No Supermarket January

New Year Resolution: I’m not going to use supermarkets during the whole month of January.

For me, that’s quite a big deal. I am accustomed to going to my local Sainsbury’s at least four or five times a week, sometimes just for the walk or the simple pleasure of picking up a value bag of sultanas.

Well, no more. From the 1st of January I pledge not to purchase a single thing from any supermarket, be it Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Aldi, Costcutter, Iceland, Netto, M&S, Waitrose, Morrisons – or any of the other behemoths that bestride our consumer culture.

Why?

  1. I don’t like being too dependent on anything – and supermarkets definitely fall into that bracket of dependency at the moment.
  2. I fancy seeing a bit more of the world – or my local community at least.
  3. It’s embarrassing coming home with a pile of plastic-wrapped food of dubious quality.
  4. Somewhere inside me there’s a vague sense of unease surrounding the operation and supply tactics of supermarkets.
  5. I guess it will support local economy a little bit.
  6. It might be a good way to meet more people in my community.
  7. It might be cheaper, you never know.
  8. It might help me eat better, you never know.
  9. It might reduce impulse buying of sultanas.
  10. It’s something to write about!

The Toothpaste Test

At the moment my shelves are looking pretty bare so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the wonderful (so I’m told) markets in my local area. But, to be honest, I’m a little concerned about where to find toothpaste. I know I can get toothpaste at pretty much any corner-shop or mini-mart, but Sainsbury’s toothpaste is about £0.30 or something ridiculous. I like that: it’s good value.

The thing is, I’d like to turn this experiment into a long-term life choice, but I’m not going to cut off my nose to spite my face. Sourcing affordable, minty toothpaste could well turn into the acid test of my No Supermarket January. Wish me luck.

The Country Game: Official Rules

The Country Game is a highly contentious parlour game played by travellers all over the world. These are my rules, developed in association (and in great disagreement) with the Cholsey Country Club.

What is a “Country”?

NB: “Country” has no specific legal definition. Therefore we can call it what we want, to satisfy the needs of the game, which should reward travel, not politics. So:

A country is an entity which AT THE TIME OF VISITING satisfies any of these conditions:

  1. It is a member state of the UN.
  2. It is an observer member of the UN AND is EITHER a non-member state OR claims statehood.
  3. It is on the UN list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
  4. It is recognised as a state by at least 10% of the full membership of the UN.
  5. It is an overseas possession of a country satisfying 1, 2, 3 or 4 above AND is outside the Exclusive Economic Zone (which extends 230 miles overseas) of that country.

At the time of writing, this means that there are:

  1. 192 members of the UN.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_member_states
  2. 4 observer members of the UN: Palestine, The Holy See (Vatican City), The Cook Islands and Niue.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_observers
  3. 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_list_of_Non-Self-Governing_Territories
  4. 2 further states recognised by at least 10% of the UN membership: Kosovo (38%) and Taiwan (12%).
  5. Many other places, including Puerto Rico (US), The Canary Islands (Spain), Réunion Island (France) and Greenland (Denmark).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exclusive_Economic_Zone

Notes:

  • This definition is deliberately broad because the world is a very big place. I want to break it up as small as possible. We’re all different, aren’t we?
  • For ease of implementation, I’m taking the EEZ of every country to be the maximum 230 miles, rather than going by the official extent, which is frequently less.
  • I’m also applying this 230 miles overland. Basically: if it’s within 230 miles of the possessing state, it doesn’t count as a separate country. I think that’s fair. If it’s that far away you must be travelling specifically to visit that place. You deserve a point.
  • It is important to note that the definition is made AT THE TIME OF VISITING. This means that if you visited Yugoslavia in 1972, you visited Yugoslavia. You did not visit Croatia.
  • That might seem silly, but it would be even sillier for your list to be changing every time there’s a war. It also means that you can have visited countries that no one else will ever be able to again – caché!

How to Score

Okay, so that’s just the definition of what counts as a country. Now we can start counting them.

A player scores one point (and one point only) for each country (according to the definitions above) they have visited in their lifetime IF:

  • They spent at least 24 hours in that country (see note below). 
  • They did something ‘of cultural interest’ during their stay.

