All Posts Filed in ‘Sport / Fun


An Experience Only Counts When It’s Shared


I’ve always tried to have a positive outlook on life and make the most of it when I can. To that end I’ve made a point of spending as much time as I can doing interesting things be they climbing mountains, riding a mountain bike, sitting on tropical beaches, eating at nice restaurants (and some rubbish ones), going to see good (and bad) bands, fishing small rivers in the middle of nowhere, camping in beautiful surroundings, being torrentially rained on while camping and a thousand other things big and small. Rather than spending a life watching TV, staring at a computer screen (now doesn’t count as I’ll switch it off when I’ve written this), I’ve always wanted to go outside and live a life full of experiences.

But experiences alone aren’t what drive me. What matters to me is sharing those experiences with someone else and it’s something I’ve only recently realised I do.

Whenever I go hiking on my own my mind seems to switch into “training mode” and I use it to test and improve my fitness. I’ll have one earphone in listening to podcasts and push myself to my limit (to firstly see what it is) then I’ll keep pushing until I’ve gone to the top, back down and am taking my boots off at my car. I don’t even stop at the summit, I just keep moving along, resting when / if I need to. Sure I’ll take some pictures and admire the scenery, but to me it’s training – all physical and mental.

Contrast that when I do the same hike with someone else. This time there’s no earphones. No test of fitness. No pushing myself (unless I’m hiking with Nick who’s always fitter than I am). And I definitely do stop at the summit. When I’m on my own the objective is the mountain, but when I’m with someone else the aim of the day is to spend time with that person and enjoy that time with them.

Experiences only last a fleeting moment and they’re gone for ever. But the memory of those shared experiences is what stays with you and if I can sit having a pint with that person years from now and re-live them (like getting stuck in a bog and having to crawl out of it) and laugh then that’s what counts. That’s why I love taking photographs – you can capture a shared moment and relive it for years to come (click below to see a full-sized picture of ‘The Many Hairstyles of John’):

Team Photo Montage

I suppose it comes back to the way I make “important” decisions. I picture myself lying on my deathbed decades from now going over my life in my head while staring at the ceiling. When I need to decide something now I try to see it from that point of view – knowing that my life had been lived and I can dispassionately make the right call. In the same way I ask myself what memories will stand out for me? It’s not the mountains or the beaches or the camping or the food or the drink or the bands or cleaning out that blocked sink. It’s not the things themselves, it’s the people I spent those times with. It’s them I’ll remember and the places and events were merely a backdrop to that most important and easily overlooked thing in the 21st century – human contact.

So the next time we’re out for a drink or something to eat, hiking up a mountain, buying a new pair of shoes while I complain that my eyes hurt from the bright store lights or anything else, remember that it’s not a race or a competition for me and what we’re doing doesn’t matter so much. I’m living my life in the moment and sharing that experience with you. And to me that’s all that matters.


John Does Yoga


I mentioned a while back that I’d been going to a physio to deal with the ravages of age combined with being kicked around a football pitch. It turned out that it was nothing to do with age and everything to do with me having no flexibility at all. I started spending time every day stretching and noticed a dramatic improvement in recovery times after games and improved movement during them. But then my physio started nagging me to try yoga and how it would be perfectly suited to me and I’d be crazy not to at least give it a go. So I did. And to show I was serious I actually cut back on a game of football a week to go to yoga instead.

Like many men I thought that yoga was just a bunch of attractive women in a room bending themselves into different positions, showing how flexible they were and that I’d find it pretty easy and relaxing. I was right about the first part, however completely wrong about the second.

I started going to an Iyengar Yoga class weekly and found, much to my surprise, that I rather enjoyed it. The first thing I was wrong about was it being relaxing and easy – I quickly learned that some of the sessions can be really hard work. Holding positions for periods of time that require quite a lot of strength it turned out I didn’t have meant I was sweating in no time. However after every session I’ve come out feeling great, relaxed and really glad I listened to my physio! Since yoga concentrates on good posture and doing the positions correctly I’ve found it a lot more useful than just doing stretching on my own – having an instructor really helps to make sure you’re getting the best out of it.

My middle back (which has always been stiff and inflexible) is starting to actually have movement in it, my endlessly tight hamstrings are gradually loosening and a lot of aches and pains I was living with from playing football are no longer there. In fact my footballing has definitely improved as my movement is better, my flexibility is improved and my recovery after playing is a lot better even than when I was stretching daily (no more hobbling around for days after a match). Heck, I even bought my own gear so I can practise at home:

My Yoga Equipment

While just doing stretching can be a bit tedious and easy to give up after a while, yoga’s one of these things you can spend a lifetime getting better at and while there are some things I can do, there are many I’m awful at. However the motivation to improve and feeling myself improve (albeit slowly) makes me keep coming back for more.

