Jan 132015

Following a bit of a health scare I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to lose weight. Since then I lost around seven stone over fourteen months and I am frequently asked how I do it. So here are my personal recommendations and observations.

Please be aware that I have no formal medical training and I don’t promise that any of the following will help you lose weight. It’s just what has worked for me.

There’s no great secret to losing weight and can be summed up as

Eat Less + Do More = Lose Weight

This is easier said than done so lets begin with the Eat Less part of the equation.

Eat Less

I still eat pretty much all the things I used to eat. Just a lot less of it. I still still like fish and chips, however when I have a portion of chips at home you can count them on your fingers, but that’s still enough to make a chip butty. I’ll try an explain how I’ve managed to reduce my portions and still stay happy and enjoy my food.

Don’t go on a diet

This may be a strange way to start, but diets are temporary. If you want to keep weight off you have to make life changes. Dieting means giving up things you enjoy. Every time you deny yourself something you’ll sap your willpower, which is finite, and when it runs out you will just return to your default state and feel miserable about it.

The changes I’ve made to my eating habits are permanent. I may break the rules now and again too, but the rules below are the default state I will always return to, thus it isn’t a diet, it’s a life change.

Don’t weigh yourself

This is all about not having targets and keeping motivated. Your weight will go up and down over time. Every time you notice your weight go up and away from your target it will demoralise you even if it’s just a pound or two. It you were to graph a typical weight loss you’d see something like this…


At the beginning the weight falls off fairly easily and quickly but soon slows down and tends to rise and fall over time. The more often you weigh yourself the more likely you are to notice the weight rising. However we’re all human and therefore curious, so you will want to weigh yourself but don’t overdo it. I weigh myself every six to eight weeks at the most.

The best indications you are losing weight are when you start using the next hole in the your belt (or even adding more holes). Shirt collars getting looser, or bringing the clothes from the back of the wardrobe to the front again. This is all positive reinforcement and comes as a pleasant surprise. The occasions when you put a little back on will probably pass unnoticed and you never get demoralised.

I’m sometimes asked, how will I know if I’ve achieved my goal if you don’t have a target weight?

My goal is to be healthier and live longer. Losing weight is almost a side effect of achieving that goal and it doesn’t matter what I weigh, as my health improves my weight will be what it is, but stuffing my face with more food than I need isn’t going to achieve my goal of being healthier and living longer.

Try not to give up anything

There’s no point in trying to live longer if you don’t enjoy life, so it’s important that you don’t give up anything you enjoy. There are however some things you can change for the better while still doing the things you enjoy.

For example, I like many people enjoy a drink. I used to love discovering new Real Ales but I haven’t had a beer since leaving hospital. I have however found a new pleasure in discovering new Whiskies and fine wines. A tot of good Whiskey can last me as long as a pint of ale but is significantly less to imbibe. I haven’t given up drinking but I have reduced my intake.

As I write this I’m having lunch. Not unusually I’m having a sausage butty. The difference is at one time I would have had two butties (four slices of bread). Now I have just the one and a low fat yogurt. But I still get to enjoy a good sausage butty.

I also like my snacks, (especially after a couple of tots). I snack on fresh vegetables instead of chocolate at work but I still like a ‘proper’ snack when watching a movie for example. So we buy healthier snacks. Popcorn for example is a better alternative to any potato based snack and there’s a huge variety of healthy options available these days. If you were on a diet you’d probably avoid buying snacks to remove the temptation. What I’m saying is admit that you snack and plan ahead for it. Don’t try and give up anything you currently enjoy.

Use a smaller plate

This has been a huge help for me and probably had the biggest impact on my eating.  If like me you were brought up to clear your plate this can have to deep and long lasting effect on your eating habits. My mother always felt obliged to fill our plate and we were expected the clear them. The solution is to use a smaller plate.

I began by using a small dinner plate so I could eat less but still clear my plate. When I stopped clearing the plate (see “Stop eating when you’re not hungry” below) I got a smaller plate. My dinner plate at home is now just a little bigger than a saucer and it’s still big enough for me to be able to leave a little. I in fact, I challenge myself to never clear my plate. But I don’t always succeed.

Stop eating when you’re not hungry

With any meal you should be hungry when you start and not hungry when you’ve finished. But when does the hunger stop. How many times do you finish eating something just because it’s there and finish a meal feeling stuffed. Learn to stop eating when you’ve had enough. Despite what your mother may have told you, it’s okay to leave food on your plate, in China it’s even considered rude to your host to clear your plate.

This is harder to do than it sounds and you have to make a conscious effort to stop eating during a meal and ask yourself if you’re still eating because you need to, or just eating for fun. A good way to start doing this is to put down your knife and fork while you chew. You’ll automatically think twice before picking them up again and you’ll spend more time chewing your food and probably appreciate if more.

