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Tag: health

Rehabilitation, recovery, rebuilding

Rehabilitation, recovery, rebuilding

Rehabilitation, recovery, rebuilding

Under a blue summer English sky, I continue this non-linear quest of Fellowship proportions to get my health back to something that won’t trouble the emergency room of a country without socialist medical treatment. You can probably guess which one.

This week just finished, one minor health setback but one major thing finally ticked off the medical list. In addition, and finally without giving up yet again, I’ve managed to back-up everything digital I still possess from the last 15 years or so to various clouds. And, I’ve made significant, possibly breakthrough, progress on rescoping my work plans for the long term.

So, a good week, ending with my favorite rural walk to date in this part of England. After the obligatory few miles of road and meadow and country lane, five miles of this route became a meandering well-worn footpath, a narrow hinterland between fields of barley and corn and a twisty, shallow, slow-moving brook that oft disappeared into copses and spinneys and woods. The evening was hot and cloud cover increasingly elusive, so the shade of many trees was quietly thanked, and the temptation, at stumbling across a shaded pool, of stripping off and jumping in was only narrowly resisted.

The footpath eventually turned away from the brook and trundled over a small hill, a copse to the right, becoming a bridleway of pitted, horseshoe-shaped ruts in dried soil. The path opened onto a road; houses, a church, rural English civilization. I cooled down in a gentrified rural pub, lemonade and ice rushing through me, and watched the sun set over a Nottinghamshire, or possibly a Leicestershire, hill of maize.

As the dusk fragmented into night, I strode to the next village, a mile and half again north. One footpath, a half-guessed jump across a stream in the increasing gloom, and wading up a hill of stout and unyielding corn. Behind me, the July harvest full moon, tinged pink but full and wide and slightly paler, a little more translucent than the previous, rose slowly above the ridge to the South.

I reached the bus stop, calculated the walk (9.5 miles; not epic, but not insignificant), and watched the moon inch upwards as the sky moved through the last few shades of blue before black. Tomorrow it’s back to typing and doing digital administration for a few days. But these walks, under a big sky, away from the babble of people and the industry of life, help; it’s not just the body that needs to repair, decompress, revitalize, rebuild, but sometimes the mind as well.

Food, US style

Food, US style

Most obvious statement of the year: Americans like their food:

Elk burger, fries and Huckleberry beer

From bottom up: Bun, mayo, mustard, ketchup, chili, beef, cheese, beef, cheese, bacon (deep fried), tomato, lettuce, mustard, ketchup, mayo, bun. Eat your heart out (literally), Glasgow.

But it’s not all bad – there’s some lettuce in there, so you are getting some of your five portions of fruit and veg for the day.

Going to the US on an airline that skimped somewhat on the food (dinner at take-off, a small snack 6 hours later, and that’s your lot) wasn’t good preparation for the calorie-fest that is the US. Chicago, in particular, was surreal. Half-asleep after the flight, I got off the L-train to discover I was on the set of a movie, “Revenge of the Fatties”. It wasn’t really – it’s just that many of the residents really really do like their food. And when you see the prices and aggressive marketing techniques, it’s no great surprise. Take soda, and this poster I kept encountering:


That’s 45p in UK money for a medium-sized bucket of liquid sugar. Why on earth would anyone need that much? Possibly to wash this down:

Obesity problem re-explored

And so I spent a week wandering around a city in which pedestrians fit into one of only three categories:

  • 25 stone and over, waddling, tending to wear very baggy t-shirts and smocks
  • thin, healthy, obviously fitness fanatics, jogging, tending to wear very little to show off their abs and pecs
  • a bit plump and badly dressed for the heatwave – obviously tourists such as me

But there are big differences between the cities. I had more expensive (by US standards) tickets for baseball in Chicago and Seattle. In Chicago, all the areas of the baseball stadium sold relentlessly unhealthy foods:

Food time

However, in Seattle, upstairs had a noticeably different selection of food stands, some selling salads, fruit bowls, lo-fat meals. In my three days in Seattle, though most of it was admittedly spent either at Microsoft or stuck in insane traffic, the obesity count was very low. Restaurants – with the notable exception of the awesome cheesecake factory, predominated in salads, fruit, healthy options. Unlike Chicago, where massive portions and toppings and sauces probably made in a cement mixer were rife. My first pizza downtown was in a darkly lit, cheap restaurant. Said pizza – which cost less than 4 pounds in UK money – arrived at my table with some rather small cutlery. Insert fork into pizza. Fork disappears, like a dinosaur being swallowed by a tar pit. It turns out that Chicago is proud of its deep pizzas. Not deep in the disappointing and misleading “Deep Pan Pizza” that UK restaurants advertise, but deep as in probably requires a lifeguard to make sure small people don’t fall in and get into difficulties.

So while Seattle is the city of fruit, veg, skinny coffee and sushi:

Sushi in Seattle

…Chicago tended to be more the city of “Big is best”. In many senses of the word. By day three I was demanding a “Childs portion” for my one-course meals. However, not everyone in America’s third largest city is an out-and-out tubster. Go down to the shore, and you’ll see plenty of people cycling, rollerblading, jogging, or swimming manically up and down:

Shoreline walk

Why the American obsession with food? Several observations:

  1. The amount of choice and variety is overwhelming.
  2. Convenience. Shops, cafes, restaurants, Starbucks everywhere. Online shopping is commonplace, and even Amazon are doing grocery deliveries in Seattle.
  3. Food is ridiculously cheap. Most meals cost me less than 10 dollars – that’s less than 5 pounds in UK money. Even a deliberately blow-out French meal cost 13 UK pounds. You simply can’t eat at those prices in most of Europe, especially in the UK.
  4. Advertising is in-your-face, everywhere. At the baseball, one of the between-innings event was a staged race where people guessed the winner. The contestants? A big mac, a box of fries, and some other MacDonalds product. You had to be there. 

The food and obesity thing also affects clothes sizes. I’m between a UK L and XL for shirts and t-shirts. In Finland, I tried on an XL shirt, to find I couldn’t breath, and had to find the next size up. In Chicago, an XL shirt gave me the feeling of being inside a tent; M was the better fit. For amusement I tried on an XXXL in an American department store; there was so much material I had to clambour backwards out of it (I should have gone in with a rope and guide). Afterthought: maybe there’s a connection with the lack of open drunkeness in the US, compared to the UK. Here, alcohol is cheap and food expensive. Ergo, lots of drunk people, as evidenced in any town or city on a friday or saturday night. In the US, it’s the other way around with food cheap and alcohol not so cheap (and in a lot of places, no booze for under 21s). Ergo, I saw only 2 drunk people in over a week. Hmmm.