I am ridiculously suggestible; I am not sure if I haven’t always been. Not unlike the persistent use of double negatives, it is certainly a character flaw. I have recently been teaching various self-development courses and, on the face of it, things are going well. That is in that the learners return, are able to say what they are applying usefully in their lives and seem to take the time in the classroom in a reasonably engaged manner. Lately we have been looking at the effects of stress on the body – anxiety being a live issue for many of the class. Me being me, I can’t just stand there yapping about it though; no, I must test various theories and strategies myself, if only to save them the bother. In any case, reducing stress can’t hurt, right?
In that spirit of experimenting on self I downloaded a phone app that purports to not simply measure your pulse, but to measure the times between your heart beat when you place your finger tip over the camera lens on your smart phone. I used it for the first time this morning, when I felt a little tense, after rushing to work and fighting to park the car in an awkward space: Honda Civics present an interesting paradox in that they are lovely to look at – but awful to look out of. The app takes about two minutes to do that which it is that it does, whatever that is, so I stood in the car park with my stuff all on the floor and on the roof of the car, looking completely normal…
My results were not good. I was in the red zone of stress. In the over 80% figures. I was labelled ‘Extreme Stress’. My phone told me what to do. Stop whatever it is that you are doing and RELAX. Easier said than done when the class was due to start, but taking the advice on the chin (and because I was secretly worried I might have a cardiac arrest right there in the car park due to the extreme shock about the extreme stress diagnosis) I repaired to the canteen for a brew. Now, even I know that caffeine and extreme stress are bad bedfellows, so I was hoping for a cup of cat’s wee, otherwise known as camomile. They had run out. I settled for a fruit tea instead and quickly took my stress level again. I was now deemed to be at a very low stress level – around 10%
All was good then and the class went ahead as usual. Teaching is demanding, both physically and mentally. To be fair, my class were all fairly unstressed when we tested them during proceedings, but after the class I was doing some admin and became aware of a little niggle headache coming on behind the eyes. I took some paracetamol and whipped out the stress app again (in the name of science you understand, I am in no way obsessed). Unbelievably, I was in Extreme Stress mode once again. Suddenly I felt close to a heart or panic attack and my first thought was that admin is so deleterious to my health I must rush home to preserve myself. Somehow I rode out the storm and by the time I got home and tested myself (again) I was down to 0% stress.
I was still concerned about the effect the extreme levels were having on me (if you’d have asked me I wouldn’t have said it was an especially stressful day prior to the app). so I thought I would be best to get straight down the seafront with the children to meditate on an ice-cream, as ice-cream, I mean meditation, is shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) in the bloodstream. All was fine until I realised that
a) I didn’t like the ice-cream and gave it to the dog
b) I didn’t know where the children were
As it turned out, they were the two dots somewhere out there…
Which was also completely fine, until I realised that the tide was coming in, that they could drown and then my stress levels shot through the roof. The truth is when you are REALLY stressed the last thing you are going to do is measure it for two minutes on a bloody smart phone app.
Then when I got home and zoomed in on them in the shot, I could see that they were as far from stressed as could be. It was just me. The class weren’t stressed and neither were the kids or the dog. It was just me and the app busting our chops.
And that, at the end of a funny sort of day, was a good thing to know.
The problem with writing blog posts in parts is that you forget a) where you finished last time b) what you called yesterday’s post. When I have to start checking these kinds of details it kind of makes me not want to write at all. Plus which I am not so enamoured of the humour of the situation I am writing about now as I was yesterday. Friday is a long day and there is a lot of work to be done. It’s emotionally demanding work and I am tired now, but that’s ok.
