Progress photos, 10 months on

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On the DDP Yoga app you can upload photos in 6 different poses, so you can monitor your progress over the months. I’ve had a request to show the photos, to demonstrate how much difference DDPY has made to my flexibility – so here they are!

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My Fitness Journey – an update

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Last April I set off on a mission to finally rid myself off the 4+ stones of excess weight I’ve been carrying round for about 20 years, and to get fitter and healthier. I was eating better, reducing my alcohol intake and had started doing DDP Yoga (see my review here) and I vowed to update every week …but the last entry I did was on week 7, when I felt like I was getting stuck having lost 8 pounds. Every time I’ve dieted before I’ve plateaued at about half a stone, got bored, gone back to my usual habits and put on more weight than I lost. So anyone reading this blog would probably imagine that was the case this time too, hence no further posts … but no!

This time I persevered, ate better, did more exercise, joined Slimming World, changed jobs so I was more active every day …. and, ten months on, I’m delighted to have lost over three and a half stone, and dropped 3 dress sizes!

It’s not been easy – actually, it’s been easier than I expected, because (A) I absolutely adore DDP Yoga, and apart from Xmas week and a week when I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, I’ve done it 4-6 times a week,e very week. And (B) I really love the Slimming World way of dieting, and it seems to be working for me. Initially I was calorie counting but it was far too easy to cheat – I often estimated weights and it’s so easy to look at something and say “yeah that’s 100g!” when actually its three or four times more… The fact that you can eat so many things on the SW plan without having to weight them, and nothing is restricted, and it’s all about making choices (do I have crisps or wine? Or do I have one glass of wine of three gin and slims?) – that’s been a real lifesaver for me.

So I’m now at a very lovely 12 stone 12 pounds, down from a hideous 16 stone 6 when I started last year, and I’m wearing size 14 rather than an 18-20. I feel better in myself, my confidence is growing every day and I actually look in the mirror and like what I see!

There’s still some way to go. I’ve set my initial target at 11 stone but once I get there, I may lose a little more – oh, to weigh ten stone something! And I definitely want to be a size 14 at the biggest. It’s so lovely being able to shop in “normal” shops and not be restricted to the outsize departments!

So there you go … this stuff does work when you set your mind to it and stick with it.

Hopefully the photos below will show the difference!

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Three fat ladies in July 2015…        and us in January 2017, having lost seven dress sizes and                                                                     over seven stone between us!

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Review: Eat, Pray, Love

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Eat, Pray, Love
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up as a freebie at work a million years ago – I think the stock photography company I worked for at the time had something to do with the original release’s cover. Never got round to reading it, and then it became a huge hit and somehow that put me off reading it, and then I read some reviews that talked about how the author whined a bit and that put me off even more … and so it’s sat on my shelf for a very long time!

Finally decided to give it a go and you know what – I loved it! I’m at a point in life where I’m wondering who I am, what my purpose is and what the second half of life holds for me and the idea of taking off for a year and immersing myself in other countries and cultures really appeals. I loved the Italy and Indonesia sections – the Bali part in particular introduced me to a country I ahve no experience of whatsoever and I would love to visit because Elizabeth Gilbert paints such a wonderful picture of the country and its people. I have a huge interest in India and while that section was interesting, I did get a little bored with the endless meditation, just not something that massively appeals to me. I guess for me I want to be learning more about the culture and the landscape but given Gilbert didn’t leave the Ashram for four months I wasn’t going to get that.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be reading more of her work in the future. I’;m especially interested in finding out how she and Felipe get on…!

View all my reviews

End of week 7 weigh in …

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And what a disappointment it was! This week I've been really focused on healthy eating, cutting down my alcohol intake quite dramatically, drinking plenty of water and keeping up with my exercise routine. I've been below 1400 calories every day (but not hugely below – so I don't think I'm under eating) and have been eating more fruit and veg, plus wholemeal bread rather than white. I've probably had about a third of the units of alcohol I was consuming – and so way fewer empty calories than usual. I've drunk at least a litre and usually 1.5 litres of water a day. I've done DPPY every day bar one. The only thing I've not really done this week is walking – a couple of days I've come close to my target but I've not found a way to fit it into the routine yet.

So a good week and one where I expected to see a good weight loss, at least two pounds. I FEEL thinner, I LOOK thinner so surely I must WEIGH thinner too?

Nope. The scales haven't moved at all. Not a single pound.

How very disappointing.

Ok it's time of the month so I'm hoping it's due to period-related water retention – I do tend to gain, so maybe next week I'll have a bumper weight loss. And the DDPY is toning me so it could be weight redistributing itself. I'll get out the tape measure later and see.

But I'm stil disappointed. This is the story of my life – I make an enthusiastic start, lose a few pounds (eight so far), carry on working hard and being good but quickly plateau. Then I get bored, get annoyed, give up the healthy lifestyle, eat and drink what I want – and put back on all the weight I've lost, and some.

