Monday, 30 January 2012

Reading and Working Out: The Road

Pic courtesy Ikes, Flickr

You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”
-The man, The Road

Today I read Cormac McCarthy's Purlitzer-prizewinning The Road on the exercise bike. Ironically I spent a major part of the day on the road myself- Huddersfield Road between home and the gym. It has been a very stupid day.

I got up at 7am. I got ready- or at least what I thought was ready- in a semi-awake state. I drove to the gym. I got to the changing rooms. I realised I'd forgotten my shorts. I then forgot that I'd come in the car. I got a bus home. I got my shorts. I got a bus back to the gym. I went to the changing rooms again. I realised I'd also forgotten the notebook I use to jot down records etc. I walked out of the gym AGAIN. It was as I was walking out of the gym a second time that I rummaged around in my sports bag checking if there was anything else I'd forgotten. That's when I found my car keys and got an almighty, forehead-slap-inducing flashback.

In a state of complete disbelief as to how much of a moron I can be, I walked back to my car and went back to my flat, got my notebook, went back to the gym AND THEN started the workout.

This is what you deal with when you get up earlier than you would normally do for work and do something totally outside of your routine- you make really dumb mistakes. Thankfully, exercise is the best way of waking up your brain.

After 45 minutes of weights and short cardio, the synapses were definitely firing. I finally started on the bike/book at 10:30am. I had an hour's break for lunch. At 4pm the gym closed, and I still had the last quarter of the novel to finish. I raced home (in the car, thankfully) and buried my nose back in it.

The Road is an absolutely gripping, masterful novel- beautifully written, heart-wrenching, terrifying and totally believeable. The post-apocalyptic scenario has been done to death in films and books, but McCarthy brings a new level of believability to the sub-genre. Read The Road as soon as you can.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Tricking Twitter “Bots” into Building Your Blog Stats

Pic courtesy Jenn and Tony Bot, Flickr

Bots are programs designed to perform a specific function on the internet and to work independently of human action once set up. Twitter bots largely provide information of certain types, in a variety of certain ways, on Twitter's interface. I'm being ridiculously vague in my explanation as I'm a writer, not a techie. Technology site Techmalaya explains much better than I could. They also provide a list of the different types of bots incorporated with Twitter.

On Twitter one day last year, I found one of my blog posts had been retweeted by Burroughsbot. This is a William S Burroughs-related “announcement bot”, RT-ing anything with the author's name to 2000 followers. I'd tweeted a particular post in which I'd discussed the surrealist penner of Naked Lunch and Junky.

Recently it occurred to me that I could purposefully get the same bot to retweet me again, only this time I'd link to my blog's home page. This way, whoever follows Burroughsbot will get my link in their Twitter feed and, provided they follow that link, they'll see my latest crazed musings. Genius!

I got a retweet within minutes.

The blog currently stands at 49,593 hits. Lets see if it jumps a little.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Reading and Working Out: Nostradamus: The Good News

Pic courtesy Rakka, Flickr

Finally seated, at night, in secret study
At rest and alone over the bronze stool
A slender flame emerges from the wilderness
Unbelievable deeds are uttered from the wasteland
-Quatrain 1/1, Nostradamus

Mario Reading's second book on the French foreteller was a fascinating insight into the more positive predictions made by the 16th century alchemist. I read it cover-to-cover whilst seated- not on a bronze stool, but on the exercise bike.

The book took a little longer to read than I expected. It's a good 2cm thick, but with fairly spaced-out text. It wasn't quite as spaced-out as I'd expected, and I basically lost track of time on the bike. The gym instructor said I put “a good two and a half hours” in. My stopwatch went full-circle, suggesting I did 100 mins followed by a futher 82. That's over 3 hours. Is this possible? I still didn't finish it as the gym was closing by the time I was about 5/6ths the way through.

It was a HARD task- Reading's translations of Nostradamus' quatrains are concise and fascinating, and his grasp of etymology is masterful, but Goddamn, it's heavy stuff when you're pedalling away. It's more a history lesson than anything, with additional prophecies that have yet to occur (expect an island to be created after an underwater volcanic eruption in 2021). An interesting read.

