Cold Showers and Abstinence

Friday, 28 March 2014

During my nine-year dalliance with ultra running I often heard fellow athletes discussing their optimum race weight. They would argue that achieving anything but a physical comparison with Skeletor might cost them two minutes and 35 seconds in a 100 mile race. In fact it's a good thing that race registration at the West Highland Way is over in a matter of a few hours or some local Samaritan might establish a soup kitchen in Milngavie car park to feed the poor, malnourished souls that gather there one night every June.

To me, all this talk of limiting ones calorific intake in a running context was anathema because when I trained properly I could scoff like Vanessa Feltz at an eat-all-you-can Chinese buffet. Regardless of how much I ate I wouldn't put an ounce of weight on. In fact, it was all I could do to keep the escaped POW look at bay and Mrs Mac would say that after a long ultra the weight loss could be detected in my face. Indeed, there are a few photos of me knocking about with a race medal round my neck and Cruella De Ville cheekbones jutting from my skull.

As I write this I'm eating a bag of Sharwood's prawn crackers and a big plate of stir fry so you can get a feeling for my approach to 'optimum race weight,' and to be fair it's never been any different when discussing the pastime of quickly putting one foot in front of the other. This, however, is in sharp contrast to a sport I formerly competed in where optimum weight did indeed exist. In fact the weight requirements for that sport were cast in stone and Lord help you if you didn't make it. I remember attempting to boil down to 10 stone, which was the light-welterweight limit, and starving myself of food for two days and going without water for hours before the weigh in for a fight. Standing on those scales in nothing but a pair of pants, watching the metal block being moved along the arm of one of those old-fashioned, upright contraptions, and then being told to go and skip another half a pound off, was torturous. All that was on my mind was a pint of water and a big bag of chips. I made the ten stone limit that day, then went off and put three or four pounds on in a matter of minutes as I hoovered up whatever food was placed in front of me.

Anyway, these days I'm more concerned about Mason (dog)'s weight than my own. He's a healthy 25kg and self manages his calorific intake: if he's exercised regularly he'll wolf his food down; if he's injured and being rested he might pick at what's put in front of him. Plenty of muffin- topped Batterssa Belles could learn a lesson or two from him. But I've had occasion recently to concern myself with the weight of three other individuals. Addi, Mark and Omar, three young men from my boxing club are due to engage in their first contest of pugilism tomorrow night.

It was Monday that Mark, the young, 18 year old man shown on the right of the picture above, arrived at the gym an hour late.

'Sorry, coach I though we were starting at seven tonight, ' he said.

'No Mark,' I replied. 'It's always six in a Monday. Never mind, I can check weigh you for Saturday's bout, come over here and jump on these scales.'

So Mark wanders over to the set of bathroom scales that I keep in the gear cupboard and kicks his trainers off.

'Take that body warmer off, too,' I instruct him. 'That's gonna weigh a few pounds.'

Mark complies with my request and stands on the scales. The needle shoots round the dial and past the Chinagraphed arrow that indicates 76kg, the middleweight limit and target for Saturday.

'Fuck,' I think (because I clearly never use bad language in front of these young people). 'You're bloody 80kg!'

I look at Mark's face in an attempt to detect the evidence of an over amorous encounter with the biscuit tin. He still looks himself in that department, slim and healthy.

I look at his body in an attempt to detect the evidence of an overstayed welcome in the burger bar. Although he appears himself in this department too I notice an extra hood attached to his hoodie. Hang's not attached, it's under the one he's wearing.

'Mark, how many hoodies are you wearing?' I enquire.

'Two, Coach. It's cold out there you know,' he answers.

'Take them both off, you lemon,' I reply.

With the hoodies removed a sweatshirt sits atop Mark's torso with......yep, I'm not seeing things.....a man-bag strapped around his chest.

'Take your bag off too,' I say in an exasperated voice. 'And while you're at it take your tracksuit bottoms off.'