But this time I am NOT going to do that. Mostly because I actually don't feel like it's been hard work. I've been eating well, and enjoying my food, and not denying myself things I want. I've been loving my exercise and can't see me stopping that, whatever. I've been feeling better for drinking less alcohol and more water – my skin is noticeably less dry and more clear.

I just need to find the missing link. Maybe it's walking – I'm going to make a concerted effort to hit my (admittedly measly) target of 7000 steps a day over the next week, and try and incorporate a daily walk into my routine, and gradually increase the steps and see what happens. Doesn't help that I work from home so have no commute, no chance to walk to the bus stop or station or park the car further away from the office than usual. But I'll do what I can to increase the steps.

And I'll try and keep positive. I know how easy it is for me to fall off the wagon when it comes to my weight. I need to reinforce the benefits and keep going, no matter how disappointing the results.

Onwards and upwards!

 

Review: DDP Yoga

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ddpSo here’s my review of DDP Yoga, the transformational fitness workout devised by American wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. We met DDP at Wrestlecon in Dallas, Texas this April, and until then I’d never heard of DDP Yoga … and why should I? I’m not a yoga person, I’m not an exercise person, stuff like that passes me by. But my son had heard about it (I’ll try and find the video Dan had seen that inspired him) and he mentioned it to DDP, and we chatted a bit. And while we were in America I saw lots of very large people, and I looked at the photos of me and didn’t see what I liked there, and I decided to take a look at the DDP Yoga thing when we came home.

DDP – the guy behind DDP Yoga

Dallas Page created DDP Yoga when he had lots of wrestling injuries and wanted to get back into the ring. The story goes that his wife was a yoga fan and suggested he give it a go but he thought it was a mumsy thing and not for guys – but eventually he tried it, and discovered that there was a way he could use yoga to rehabilitate and recover his body and improve his fitness. He’s since used the system with over 40 other wrestlers and other sports people, and also discovered that it’s actually really really good for weight loss – and that it can be used by people whose weight would otherwise rule out physical activity.

Inspirational stories

The DDP Yoga website itself is inspiring. There are lots of success stories, both from sports people and from “normal” guys and girls, and they are well worth watching. And if you find yourself thinking that the stories are fabricated – well, many of the people he’s worked with actually appear in the fitness videos, as proof that it works! Of course it’s not just a case of doing a bit of yoga now and then; it requires dedication and lots of hard work, and a total change of diet to achieve the best results – but even 7 weeks in I am really feeling the benefits, and I haven’t even looked at the nutrition section of the programme!

Most people who have heard of DDP Yoga talk about Arthur Boorman – an army veteran whose body was trashed, and who turned things around completely using DDP Yoga. It’s a truly inspiring video and well worth watching – and you can do so here. But the one that really got me was the story of Jared. In fact, I came across this video of YouTuber Boogie2988 reacting to Jared’s story, and I have a feeling this may be the video that Dan was talking about, so we’ll go with this one. Get the tissues ready…

So what is DDP Yoga?

DDP Yoga is not like your usual yoga (or as Dallas Page says, “It ain’t your mama’s yoga!”). Instead, it takes many classic yoga poses and adds dynamic resistance to them – so you use your body’s own strength to increase resistance, which helps to heal, strengthen and tone muscle. And because DDP Yoga increases the blood flow to the muscles it also increases the heart rate – so it gives you a really good cardio workout. But here’s the great thing – every cardio exercise I’ve done before, like running and cycling and fitness classes, has involved lots of impact movement, jumping up and down, etc. And when you’re overweight and have arthritic knees it hurts, and it’s uncomfortable, and when you’ve got lots of flab the last thing you want to do is bounce it around. But with DDP Yoga, you can increase your heart rate, and thus burn calories, by standing still! And boy, does it make me sweat!  Just by engaging the muscles in the legs, butt, back, arms you can see your heart rate increase – so it’s suitable for people who have mobility problems as well as those who just don’t enjoy high impact exercise.

Another great thing about DDP Yoga is that throughout the videos Dallas Page encourages you to “make the workout your own”. One of the things that puts me off other exercise programmes is the assumption that I will be able to do everything, because I feel useless if I can’t. That kind of attitude just puts me off and I’m not likely to even make the effort. However, Dallas understands that not everyone is able to do every move straight away. Every exercise has modifications – different ways you can do it – and throughout the ethos is to do something  – that you are better doing something than nothing and if you do that something every day you’ll get fitter and stronger and more flexible and eventually you’ll be able to do the full workout. There’s no body shaming, no fitness shaming involved – just encouragement to make the workout your own and get moving.

What do you get for your money?

So let’s unpack DDP and see what you get. It comes in two versions – DVDs and the digital product. (Actually, I think you can also sign up for MP3s but I can’t really see how anyone could do this from audio only, as it really helps to see the moves.) I decided to get the online digital subscription, partly because I wanted instant access but also because wanted to do my workouts upstairs in our enormous bedroom, but we don’t have a DVD player there, and having the digital version means I can take my iPad upstairs. I’ve even used my phone with workouts I know well, though the screen is a bit small if you’re unsure about the moves.