Here's some advice for if you want to try this kind of exercise:

  1. Make a note of what time you start, if you're as forgetful as I am
  2. Pedal slowly. It's all too easy to burn yourself out.
  3. Remember to focus on what you're reading. It's also easy to tune out and find yourself “reading for words” when you're exerting physically as well as mentally.
  4. Drink lots of water. Bring a big bottle-full.
  5. Bring a bookmark. Reading takes two hands. Frequently, so does opening the cap on a water bottle.
  6. Pick a bike situated away from the gym's Hi-Fi speakers if possible.
  7. Don't hold the book directly under your nose, unless you want to drip sweat on it.
  8. Stretch off afterwards.

I'm not quite the “slender flame” I once was, but with this day's 92 minutes fat-burning, it won't be long before I am.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Reading and Working Out- Star Wars Screenplay

Continuing my literary-orientated fat-burning quest, I read the screenplay to Star Wars: A New Hope on the exercise bike this week. After 45 minutes of short cardio and weights, I pedalled for 92 minutes. That's 137 minutes of exercise in total, minus the 90 minutes of exercise before fat-burning occurs, which equals 47 minutes of actual fat burning.


A New Hope is still a good read even when- like me- you know the film pretty well. I'm by no means a wannabe Jedi but I was a big time film fan in my younger days.

The book starts with a vintage article from 1977- before Star Wars hit the big screen- describing the monstrous task director George Lucas undertook in developing the project to from an idea through to a finished film. Impressive stuff. Lucas has always struck me as a bit of a nerd, but he's a genius nerd to have pulled off a movie as ambitious and as memorable as Star Wars.

I was describing this reading project to a friend of mine, a scientist. She suggsted that reading during exercise will actually help me to take in the information better- I'd learn more due to the increase of oxygen in the bloodstream, leading to blood pumping faster and the neurones in my brain firing quicker. I'm no scientist myself, but it sounds very possible to me. Whether that's the case when you've got a memory difficulty and you're not going to remember as much as other people might- who knows. The last two books have been screenplays to films I've already seen, so I know the deal. Next up: an interpretation of Nostradamus' prophecies. That'll be the real test.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Reading and Working Out: Human Traffic Screenplay

Check out this picture of me aged 24. 

Just look at that six-pack. What a legend I was. Unfortunately, when I was 28 I moved out and ate rubbish for six months, and I'm struggling to get back to that shape. It's increasingly difficult when you're juggling your time between a career, a writing ambition, learning about your own memory condition, keeping in touch with friends and learning to cook. But it's possible.

I hammer the abs machine during every gym session- normally six a week. So I know that my stomach is still reasonably strong. Perhaps not so much as in this picture, when I was Thai boxing twice a week and getting a kick-pad slammed into my stomach for two minutes at a time. When I was 22 I even once took a punch in the stomach off a doorman to prove a point. He said I took it “like a man.”

I'm not Thai boxing any more- nor working in bars where I'm comfortable enough to take body-shots off security, but the weights I'm doing are making me stronger all the time. The abs muscles are there; now it's time to shave off what fat I've got. So here's the plan. explains weight training and fat burning here.  
It takes 90 minutes of exercise before the body starts to burn fat. So, here's what I did: 45 minutes of weights as normal. Then I got on the exercise bike and read the screenplay of Human Traffic, the hilarious and iconic 1999 raver movie. It took 60 minutes to read. I pedalled constantly throughout. So that's 15 minutes of fat burning achieved. I should probably have drank a bit more water: I was a bit dizzy by the end of it. But what a script. The energy of the movie jumps right off the page, and you can see why it was optioned by the studios.

At home, I've got a huge pile of unread books that I've bought at book signings and charity shops. Human Traffic was the smallest of those. The plan: work my way up in size order through these books, and on each day off that I have, develop some endurance, get the six-pack back and get some serious reading done.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Scrambled Heads, I Mean, Eggs

Maid- How do you like your eggs? Poached, fried or raw?

Meade- Scrambled – like your head!

-Phyllis Diller and Bob Hope in Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, 1966

My head was indeed scrambled as I attempted this supposedly easy meal. I was to crack the eggs into a jug and “mix without beating.”

What? What does this mean? How can it be scrambled if you don't beat them? Beats me.

Geddit? “Beats...” Never mind. The inclusion of chervil and chives gave the dish more flavour, although I perhaps used too much of these. I got them pre-chopped in little spice jars from Tesco, so had no idea how much to put on. I still find eggs a little difficult to judge, in terms of cooking. But it was gooood.