The man-bag gets laid down on the floor and the tracksuit bottoms come down to reveal....another pair of tracksuit bottoms underneath.

'Mark, I ain't trying to be funny, but you've either been on a shoplifting mission in Debenhams or you've been running naked through TK Maxx covered in glue.'

'Coach!' Mark pleads. 'I really feel the cold and I need my bag for my phone and keys.'

Eventually, a rather large pile of clothes topped by a faux Gucci man-bag sit by the set of scales and Mark climbs back on them to watch the needle sweep around the dial and settle nicely at 76kg. He's walking around at his fighting weight and can comfortably continue to eat and drink normally in the run up to Saturday. No starving or dehydrating for him even though he's wearing enough clobber to clothe a small family.

'Good lad,' I tell him. 'Keep doing what you're doing.'

There's an old adage in boxing that I don't believe exists in other sports and I've certainly never heard it in relation to running. I actually believe it to be a myth but it goes something like: 'In the run up to a fight, sex will make you weak so cold showers and abstinence are the order of the day.'

If I were to believe that to be true I've got no worries where Mark's concerned because if he were to find himself in an amorous encounter with his girlfriend by the time he'd stripped that little lot off she would have got fed up and gone to sleep.


Never Judge a Book

Monday, 24 March 2014

As you may be aware this blog was supposed to be about running. Admittedly it was supposed to be a foil to the time and distance obsessed blogs you might encounter, but I intended it to include something of the sport of quickly putting one foot in front of the other.

I suppose my absence from the blogosphere, and the distinct lack of running related material, both indicate something of a divorce from the sport. But let's be honest here, I was never much of a runner anyway and it's unlikely the sport will mourn my absence.

I suppose I could gain succour from the fact that my love affair with stumbling and tripping around the Scottish countryside lasted significantly longer than any romantic involvement Katie Price has ever indulged in. And I never subjected myself to nights alone with the Lego rocket scientist, Peter Andre. 

But my real and long-lasting love has always been with the sport of boxing. It began in 1975 when my old man got so fucked off with me asking him to play football with me on our balcony during the summer holidays that he shipped me off to the Brixton and District Amateur Boxing Club (by the way, a balcony in this context is something that was provided by Southwark Council to accommodate a coal bunker in their social housing stock rather than a viewpoint with French doors that overlooks a pool. But I'm kinda thinking you realised that).

Anyway, after a few years of mixed pugilistic success I walked away from the sport to indulge my captaincy of the regimental drinking team. I returned some years later to be dealt a very short and violent welcome back but began coaching at the boxing club near where I work. Now, I should admit that my initial thought, when invited to engage with the wild young things of Battersea, was: 

'I spend enough time during my working day having television sets launched at me from the twelfth floor of the Winstanley estate by the little bastards to want to spend my evenings in their company too (an 'estate' in this context is a dastardly grouping of council housing blocks, designed by Lucifer himself, to enable the discreet sale of narcotics and the casual murder of its residents rather than a rolling country pile....but I'm thinking you realised that too).'

But engage I did and the fruits if that engagement were told within he pages of the Firefighter magazine.

Now, in my four years of working with young boys (and on occasion girls) at the Battersea Caius Amateur Boxing Club I've been waiting to experience the youths I imagined might walk through those doors. You know the ones I mean: trousers round their arse, tattoos on their necks, and knives in their waistbands. So far I'm still waiting.

We work in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police and offer young people a physically and mentally healthy alternative to a progression through the judicial system. One such boy was referred to us; at 16 he was already guilty of something that the millionaire Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling would have him jailed for life. 

So, the boy turns up, a snarling, swaggering product of South London's sewers. He's been given the opportunity to fight as a way out of violent crime and as an alternative to being incarcerated in an institution where violence and intimidation are the highest currency. Apparently something of an irony from the rule-setters but one where he feels quite at home. Why not go for it?