You can subscribe to the digital subscription for one month, three months or a year. I went for the three month option; at $40 dollars (£28) it didn’t break the bank and it would give me long enough to give it a proper go. After the three months are up it’ll bill me for $12.99 (about £9) a month.Included in the digital version is access via tablet, smartphone and computer, all the workout videos plus new updates, food videos, plus a PDF version of the programme guide. Alternatively you can buy the DVDs for a one off payment and you also get a printed copy of the programme guide and a poster of the “Diamond Dozen”, the key moves.

There are loads of workouts included, from “Beginner Beginner” to “Extreme”, and if you wanted to you could just dive in wherever. However, there’s also a recommended programme that takes you through each stage over 13 weeks, introducing you to the moves and workouts gradually so you can build your strength and ability, and that’s what I chose to do.

However, before you begin, the programme recommends that you take a few initial measurements. After all, if you don’t know what your starting point is, you won’t know how far you’ve come! So you’re advised to put in measurements – arms, chest, waist, hips, thighs, calves – and your weight, and also to take photos in six different positions, so you can see the difference DDP Yoga is making to you.

Once you’ve done that you’re ready to go! Ah … except for one more thing, which is optional but recommended, and that’s a heart monitor. See, the dynamic resistance fat-burning part of DDP Yoga is based on you working out in an optimum heart rate zone, where your body burns calories without working you so hard you’re in danger of combusting. Yes, you can do DDP Yoga without a heart monitor but it’s much better using one, as you can hook it up to the app and see on screen where you are, and then engage or disengage depending on whether or not you are “in the zone” – shown in green on screen. Originally I thought my Fitbit HR Charge would work with it but sadly it doesn’t sync with the app, so I have bought a Wahoo Tickr chest monitor, which I can recommend. I’d also recommend you get a yoga mat to exercise on, as it can be quite tough on the knees otherwise!

Get with the programme

SupportedLungeSpaceShuttle_1So now we are ready to start, and the programme begins with the Diamond Dozen, which introduces you to the 12 key moves used throughout the workouts. This first video is quite slow paced, but that’s good as it means you can get to grips with the moves without any pressure. Dallas Page takes you through each move in turn, showing you various modifications that you can try if you’re not quite able to do the complete move. For example, during Runner’s Lunge and Supported Lunge I wasn’t able to do the exercise “properly” at first, because it really hurt my arthritic knee, so I tried the modified version, which just meant dropping to my knee. I was able to do the rest of the exercise and within a week I was doing Runner’s Lunge fully, because my body had already strengthened! The video looks quite tame but don’t be fooled – it had me drenched in sweat, simply because I was engaging muscles I hadn’t engaged in a long time, and that in turn got my heart racing. There are also individual videos for each move so if you’re stuck on anything, you can try just that one instead of having to do the whole lot.

The programme default is for three workouts a week, starting with two run throughs of the Diamond Dozen before moving onto the Energy workout. This is the first time you’ll be combining moves, moving from Cat Lift to Cat Arch to Down Dog to Safety Zone, and fortunately it’s done at such a pace that I found it reasonably easy to keep up, even though the moves were still pretty new to me. After a few times I found I didn’t need to watch the screen; when Dallas says Runner’s Lunge or Superstar I know what I’m meant to be doing.

Here’s a little taster of what one of the early programmes, Energy, is all about. (Actually the one I do is Energy 2.0, but this is the earlier version.)

The programme progresses gradually by adding more challenging workouts. The first time I did Fat Burner, with all its Squat Thrusts, I thought I was going to die! But the next time I did it, it was much easier, and by the 3rd and 4th time I was finding I could squat pretty low without killing myself. Today I did my first Red Hot Core workout, which is only 15 minutes long but really focuses on the stomach muscles, and I’m aching now – but I know next time will be easier, and I might not even need to do all the modifications!

So far the workouts have all been quite short – 30-40 minutes, which is great as I can fit one in before I start work. As you move on the idea is to start combining workouts to build it up to an hour at a time, or to do a couple a day, and that feels doable to me.

The programme is in 13 week blocks, taking you through beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, and you can customise it totally. For example, my “core” days are always Monday, Wednesday and Friday as that works best for me, but sometimes the programme switches to a Saturday, so I just edit it to suit me. You can, of course, always add in extra workouts whenever you want, and most weeks now I do at least 5 or 6 workouts a week. There’s also a good mix of workouts, from a 10 minute “Wake Up” session of gentle stretching to more hardcore ones that focus on specific areas.

Why I love DDP Yoga

Something I haven’t mentioned yet is how fun I find DDP Yoga. Yep, FUN! I never thought I’d say that about something like this! I’m not really an exercise fan and even with the odd thing I enjoy, like aquafit, I have to force myself to go, but I actually wake up looking forward to my DDP Yoga workout, and at weekends I find myself itching to do some and often come up partway through the day to do a session. I’m not sure what it is about it that I enjoy – Dallas Page is growly and shouty (as you’d expect from a WWE wrestler!) but also engaging and supportive – and he makes me laugh. I also love that the people in the videos aren’t fitness models but REAL people (including Arthur and Jared) who have succeeded with DDPY. The workouts are challenging but achievable, and I feel a real buzz when I finish. And though I’m only in Week 7 I can already see a difference in me physically, I feel fitter and more flexible and every time I do the workouts I can tell I’m squatting lower or holding firmer or bending further. And that development inspires me to go further and further.