And that, my friend, is the end of the egg section. I'm 7 recepies down and have 36 to go. Time for a cholestorol test, maybe?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Give Your Mind Power and Your Body Strength: Results

Pic courtesy velvettangerine, Flickr

The following is a transcript of a conversation between writer Matt Tuckey and zoological interpreter / general all-round legend, Fluffy Oakes.


That's what I did.

Okay. How do you think it went?

Very good. Gave me a chance to work my whole body. I improved a few things, but not as many as I'd hoped. Most of them I just couldn't improve on.

But quite a few...

I definitely did.

Let's check the book. So this is where you keep records of everything you can do, right? Starting from 7th November you... improved on hand bikes, both forwards and backwards, hip adductor, that's working the inside thigh, good for keeping guard in MMA... Your hip abductor, that's outside thigh, you put that up 6 notches! That's awesome. Chest press with horizontal and vertical grips both went up a notch. You improved on the bike by a couple of hundred metres, and... you seriously went up 7 notches on the abs machine?

Well... in all honesty I couldn't find where I'd written how much I could do. So I took it down to notch 10 and started the process again. I'm stuck at 18 now. I broke the rules a little when I comes to abs. Worked them every session, regardless of plateaus.

So even when you didn't improve, you still felt optimistic.

Yeah, I felt good.

You made 22 new personal bests. You should feel good. Do you think all of these improvements helped this optimism?

I would say so. My stomach's the most important part of my body. When it comes to working out, I mean.

Well, if that's what you want to focus on, here's what I'd do. Carry on with the project. Keep working on the remaining movements, and your abs. The more plateaus you hit, the more you'll rule movements out of your routine. When the remaining machines are being used, the only thing you'll have left to do are sit-ups, wherever you can get the space.

I'll give it a shot.

Now. I want to ask you something else. Gym is just one part of your life. Let's look at some others. What has been happening over the last 2 months? Does anything new spring up?

Well, yeah. I'm learning to cook, for one thing. I mean, I'm nearly fucking thirty, but...

Doesn't matter. Some guys go their whole lives not knowing how to cook. I read your foodie posts. You cooked a quiche for your second meal, you crazy bastard. Not the easiest of dishes! And it worked! Here's what's important, Matt- your improvements at the gym have gone hand-in-hand with cooking. What else?

Well- I'm getting more hits than ever on the blog. I'm back in touch with a load of friends from Oldham. I've made contact with various memory experts, and can ask them for advice from time to time. I'm feeling more valued in work, having moved positions... I think work changing just happened- it wasn't connected to the gym project.

I think you're half-right. Sometimes things just happen, regardless of what else is occurring in life. But I think a year ago, after you'd moved out of your parent's place and things weren't going to well, I remember you saying one thing after another was falling apart for you- splitting up with a girlfriend, falling out with friends, problems with money, your flat not being decorated, and now you've turned about 90% of that around. I'm not saying that the gym project was the catalyst for all of that, but your improvements at the gym ran concurrent, it seems, with achievements in the rest of your life. By seeing yourself improve in one thing, you've seen it in countless other facets of your life too. What's most important, though, Matt, is that you look at everything you've achieved and feel good- not just about what you've done but about who you are. You're in great shape, you're a talented writer and- dare I say it- a good-looking lad too. You've spent a few months trying to get to grips with memory difficulties and how it affects you- that's responsible enough- but you dwelled a lot on the negativity of it rather than looking at the rest of your life. Focus on what it is that you're good at and proud of, and see yourself in a great light, and things WILL work out for you. Why? Nobody knows. But keep at this project and see how long you can keep going for. What you're finding, Matt, is that the things that weren't possible before now are possible.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Boiled Egg and Asparagus: Very Random

Will someone pass me the fucking asparagus?
  • Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) demands his nutrients in American Beauty (1999)

These recipes are getting really random. Keda Black is still a few steps ahead of me: I've still no idea when an egg is boiled. At what point is the water deemed “boiling”? When you get little streams of bubbles along the edges? When the surface ripples? Beats me.

I hard-boiled the egg by accident. Oh well. Shelling the egg was a massive ballache, and caused the egg to go cold. Keda also omitted any information about how to cook asparagus, so I just bunged it in the microwave and hoped for the best.