And that’s it – simple!

Notes:

  • There is one exception to the 24-hour rule: The Holy See (Vatican City). This is the ONLY exception because it’s impossible to spend a night here. Score a point for any visit.
  • It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve visited a country, you will only EVER score one point for it.
  • ‘Cultural interest’ is defined with common sense. It is there to prevent sneaky travellers from counting a transit stay in an airport hotel. If you haven’t left the airport / train station / bus, it’s not interesting.
  • This is a stupid game. There are a lot of things wrong with it. I don’t care.

How to beat Hormonal Changes with Exercise

The Theory

Exercise is particularly important for women to tone down negative consequences of hormonal changes. Exercise balances the system. Boosted levels of serotonin in the body regulates mood and aggression, which can be affected by hormonal changes such as the pregnancy, PMS and the menopause.

Physical activity increases levels of tryptophan in the bloodstream and therefore the concentration of serotonin in the brain. It balances dopamine, norepinephrine and BDNF. And keeps glutamate and GABA (too high in PMS sufferers) balanced as well.

The Workout

  • You can exercise while pregnant, but keep it fairly light. 30 minutes at 65-75% of your maximum heart rate per day.
  • For PMS, try 1 hour of aerobic exercise 4 times a week before your period.
  • In general, women benefit from moderate intensity workouts, but go with how you feel.
  • Remember that we evolved for long distance walking, not for sitting around in front of computers! Exercise is nature’s way of regulating chemicals in the body.


Information from this article is taken from Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman.

200 Years of Conflict: A Very British Century 1910-2010

To celebrate the end of the year, I have been researching the history of the British at war in the last century, the living memory of my country.

  • According to my findings, in the last 100 years the British have been at war in every year bar 17. 
  • That’s 83 years of conflict
  • And in each of those 17 years of ‘peace’ we have been the occupying power in one or more countries. 
  • During those 100 years, we have been involved in at least 34 conflicts, lasting a total of around 200 years.

Here’s a list of those conflicts, divided by decade, with casualty estimates in brackets:

1910-1920

1914-1918 World War I (39 million dead)
1916-1916 Easter Rising (Ireland, 400 dead)
1918-1922 Russian Civil War
1919-1919 Third Anglo-Afghan War (3,000 dead)
1919-1921 Anglo-Irish War (2,000 dead)
1919-1923 Turkish War of Independence

1920-1930

1924-1935 Peace? Ongoing British occupation of Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and India, among others.

1930-1940

1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine (5,000 dead)
1937-1945 The Pacific War
1938-1948 British-Zionist Conflict (Palestine, at least 1,000 dead)
1939-1945 World War II (73 million dead)

1940-1950

1941-1941 Anglo-Iraqi War (600 dead)
1941-1949 Greek Civil War (16,000 dead)
1948-1960 Malayan Emergency (10,000 dead)

1950-1960

1950-1953 Korean War (2.3 million dead)
1952-1960 Mau Mau Uprising (Kenya, 14,000 dead)
1955-1959 Cyprus Emergency (400 dead)
1956-1957 Suez Crisis (3,000 dead)
1958-1958 First Cod War (Iceland)

1960-1970

1961-1961 Peace? Kuwait and Tanganyika win their independence from British rule.
1962-1962 Brunei Revolt
1962-1966 Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation (800 dead)
1962-1975 Dhofar Rebellion (Oman)
1963-1967 Aden Emergency (Yemen)
1968-1998 Northern Ireland Troubles (3,500 dead)

1970-1980

1972-1973 Second Cod War (Iceland)
1975-1976 Third Cod War (Iceland)

1980-1990

1982-1982 Falklands War (Argentina, 1,000 dead)

1990-2000

1990-1991 First Gulf War (Iraq, at least 25,000 dead)
1995-1996 Bosnian War (100,000 dead)
1998-1998 Operation Desert Fox (Iraq, at least 600 dead)
1998-1999 Kosovo War (Yugoslavia, 10,000 dead)

2000-2010

2000-2002 Sierra Leone Civil War
2001-???? Global War on Terror
2001-???? Afghanistan War (50,000 dead and counting)
2003-2009 Iraq War and Iraqi Insurgency (at least 60,000 dead)

I am certain that I have excluded many conflicts that you may consider suitable for this list. I have been unable to source a list of British combat casualties for the last 100 years myself, but John Pilger, a journalist and documentary film-maker, reports that 16,000 British service men and women have died in action since 1948.