Anyway, back to mine and Rudi’s non-finest moment which I started yesterday. To recap, I had spent a morning talking to the dog and we finished up with me asking him to pick a dog biscuit selection which he did. We then made the best of our way home and I felt like a good owner with treats for the animal. The point of the treats was this. When I let the dog out last thing at night I can’t always remember when I get to bed whether I did let him back in. It’s one of those repetitive things that you do every day so can’t quite recall the detail e.g. I know there was out involved, but did we do in? I then get up and check and he is always there, on the sofa, looking cross with me for turning on the light. So I mark the letting in with a treat and then I find I remember giving him that more easily than I remember the door being opened to admit one dog into the house. It’s a memory marker. A trail of breadcrumbs through the dark woods of domestic memory. The problem is that I don’t buy dog biscuits, so if I give him the same treat every night, a slice of bread is the absolute favourite with him for some reason, I find myself back downstairs after I’ve gone to bed, turning on the lights and generally disgruntling the dog.
Bag of different biscuits means different memory markers means no more nocturnal memory lapses. I hung the biscuits in the bag on the key rack by the front door, out of the dog’s way. At some point later that day, my daughter took the bag down and gave Rudi a biscuit from the bag. I forgot by the evening I had bought the biscuits, so he got a slice of bread.
The following day the dog found the bag of biscuits which my daughter had conveniently left on the hearth. Dogs being what they are, he ate the lot. I was dismayed when I realised. The things were full of additives and colouring for goodness sake. I mildly remonstrated with the daughter (remonstrating with the dog is a pointless exercise).
‘It will be me later, clearing up the runny poo,’ I said.
She pulled a face at me. The dog declined his actual dinner for that day, so full was his belly of giant bone-shaped and heart-shaped biscuits. The whole thing spelled trouble.
The following day I took the dog for his walk. Quite often, in the winter months, I rock up at where the beach should be, only to find that the tide is out. An estuary tide covers quite a distance, so out is out by a few miles and in is nearly in to the pavement. No beach to walk on on this occasion, so we walked on the opposite side of the road until we reached a manicured piece of grass, slightly raised up and set back from the road. Benches line the edge overlooking the estuary and, in the summer, older people sit and sun themselves and enjoy the view. It is right next door to an art deco ice-cream parlour. Southend has its unclassy spots for sure, but this part of Westcliff-on-Sea is a little more genteel in a distressed 1930s fashion. Rudi designated the grassy knoll as his poo platform for the day and evacuated an alarming orange variety of runny poo (as predicted) in copious amounts.
I was pretty pissed off. All this hassle because of pick and mix biscuits and a faulty memory. The quantity involved meant it was a two-handed job, so I dropped my gloves and bag on the floor to tackle it. Sadly, some of it went where it shouldn’t have and left my right index finger daubed in orange. There are no words to describe the disgust of this experience and it’s worse when cars are driving past and elderly ladies are enjoying banana splits, ice-creams sundaes and retro milky coffees only ten feet to your left. I had to double bag the shit and beat a hasty retreat before someone came out and saw the enormous orange skid mark we’d left on the lawn.
I wanted to get straight home and wash my hands, but we had a way to walk yet, so I put the gloves back on in a delayed and after the horse has bolted protective measure. As I pulled on my right hand glove to cover the offending finger I noticed something. The index finger of the right hand glove was covered in bird shit…
My perfect life (not).
There’s a final insult which happened when I came home from work this afternoon. It involves the bag that the biscuits were thieved out of. I can’t bring myself to write about it now though. And I may never. God knows there are no illusions left to destroy round here, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere.
I’ve hopped off my bike to train for the Southend 10K Classic two weeks tomorrow. I’ve left the training a bit late and I haven’t run that far for over 6 years so I am not overflowing with enthusiasm. Added to that I had a niggle in a calf for a week, some kind of virus and this morning I had a terrible pain in my shoulder blade, so the scant training is even scanter!
I love my bike, apart from when it’s really windy or hilly, and now I am comparing the running experience unfavourably with the joy of cycling, as I thud along the sea front. I ran with the OH yesterday and he found my fartlek laughable. He adopted a poker face when I out-kicked him at the finish, declaring that I was clearly a lazy cow who had been idling on the run and saving my effort to show off at the end! In my defence, I can’t yet judge my pace so am probably running quite conservatively, plus I was “testing” the calf after the week off.
Anyway, with 1500 runners on the sea-front in a fortnight it will be a 10K shuffle for me, and I can’t say I’m too sorry. Roll on the triathlon in 2010!