The second time 'round, I attempted to steam the veg with a seive and a saucepan. It sort-of worked. Once served, the sea-salt flakes just about made the asparagus palateable. But it was a very random, carbless meal. I doubt I'll go back to it.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Corsican Omelette

Omelettes are not made without breaking eggs.”

Maximilien Francois Robespierre, radical Jacobin leader and one of the prominent figures of the French revolution, said this long before Tyler Durden ever did.

A simple egg base added with mint, pepper and cottage cheese becomes a winner of a snack. One of the more simple recipes in the book so far is also one of the tastiest.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Lap dancing club Silks Manchester and boxing promoters KO Promotions both have Facebook profiles. Check them out. They are both awesome organisations in their own right. KO have used Silks' dancers as ring girls for a number of their fight shows, including Warriors 6, an event at which two of my friends fought and won. Details here. Silks Manchester and KO Promotions are now friends on Facebook, thanks to my suggestion. Matt Tuckey: social media powerhouse.

Here's how New Year looked for me and some friends, on top of Heartshead, a hill in Tameside: 

So, very blurry, in short. With the naked eye, the fireworks were incredible, giving us a panoramic vista including the whole of Greater Manchester and beyond exploding in technicolour. Wildfire cameras are a bit crap, though. Might be time for an iPhone in a few months, if can get one for £20pm. Realistic? Anyone?

December's always a very busy month, what with present-buying etc. so finding time to ask for blog retweets over Twitter hasn't been easy. I did, however, have the banter with porn star Phoenix Marie who called me a “hot wanker” in an inbox message.

Some people just understand me the moment they meet me. You're a star, Phoenix!

 Courtesy gcD7K, Flickr

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

James Ellroy and Psychology

Pic courtesy The American Library Association, Flickr

Clay lies still, but blood's a rover; / Breath's a ware that will not keep. / Up, lad; when the journey's over / There'll be time enough for sleep.”

- A.E. Housman, UK scholar / poet

Blood's a Rover is the third piece in James Ellroy's Underworld Trilogy, a saga I spent the whole of 2011 reading. The books provide a riveting fictionalised depiction of historical American events between 1958 and 1972. There are plenty of reviews out there on the net, so I won't clog up cyberspace repeating other people, but I will say that Rover is a good book. The hallucinogen sequences were very memorable, set in Haiti where various characters learn to live and die. It's well worth your time hammering through American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand to get to this. The book took me AGES to read- partly because of its size, and partly because of juggling it with another book. In fact, I started it around the end of September and was reading it sat outside my flat in the sun, topless, on the 1st October, which was bizarre enough. I finished it on New Year's Eve, just before I went out. I just spent the whole of 2011 on a James Ellroy trilogy. What a journey.

I also read Teach Yourself Psychology, a good introduction to the science of understanding people. Dr Nicky Hayes takes us step by step through how psychology affects us, taking in the workplace, sports, education and how and why we think in certain ways. In fact, this is a subject that could help anyone, no matter their occupation or lifestyle. It's a good, plain-English insight into a fascinating field. I was reading the book from the perspective of someone with memory difficulties who has been in and out of psychology departments for most of my life. The book frequently comments on the way people remember-and forget- things, and used case studies to prove certain scientific facts. One trait that many people possess is a tendency to imagine certain things and mistake those thoughts for moments in real life. For instance, one case study involved a group of scientists showing some subjects a video of two cars colliding. “Half were asked, 'How fast were the cars going when they hit one another?', while the other half were asked 'How fast were the cars going when they smashed into one another?'

A week later, they were asked whether there had been any broken glass in the film. There hadn't been any, and those who had been asked about the cars hitting one another remembered that. But those who had been asked about the cars smashing into one another distinctly remembered broken glass strewn around the road, and were surprised to find that it wasn't there when they saw the film again.”

This is something that happens to me a lot. For instance, I could be “reminding” someone of something they said to me, only to find out I've imagined it and mistaken what must have been a daydream for something that really happened. I've also found people telling me that I've said certain things, when I've known that what I actually said was quite different.

One thing the book taught me is that, even though I've got these difficulties, I'm actually not that different to most people. I make pretty much all of the same mistakes as everyone else, only on a much more frequent basis.