After an initial introduction where it's explained that, in this establishment, no judgement is made on a past, and all that's expected is sweat and hard work, our young boy settles down and cracks on with the training. He works hard, the snarling and swaggering subside, and beneath all that is a nice, polite young boy. 

Is this someone in desperate need of a positive role model? I like to think so. Others have suggested that his demonstration of deference is merely fear at getting a right hander from his mentors but I argue that you need to take a look at this lad. If I had his skill at 16 the position of Captain of the drinking team would have been occupied by someone else other than me. The lad has inate skill and ability and can live with all of the coaches at the club.

On Saturday he'll be pitched into his first amateur contest. In the leafy environs of Dorking. The nervousness I feel in my own heart is something that's been absent for a very, very long time. I know how our young lad feels because my own memories still exist from 25 years ago. 

It's certainly something that running never brought me. Maybe that's why I was so shit.

Writing a Future

Friday, 21 March 2014

As time inexorably marches on the date of my retirement from the London Fire Brigade grows ever nearer. OK, so it's still almost five years away but if I consider how quickly the past five years have disappeared, the requirement for my attendance in the bad lands of SW11 will cease before I know it.

So thoughts have been swirling around in my brain of a replacement career. I like to brag about being pretty unemployable in any other field than fire-fighting, technical rescue or life-taking. But apart from my service with the fire brigade and army, in my 47 years on this planet I've earned a crust from building, painting and decorating, door security, body guarding and boxing coaching, so maybe not so unemployable.

You might agree that all of the employment opportunities mentioned above sit well within the practical, male dominated fields. Well, I've been thinking that there's a so far untapped cerebral well of possibility, tied up somewhere in my history degree or my willingness to sit in front of a keyboard and tap two fingered into it to produce written nonsense that no one will ever read.

So yesterday I found myself a guest of the Pegasus Luncheon Club at the Special Forces Club in Knightsbridge. I was there with my very good pal, Boris, a former fire-fighter and WOII in the Parachute Regiment. The event was a lecture on the security aspects of obsession and stalking and was delivered by a bouffant haired former police officer-turned security consultant.

On our arrival the club's grandfather clock had just struck midday and the bar was empty. A discussion regarding our chosen tipple was led and decided upon by Boris, and despite my reservations, a bottle of red wine and two glasses were placed in front of us before you could say 'scene set for a mess.'

The picture below shows me and Boris, suited and booted at the beginning of the afternoon and most importantly, coherent (sober). 

Shortly after the cork was popped a fella that I've chatted to before entered the premises. Max Arthur, author of a number of military tomes and all round good guy. I think our discussion centred around what he's currently working on and when it might be published.....the same discussion I've had with him on a number of occasions mainly because the subjects of fighting and women's breasts don't seem to enter his radar too regularly.

Anyway, the lecture got underway and the lecturer did a fine job. I discovered that Michael Fagan, the popular hero who entered Her Maj's bedroom and sat on her bed actually intended to rape her; a detail that, if widespread, might remove some of his notoriety and discourage idiots like the Bollock Brothers from entertaining the fool.

I also discovered that Thomas Hamilton wrote an 'end of tether' letter to the Queen a few weeks before his wrath was loosed in Dunblane (the Royal Family seem to feature heavily in these issues). Unfortunately the Royal Household's mail protocols meant that Hamilton's letter was opened some six months after the massacre.

Anyhoo, it was as Boris, Max and I absorbed these tales (and a fuckin shit load of red wine) that an idea came to me for a novel. Spookily a similar idea came to Max and a look was exchanged between us and somehow I knew he was thinking similarly.  A hushed comment or two preceded him passing me his card and asking me to contact him outside this environ regarding our joint idea.

Fast forward a day and I have Max's card in front of me. I also have my phone and my PC. What I don't have is any recollection of my idea for a novel as it was washed away by another couple of bottles of wine. The photo below tells the story. Coherence and sobriety are clearly absent.

