Wednesday, 11 August 2010

How I learned how to....walk

There is not much to be said for hitting the ripe old age of 46. However, you do at least think you’ve learnt a few basic life lessons on the way to your ‘half century’.

It was, therefore, something of a shock last Friday afternoon to realise that I didn’t actually know how to walk.

This shock discovery came when I began ‘training’ for the Bath Chronicle Donor Run which is part of the British Transplant Games which is coming to the city next weekend. This fantastic competition will be bringing hundreds of people to Bath who have had many different forms of transplants and we, as a community, can join in the fun by taking part in a 3k or 5k run/walk to raise awareness of the need for people to donate their organs for future transplants.

Not being one of life’s, ahem, natural runners, I had elected to walk alongside the chairman of the local organising committee of the Transplant Games, the irrepressibly bubbly Loraine Morgan-Brinkhurst. With the daunting prospect of having to walk all of three or five kilometres we obviously needed a training session – and step forward Zoe Jackson, who runs Plan Be (see Zoe is a bundle of pure energy and enthusiasm and so she seemed the ideal person to give us tips on how to walk on the not-very-wild side.

Loraine and I, resplendent in our unmissable yellow Bath Chronicle Donor Run t-shirts, decided to go to Royal Crescent/Royal Victoria Park for our hour-long training session. It seemed like a bit of a jolly jaunt for a Friday afternoon to be honest – but what we were to learn in the next 60 minutes was fascinating and when I woke on Saturday morning with one or two aches and twinges, I realised it had done me some good as well.

Zoe’s basic belief is that if you walk right, not only can you increase your fitness levels and your posture but you will instantly look and feel better and start losing inches in the places where you want to lose inches. She looked at our walks before the session – which as you can see from the pictures here were hardly what you would call ‘power walks’ – and then proceeded to give us some tips which I’m happy to pass on now so we can get the whole city ‘walking back to happiness’.

First of all you should walk through your ‘whole foot’. You should aim to walk through the pad of the heels and push off your toes so you are floating rather than putting pressure on the ground. This, apparently, is very good for something I didn’t know I had – my ‘glutes’ (or buttock muscles for those of you not in the know).

Secondly you should stabilise your hips. According to Zoe the best way to achieve this is to imagine you have a glass of water on each hip and you have to keep them full as you walk. This improves your posture and flattens your stomach. Also good for those glutes too.

Thirdly, lengthen your neck. Try to create as much distance as possible between your shoulders and earlobes. This puts your spine in the right position and reduces stiffness. And finally – possibly the visibly tricky one I think – we should use our arms when we walk to vastly increase our speed.

By the time we’d spent an hour together – and as these are two of the most spirited and fun women in Bath it was a pretty enjoyable hour! – there was no doubt about it, I was walking better and my glutes were in fine fettle. Apparently if we can keep this up we should be able to complete our walk next week with no problems at all so if you are in Bath next week and see a strange man extending his neck and using his arms like a robot walking by, give me a wave as I glide on by.

Right, I am now off to learn how to breathe.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Stourhead - the best of British

Although the appeal of going abroad is something that many people find irresistible, one of the biggest arguments against it is that we don’t realise the beauty to be found on our own doorstep.

In the midst of what has to be one of our sunniest summers for decades, it has been easier to get out and about and truly appreciate what we’ve got to offer. And when you take the time to look you suddenly realise why there are millions of people flying in to visit Britain while millions of us are flying out at the same time.

As an example, at the weekend I popped down the road to Stourhead. For those who know it I can almost guarantee you love it and for those who don’t, it is a wonderful stately home in Wiltshire with the most glorious and awe-inspiring gardens for you to lose yourself in for a few dreamy hours.

Stourhead is one of our most precious National Trust properties and it is a reminder of the beauty that surrounds us which we find easy to forget as we plough through our glossy holiday brochures under the often deluded concept that other countries have so much more to offer than “dear old Blighty”.
What makes Stourhead such a treat is that it has maintained its original and dazzling style while still feeling modern and alive. As all of us who live and work in Bath know, there’s a real tension in this city about trying to preserve what makes us truly unique and special while still developing in a way that reflects our changing needs. Stourhead seems to have got this balance perfect. Yes, there is a shop and a pub and retail units but they are all subtly and deliberately placed out of sight of the main attractions so when you first set eyes on the sweeping vista of the gardens, you just can’t help but be stunned into silence.

Stourhead truly represents the green and pleasant land of Jerusalem. And long may it continue to do so.
The comparison with Bath is also evident in the way Stourhead represents a sort of ideal for foreign visitors. I often wonder how people around the rest of the world see us and I can still recall with a smile the way a charming American I met viewed the UK as a big series of villages. Standing in a queue in Florida this gentleman heard my accent and asked if I knew the city of Sheffield. I said I lived about 80 miles from it at that time, and after a slight pause he said “really – well you must know the Jones’s then”.
I don’t know what other perceptions there are from our foreign cousins about this country although I suspect these days they think we have two royal families (the Windsors and the Beckhams), that we all worship at the altar of Simon Cowell and that it rains a lot here. But beyond that I bet many imagine lovely green gardens and delightful countryside. And they are right – we have both in abundance.

And if you still don’t believe me about how beautiful and green our country really can be then just pop to Stourhead this weekend.

It’s a living, breathing idyll.