I also find it helps my state of mind – while this isn’t traditional yoga and so doesn’t put you in a meditative state, I do find that if I’m in a bad mood or worried about something, DDPY lifts my mood and takes my mind off my problems. It’s also helping my breathing as there’s a lot of focusing on breathing in the exercises, and I find I’m breathing more deeply now.

I haven’t even mentioned the nutrition programme that’s included with DDP Yoga, have I? Mostly because I haven’t actually tried it yet. Again it’s in three stages, and I guess I’m more or less doing the first level, which is to cut out processed foods and start eating “real” food. The later levels begin to cut out dairy and gluten and that’s not for me right now – but if I get to a stage where I stop seeing results with DDP Yoga and my current healthy eating plan, I’ll definitely look at it more deeply.

So there is my review of DDP Yoga. For the first time in my life I’m actually exercising regularly – daily – and really enjoying it, and on Week 7 I’ve already lost 8lbs and 15 inches, which is a really good start. If you’ve tried it, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on with it – and do leave a comment if you have any questions!

http://ddpyoga.com/

Healthy Living Regime … The Reboot!

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At 18, size 10-12, 9.5 stone

At 18, size 10-12, 9.5 stone

OK so I have had a weight problem for most of my adult life, that much is obvious. When I fell pregnant with my daughter, back in 1993, I was 9.5 stone and a size 10-12. After I had Katie I went up to about 12 stone, size 14, and then after I had Dan I had post natal depression which I ate my way out of – ballooning over the months to a size 16-18. Every now and then I decide to do something about my weight and manage to lose half a stone, but then I get stuck, get fed up and put on 10 pounds – and so the pattern has continued, for the last 18 years, leaving me at somewhere between an 18 and 22, depedning on the brand of clothes.

Back in 2012 I started yet another healthy living regime, this time under the watchful eye of Helen Yarnold of Your Happy Size. I was at my absolute heaviest – 16 stone 10 pounds – and I was determined. This time I was not dieting but making sensible decisions about what to eat (and drink – I think beer and wine is actually a far bigger problem for me than food) and increasing my exercise, including walking, swimming and aquafit in the routine. Over six months I lost a massive 18 pounds. Then Christmas happened, I got a bit stuck, I stopped working with Helen (and I can’t even remember why!) and gradually the weight crept back on…

Summer 2014, around 16 stone and size 20-22- not my heaviest, and certainly not my most flattering look!

Summer 2014, around 16 stone and size 20-22- not my heaviest, but certainly not my most flattering look!

Since then I’ve done some calorie counting and some Slimming World and some gym and some swimming and each time I’ve managed to lose half a stone, then got stuck, got bored and put on ten pounds…. So when this latest (and last!!) healthy living regime began I was back at 16 stone (224 pounds), fat and unhappy.

But then we went to America for Wrestlemania, and I was shocked by how big people were there, and I resolved to get fitter myself, and I met Diamond Dallas Page, and I had a look at his DDP Yoga …. and I really do believe I am on a permanent healthy living regime now!

The first big change is that I’ve finally discovered an exercise I can do every day that I LOVE! Yes, I really enjoy Aquafit but it’s not something you can just get up and do in the morning. But for the last seven weeks I’ve been doing DDP Yoga at least 3 and usually 6 days a week and the novelty hasn’t worn off yet! Review of DDP Yoga coming soon.

beer-422138_640The second change is I’ve decided to address my attitude to alcohol. Now I wouldn’t say I have a problem with drink – but alcohol has definitely become a part of life that I need to work on. For years now we’ve been in the habit of going to the pub two or three times a week and having two or three pints, and then coming home and sharing a bottle of wine, and probably having a bottle on at least one other day too. And when I sat down and worked out the alcohol units and calories I was consuming, I was shocked. You’re talking 35-40 units a week at least, and around 3000 calories….. Which is not healthy by any standards! (I should ahve known I had a problem when I had some surgery a couple of years ago and was hedging the answers when the nurse asked me about my alcohol intake…) So I started by ditching the beer and switching to gin and slimline tonic, which reduces the figures to 25-30 units and 1600 calories … but that’s still too much. The problem is I like having a glass of wine, I like going to the pub – so Steve and I have now made an agreement that we will either  go to the pub or  have wine at home – but not both on the same night. And so far that’s working out well … and in terms of units and calories it puts it at around 14 units and 700 empty calories a week, which is much better!

I’m trying to drink more water – at least 1.5 litres a day. That’s a struggle – I drink a lot when I’m doing DDPY but then forget for the rest of the day. But I’m working on it.

