Give me this at least


If I could make a bargain with the universe over what I was allowed to eat without causing an eczema flare-up, I wouldn’t ask for much.

It turns out, if I don’t eat butter I eat a lot less bread, and if I eat a lot less bread I eat a lot less cheese. I miss it, but most of it isn’t a deal breaker. The vast quantities of mature cheddar I used to get through were just gluttony.

It also turns out that the only thing I really miss about milk is the tiny amount I put in a morning cup of tea. I like to drink. Just one. Cup. Of. Tea. Per day. I’m not your typical British person (or teacher) in that respect. I don’t even like it in the afternoon, unless there’s a Fortnum and Mason Dundee cake in the vicinity.

So I will set wheat bread* aside. And I will forego butter. And I will put oat or almond milk on my cereal and peanut butter on my glutard toast.

But if I could have the following, please, universe:

  • Mozzarella (*on pizza, yes, made with wheat flour), no more than once a week;
  • Parmesan (with glutard pasta or in soup);
  • A tiny drizzle of milk in a single mug of tea, once per day.

That’s it. I’ll stir oat cream into my soups and try not to think about cheese on toast, and I’ll drive to Woburn Sands for glutard fish and chips, if I could just have a carbonara occasionally, and a Saturday pizza made with my own hands, and a mug of Yorkshire tea.

Is that too much to ask?

(Eczema is substantially reduced – currently getting by with aloe vera gel and a nightly Benadril.)


Going off the gluten

img_7427I’m not really the kind of person who would give up something like wheat just because, under my 21st century clothes, I’m still a caveman who didn’t evolve to eat refined white flour. I’m aware of course of the one percent of the population who have a genuine health reason (coeliac disease) not to eat gluten, but I’ve also been peripherally aware of a number of people who have taken to a gluten-free diet for unspecific lifestyle related reasons, in much the same way as one might give up red meat, or go organic.

But, see, I’ve had this eczema-like itchy rash for several months now, and I was at the hospital for a biopsy, and the doctor asked if I had tried giving up gluten.

Well, I said, I cut it out for a couple of days in the summer (because I’d been reading widely about possible causes for my mystery rash), but it made no difference.

A couple of days isn’t enough, she said. You have to go for several weeks at least.


So, okay. I’m giving it a go. It has been a week and a bit, and no change is yet perceptible in the itching. It tends to be worse when my brain’s processor is idle; it’s almost like restless feet in that respect. So I’ve been sitting here thinking, two, three more weeks, maybe. And then I read this:

It is important to appreciate that a gluten free diet may have no effect on the rash for approximately six months and sometimes, even longer.

That sound you hear, like water going down the plughole, is my life draining away. I’ve spent 30 years of my life, for example, perfecting my home-made pizza(s) recipe. I’ve got a 25kg bag of Italian 00 pizza flour in the cupboard and home-made sweet fennel sausage (containing gluten) in the freezer. And I want to cry. Obviously, I can still make it for other people, but not to be able to eat it myself is like (*reaches for grandiose comparison*) Moses not being able to enter the promised land or Jonny Ive not being able to use an iPhone.

The supermarkets are making a lot of money out of the gluten-free crowd. It’s kinda criminal. A teeny tiny loaf of urky bread full of holes costs more than a full-sized standard loaf. A ciabatta roll costing twice as much as a standard one is also half the size. If something costs a couple of quid, the gluten-free version is £1.50 more, and has a weird texture and tastes worse.

So here’s hoping my biopsy result is negative for that thing, that dermatitis herpetiformis thing.

Anyway, I’ve tried quite a lot of gluten free food over the past week or so. Oats for breakfast, and oat biscuits: acceptable. Almost every variety of bread: glop. Pizza: cardboard*. On the plus side: Pieminster chicken pie: good; quiche: also decent. Tesco carrot cake: actually pretty similar to the real thing. So it seems that cakes, biscuits and pastry can be replicated, but anything bread-based is a big fat nope.

*The pre-packed pizza problem is not aided by the fact that I KEEP FORGETTING the damn things are in the oven. They don’t cook like a normal pizza. They seem to use weird cheese that doesn’t MELT, which means I usually end up carbonising it, like the one above.

Home again, home again

English: A Burger King bacon cheeseburger.

Got back from France the day before the new school term. Boy, that was a long holiday.

We arrived back home around three in the afternoon after a 12-hour drive, punctuated with fast food at the Burger King in the Eurotunnel terminal (what happened to Quick?). Within an hour, I was out on the bike for a blast of fresh air and a change of pace. Having expressed concerns, in my previous post, about my lack of leg-strength and stamina, I’ve been interested to see how I performed on my familiar routes.

First observation (it has to be said): British roads (Buckinghamshire British roads) are stupidly uneven and bumpy. Every road is as bad as the worst stretches of road I encountered in France, where exposed tarmac had melted in the hot sun and bits of it had been dragged up by fat car tyres. Most of the roads I was on in France were in good condition, allowing me at least an extra 4 km/h of basic speed.