The one thing I was right about was the room full of attractive women. But while I was worried I might find it incredibly distracting it turns out that you lose yourself in what you’re doing so don’t have time to ogle the ladies (and that’s the line I’m sticking to!). Plus a few men go and they’re definitely not my type!

So while the last time I recommended going to a physio and doing flexibility work, this time I’d definitely recommend trying yoga whether you’re male, female, an athlete, a couch potato, old or young. Give it a go, you won’t regret it! And don’t be scared, I guarantee you won’t be as terrible at it as I am! πŸ™‚


The Benefits Of Physio


I’d always heard how the older you get the faster time goes. That youth is wasted on the young. That football is a young man’s game. That time waits for no man. And that there’s nothing in this game for two in a bed (Bullseye circa 1986). And so as the years have passed I began to notice that my body didn’t recover as quickly as it used to. That training and playing regular football meant I spent more time with aches and pains than without. I started to get used to rising in the morning and grimacing as I got out of bed before my legs started working. I accepted that playing football meant having niggling injuries in my ankles, groin, thighs, hamstrings and a host of other body parts. I kept saying “one more year and I’ll hang up my boots”. Time was marching on.

My Idea Of MassageMy good lady hurt her knee and went to a local physio to get it sorted out. It turned out I have medical cover with work so she got her sessions paid for. Sick of hearing me moan about being stiff and sore she suggested I get a sports massage to loosen off these tired legs and booked me in. I’d been warned that if they found anything wrong they wouldn’t be able to help themselves trying to sort it out. I sort of imagined a relaxing, sensual massage where I’d walk out feeling loose and on top of the world. Instead what began was a series of fabulously painful sessions where I discovered just how much physical pain one woman (my physio) can cause. Remind me never to fall out with a physio.

Much to my surpriseΒ everything was wrong! Pretty much all the muscles in my body were as stiff as a board. My flexibility was non-existent. My posture was terrible for many reasons including the muscles on the left side of my body were even tighter than the right. Joints barely moved and I was only going to get worse the older I got. Things had to change.

So each week my physio would work on a particular area of my body then give me a list of stretching exercises to try in an effort to loosen things off and increase my flexibility. Gradually, week by week I noticed things starting to improve. I could move in ways I couldn’t before (and hadn’t even noticed that I couldn’t). I wasn’t feeling stiff and sore after playing football any longer. I was waking up without any pain at all. Suddenly I started to feel years younger and realise that old age wasn’t getting to me just yet!

And since I’m relentlessly (or tediously) disciplined I’ve continued doing about 20-25 minutes of stretching every night and continue to get more flexible. I feel years younger and realise if I keep up the regimen (which I will) I should be able to extend my sporting days many years further than I thought I would. So if you’re in your mid-30s wondering how long you can keep on being active – get yourself down to your nearest sports physio. You won’t regret it!

Next on my list is finding a way to get rid of all these wrinkles… πŸ˜‰


My Annual Camping Trip To Pendleton


I mentioned last year (wow, is it a year already?!) that some friends and I meet up and camp in a field in the small Lancashire village of Pendleton every year, have a barbecue and hit the town of Clitheroe for a drunken night out. We always have a great time and I continue to be surprised how nice Clitheroe is for a night out. It’s the sort of place you see people from 18-75 having a drink in the same place and always has a nice atmosphere.

As you can see we actually had sunshine this time. Over the past couple of years it’s generally been cold, cloudy and inevitably rainy (i.e. a typical British Summer) so the sun was a pleasant surprise.

Sunshine In Pendleton

Last year we were blown away when we attended a karaoke night that seemed to be filled with very talented professional singers making our efforts look even more lame than usual. This year there was a beer festival in one of the pubs so we spent most of the evening there sampling the guest ales before moving along to a couple of other venues. Before I knew it we were getting taxis back to our field in the middle of nowhere and seeking out our tents. Time flies when you’re having fun!

We had a couple of guys with those fancy tents that you take out of the bag, put on the ground and as if by magic pop up and you have a tent ready to use. You don’t even need to put your drink out to do it. They look pretty cool and while I know my tent can handle anything a British Summer (or Winter) can throw at it, it’d be nice if it only took 5 seconds to assemble. However these pop tents do have a downside which I recorded a video of – they take an age to put back in the bag!

They got there in the end but I think I’ll stick with my tent for the time being!


Something I Should Have Said Long Ago


Relationships are hard. You’ve got to work at them to keep them fresh and alive and I have to admit, over the past few years I haven’t been keeping up my end of the bargain.