And of course I’m making sensible decisions with food too. I originally started following Slimming World principles (though not going to the groups) but I found I was underestimating syn values so that probably wasn’t the best way to go. I also find it hard to monitor portion sizes with Slimming World – so I end up eating tonnes of “free” foods like pasta. So now I’ve reverted to calorie counting using My Fitness Pal, and so far that’s going well. It means nothing is a “syn” and if I want a bag of crisps in the pub I can have one …. so long as I have the calories spare. I’ve set the limit at 1300 calories a day but because of the exercise I’m doing I could actually have a few more, and I do at weekends generally – but I don’t feel like I’m starving myself.
scale-403585_640So how is it going so far? Well, I’m 6.5 weeks into it – next weigh in comes on Friday. But as of last Friday I’d lost 8lbs, which didn’t feel like a huge amount to me. But better than that, I have lost 15 inches from my calves, thighs, hips, waist and chest and this is huge news – in fact, I can actually see the difference in my hips and I have a waist again! And it’s made me realise that the figure on the scales is actually not the whole picture… the DDP Yoga is turning fat to muscle and as that’s denser it weighs more…

I really wish I’d started blogging in my first week, with my first experience of DDP Yoga, but I didn’t get round to it – but from here on I’m going to try and update every Friday, and we’ll see where it goes!

Dallas Diaries Day 2: Axxess and WWE Hall of Fame

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Day 2 started as day one had, in Cindi’s New York Diner near Reunion Tower. But whereas it had been empty the day before it was packed this time, mostly with wrestling fans! We bumped into the couple we;’d met the previous day and talked about Wrestlecon and mentioned that we were going to Axxess that day. “You’ll love it!” the guy said. “So much better than Wrestlecon.”

2016-04-02 18.16.52Our tickets were for the 12-4 slot and I had no idea how long we’d have to queue so we headed off in good time and spent a fair while looking round the WWE Megastore. Well …. there’s no accounting for taste, I guess! I’d become used to seeing people walking round with one and sometimes two replica belts round their waists or over their shoulders, but the store was jam packed with all sorts of belts as well as Money in the Bank briefcases, dolls, clothing and more. We bought a few bits and bobs, but some of the stuff was stupidly expensive (some of the belts are over $300!) and people were buying bags and bags of the stuff! I guess it just proves how passionate WWE fans are – though I did later spot a guy on one of the Facebook groups desperately trying to sell his $200 MITB deluxe briefcase as he had decided he really didn’t know what to do with it! The queue for the tills was huge but moved surprisingly quickly, and soon we were in another line, the very long line for general admission to Axxess.

I hadn’t been sure how Axxess worked – I thought it was a bit like Wrestlecon, where you paid admission and then paid extra for the Meet and Greet opportunities, but actually once you’re in that’s it, you don’t have to pay any extra (though of course there were VIP tickets, the only way to meet the top superstars). And actually, if you plan it properly and are prepared to queue A LOT it could be very good value for money. But there was no one there we particularly wanted to meet (except Hacksaw Jim, who we’d met the day before anyway) and the queues were offputtingly long, so we didn’t bother with that at all. There were several photo opportunities too – on a ladder, in a ring etc. There was some pretty cool stuff to see too, costumes and props and things.

The most entertaining thing for me was the Superstar Entrance area – after queuing (of course!) you could choose one of 12 entrances and make your way down the ring as your favourite wrestler. Dan was a bit reticent about doing it, but then made his entrance as The Undertaker, got a round of applause and did a great job of it, I think!  (It was officially filmed but sadly the access code doesn’t work … so you’ll have to make do with my home movie!)

P1000701The big draw for Dan especially was the ring, where there was some NXT wrestling going on, including some of his favourites like Samoa Joe and Bailey, and my favourite Apollo Crews. So for most of the afternoon we watched the wrestling, though my feet hurt and I did slide away to have a drink and a sit down at one stage. I met some really cool characters and got into a couple of photos too…

 

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As we left there was a group of God botherers outside the venue, telling us that we – along with murderers, paedophiles, feminists and “lukewarm hypocrits” – were all doomed. The wrestling fans – with Dan as one of the ringleaders – responded in style with lots of chants, entrances and witty ripostes and it made for an entertaining hour!

Next we were over to the other side of town for the WWE Hall of Fame. I’ve never watched it before and didn’t know what to expect except for a bunch of old wrestlers talking … and I guess that’s what it was really, except it was pretty entertaining. Great to see Big Van Vader (without the mask) and of course the place went nuts when Sting was inducted, and we joined in with the cries of Woooooo! ringing around the arena. Shame Ric Flair’s introduction was so boring though, with him talking all about himself rather than Sting! I also enjoyed Dana Warrior and Joan Lunden; some pretty inspiring stuff was said. But I have an admission – I think jetlag got the better of me and I did find myself dozing off once or twice during the event! But overall it was a good night out. Sadly it ended on a low though – we were starving and struggled to find anywhere to eat, and the place we did end up in was so painfully slow and so dreadfully managed that it really put a downer on the day.