The book also taught me one other important lesson. Psychology affects sports, and athletes need to be not only physically prepared to win, but mentally prepared too. As well as sports, the science can affect academics in a similar way. Many athletes- and students- will use a method called visualisation, where “the person imagines him/herself going through the whole activity successfully- winning the race, or passing the exam, or whatever it is. By concentrating only on positive thoughts, and on systematically imagining the successful scene, the person leaves no mental room for the doubts and worries which would add to their level of stress.” Dr Hayes later notes that the hurdler David Hemery used this strategy the year he won an Olympic gold medal.

Even though I'm a long way from being the person who should be telling you this, I'll tell you anyway: people discuss self belief to the extent that it becomes a cliché, a mindless mantra: if you believe you can do something, you can. I always thought it was psycho-babble- if I believe I can knock a building down with my bare hands, I'm a lunatic, not a confident and successful demolition expert.

But then, I don't want to knock a building down. I want to be a successful writer, and I want to overcome a social anxiety issue- a fear of women, put simply. That's all it is. So, according to Dr Hayes, if I see myself having no discomfort, if I imagine myself talking to women- and more- with no fear at all, then there will be no fear at all.

And I am having that Goddamn Knopf contract.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Weaning Off Chocolate: Results

At the start of December I decided to cut down on chocolate once and for all. Again. Check out Weaning off Chocolate, a plan to use an advent calendar to cut down on the amount of sugar I eat.

The goals:
  1. Improvement to strength and cardio at the gym.
  2. Better concentration in work and with blogging/creative writing.
  3. Calmer frame of mind overall, in work, with family and with friends, and when meeting new people.
  4. To generally man up, stop being a wuss and stop eating women's food all the time. For Christ's sake!
  5. I might even, as Lauer seems to suggest, find myself remembering a little more. You never know.
A small bite of chocolate was enough each day. Feelings of craving wore out fast. I had to remind myself to check if I'd eaten the day's chocolate by the end of the month. So how did I do with the goals?

1. I continued to smash the gym, as always. I made a meagre 5 improvements.

Hip abductor 2 notches
Chest press horizontal 1 notch
Chest press vertical 1 notch
Abs machine 1 notch

  1. Concentration in work has always been a difficult issue for me- partly due to my memory difficulties and partly to do with the fact that my job is repetitive. But if you're readying this, Employers-who-I-won't-name, I'm grateful to be in the situation I'm in. I can't say I've made much improvement there. But I didn't get noticeably worse. (Keep holding the blog name in mind...) I've also kept up with blogging. Last month I had 4925 hits- more per month than ever before.

    3. How calm have I been? I've been a little more chilled out than usual, perhaps. Nothing noticeably stressful has happened to me.

    4. I don't eat so much sugar as I used to. Have I manned up? Hell yeah! Can I back that up with an example? Hell no!

    5. How's my memory? Still as shit as ever. Let's not be ridiculous now.

Of course, for Christmas I got chocolate, among a few other things. I really wanted to pace it out and eat one piece a day like I had been doing, but when a big bag of Cadbury's Caramels are looking at you, they're not going to last a week, are they? They're long gone, but I've not bought any more so far. Test of manhood: don't go to Tesco for more chocolate. I can do this. It is now time to think clearly and face the rest of life's challenges.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Meeting David Prowse

I do remember smiling quite a bit inside it though since I knew it wouldn't be seen on film - so of course while the poor planet is being blown up I'm smiling and laughing like mad!
-David Prowse

Here's me with Dave Prowse MBE, most famous for his role as Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. He also found fame in the 1970s as the Green Cross Code Man in a series of British TV ads, encouraging road safety for children.

He also played F. Alexander's bodyguard, Julian, in A Clockwork Orange. He pops up all over the place!

On Saturday 17th December he popped up in Waterstones Deansgate, signing copies of his autobiography. “Straight From The Force's Mouth: The Autobiography of Dave Prowse MBE” is on sale now. I got my signed copy.

Prowse is a very talented man and a nice gent.

Monday, 2 January 2012

I was on Danny Dyer's Deadliest Men on Bravo

Granted, I wasn't the subject- my MMA instructors were, Dave and Ian Butlin. Dyer paid Quannum Martial Arts a visit in 2009. I met Dyer during a training session, and a few months later I had a cameo on Bravo. It's taken me 'til this Christmas to actually search for it. Check me out on the punch bag at 1:00 in. 

To read my 2009 write-up of meeting Dyer, see here.