We’ve been together years now – in some ways it feels like days, in some it feels like decades. We got off to a great start – we were at it several times a week, there was always a smile on my face. I’d spend my days thinking about what we’d do together and my evenings and weekends doing it. The best part was the way we shared our passion with my friends, having them along and joining in made for even more fun – we’d all sit in the pub afterwards enthusiastically discussing what we’d just done and how we could go at it harder and faster next time. We went all over the country, exploring every nook and cranny together and it always felt so natural, so free, so perfect. We soared to such heights that I never thought the happy times could end.

But over the last couple of years we’ve barely spent any time together. I can’t remember the last time I got my leg over, can’t even remember what it feels like. I’ve said I’m too tired, I’m too busy, I’ve got a headache, the weather’s too miserable, my friends are away and it won’t be the same with just the two of us, it’s not you, it’s me – but they’ve just been excuses and deep down I feel I’ve let us both down. All through this you’ve composed yourself with dignity and never once complained. You’ve just sat there impassively with eternal patience, waiting for me to make the first move. For me to re-ignite the passion and fire. To pick up where we left off. To get all dirty and sweaty together just like we used to. To roll back the clock and the years.

Every time I look at you I feel pangs of guilt and regret. I know I’ve not treated you right and you deserve better than me. But we’re together for life and I’m going to make it right – you can’t just break the commitment we made. I promise this Summer will be a new era for us. The sun will be shining and we’ll be at it like we used to. I’m a bit older now so probably won’t be able to keep up the pace and frequency I did in my 20s but damnit I’ll do my best to bring back the magic! We’ll take risks together, feel the rush of adrenaline, we’ll meet others with the same obsession as us and it’ll be like this barren spell never happened. We’ll move on and it’ll be better than it ever was before. Like I said, you have to work at relationships and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I’m going to dust you down, clean you up, give you a good servicing, get my shorts on and take you for a ride. I’m going to treat you like you should be treated – and this time it’s going to last, I’m not going to quit on you.

My Good Lady And Rachael

And here she is, my beloved Marin Wolf Ridge mountain bike as shown by my lovely wife Rachael. I can’t believe I’ve left her gathering dust in the garage for so long (the bike, Rachael gets to live in the house). Roll on Summer! πŸ™‚


Loughrigg Fell, The Lake District


In what seems to be turning into an annual event Rachael and I met up with our good friends Stu and Sandrine over in the Lake District for a delightful day’s hiking and eating…

Last time we had brilliant sunshine and did a pretty punishing day’s hiking that started and ended with delicious food. This time we modified the plan slightly and started with some delicious food, made a booking to ensure delicious food in the evening and did a much less knackering route up Loughrigg Fell from Ambleside instead. As you might be able to spot from the pictures, the weather wasn’t quite as nice as last time, but we had just as much fun! πŸ™‚


Jim’s Stag Do


A stag do involving skiing and snowboarding in addition to the usual heavy drinking? It sounded like a brilliant idea and it turns out it was! I haven’t had that much fun in years!

The Hotel Staffler in Niederau, Austria was the venue (Nick, the man who runs the hotel was a class act, I’d definitely recommend the place). We were there for 5 days taking in 3 days of skiing and snowboarding and were blessed with excellent conditions on the slopes, good food, great company and I also got the opportunity to try out my new snowboard, boots and bindings which worked like a charm (what a difference having sharp edges makes). As you’d expect I took a few photos so have a look below:


Oh Dear, I’m Hooked On Mariokart Wii!


I’m not much of a gamer. I’ve had a Playstation 2 for years but about the only games I’ve actually played on it are Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the sequel, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (both of which I loved, particularly for the music and humour). But aside from those two the only time I play any games are when I fire up Word Mole on my BlackBerry (and only when I’m really bored).

So this Christmas we “borrowed” my good lady’s nephew’s Nintendo Wii. I’d heard from several friends that they’re really good fun and have a broad appeal for gamers and non-gamers alike, and that they’re even more fun when you’re drunk. And on both counts they’re absolutely right! The Wii – as anybody who’s ever used one knows – doesn’t bother trying to keep up with high-performance consoles like the Playstation 3 or XBOX 360 with cutting edge, realistic graphics and sticks to simpler, more cartoonish games. And the wireless remote controls use accelerometers so you can swing them around the room rather than just pressing buttons were revolutionary and I expect will be much copied in time (hey, it’s good enough for the iPhone and iPod touch games).

Me Playing Mariokart On The WiiSo I started – as I’m sure many people do – by just about throwing my shoulder out of its socket playing hours of Wii tennis continuously. While not exactly like the real thing it’s realistic enough to get you to swing your arm across the room trying to power-drive the ball down the line! But this was as nothing to how addicted I’ve become to Mariokart.