 

 

Victoria Wood and Chyna: Farewell to two ambassadors for women in a man’s world

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I’m not one to have idols, and I don’t really “do” celebrities all that much, but there are some people who have influenced me or touched my life in some way, of course. And within the space of two days, the world lost two of those people – Victoria Wood and Chyna.

Victoria Wood

My mum and I are both huge fans of Victoria Wood. Back in the 80s we spent many an evening together watching Victoria Wood As Seen on TV and many of the characters she played had catchphrases that became part of our family vernacular. I’m thinking particularly of the wonderful world of Sacharelle, and Kimberley’s friend, forever waiting for her to turn up. And then there were her incredible creations Mrs Overall and the elderly waitress, played so wonderfully by Julie Walters. Many a time Mum and I have watched a waitress of a certain age wobble across the floor and looked at each other and said, “Two soups!”

And who could forget “The Ballad of Barry and Freda”… Having worked in my grandma’s sweet shop as a kid and read many copies of women’s magazines there, “Beat me on the bottom with a Women’s Weekly” never failed to raise a chuckle.

Even Dinnerladies was a firm favourite – yes it was a bit cheesy, yes it was a bit dated in some ways but it brought back so many of the team from As Seen on TV and always made me laugh.

Victoria Wood always seemed to be such a NICE person. Just your regular Northern girl who just happened to have a huge talent for writing funny sketches and songs, and bringing them to life in such a memorable way. And she was a bit chubby too – seeing a chubby woman on TV when I was a chunky girl was a big confidence booster. And she was just so funny. And of course the 80s were so male dominated when it came to comedy – okay, probably nothing much has changed even now, but Victoria Wood was a bright light for women everywhere, a woman who was equal on the bill to men, and who was able to poke fun at men and women alike in a way only women really understood.

When I heard the news yesterday that she’d died I had to resist the urge to say “She didn’t”… But sadly, yes, she did. Just 62 – no age at all. Yet another reason to say #fuckcancer.

 

Chyna at Slim-Fast Fashion Show 1

And then this morning I woke up, had a look at Twitter on my phone – and read that Chyna AKA Joanie Laurer had also died, at the age of 45 or 46 (I’ve seen both – but close to my age, either way). Nooooooooo! When I was a huge huge WWF (now WWE) wrestling fan, Chyna was one of my all time favourites. At a time when most female wrestlers were bints in bikinis, here was a strong, handsome woman who could stand toe to toe with any man in the ring. She had muscles on muscles but still managed to ooze sex appeal. She showed me that women can stand equal to men in any arena, and I’ve never forgotten that.

When we were in Dallas earlier this month she was one of the people I really wanted to meet at Wrestlecon and I was gutted that she hadn’t shown up. A message on the organiser’s website later suggested that she’d been intoxicated and had missed the flight. I know her life was pretty challenging after she left WWE, what with drug and alcohol addictions and her career in porn films (and unlike the McMahon family I have no issue with that – porn is as porn does and someone has to be in it, so why not her!). But from things I’ve read today, it sounds like she’d been getting her life back on track, rebuilding her health and teaching English in Japan. I don’t know how she died – rumours suggest it was an overdose, though whether accidental or deliberate isn’t clear. What I do know is that at one stage in my life, Chyna was the closest thing I had to a hero – and I will openly admit that her death has sent me reeling.

Rest in peace, Victoria Wood. Rest in peace, Chyna. In your very different ways you were both ambassadors for women’s equality in a male world. Thank you and farewell.

 

Dallas Diaries Day 1: Wrestlecon / NXT Takeover

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Our first full day in Dallas was Friday and we didn’t have anything planned. Actually, that’s a lie – we’d tried and tried to get tickets for NXT Takeover but missed out on pre-sale and sale day, and Stubhub was looking for stupid amounts of money for them. But the day started with Dan deciding he wanted to go to NXT whatever the cost, and us tracking down a ticket for around $380 dollars including fees. Ouch. Suffice it to say that I chose not to go!

I’d heard people talking about Wrestlecon and thought perhaps we’d give that a go, especially as tickets were available on the door. Then we met a couple of American fans in a diner and they almost talked me out of going, saying it would cost us a fortune to meet people and there wasn’t a lot else to do.. But we went anyway … and I’m really pleased we did!

Wrestlecon is an independent event, and most of the wrestlers there are retired and ex-WWE … which meant it was a chance to meet some of those longtime heroes! OK it cost us $20 a pop to meet, chat and get a photo, but actually I really enjoyed meeting these huge guys I’d only ever seen on the screen! SO during the morning we splashed the cash to meet Al Snow (crazy guy! And he had Head!), Billy Gunn, Hacksaw Jim Duggan (and we got to do a Hooooooo!), Rob van Dam (Dan met him, and they chatted about concussion…) and Diamond Dallas Page. Hacksaw was a lovely guy, as was DDP – I’d never heard of his DDP Yoga before then, and I’m now a convert … but that’s a story for another post!