That is quite remarkable for a country that has not been under any military threat in the sixty-five years since the end of World War II.

I hope that this information has the effect on others that it had on me: shock and awe. How dare I hope to live in a civilised society, when that society is so intimate with war and slaughter?

Touring with Dinosaurs

This is a list of the top grossing worldwide ‘tours’ of 2010, according to Pollstar.

1. Bon Jovi

  • Gross Takings: $201.1m (£130.7m) 
  • Average Ticket Price: $105.35
  • Number of Shows: 80
  • Gross Takings per Show: $2.5m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 48

2. AC/DC

  • Gross Takings: $177m (£115m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $97.21
  • Number of Shows: 40
  • Gross Takings per Show: $4.4m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 57

3. U2

  • Gross Takings: $160.9m (£104.6m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $100.17
  • Number of Shows: 32
  • Gross Takings per Show: $5m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 50

4. Lady Gaga

  • Gross Takings: $133.6m (£86.8m) 
  • Average Ticket Price: $88.22
  • Number of Shows: 138
  • Gross Takings per Show: 0.97m
  • Got Famous: 2000s
  • Age Now: 24

5. Metallica

  • Gross Takings: $110.1m (£71.5m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $98.72
  • Number of Shows: 60
  • Gross Takings per Show: $1.8m
  • Got Famous: 1980s
  • Age Now: 47

6. Michael Buble

  • Gross Takings: $104.2m (£67.7m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $83.81
  • Number of Shows: 111
  • Gross Takings per Show: $0.94m
  • Got Famous: 2000s
  • Age Now: 35

7. Walking with Dinosaurs

  • Gross Takings: $104.1m (£67.7m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $50.56
  • Number of Shows: 485
  • Gross Takings per Show: $0.21m
  • Got Famous: Late Triassic Period
  • Age Now: 230m years

8. Paul McCartney

  • Gross Takings: $93m (£60m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $138.35
  • Number of Shows: 31
  • Gross Takings per Show: $3m
  • Got Famous: 1960s
  • Age Now: 68

9. Eagles

  • Gross Takings: $92.3m (£59.9m)
  • Average Ticket Price: $121.85
  • Number of Shows: 54
  • Gross Takings per Show: $1.7m
  • Got Famous: 1970s
  • Age Now: 62

10. Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd)

  • Gross Takings: $89.5m (£58.1m) 
  • Average Ticket Price: $126.14
  • Number of Shows: 56
  • Gross Takings per Show: $1.6m
  • Got Famous: 1970s
  • Age Now: 67

Dinosaurs

With the exception of Lady Gaga and Michael Bublé, I would contend that none of the things touring actually exist any more. Or shouldn’t.

It is highly appropriate that the show ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ is at number 7. Arguably Dinosaurs fill most of the other spots as well.

Bands that were big in the 60s, 70s and 80s should not still be massive today. It goes against all the impulses of Rock – and against the very definition of Pop.

The old Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude of ‘live fast, die young’ has been forgotten (or at least part of it) – and from the looks of those box office takings it seems these guys (note: all men) prefer filling their pensionable pockets to dying.

Fair enough – I suppose it’s not their fault that healthcare has advanced to the point where even rockers living fast can still survive to a ripe old age.

And I suppose it’s not their fault that they are top of these charts: it’s just that their fans are the ones with the money, baby-boomers all grown up, cashing in their own pensions.

And why not?

Well you’ve got to ask why the money in music is still with acts that hit the big time thirty years ago? What does that mean for the industry? What does that mean for innovation and new music? Do we really have to wait until we’re retired before we can afford to go and see top-line shows? What price nostalgia?

I guess you can make a parallel with books. On the Road by Jack Kerouac is still wildly popular with young kids looking for their first taste of freedom, just as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s our job, writing today, to be better than that.

Otherwise, why bother at all?