So what have I learned from this?

1. Expect a pukka novel from Max Arthur.
2. Don't expect a pukka novel from me.
3. Maybe seek alternative employment as a wine taster.
4. I'm a cunt.
5. Laters.

For Murdo the Magnificent

Monday, 3 March 2014

A comment was made to me recently regarding relating stories from the streets and alleys of Battersea where I'm employed as a firefighter. Once upon a time I did this regularly, then after a wee hiccup, decided against it. What I have to say is that since then there has been much bloggable material but I've refrained from putting these stories into the written form. But I have enough material for a book and, while sat on the loo at the fire station, mulled this over in my mind. If I start work on it now it could be finished by the time my 30 years pensionable service are complete (under five years to go).

This sent me to my electronic library of stuff I've written and among all the reports, memoranda and policy notes I found a few blog reports that were written and posted, then deleted some time later. I found the blog report below and after a wee bit of editing, believe it's quite safe for reposting. What I should say is that the opinions are my own and not those of my employer and remember, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

It’s been a while since I posted a report from the bad lands of SW11, home of the iconic power station and abode for abandoned dogs and cats.

That’s because the natives of Battersea have been reasonably well behaved of late and so have curtailed their blogability. This was put right in the wee hours of this morning when we were called to a fire in a nearby road. There was no precise address given but located within said road is an accommodation block for transient, rehabilitating folk with a fondness for illicit substances.

Sure enough, on arrival at the loose location for a fire, no precise address was required as the smoke issuing from the second floor of the block mentioned above indicated the location of the blaze.

So, two of Battersea’s finest and I make our way to the second floor armed with hose reel, axe and enforcer and rigged in breathing apparatus.

cursory bang on the front door precedes the inevitable transformation of the door’s status as wooden security barrier into matchwood.

But what’s this?

Before I can issue the order 'smash the door down,' a bleary-eyedKappa tracksuit-clad resident answers the door (incidentally I'm creating a guide to fire service orders that won't be found within the Fire Service Drill Book. 'Smash the door down' sits alongside another order I issued recently that went like this: 'get tooled up'.....another story).

Anyway, imagine the scene: three gear armed firefighters stand on a landing on the second floor while a blinking, unshaven resident stands in the darkened flat looking out.

‘What the fuck do you want?’ he grunts.

As I consider politely explaining that we’re in attendance to extinguish the developing fire in his kitchen, I decide to dispense with the formality. My hand, placed squarely in his chest with moderate force, reduces him to a sitting position and we charge over him into his kitchen.  

Whatever food he had decided to cook prior to heading off to the land of nod is now ablaze and threatening to engulf the whole room (KFC was obviously closed). I mentally log the requirement for me to educate Mr Kappa tracksuit in the folly of combining cooking and sleeping and set my lads the task of extinguishing the fire.

The remarkable quality of water to cool and smother the hot red stuff is demonstrated in quick time and after ensuring that the fire is out I seek out Mr Kappa tracksuit.

He’s no longer seated in the hall by the door.

He must be outside then.

Nope, not outside.

With a neighbour?


As I wander about the flat and pass the bedroom I notice a form beneath the crumpled, dirty duvet.

I enter the darkened room and click on my torch.

Sure enough Mr Kappa, still clad in his tracksuit, is curled up in his bed and sleeping like a baby.

Meanwhile two hairy-arsed firemen drag a sodden and dripping hose out of the flat, the fire alarm continues to howl like a menopausal banshee, and the acrid smell of burning lingers in the air.

I make sure the flat is free of smoke and Mr Kappa is tucked in and we leave.

There is a fear among my colleagues that as we continue to fit domestic smoke alarms in every residence in London and carry out HFSRAs (Home Fire Safety Risk Assessments) that real firefighting action will become as redundant as Cliff Richard’s penis.

Not as long as Kappa tracksuit wearing customers continue to do their best to burn London to the ground.