Friday, 30 December 2011

Fruit and veg diet

I was bound to blog about this sooner or later. Our diet is as follows:
  • three meals a day
  • no eats between them
  • one of them, every day, to consist entirely of fresh fruit and vegetables
And let me admit that we suspend it under the following circumstances:
  • on Sundays
  • on days of travel (loosely defined as days involving travel of more than an hour in one direction: commuting from Cambridge to London wouldn't count, but a journey from Cambridge to Reading would)
  • when we are hosting, or staying with, family or friends
  • if suspension seems advisable on account of illness
The diet is an adaptation of a Lenten discipline we followed one year. I embarked on the present form, more or less, in February 2001. Clare joined me in using the diet some fifteen months later. We weigh ourselves on Monday mornings.

I am not a dietician, and would have no business making claims for the diet with any appearance of expert knowledge. Its main virtue is simplicity. It doesn't involve a lot of counting or calculation. That offers less to be perverted into fiddling, and might leave mental energy free to keep up the necessary will-power. Moreover, since the diet doesn't exclude any kind of food at all, it has a reduced risk of abstinences becoming hostage to cravings. And it does seem to deliver these benefits:

Moderate weight control. Not spectacular, but real enough when the diet times are compared with the times of suspension. On a recent cycling holiday, my suspension of the diet allowed me to put on 9lb in a week. That added weight disappeared almost entirely during the first week after the return to the diet.

Discipline. OK, this is part of the input to the diet -- you need discipline in order for the diet to work -- but it's also one of the delivered benefits. Following the diet helps to develop discipline. My appetite is huge. Some say that every home needs an Aidan to finish off the leftovers. A train journey long enough to suspend the diet will, for me, be a kind of linear meal, with snacks from the trolley, the buffet car, and connecting stations. That level of hunger deserves to be limited to three bananas and two apples between breakfast and dinner, and on most days the limit is one that I succeed in imposing.

Greater pleasure in food. I started the diet after Clare told me I had reached a stage of eating almost without noticing. That's a waste of food. I can say that food does taste better for the constraint.

Variety. The way Clare and I live our lives -- she has two core part-time jobs and a lot of freelance work -- means that the fruit-&-veg meal does not occur at the same point every day. I am not sold on unpredictability, but this level of it I enjoy. It makes me think of music with shifts of rhythm and tonal centre, perhaps something by Samuel Barber.

Regular opportunities for fruit and veg. This one's perhaps self-evident, but the widespread exhortations to fruit & veg suggest that not everyone gets these in their diet as often as they might.

The main drawbacks consist in the inverse of the above. For instance, if the diet helps to develop discipline, it also feels as though it's making heavy demands on one's discipline. I reach saturation with fruit long before I would reach it with chocolate or pork pies. But, so long as one accepts the view that fruit and veg are a good thing, this diet seems to be as good a way of reaching them as any.

I suppose you're going to tell me that belief in the goodness of fruit and veg is the opposite of what we now know to be true....

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Three queues

Another slightly dated poem, this; the date this time being 1999.

The queues reported in sections (i) and (ii) of the poem were both on 17 November 1998, though on looking again at a contemporary account I see that I may have erred in linking the second queue to the Lolworth fire. The fire broke out at around 11:00, and the report updated 19:00 mentions tailbacks as far as the M11. The tailbacks would have needed to be twice as long, or more, to stretch into Cambridge itself. But the Cambridge gridlock was -- I have just checked my 1998 diary -- definitely on the evening of that same day.

Wikipedia has a page devoted to the "camera somewhere in the Department", which was a famous web landmark in its day.

The poem was published in Perimeter 7, 1999, p. 16, and again in Streetwise 68, Christmas/New Year 2007-2008, p. 19.



The first queue was for new computer passwords,
two, perhaps three, a minute. The queue stretched
from the counter, through the double doors,
past the lift, down three sides of stairwell, out
into the freezing afternoon. In front
of me a girl read a film history –
Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.
A camera somewhere in the Department
networked news worldwide of how coffee stood.

An outsider had hacked the system, for fun,
or to find traces of their own existence,
or out of naked spite, doing less harm
than spite dressed up, but gratified with that.


And the second queue,
evening of that frozen day,
gridlocked the city
road on road. Bikes could not slip
safely round it for the ice.

It was the result
of a crash ten miles away.
A lorry careered
into a petrol station.
Less bad than it might have been:

someone as she fled
remembered to flick a switch,
isolate the tanks.
There was one death, a man locked
in the toilet at the time.


The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is full.
The stairs lead through the bookcase to the back.
The queue stands long, eerie, improbable.
Hate caused the prison, turned the loving black.

The queue pays its respects, fifty years on,
mixes incomprehension, fear and shame,
where one dead represents six million.
Europe’s other edge smoulders into flame.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Three numbers poems

These three poems are old but published.

The most recent is from 1994: a celebration of the 50th anniversary, as I understood it, of the postcode. The information about that anniversary came from that year's edition of the Writers' & artists' yearbook, but it would appear to have been inaccurate. What triggered the poem was the associations of the number. It's a pity that those associations were called up by a piece of false information.

(they were first used in Germany, August 1944)

another number packed tight:
squares, fighting,
flattened streets, flying
bombs, allies in
Paris, crushed uprising
in Warsaw,
and on the wrong side of the war
a way of writing.

'Postcodes' was published in Streetwise 20, October 1995, p.18.

The second poem was written in 1993, and is likewise based on the associations that I find in certain numbers: the numbers this time being not postcodes but telephone area codes. It was published in Cambridge university libraries information bulletin, 34, Easter 1994, with the title 'Two STD codes'. CULIB is always worth a read, though unfortunately its online version doesn't go back that far.

The codes have changed since those days. In the case of Oxford's area code, the change from 0865 to 01865 made little difference to the sense of the poem. But 081, the 1990s code for large tracts of outer London, became first 0181 and then 0208 -- the last being so far from calling up my number associations that I here give both codes as they were in 1993.



The Mock-Turtle (what he doesn't know
ain't knowledge), devastatingly
rude on a golden afternoon;
Alice, by the river and the lawn,
where a few lilies grow,
is out of the swing of the sea.


The Prince and Princess (average
in their extent of failure); burned
cars, streets laid waste; and the old age
of Queen Victoria returned.

If such subjectivity vexes you, let me link to a Wikipedia article that explores the history of the number changes in nerdish factual detail.

The third poem is from 1986. Like the others, it's dated, but not, I hope, beyond use. Does any of it need explanation? The SDP was the Social Democratic Party -- one of the 1980s predecessors to the LibDems. The poem was published in an edition of the St Matthew's church newsletter some time before I began keeping records in 1994.

(for Susan Bury)

First, Colonel James ("James") Sixty-Biff
a candidate
affirming nine as one plus eight.

Next, Wendy Morris (SDP
Alliance) who
must balance two
positions: nine perhaps is three
times three, but in a sense,
not that she's sitting on the fence,
nine as three squared is also true.

Jan Stott (Lab.) sees it as a run
of one plus one plus one plus one
plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one.

And the Red Daisy Ecological
Collective's spokeswheels would prefer to call
nine by another name -- 'one-two' -- because
they use base seven; constantly expose
its role as root of one-four-four, in that
and other bases; promise when the state
is all red daisies, that a better root --
minus one-two -- will grow to shoot and fruit;
and pass the bucket. Deeply people delve:
collective small change frees the Minus Twelve.