(I was a bit gutted that Chyna wasn’t there, as I was a big fan and hell, so what if she’s a porn star now? But her table had a note on it saying her flight had been delayed so she wouldn’t be there till Saturday. And later I saw an apology from the organisers, basically saying that she’d got drunk and never made her flight!)

We could have carried on meeting people but we were spending a ludicrous amount of money so at that point we bailed out. Actually, The Hardy Boyz were there and I would have happily paid for a meet and greet with them, but the pre-paid queue was enormous so we ended up not bothering.

I wasn’t sure what else Wrestlecon would hold for us, but it seemed there was entertainment all day. We’d just missed a Hardy Boyz Q&A when we arrived, but we did enjoy the Road Warrior session, and the live recording of a podcast by some wrestler called Colt Cabana – never heard of him before but it was very entertaining! And then the day ended with the Queens of Combat wrestling … Dan had poured scorn on this, saying that he was ONLY interested in the proper thing, WWE  – but it actually turned out to be a lot of fun, with all the soap opera drama of the main event but without such egos. It was definitely an enjoyable way to end our day at Wrestlecon and the people who went home early missed out on a treat!

2016-04-01 23.15.57By now I was tired and ready for some food, so we walked into Downtown Dallas and found a Tex Mex restaurant, where we had some really good food (but too much of it, of course!). Then I got an Uber back to the hotel and Dan headed off to Next Takeover – which was apparently worth every penny of the small fortune he paid for the ticket!

 

Dallas Diaries: Observations of America

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Our Wrestlemania 32 adventure was was my first trip to the United States of America. Despite growing up watching American films and TV (The Kids From Fame played a major part in my childhood!) and having friends in America, it’s not somewhere I’ve ever particularly wanted to visit. But as we boarded the plane, I realised that I was really excited about going … and seeing if some of those things we Brits believe about America are actually true!

So here are my observations of America. Obviously these were formed during a very short time in Dallas, and I know they only apply to that tiny bit of America during the time we were there. So apologies if I’ve got it totally wrong …

The portions are enormous!

I’ve often watched an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and wondered at the enormous portions. Surely that’s only done for telly, I’ve found myself thinking. Surely the portions aren’t REALLY that big? Surely everyone would be enormous if they were!

Having visited Dallas I can tell you – yes the portions ARE that huge, generally! (And the people are pretty big too – see my next point.)

I have a very healthy appetite and I struggled to finish meals; in fact, I left quite a lot of food, which really pained me because I’m one of those people who hates leaving anything on the plate. And Dan struggled even more. Actually, we could probably have got away with a meal for one between us and been perfectly well fed!

2016-04-01 11.12.19This was my breakfast on the first morning, when we went to Cindi’s New York Deli in Downtown Dallas. Six (yes, 6!) pieces of thick French toast, plus bacon, plug egg, plus grits (ewwwww! Not a fan). The pancakes you can see were Dan’s – but they came with scrambled egg and salmon and grits. The next day I had a 3 egg spinach omelette – which came with hash browns and two pancakes. Seriously …. the pancakes weren’t needed!! (I have to add, the French toast was one of the most indulgent things I have ever eaten!)

We had a Tex Mex one night and that was huge too, and again we both struggled to finish. The only reasonable-sized portion we had was mac and cheese at a bakery … and even then I still couldn’t eat it all! And considering none of these meals cost more than $10 (about seven quid) it’s amazing the restaurants aren’t bankrupt.

The people are enormous too…

P1000678OK, so here in the UK we have an obesity problem – and at 16 stone, size 20 I’m part of it. I was aware that the situation was even more serious in the States – but I didn’t realise quite how serious … Especially at the wrestling events we went to, but generally everywhere we went in Dallas, there were enormous people. And I’m talking seriously enormous – man mountains. Women mountains. Even kid mountains. People who need two chairs to sit down. People who are so big they can barely walk. People whose bellies hang out from under their t-shirts. Whole families of severely overweight people – mum, dad and kids all huge.  Man, I felt quite small when I was there! Even the thin people all seemed to have guts on them … actually almost all the thin people I talked to were from Europe!

P1000649And when you go back to the issue of food portions, it’s no wonder. If I lived in America and ate out once a week, got a takeaway midweek – I don’t think it would be long before I’d be booking that double seat on the plane.

And you know what, that thought really galvanised me. Though I was quite small by American standards, I know I’m a big girl here in the UK. I’ve been fighting my weight for the best part of 20 years, losing a bit, putting on a bit more, losing a bit, putting on a bit more …. and so it goes. But seeing these mountains over there, and realising how badly it affected people’s health and quality of life, really made me want to nip my own weight issue in the bud (if you can call it that after 20 years!) and start doing something. So I’ve come home determined to eat healthily, drink less and do more exercise. Including doing the DDP Yoga programme, which I’m really enjoying.

Americans don’t do tea

I always thought this one was a joke, or at least vastly exaggerated … the idea that Americans are such big coffee drinkers that they don’t really do tea. But it’s true! Our hotel had a little machine and coffee bags – but no tea bags. They did manage to find me a couple one day, but tea was not on general offer. If I ever go back to America I’ll definitely be taking my own!