When you find yourself regularly leaving more than a quarter of your meal, it time to get a smaller plate.

Eating Out

We like to eat out and this is were the ‘Stop eating when your not hungry’ rule is most important as portion sizes are outside your control. You also have the added incentive of getting your monies worth. Take this into consideration when you go out to eat and be prepared to accept less for your money.

However if your tastes are simple enough it may be worth looking at the children’s menu. Our favorite Chip Shop does child sized portions which are still plenty big enough and I still leave as much as I eat.


It’s okay to cheat. I like to nibble between meals and I used to be a regular at the office tuck shop. Acknowledge that you’re going to nibble between meals and plan for it. Instead of reaching for the tuck shop’s Choccy bars or Crisps I take a few sticks of celery or carrots to munch on when I get the urge. It really doesn’t matter how much you eat eat between meals if you follow the “stop eating” rule above.

If you eat after your evening meal it’s a bit harder to compensate. My biggest weakness is a nibble before bed or nibbles with a movie and a glass of wine. I know I’m going to cheat so I plan for it and try to eat less during dinner and buy in low fat snacks in advance.

Do More

The other side of the equation is the do more bit. It’s not just abot what you eat, it’s about what you burn. If eat more than you burn you put on wieght. It really is that simple.

Many people will just advise you to join a gym. But if you enjoyed going to a gym you’d already be a member and if it’s not something you enjoy you’re not going to keep it up. Just as with the don’t go on a diet tip above. Any extra exercise you undertake needs to be sustainable, something that becomes part of your daily life and not just a fad.

Take up new hobbies

As a result of my health I’m only allowed to do gentle exercise but even so, I needed to do more than I was. Having a sedentary job and sedentary hobbies I needed to find something to get me out of the house. I took up Geocaching and Birdwatching. Both of which get me out walking.

If you’re not encumbered by health issues you could consider making a commitment to a sports team, walking club or similar, which will encourage to be a bit more active with like minded people for support. It doesn’t have to be much more active but it does have to be something you enjoy.

Feb 252013

Recently we experienced a fault on our phone line. We hardly ever use a landline phone these days as everyone we know carries a mobile phone. I suspect that many households are like ours and the only reason we still have a landline at all is for our internet connection.

Like many things, it’s not until something breaks that you realise how much you have come to rely on it. It’s not just our PC’s connecting to the web. There’s also on demand TV, Internet Radio, Skype, Supermarket Shopping and suchlike. There’s even fridges that connect via Wi-Fi and send you a message when you’re running low on milk. An internet connection is becoming as much of a utility as a Gas or Water supply.

When the phone line went dead the first task was to report it. I’ve never had a phone line fault before so didn’t know how to do that. Whenever I’m faced with such a problem my first point of reference nowadays is to Google it. But the internet supply to the house was down.

Thankfully I have a smartphone, which gave us an alternative route to get on-line and I googled “BT phone fault reporting”. The first result I looked at gave me a freephone number to call, which of course isn’t free from a mobile phone. However further down was a link to an online fault reporting and tracking tool.

I did all the checks at the master socket as the site advised before attempting to log the fault. The on-line tool was certainly not mobile phone friendly but after much scrolling and zooming in and out I finally managed to log the fault. You’d think someone at BT would have had the foresight to consider people reporting a fault with their phone may have to resort to a small form factor device to do so and created a mobile friendly page.

While I was there a spotted a link to the BT customer charter which informed me that they aim to solve all connection issues within three days, which seemed both reasonable and comforting.

The next day I received a text message informing that my line had been tested and that it had a fault on it (duh!) which was somewhere near to my house. This was accompanied by dire warnings that if the engineer found the fault was with my equipment I’d have to fork out a hundred pounds for the visit. 


The next thing that happened was I received a call on my mobile from a nice Indian lady wanting t arrange for an engineer to visit. Once again her script was full of dire warnings about the potential cost and she asked if I wanted her to go ahead and arrange the visit. I resisted the temptation to say “No” and “I want to carry on paying for a service that doesn’t work.” I wasn’t sure that such sarcasm would be fully appreciated in India.

I asked her to proceed, only to be reminded once more about the dreaded charges which could be inflicted upon me. “Was I really sure?” she asked again as if trying to scare me off. I realise it wasn’t her fault and she has a script she has to go through, so I did my best to hide the building frustration in the voice as I once again asked her to go ahead and arrange the engineers visit.

The fault tracker was promptly updated with an estimated repair date which was four working days after the reported date. So much for the customer charter.


