Boobs, bottoms and buns

When I was at school, I could eat whatever I liked without putting on a pound

This week should be a good one for me, as it is my birthday. I am now at that age (actually, I’ve been at ‘that’ age for longer than I care to remember) where celebrating another passing year is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, it is a good excuse to make my boys do as many chores as possible on the day itself while I sit back, relax, and indulge in various unhealthy treats that I usually deny myself.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that I am another year older, another year stiffer and another year wrinklier. I do try to keep myself fit, and to eat fairly healthily, but there are those days when I just cannot be bothered with all of that, and accept that with those extra few chips on my plate will come an extra few inches on the hips. I’m not sure when I went from being able to eat whatever I liked without adding a pound, to simply sniffing a piece of cake and putting on half a stone.

The thing is, as long as I work hard in the swimming pool I can keep it off. I treat my time in the pool like others treat a gym workout, and swim non-stop at a fast pace for between 45 minutes and an hour. It’s hard work, and I imagine those around me watch in awe as I glide elegantly up and down. I’m sure they don’t really see a slightly dumpy and knackered middle-aged woman struggling through the lengths. Despite the effort, I do feel fantastic afterwards, and strut out of the leisure centre feeling like an Olympic athlete.

What disappoints me though, is that all that work doesn’t use up as many calories as you might think. An hour of front crawl uses up far fewer calories than a Big Mac meal or a 200g bar of milk chocolate, both of which are over 1000 calories a pop. If I want to continue to enjoy the nice treats in life into old age, then it seems I will need to be swimming a marathon every week.

It never used to be like that. In my school days, I could consume crisps, sweets and chips to my heart’s content. I went to a weekly boarding school, and we would have tea at 4pm which was usually cakes of some kind. My favourite was the iced sticky finger bun, and sometimes there were a few left over. On those days, I would always go in for seconds, or thirds, and I remember one day I even had fourths! And yet, I never put on any weight.

As with many things, that began to change with age, yet the bad eating habits of my youth did not, and so the pounds gradually crept on. Once I was a couple of stone heavier, I began to realise that I had to eat less and exercise more if I wanted to retain my shape, and that has been my battle ever since. I could blame my three pregnancies, but looking around, there are plenty of slender woman who have three or more children, so it’s not really a valid argument.

Part of me likes to blame my gap year for the start of the rot. I went to live in Greece, having been inspired by my older sister Tricia. When she was 18, she had gone to live in Italy, and one of the things I noticed when she came back was that, having left a skinny girl, she came back with the body of a woman. By that, I mean, she had developed a pair of proper boobs. She put it down to the fact that Italians used lots of olive oil in their cooking.

I wasn’t very blessed in that department, and over the years had been teased by boys for being flat chested. So when it was my turn to go abroad to Greece, I remembered what Tricia had said, and was delighted to discover that the Greeks used copious amounts of olive oil in their cooking too. So, with the goal of growing my boobs, I indulged very enthusiastically in whatever food was put in front of me.

Needless to say, at the end of the year, rather than gain an ample bosom, all I’d gained was an ample bottom.

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This column appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 27th and Ryedale Gazette and Herald on 25th May 2022.

Weight to go!

I used to swim almost every day as a child which bleached my hair from silky dark brown to blonde straw

I may have mentioned before that I am a keen tennis fan and play at a couple of clubs. Unfortunately I injured myself in May and have not been able to get back on court for a long time.

As it was my main form of exercise, I did pile on the pounds somewhat, and I resorted to wearing looser and looser clothes in a vain attempt to disguise it. By September, I felt far too big and with no sign that I’d be back on court any time soon, I decided that it was time to do something about it.

When I was in primary school, I absolutely loved swimming and was pretty good at it too. We were fortunate that in 1975, the nearby private school installed a brand new indoor pool which, for a small fee, the locals were able to use.

I was a proper water baby, and in the summer holidays would go swimming nearly every day and, thanks to the amount of time it spent submerged in chlorinated water, my straight, shiny dark brown hair transformed into a blonde nest of dry straw.

As I grew older, I began to realise that larking about in the swimming pool was deeply uncool, and by the age of 15 I discovered there were far more interesting things to do with my spare time, such as lounge about looking trendy in stripey leg warmers and pastel mohair jumpers while listening to Duran Duran.

For the next four decades I avoided swimming as a form of exercise due to the fact that the thought of ploughing up and down the pool over and over again, grinding out monotonous length after length, just didn’t appeal. At heart, I still wanted to be running round the edge and dive bombing my mates but apparently it wasn’t seemly for middle-aged women to be doing that.

What drew me back to it was noticing how my body protests for days after doing other forms of vigorous exercise. I figured that the non-impact swimming might be a good idea after all, despite the anticipated tedium of doing it.

Well, let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, heading back to the pool has been a revelation. I swim up and down for about an hour at a time, and early in the morning so that it doesn’t impact on the rest of my working day. And guess what? I absolutely love it! I come out of the water feeling completely refreshed and ready to face the day ahead. Instead of finding it boring, it’s like a form of meditation, where I switch off from the noisy thoughts cluttering my mind and focus on the sound of the bubbles around my ears and the sensation of the water enveloping me.

Another bonus is that my body is changing shape. I have had to tighten my belt from the first notch to the last, and clothes that were clinging and tight now hang fairly loose. Yet I have not changed my diet in any way. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to be able to to look at my wardrobe and not feel depressed. To find a form of exercise that I enjoy and that sheds the weight without making sacrifices in the kitchen is a dream come true! I can pull clothes out of the wardrobe and know they are going to look OK. It is quite literally life-changing.

On the subject of clothing, in his column from 28th November 1981, Dad mentions some customs that used to be associated with what we wear. If you were putting on a new garment for the first time, you were meant to make a wish as you did so, and if it had a pocket then it was common to place a coin inside for good fortune.

When children had new clothes, their friends would give them a pinch on the arm and chant, “Nip for new, nip for new.” They might also sing “Health to wear it, strength to tear it, and money to buy another.”

If my weight loss continues, then I shall have to make a fair few wishes as I restock my wardrobe with new clothes. But every wish will be the same – that I don’t go and put it all back on again!

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This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 26th and the Gazette & Herald on 24th November 2021