It always feels windy round here, but I guess that’s only like climbing hills. I was obviously tired that first afternoon after a long drive in the car, so it wasn’t really a fair test. I rode just over 21 km and it took me 55 minutes. I got one Strava Personal Record and one 3rd best time. The PR was on a 3km stretch that goes downhill to a shallow valley and then uphill again. The worst gradient is about 4% for a few tens of metres, which was nothing compared to what I’ve been riding on. I’m now ranked 62/109 on that stretch,  which seems about right. I’m 50. Hopefully, if I was 20 years younger or whatever, I’d be further up the list. On the “3rd best time” stretch, I’m 245/489, a slightly higher ranking because it’s a mostly downhill bit, and I like going downhill, especially on a gentle gradient.

My second trip out since I got back was after work on Thursday, fitting in with my normal pattern of rides, along the same route. This time, I did it in about 52 minutes and got 2 Strava PRs. The first was on the same 3km stretch, and the second was on another little climb, which is called on Strava The Col de Wicken. Again, it’s about 4%, flattening out to 2%, and it’s only about 700 metres, which is laughable compared to the half of the Ballon d’Alsace I managed, with a gradient of 7-10% for ten times further. I’m 139th out of 250 on that bit, which again seems about right.

So I’m doing a little better than before the holiday, but not much. These still feel like hills. Disappointingly, I didn’t lose any weight over the summer, in spite of riding a total distance of around 900km since the beginning of July, including 9km of “elevation gain” and over 40 hours in the saddle. On the other hand, I did only gain a kg (which I’ve since lost), in spite of all the alcohol, snacks, biscuits, cheese, and other French goodies I was stuffing in my face.

So we’ll call it even.

Taking a news holiday

After the past week, during which millions of words which will change nothing were written about a former prime minister, this article brought me up short. So much so that I blogged it twice.

News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognise what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we’re cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.

via News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier | Media | The Guardian.

I decided, with immediate effect, to try living without news for a month. After that, I’ll see how it goes. This morning, for the first time in a long time, I didn’t switch on Radio 4 as soon as I woke up. Well, I did in another way: deciding to listen to an interesting programme about Expressive Writing I heard yesterday for a second time.

Going without news means I’ll have to also avoid most of the Twitter. I won’t commit Twittercide (yet), but I won’t keep up with it, and I won’t follow links to news stories or even news commentary. Please don’t be offended.

Call it a mid-life crisis.

That last mile and the old man overtake


After the brief summer in March, I was unable to get out on the bike much between May and August because of the rain, and because of being away. I haven’t quite reached the stage of taking my bike to France with me, because of not being in the same location for the whole time. Maybe next year.

This year, I really didn’t get out much before the summer holiday began, never got to the stage where I started to feel fitter and able to push harder. So it felt like starting from scratch when we got back from France, but I have managed to do quite well, getting out almost every day (apart from days when I was sort-of-fasting or it really was chucking it with rain). I’ve even – gulp – stopped worrying too much about the wind, which was always a feeble excuse for not going out.

For about three weeks, I’ve been doing about 60-70 miles a week (good for me), and I’ve shed a couple of kilos, which has been like getting a new, much more expensive, bike. There’s just that bit less inertia when you’re going up hill, but it is noticeable.

So I’m 49, still carrying too much weight for a good power-weight ratio, and I’ve been struggling with not so much the strength in my legs as the aching of my hips, back, and feet. I *think* I’ve sorted the foot pain problem by swapping from Shimano shoes to Specialized, and the back pain is not forcing me to stop halfway round anymore. Slowly getting better, then, but I still have a gumption trap on the last mile of my circuit(s).

It doesn’t matter which way I go around, clockwise or anti-, because there’s always a bit of a climb at the end. If I weighed two or three kilos less, I might laugh in the face of this climb, but the combination of aches and pains and slightly wobbly legs always feels like hitting a wall. Most of the time, I seem to be going the opposite way around to most of the other cyclists I encounter, but occasionally I suffer the humiliation of an overtake – and this always happens in the last mile, when I seem to be cycling through treacle.

Coming through Leckhamsted, past the old church, my legs usually feel strong. The road begins to incline, and I’m usually feeling good. It gets steeper, I stand, and I still feel okay. But then there’s a right turn, and suddenly, I’ve got nothing left. It’s always straight after the right turn. The road’s not even that steep, but I struggle up in the granny gear, and then there’s a bit of relief followed by a left turn and it does get steeper for a minute, and by then I’m practically going backwards.

I know it’s psychological rather than physical, but it still feels real.

I don’t mind so much if someone who is obviously 25 years younger than me overtakes. That, you expect. But when a white haired old man overtakes you, you know you’re in trouble.

Thankfully, it’s only happened the once this summer. I’ve even managed to overtake a couple of people – admittedly on clunky and heavy-looking bikes, but still. Small victories.