Sunday, 10 April 2011

No excuse now

Wandering leisurely up to the shops one day I stopped short in my tracks. An outdoor gym had suddenly appeared.

I have never been a gym sort of person. I have never joined a private gym, not even for a trial. Once I looked around one, full of nasty ugly bulky sweaty, oh so sweaty, bodies - and thought no. I could imagine going a couple of times and wasting a year's membership.

The nearest I have got to anything like that was when I joined a rowing club. This was a very nice club. We would set off in the boats early on a Sunday morning and drift (aka row like hell) down the River Ouse. As this was York, you can imagine how beautiful it was.

The trouble was though, that to continue to be allowed to drift down the Ouse, you had to turn up to the twice-weekly training sessions. Circuit training. Star jumps. Exercise machines. I started to develop stomach muscles. And my shoulders thickened up.

Now skinny I may well have been, but I've always had broad shoulders. Luckily, in both senses of the meaning. Much more of this fitness stuff though and I would start to turn into the Incredible Hulkess.

And as for the stomach muscles - well although that doesn't actually sound bad, I thought it made my incredibly flat stomach start to look fat. The rowing club and I went our separate ways.

But while I may never have been a private gym person, I did use council sports centres and swimming pools. Apart from anything else, if you wanted a big pool, ie national or international size rather than some poky little paddling pool with a few potted palms, the council ones were the place to go. Actually one of the council ones somewhere near Notting Hill did have potted palms. It was one of the old style 'baths' with changing rooms around the side of the pool that had been restored. It was class.

The other good thing about council pools was that they often had offers. Sort of like a season ticket. Buy a month's ticket and swim as much as you want. In the very olden days I could show a UB40 (unemployment benefit card to non-Brits) and get in free. Who needs a private health club? Apart from people who don't want to use council sports services for whatever reason.

I figure if I am paying for the service through my rates/community charge, I may as well make use of local services, whether that is the library, the pool, parks and gardens or whatever. And if people don't support their local services, one day they may no longer be there. I guess I always suspect the private health club brigade of a certain degree of snobbery. And, apart from the rowing club, I'm not really a clubby person.

So whenever there was a pool near work, you would find me there a couple of times a week in my lunch hour. Before I started work, in my wonderful long holidays, I would walk two or three miles to the nearest pool, and be there for when it opened at 9am. Oh to be the first in the pool and break the water. Joy. I would swim up and down endlessly. One day one of the attendants asked how many lengths I had done - no idea how many now, but whatever it was - they told me to do a few more and I could have a mile badge. I don't think that's quite how it is supposed to work, but given they saw me almost every morning, swimming up and down, they must have figured I deserved something for my efforts.

I went to the nearest shiny new sports centre too. They had a pool as well, so I did a course in canoeing, and a swimming personal survival one. I signed up for fencing. And of course there were wonderful saunas.

There were free tennis courts in the local park so I would meet a school and university friend there in the afternoons for a couple of hours play.

Much much later, I was staying temporarily with my parents while moving house, and went to the local sports centre near them. Anything to get out of the house really. There was an aerobics class that included a free swim afterwards. It was worth the aerobics for the free swim.

If any of that gives the very mistaken impression that I was ever remotely sporty, then I need to say right now that I wasn't. I ran the 800 metres at school one sports day and thought it was never going to end. Unbelievable pain and agony. Well, I was out of breath and tired. I was quite good at high jump I suppose. But otherwise, me and sport were an occasional date. Not helped by dear Daddy, who seemed to think it was rather silly to do anything physical as it made you tired and positively deterred me from doing sporty things. (Deterred me from most things really but that's not for this post).

Luckily I live with someone who likes to force me out on a torture machine (bike), so some years ago I started cycling again. Not just round and round the garden, but shock! horror! on roads. For miles. Well kilometres actually. They sound better too as you do more of them. And as some of you know, I swim in the sea in summer in Spain.