2016-04-04 18.12.15The first day we had breakfast in the diner we both asked for tea and got … iced tea. Hmmm. Yeah, it was nice – but not really what we wanted at that time of day! The next day we asked for hot tea and the waitress stared at us like we’d asked for roast rhinoceros or something. Eventually, she shrugged and said, “I can, but it’ll take a while.” This made no sense to me at all … after all, what can be easier than pouring some boiling water onto a teabag? But then the American couple we were dining with explained that kettles are pretty uncommon in the States and that the waitress would have to siphon some water from the coffee machine, which was going to cause her more work than just pouring a coffee. Anyway, finally our hot teas arrived – two pots of hot water, two mugs and two tea bags. Except, of course, to make the perfect cuppa the water needs to be poured onto the teabag when it’s at boiling point, so our hot tea left something to be desired… Finally, on our last day we found a fabulous bakery in Dallas’ West End district that did us a good cup of tea without any fuss. Thank you, Corner Bakery Cafe!

But I did come to appreciate iced tea – though maybe not for breakfast! But later in the day, when it’s hot and sticky and you’ve been on your feet for hours, an iced tea is perhaps the most refreshing thing you can drink. So thank you, Dallas, for that little insight!

Uber is awesome!

Unless you’ve been living under a stone you can’t fail to have heard of Uber, the app-driven taxi service that London’s black cab drivers are up in arms about. In fact, they’ve taken to the streets in protest, so angry are they about Uber’s arrival on the scene. But until we went to Dallas I’d never experienced Uber for myself …

Let me tell you a little about it, if you’ve never used it. The app is free, and you register with a phone number and add a debit or credit card simply by scanning the card – the app picks up the long number and asks for the security code. Once that’s done, you’re ready to roll! Open the app and it asks you to set your pickup location – you can either click an arrow to go to your actual GPS location, or type one in manually. Then you add your destination. You can ask for a quote or just go straight to requesting an Uber. They come in different types – uberX is the cheapest option for up to 4 people, uberXL is a people carrier, uberSelect and uberBlack are more expensive, classier cars (though we had an uberSelect once and it wasn’t much different to be honest). Sometimes there’s also the option for uberShare, when there might be other people wanting a car too.

2016-04-15 13.37.05Once you’ve requested an Uber the magic begins. You’re sent full details of your driver – including their name and photo, the type of car and the reg number plus an estimate of how long they will be. You can also contact your driver by text or phone – useful if your location is a bit tricky to find. The best bit is that you can actually see where they are on the map – maybe I’m sad but it’s great fun watching the car get closer and closer!

We used Uber every day we were in Dallas and were amazed by how good the service was. All bar one of the drivers were friendly and chatty, many shared their local knowledge with us, or told us how they came to be in Dallas. The cars were always clean and tidy and the journeys good. And best of all, it was CHEAP too. An Uber from the airport for two of us was $30, and it rarely cost us more than $5 or $6 to get around town. Even the uberSelect we got home one night was only $12 and that was a posh car on a 3.2x surge! (When there’s a rush on Uber requests, the price goes up – so when we came out of an event everyone was looking for a car and the cost rocketed. You can suck it up and take the higher price, or be notified when it drops – your choice!)

Uber exists in the major cities in the UK and I can understand why black cab drivers are worried. The technology of the app enables drivers to be busy all day long, picking up job after job after job, and because most phones have some sort of sat nav “the knowledge” isn’t needed any more. And if they are offering a competitive price too … well, it’s a no brainer!

If you live in an area served by Uber and fancy giving it a go, go to the site, download the app and use this code to get a free trip up to £10! alisont1265ue

American people are friendly

We Brits have a reputation for being a bit stiff upper lip. And I guess it’s true, to an extent. We like to keep ourselves to ourselves, we’re not generally good at striking up conversations with strangers or oversharing. (And that’s not necessarily a bad thing!) And Americans, by contrast, are always portrayed as being very out there, very friendly and open.

And I think that’s probably true! We met some great people in Dallas, both there for the wrestling and people who lived there. All the Uber drivers were very friendly and keen to talk about their lives or find out about ours, and the restaurant staff, on the whole, were friendly and talkative too. (There were a few exceptions but it was busy and I had just asked for hot tea!!) We met people from all over the country and many were keen to talk about stuff that … well, the kind of things I wouldn’t talk about with a total stranger! We met one young couple and quickly discovered that their relationship wasn’t all it cracked up to be, which left us feeling quite worried for the girl’s safety – but really, can you imagine a British woman sharing so much with a stranger, so quickly? I came away with the impression that American generally, and especially those in Dallas, are a friendly bunch and we could learn a lot from them.

But then my illusions were shattered at the airport. As we waited to pass through security, a guard was standing alongside the line chatting with people. “Ma’am, you know why people in Dallas are so friendly?” he asked me, in a low Texan drawl. “It’s because we’re all carrying guns. Every last one of us.”