I checked the online fault tracker each day but there were no further updates. The estimated repair date passed by and still there was no update. I fired up the smartphone once more and googled “BT fault complaints”, which took me to a web form where I asked for an update on the tracker as I now had no idea if and when my fault would be fixed.

I eventually received a call on my mobile from Christine, who apologised for the delay but all the engineers are ever so busy, blah, blah. Totally missing the point that I wasn’t interested in how busy they are, I just want to know when they will fix my line. If it’s going to be week, a month or whatever, at least be honest and tell me. Instead all I got was a message put on the line to advise callers the line wasn’t working and a promise that they’d assign an engineer as soon as possible.


Eleven working days after the original report the tracker showed that an engineer had been allocated to resolve the fault. The engineer told us the fault was at the exchange and not near my home as initially reported. I later received a text to say the fault had been cleared and I would just need to reboot my router to restore my broadband connection. The call was closed on the tracker and the fault message removed.


I called home on the landline and passed on the good news to my wife. I looked forward to getting back on-line after work that evening, but before then my daughter tried rebooting the router without success and called me back. I reopened the fault on the tracker to report that broadband was still not working.


The following morning things had got worse, we not only didn’t we have broadband. The phone was dead again too. I updated the tracker and waited. Christine called… Another engineer would be sent out. The new engineer duly arrived the next day and over two days found and repaired the line fault. It was near the house after all.


However my internet connection was still not working. Christine explained that this was because they had removed my broadband providers TAG from the line, which they were allowed to do to restore a service but they could not replace it without permission. I would have to chase my broadband provider to get my internet connection restored.

I was reluctant to close the BT fault as my internet still wasn’t working. I suspected this was the first ‘fix’ at the exchange, which turned out not to be the problem anyway. Christine agreed to leave the call open but I would still have to chase my internet provider to resolve it.

I called my internet provider, and after sitting and listening to old pop songs interspersed with apologies for my wait I eventually spoke to a surprisingly cheerful sounding Kieran who did all the usual line checks and had me reset my router and go through all my settings even though nothing had changed at my end.

I told him what BT had said about removing the TAG from the line but he insisted the TAG was present, everything at their end looked correct but he couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t connecting. He would have to escalate the problem to the next line of support.


Two days later I received the following message from a different support engineer.


I told them the fault had been fixed and reminded them what BT had said about the TAG.


Later that day Christine called again too. I reluctantly agreed that BT could close the fault (four weeks after I reported it). I still had no internet but now it was my problem, not theirs. 

What makes this story so much more frustrating is that in 2006 my internet provider was bought out by none other than BT.



Two days later I was again asked by yet another support engineer to check my router settings. I pointed out that I had already been through this during my original call with Kieran and asked them again to contact my exchange.



Two days later and yet again I was asked by yet another support engineer to check my router settings.


Albert Einstein once said; “The true definition of madness is repeating the same action, over and over, hoping for a different result.”

I can attest to the truth of this statement as each time they asked me to check my router I got a little madder. I suggested to them that despite being with them for many years the quickest solution may be to change providers.


Later that afternoon, my router connected.


Yeah right!

Aug 172012
What’s the point of Welsh.

I recently experienced a fortnight’s holiday in Wales. I’d been to Wales before, but mainly stayed in North and Mid Wales. This time we headed further south towards the Gower Peninsula. South Wales has the reputation of being the heart of the country and we were looking forward to experiencing the Welsh culture first hand. As we turned off the M6 we noticed the first indications that you’re in Wales. Massive road signs full of consonants and as we wound our way south the vowels became less and less. It was great fun listening to our sat-nav trying to keep [More…]

Jul 202012
Barrow Memories

People often ask me if I’ve lived in Barrow-in-Furness all my life. I always answer, “not yet”. Barrow is perceived by outsiders as one of those gritty northern industrial towns at the end of a thirty-five mile cul-de-sac. People don’t aspire to come here but it’s amazing how many of those who do never get around to leaving again. It’s true that many people who come to Barrow, come for the work. The shipyard still draws skilled workers from all over the country. Once here they begin to see real Barrow. The Barrow which is ten minutes from the Lake [More…]

Feb 162012
Das Washing Machine

This week we had a minor disaster involving a washing machine, several-to-many gallons of water and some extremely soggy carpets. I received a call at work from she who must be obeyed. “I’ve flooded the house!” she cried. I dashed home while imagining burst pipes and scenes from “Das Boot” and “The Poseidon Adventure” to find we had a paddling pool in the utility room along with the adjoining kitchen and bathrooms. Water was flowing at a steady rate from the top of the washing machine, which had decided it didn’t want to pump out anymore. I turned off the [More…]