Back when I was a student I used to spend many a happy hour playing Mariokart on one of my friend’s N64. We’d have battles, races and the cool thing about it was that it captured all the fun and excitement of the original Mariokart that I’d played years before on the SNES (the vintage Super Nintendo Entertainment System) while taking it to new levels. The fact that you were trying to win a race but the worst you did the better the power ups you’d get, and the better you were doing the worse the power ups made it fun even if you’re rubbish at it – it just about levelled out. Unlike some driving games that are purely skill based, Mariokart managed to make it instantly playable for the expert and novice alike.

I was delighted to find that the Wii version of Mariokart stays true to the heart of the original and again brings it on another level. The fact that the controller is a wheel that you can turn in mid-air along with the extra power ups, good combination of new and old tracks along with the ability to play on-line against people who are actually very good at the game (the best I’ve finished in a race is 4th so far) makes it lots of fun. And the cute graphics, sound effects and multi-player options rock. I was also delighted to see the infamous track “Rainbow Road” there and brought into the 21st century (historical note / urban legend: apparently Rainbow Road on the SNES could cause epileptic fits – no idea if that’s true or not). Anyway, it’s the perfect antidote to a hard day’s work and I’ll be in no hurry to give the Wii back to its original owner!

Now, all that remains is to see how it plays when I’m drunk… πŸ˜‰


From Joe Average To Premiership Football In One Year?


While out in my garage doing a weights session to get over my latest footballing injury (it’s official, I now have two dodgy knees) I heard an interesting article on Radio 5 live. A 23 year old lad called Arton Baleci was doing an experiment to see if he can turn himself (a self confessed ‘average’ footballer) into a professional footballer good enough to play in the English Premier league (arguably the best league in the world).

Being a professional footballer is the dream of many a young lad but as anybody who’s played football to a decent level knows, the difference between someone who can stand out at Sunday league or top amateur level and a professional who plays in the Conference (the lowest of the professional leagues) can be vast.

My friend Stu used to play semi-pro and when he was a youngster he went to an England schoolboys training camp (or something like that). He said some of the kids there were amazingly talented and he felt they were a level up from himself (he’s modest though so I take it with a pinch of salt). And yet how many of these kids made it in the game, even in the lower leagues? Not one. To play in the Premier league which is filled with world class players you can’t just be a decent footballer, you have to be a great footballer.

So how can a 23 year old recent graduate think he’s got a chance of going from being out of breath running for a bus, having not played competitive football in years to being able to get a pro contract for a team in the top football league in the world in a year? Well, perhaps not surprisingly, he’s got a plan.

The Beautiful Aim

He’s surrounding himself with top coaches so that he can get himself to the standard of fitness required of a professional footballer (which at 23 and looking at his physique I don’t think will be a problem so long as he keeps his determination). He’ll be using the latest scientific techniques to speed up his ability to learn the footballing skills he’ll need to make it as a player. He’ll be analysing the attributes of what makes a top player and using the latest techniques (both physical and psychological) to get into the right mindset and make those attributes his own. He’ll be using the latest sports science combined with his determination to see if it’s possible. He’s the guinea pig in his own experiment to see how much we understand what “that something special” is that separates Wayne Rooney from his classmates at school and see if it’s possible to learn how to do what came naturally to him.

It’s definitely possible to make a good player into a great player through the right type of training and sheer hard work over many years as real-life lower league professional footballer – Gavin Strachan – talks about here. But to take a non-professional footballer right to the top in such a short space of time sounds like a bridge too far. Had he set his target on just getting a professional contract then I’d say he’s got a pretty good chance since more often than not it’s the mental strength and determination that separates the lads who get dropped by clubs from those who get pro contracts. But the Premier league, I suspect, will be beyond him in such a short space of time.

Having said that, he’d never get the publicity if he wasn’t setting his sights high and frankly I’d love to be proven wrong. Not only would it give hope to a lot of kids who’ve not made it and want a second chance, but it could take football and other sports to a higher level in the future. Just imagine what the training techniques that can take a regular guy to the top could do for someone with natural talent and exceptional pace as a result of lucky genetics!

Anyway, I’ll certainly be following his progress over the coming year and if like me you wish you’d been the next Paul Scholes then you should too. He’s documenting his journey at The Beautiful Aim and has a YouTube channel too. Good luck Arton! πŸ™‚

Update (3rd August 2012): Well looking at the fact that the site is now dead I’d say that his mission failed. Perhaps not surprising given how hard it is to make it as a professional footballer and to make it late to the party requires something special. Still, good to have seen him give it a try – nothing ventured, nothing gained!


Ben Nevis Weekend


Myself, my good lady and a couple of friends spent a long weekend near Glencoe hiking around Ben Nevis and enjoying the scenery. Aside from the beautiful Scottish scenery we ate some great food and had a great time. Oh, and I took a few photos!