Archives for May 2012

The lady novelist diet

The late Muriel Spark was one of Scotland’s leading novelists. She is perhaps most widely known for, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” a novel, made into a movie, about an idealistic but eccentric teacher in a 1930s Edinburgh girls’ school who selects an able group of pupils to ‘educate for life’, in the widest sense, as she sees it. We then follow the ‘Brodie set’ to the threshold of adulthood.

Another of Ms Spark’s novels is a “Far Cry From Kensington”, set in 1950s London. Her heroine, Mrs Hawkins, lands a job in a publishing house, even though the other applicants are much better qualified.

She soon comes to realize that she and her colleagues have been, “deliberately chosen for some slightly grotesque quality.”

“What was wrong with me she asks herself? Why had I been chosen? it was then the reason dawned on me: I was immensely too fat.”

Her response is resolute.

“From that night I decided to eat and drink half. Only half of everything I normally ate, in any circumstances. I decided to tell nobody at all about my plan.”

She is extremely self disciplined and sticks to her half portions in what she describes as, “This hungry period of my life.”

The first sign that her diet is succeeding is when she is invited to a smart dinner party and finds to her joy that her black lace evening dress, “needed to be taken in a good inch both sides.”

She eventually loses so much weight that she becomes, “a normal shape.”

The extent of her weight loss is brought home to her in dramatic fashion. Wanda, a fellow tenant in the lodging house where she is living, accuses her of plotting against her. She believes Mrs Hawkins  is plotting because she is ill, and that it is her illness which is responsible for her weight loss.

“Mrs Hawkins you are making a plot against me in the house. Is it my fault you are ill? You are getting thin, you are wasting, wasting, and you will die.”

It would be misleading to suggest that, “A Far Cry From Kensington,” is a novel about weight loss. If weight loss is a theme of the novel, it is a fairly minor theme.

And. of course, it is fiction, not ‘real life’, although  it is possible Ms Spark based her character on someone she  knew.

Putting such reservations on one side, if we are going to draw conclusions, we can note that our heroine had a simple weight loss plan which she followed strictly. She was completely successful and lost a lot of  weight.

Sounds encouraging. Many diet plans are far from simple.

Alas, although the plan is simple, it is far from easy. Many dieters, perhaps most dieters, won’t have the self-discipline to eat only half of what they would normally eat.

The catering industry calls this sort of thing portion control and it is one of the ‘secrets’ of successful weight loss. If we can practice portion control in some form we are on the way to keeping the pounds off. The trick is to practice portion control without feeling too deprived.

We shall come back to this.



Famous stamp collectors

The stamp collecting President

Franklin D. Roosevelt, was elected the 32nd President of The United States in 1932. In peacetime, he tackled  the economic stagnation and mass unemployment associated with the Great Depression.

On 7 December, 1941 Japan  attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, bringing America into World War II and thrusting President Roosevelt into the role of wartime leader of the nation, and eventually that of  leader of the Allied coalition against Japan and Nazi Germany.

He had severe medical problems, starting with an episode in 1921 which was diagnosed at the time as polio and which left his legs paralysed. By the early 1940s there were cardiac complications. Roosevelt, who kept his poor state of health secret, was under immense strain in fulfilling  his responsibilities of leadership.

For relaxation, he fell back on his childhood hobby of stamp collecting.

The president himself said, “I owe my life to my hobbies – especially stamp collecting.”

His son James also witnessed the relaxing effect his father’s absorption in his stamp collection;  “I have vivid memories of Father sitting at his desk when he had a half hour or hour with no appointments . . . with his stamp books and an expression of complete relaxation and enjoyment on his face.”

The philatelist King

Britain’s King George VI was an another person of influence who was a stamp collector.

Although a constitutional monarch, with limited powers, George V realised that the monarchy had to adapt to the conditions of the 20th century. Highly conservative in his attitudes, he nevertheless recognised that in a democracy he needed to pay attention to the attitudes and opinions of all classes and made a real effort to be a king for all the people.

He was conscientious in doing his duty, as he saw it but looked forward to the times he could unwind with his stamp collection.

In 1904, George V was Prince of Wales.  One day a  courtier told him that he had read in The Times that ‘some damn fool’ had paid £1,450 for a rare stamp from Mauritius. £1,450 was an enormous sum for a stamp at that time.

“That damn fool was me!”, the Prince announced.

Through his position of influence he was able to acquire many more philatelic gems, making the royal collection one of the World’s most important.

Stamp collecting; an antidote to stress?

President Roosevelt was one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century and a key figure in the leadership of the Allies in defeating the German-Japanese Axis. It would seem that, for him, stamp collecting was not an eccentric preoccupation best overlooked but was a relaxing diversion from his burdensome responsibilities,which helped him recharge his batteries.

King George V also benefitted from time spent with his stamp collection. It helped him unwind after he had completed the day’s tasks

For both these men stamp collecting  was an effective antidote to the stresses of their important positions on the world stage. This being the case, others with lesser responsibilities may be tempted to seek refuge in the hobby.



Stamp collecting: a hobby for nerds?

Stamp collecting has a image problem.

Some people think it is rather pathetic; OK for kids but not an activity fit for grown men and women.

When I was a lot younger, I went to one of those encounter groups, where people are encouraged to let it all hang out and let rip with their emotions.

The group leader obviously thought I wasn’t entering into the spirit of things, as he said to me, “Why don’t you go back to your stamp collection?’