But here in Gib, apart from a few walks part way up the Rock when we first came, I've done nothing.

So this free, open-air gym thing had me rather entranced. No membership fee. No sweaty bodies because it is outside. Seven minutes walk away. Not too busy. I decided to try it out.

I didn't tell Partner I planned to go. He would have laughed at me. I did show him the photos. 'Oh, yeah, I saw that the other day. Forgot to tell you.' I was most disappointed. I thought I was telling him something new.

I thought I would go the following day, but it was my turn to go to the shops. The next day I started a cleanathon. And the next day .... You get the idea. I never got there. It's now nearly a week since I saw the wretched free open-air gym.

As soon as he went to the shops this morning, I followed him quickly out of the door and up to the gym. The location is really nice. It's set on a promenade above what used to be the old sea walls, surrounded with shrubs, palm trees, and flowers. I figured I could walk up there, spend 15-20 minutes and get back before him.

I failed. When I walked in the door he was already unpacking the shopping and had dragged the bike and the shopping up the stairs on his own. Oooops. It's a two person job.

But still, the gym was good. How can I not go when it is so near, free, and quiet and peaceful if you go early enough?

Working hard, working out

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


As this isn't a recipe per se, I thought it might as well go on here.

Veggie kebabs - fairly obvious what it is, onion, bay leaves, pimiento, mushrooms, cherry toms, tofu. Sometimes I add courgette but I didn't have any when I made these. Depends what is to hand. Served with basmati rice and a sauce. The sauce recipe will get added later to Itchy Feet.

I didn't understand kebabs when I was small. They were foreign muck really so never entered our house.

As I grew older, friends used to talk about calling for a kebab after a night out. I was still none the wiser.

Then, on my world trip, in Greece - I discovered kebabs. Souvlaki to be honest. Tasty bits of meat on skewers with lots of accompanying bread bought on the street. A good cheap meal for travellers on a tight budget.

Later, in Sydney, domesticity had settled in and I was ensconced in a flat preparing meals for my partner to take to work.

He worked at the dockyard at Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. And never a set of more precious Professional Painters could you ever want to meet. At tea break (smoko) and lunchtime - it was competition time.

PG Tips was out of the question. As was Lipton. Each painter had his own supply of Earl Grey, Darjeeling, or whatever was his particular taste. Partner started with Earl Grey and then we started buying China Black. I've never seen it outside of Sydney, it came in blue boxes and was quite delicious.

As for the meals, well!! At the time we were not yet vegetarian so either the food was the remains of the Sunday roast, or later in the week, we went around the corner to Mr Grumpy who had a deli with superb roasted meats for sale. Sometimes the Pro-Painters would swap the occasional sandwich to see who had brought the most wonderful food. Pity the guy who swapped his rare roast beef sandwich for a Kraft cheese slice one.

One day Partner came home with a new demand. It seemed someone - Roy I think, an ex-para and witness at our wedding - had brought in some very desirable kebabs and set Partner's mouth watering. Roy was a lovely guy and naturally offered one to Partner. 'I WANT to take kebabs too,' said Partner when he arrived home.

Your wish is my command sweetheart. Rising to the challenge, I duly went out the next day to buy some lamb for kebabs and prepared them in the evening so they would be ready for his ghastly early morning start. Partner would leave the flat in the dark, shoot down the steps to Woolloomooloo, and then up through the botanical gardens, to arrive at Circular Quay for the early morning ferry to the island.

The kebabs were a success, and featured on his weekly menu more than once. I don't know where I stood in the rankings of top scran provider though.

After leaving Sydney, I really don't remember eating them at all. Until we became vegetarian. From nowhere, I remembered the lamb kebabs, made a few adaptations, and there we were. Kebabs once more are a favourite meal. As a matter of interest, tofu takes little time to cook so is far easier than lamb, and these are a perfect meal for either vegetarians or vegans.