on eclairs, jaffa cakes and of course, the iced buns on discount.

Fat Bird on hearing the iced buns in ailse 13 are on special discount

Right now, our very own Big Bird is blathering on again. My God, she never shuts up does she.

"It's ok and fine to be you just the way you are... you're special," she's telling the other delusional tubby who has obviously waddled over there to do a recce for the eclairs.

No... you aren't special love. Realise that you aren't "pretty inside" you're a walking f--king barrage balloon, the only thing "pretty" inside you is "pretty f--king full"

Now shes banging on about how she loves gay men, "because I don't feel threatened and I can just be myself." Well, let me tell you something blimpo, listen up.

Gay men are the bitchiest men on the planet, and every time he looks at you all he's thinking is "thank god I bat for the other team, being out with this whale ups the odds of driving erstwhile hetero tigers into my embrace to escape your tainted breath, you corpulent human dustbin"

And no, clothes manufacturers sizes "aren't all over the place", you register on seismographs when you waddle and they only cater for "normal humans" so go to Millets and buy a marquee or something.

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I applaud Jamie Olivers efforts to get the country cooking healthy meals again, but a deeper understanding of the modern psyche of females in this country would help him tailor his menu accordingly, its not a balanced diet these head in the clouds, hands in the bargain bucket, never had to work hard whales need; it's sustained and cruel abuse so they fear for their own safety. At least with that they'll stay indoors.  

Oh look, one of them is going over with some jaffa cakes, they'll last about 45 seconds but the rush just might cause a geological event and create a new seismic faultline through the South East. 

Anyway,

Have a great day!

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