In an online chat forum, one fellow shows an interest in stamp collecting but seems concerned that others may mock him, as he says:

“The father of a mate of mine showed me some of his (stamp) collection and it really did look fantastic. I am tempted to have a go myself but it seems a bit nerdy.’”

The replies he received (see link below) assumed that it was indeed a nerdy hobby but no worse that some other hobbies, such as making plastic models from kits.

Like any other hobby, stamp collecting can help people relax by letting them absorb themselves in something which takes them away from their responsibilities, even when those responsibilities are formidable.

In my next post I shall have another look at this hobby and try to reach some sort of verdict on whether or not it can be described as, “The hobby of nerds.”


Coin collecting

Coin collecting has a less nerdy image than stamp collecting. There are some university types into coin collecting, They are quite posh about it and call themselves numismatists.

Today there are lots of fancy looking coins around which commemorate special events such as the Olympics and there are even coins with Disney characters on them.

Some are several centimetres in diameter and heavy with it. Put a few of them in your pocket or purse and you’ll know what a racehorse feels like which has weights strapped on for a race handicap.

These sorts of coin are aimed at ripping off collectors, – er – , that is, they are intended to appeal to collectors and are not intended for circulation.

If you are attracted by this type of coin, by all means collect them. Take pride in owning them, enjoy looking at them.

Just don’t risk disappointment by thinking you are own a valuable investment. It is possible that the coins may hold their value, or even increase in value but is more likely that they won’t, because there are too many other collectors holding them and demand may be  limited when you come to sell.

Coins and stamps are more likely to hold their value if they were produced for their original purpose, – currency in circulation or the cost of sending mail. If they have been produced to persuade collectors to empty their wallets, they are less likely to do so.

Gold and silver coins will keep the underlying value of the metal (the bullion value) but if the face value of the coins you bought are more than the bullion value you will most likely lose out when you come to sell.

The first coins were minted around two and a half millenia ago. One candidate for the first coin minted is the Lydian Lion, issued around 600 BC in Lydia, Asia Minor (now Turkey). Not all experts agree on this but the Lion has a good claim to be first.  For the full story and to see a picture of the coin see the following link:

My main collecting interests are early English coins and coins from the Byzantine Empire (324-1483). Holding these coins in my had gives  me  a imaginative link with the men and women who used them all those centuries ago when life was more perilous,  lacking in comfort  and so much shorter, compared with today.




Weight loss; what’s to be done?

I lost about 10 lbs last year, starting from 177 lbs and later in the year I put it all back !

 I’ve been wanting to lose about 15 lbs since the start of  2012 and I’m now on my way to doing it.  I’m 5 ft 11 ins and weighted 184 lbs before I started to lose weight.

I don’t think I’m seriously overweight at 184 lbs but have had a bulge round my stomach and would prefer to be 168 lbs or less. I’ve decided I want to investigate weight loss in a methodical way.

I want to find a way of looking at all the conflicting claims for diets that claim to produce permanent weight loss and try to figure out what REALLY works.

Surely that’s a reasonable expectation?

Yet there are dozens of diets around!

Those who write about a particular diet are convinced that the diet plan they champion is the best one and all other diets don’t work.

So they write a book to support the cause of their diet

Typically, they give examples of men or women who have tried a whole bunch of diets, none of which have resulted in permanent weight loss.

In desperation, they adopt the diet promoted by the author.

Hey presto! It works. The dieters shed pound after pound and manages to keep it all off.

So, assuming the author has given an honest account of people’s experience, can all these authors be right!

It is possible! The diet may work for the people described by the author.

But does the diet work for everyone? Nope!

And can the author guarantee that those for whom it works will not backslide in the future and put all the weight on again? Hardly.

So I’m going to do some figuring out and see if I can reach some conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.

How you may ask, is an ordinary Joe like me going to ‘reach conclusions’ about such a puzzling issue?

How, indeed! But please bear with me as I try.

My favorite anorak

I think probably, because of my interests, some folk will think of me as an anorak. Stamp collectors are almost always thought of as anoraks!

If you live in the UK you’ll know what an anorak is. If you live outside the UK, you probably won’t.

An anorak is a garment, a waterproof jacket, usually with a hood. It’s usually worn by walkers and other outdoor types. Fashionable it’s not. Anoraks almost always look scruffy.

An anorak is, however, a type of person; a rather nerdy type of person.

Even though it is a British term, rather strangely, Peter Post of Boston, USA gives an excellent definition:

‘It is a term of mild abuse directed almost exclusively at men. Such men are usually obsessively interested in an obscure subject and/or activity – the archetypal one being trainspotting.’

Peter continues:

‘Such activities often require the participant to spend hours out of doors doing not much and occasionally writing something in a little book. Hence, such people often wear anorak because they are (a) cheap (b) practical (c) have lots of pockets for flasks, notebooks, pencils, other pencils etc’

More definitions are given in an article from ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, ‘What do the British mean when they call someone an ‘anorak’?,5753,-19185,

Most anoraks are harmless. I suppose, with my collecting interests, I would be regarded as an anorak by some.

If you wish to laugh at me, rather that with me, you’re most welcome!

My favorite anorak has gotta be an English guy who collects mail boxes.  He has more than 190 and keeps them all in his back garden.

When he got married, not surprisingly, he hesitated to tell his wife-to-be about his collection.

The reporter filing the story tactfully drew a veil over the lady’s reaction!

Here is the link to the story: