Saturday, 20 October 2012

Food for Thought

        My Mum always knows how to salvage something gone wrong. Whether it was turning a ripped pair of jeans into fashionable shorts, turning a collapsed sponge cake into the base of a delicious trifle or soothing hurt feelings into laughter, she does a pretty good trade in fixing up. If life is a rubbish dump, Mum would be Steptoe.

        Sometimes, there are things she can’t fix right away: broken teenage hearts, smashed ornaments, tiny chain filaments that require Dad’s pliers and steady eye. Yesterday, it was my almond macaroons. I’d gone over to Mums to make use of her company and her eye-level oven, and after following a difficult online recipe the end result was a bowl of pink yop that looked like I’d melted down Mr Blobby. I consulted with the elder of the tribe to see what went wrong. Mum and I took the bowl out into the kitchen for surveillance.

        She hovered over the bowl as if it were the Pensieve from Harry Potter. “Did you put eggs in?” She asked, spooning the mixture out and watching it plop runnily into the bowl again.

        “It’s gotta be about eighty percent egg,” I reasoned. “The recipe said so.”

        “Caster sugar or icing?” Mum hovered over the pink bowl like Mystic Meg.

        “Er…both? Icing for the almond paste, caster for the sugar syrup.” I was beginning to sweat. This was like a final exam: if I’d made a rudimentary mistake, I would shame myself as - gasp! - a rubbish cook. I started running through the process in my head; first I’d done this, then this, then that. Then I’d whisked it. Had I whisked it enough? I was sure I’d whisked it enough.

        “I whisked it enough,” I said pathetically.

        “Maybe a little more couldn’t help,” said Mum brightly, grabbing the electric whisk and shoving it into the quivering pink mass. “After all, it’s about eighty percent egg.”

        As I watched her at work (noticing she had the same stern expression of concentration as my Dad), I had a thought about wisdom and skills. When it came to cooking in the ‘W’ family, Mum was unanimously crowned Queen. In my own home, I reigned supreme. While I’m cooking, Brawny will often hover around, asking questions that usually follow the “Are you supposed to do that?” mould. Once I’ve given him a few logical answers, he leaves the kitchen, vowing to never again question my cooking ability ‘because I’m always right’.

        I mentioned earlier that while Mum can salvage most things, Dad can make light work of a broken necklace. Similarly, Brawny can recover failed hard drives, unblock sinks, re-wire faulty consoles and manage our finances.

        I know what you’re thinking. I know that it takes different kinds to make a world, and not everyone’s the same, and you must have compromise in a relationship blah blah blah. But what if there’s something you can’t salvage?

        In the past two years, Brawny and I have gone through a fair amount. Just like Mum’s whisk couldn’t save my macaroons, even our joint efforts couldn’t always help our situation. And then there’s the doubt: Why couldn’t we fix it? What did we do wrong? Why didn’t the mixture peak like bloody meringues are bloody supposed to?

        After ten minutes of fruitless whisking, fifty grams of icing sugar and a rather dirty worktop, Mum and I were about to write off Project Macaroon as a big fat failure. I was feeling as sick as my mixture looked: I’d toiled for three hours, making a mess and several mistakes as I went, and now I had nothing to show for it. As Mum shut off the whisk, shaking her head like a doctor calling the time of death, Dad came in and eyed the gloop on the table.

        “What is that?” he snorted. “Did someone's brain melt?”

        And I laughed. I kept laughing as Mum spooned the goop up again for Dad to see, and as he picked up the crystallised lump that had been my first attempt at sugar syrup and described it as “mutant poo” I kept hooting and hollering with mirth.

        As I went home, I reflected on my achievements. I could have been miserable; three hours’ work had been poured down the kitchen drain, and I had nothing to show for my efforts. I didn't even know why it went wrong and how I could have saved it. But all it had taken to cheer me up was Dad pointing out that my cooking looked like effluence.

        “So what did you do today with your Mum?” asked Brawny while I was cooking dinner (curry - something I’ve cooked from scratch a zillion times). I thought about how rotten I’d felt about my situation until Dad had encouraged me to laugh at it. I then thought about all the times Brawny had made me chuckle through my tears when we couldn't find a solution to a problem. As long as we could see the funny side, it gave us the will to try another day.

        “I learnt that I can’t make macaroons,” I said, before adding with a wink, “Yet.”

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dress to Impress

       Sometimes, a dress makes all the difference.

       Even if a girl lives in blue jeans all her life, the famous allure of the wedding dress is not always the hardest thing to push aside.

I met my best friend and MOH Lizzie at College nearly seven years ago during our first English Language lecture. She was wearing jeans, a red jacket and a nifty-looking hat, and I sensed in her a sort of kindred spirit. I sat down next to her, and as Bogie once said, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Since then I’ve seen her in jeans, comfy slacks, pyjama bottoms, miniskirts and going-out dresses. But the first time she came out of the changing room at the bridal shop, a little tear escaped my eye. Wedding dresses are just...different.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the car-crash viewing that is My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings on Channel 4 but the dresses that the young Gypsy wives insist on wearing look like Barbie and the Disney Princesses fighting inside an Eton mess. The cakes are thirty tiers high – some are merely decoys covered in icing – and the decorations look like Christmas in Bel Air. But then, the day after the wedding, the wives start a whole new life: cooking and cleaning for their husbands, not being allowed out without permission, bearing children and doing little else. It’s a very surreal experience – you go from chuckling at seven-foot-wide wedding gowns to wondering how this sort of oppression is still acceptable. It’s as if their day in the spotlight is their wedding day, and they spend the rest of their lives paying it off.

My New Years’ Resolution was to try on a dress, so I took Liz and my darling Mum to the bridal boutique down the road.

If you’ve ever been dress shopping (either for yourself or with a lady), you probably know that there are lots of rules. Here’s the abridged version: not every dress suits every girl. So my plan of action was to try on a range of different styles. I’m not going into details here, mainly because my future husband reads this Blog, and the little devil's itching to know details that I don't wish to pass on.

I’ve worn quite a few dresses in my time, but nothing quite prepares you for the sight of yourself in a wedding dress. I’ve seen other people in them, I’ve seen plenty at the wedding fayres I’ve been to, but it’s nothing like actually wearing one. Unlike any other dress, they’re designed to fit you like an extra layer of skin; they’ve got more layers than an onion and more often than not you need an extra pair or so of hands to help you get into them. It’s all very princess-like.

Luckily I’m not a Gypsy, and Brawny doesn’t expect me to give up my individuality in exchange for a lavish wedding ceremony, but the dress is still symbolic of my transition from single girl to wife. Aside from your wedding, you never wear a dress quite like this ever again (unless Miss Havisham).

And so begins my quest for the perfect wedding gown. Like every other bride, I want to find the one that defines me best; the one that makes everyone’s eyes widen in that silent “Wow!” gesture as I walk down the aisle. But I’m a fussy creature: I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want. Sort of. Wedding dresses have been used many a time as metaphors for finding the perfect mate; you desire something that complements you, fits you in all the right places, emphasises the best parts and skims over any unflattering bits. But Brawny was a lucky find in an unlikely place: the retail equivalent of finding an unworn Vivienne Westwood original at a car boot. Once you’ve found such a rarity, you won’t ever need to look anywhere else.

And that’s essentially what I want for my dress. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Everyone, to some extent, is vain.

I'm not saying we're all drowning in our reflections like mini Narcissi. There's a scale of vanity, much like there is a scale for the Piri-Piri sauce at Nando's. Some people are low down on the scale: perhaps they take a little while in the bathroom before a night out, or they will happily take a compliment. That's your kind of everyday, Lemon-and-Herb self-appreciation (we're sticking with the Nando's analogy.) Other people can't pass any shiny surface without gravitating towards it and making sex faces at themselves. Obviously that's the kind of Piri-self-love that causes hot flashes, swelling of the mouth and the runs.

I should begin my story by stressing that it's OK to be happy with yourself: there's nothing wrong with a little pride, in moderation.

I've never much liked my body, especially during the days of unflattering school uniforms. Just when I'd become used to it, puberty hit me like a truck. All my favourite outfits betrayed me as my figure changed, and they had to be exchanged. On top of that, I had a few health issues that required physio and medication. Coupled with good old-fashioned playground bullying, I began to dislike a great deal of my body. My only constant was my hair.

It was thick, long and a treacly brown. Over the years, I'd dyed it pink, purple, blue, green, red and a horrible straw blonde when I'd accidentally fallen asleep with lightener in it. Although I'd used and abused it, it faithfully grew back.

I don’t know about you, but I like follow a daily routine: I get up, wash my hair, have breakfast and plan my day. Except one recent morning, when I went to dry my hair, something odd happened. My hairdryer malfunctioned, and set fire to my head.

I fled to the bathroom, flinging the nearest thing (a cardigan) over my head. I crouched on the bathroom floor until I heard the sizzling stop. As I stood up to look in the mirror, little black flakes that were once my fringe fluttered down like dreadful snow.

Ever heard the phrase "...And then I lost it"? That's exactly what I did. I panicked. I tried phoning my Dad and getting a colleague instead, then I tried Brawny (who was at work) in desperation, before finally speaking to my brother, and probably not making much sense.

Afterwards, I decided I'd better check myself over just in case adrenaline was hiding any pain. My head seemed fine, but the fringe and entire right side had matted together. I tried to brush it through but to my horror the hair just crumbled into nothing. I grabbed the scissors and began hacking off any dead, blackened bits.

It turned out that my answerphone message had made so little sense that Brawny had come home early from work. As he checked me over, Mum rang – Xel had filled her in. Together, the three of us took an emergency trip to my hairdresser’s.

While the hairdresser did her very best to turn my mangled mane into a fashionable crop-cut, I avoided the mirror. Along with my hair, my sense of self had been badly damaged. Though it’d been all the colours of the rainbow, I’d never had hair this short. Admittedly, I had considered hacking it all off in the name of charity (instead I opted to mangle my name so it now resembles an explosion at Webster’s printing press). Would it have felt so bad if I’d decided to cut it? Maybe not, but there’s a difference between “Hmm, shall I cut my hair?” and “Holy shitcaskets, my head is ON FIRE.”

Snap forward a few weeks and I’m in a wig boutique, trying on a bevy of different styles with my glossy posse: Mum, my second mum Joy and Rachel, who I’ve known for years (and have had a secret hair envy of ever since Brownies). I find a gorgeous auburn wig which looks just like a longer version of my old hair, and I’m waltzing out of the shop with the spring back in my step.

You can pretend to be as self-assured and non-superficial as you like, but when something changes so suddenly and so out of your control, you can’t predict how you’ll react. I know I’d still love Brawny if it’d been his hair that caught fire, but it would’ve taken a few days to get used to the new look. Thankfully it was just hair, which grows back over time - I’ve been in relationships where someone’s personality has gradually changed, and the end result was much more shocking than any kind of change in appearance.

Maybe losing a chunk of hair was actually a blessing in disguise. Though I’m now used to my crop, I’ve been trying on wedding dresses* with my wig on, but that’s simply because having temporarily longer hair has made me reconsider my style options – I’d previously wanted to keep my short bob right up until W-Day and I’ve now decided to opt for a versatile longer ‘do. I’d never have thought of that if I hadn’t suddenly found the need to wear a wig.

It has been said that “character is what you are in the dark”. Nobody can help making judgements based on appearance – I’d been afraid that having less hair would make me less feminine, yet I still like flowers, baking, and wearing dresses. I’m the same person I was before I started drying my hair that day; I just come in slightly different packaging now. Why should I have worried about being treated differently?

I wouldn’t recommend burning something off to learn the value of this lesson, but maybe it’s a good idea to survey the spicy scale of vanity now and again just to find out where you are. I will be doing so every time I look in the mirror, and figuring out if I need to adjust my palate accordingly.

Oh, and just for kicks, here’s a little chart of how my looks changed.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A Marriage, not just a Wedding

Hello there, readers of LADYBRIDE - it's Brawny (the groom-to-be) here once again. Sorry for the lack of contributions - I've had quite a lot on recently, both good and bad.

As you may remember from my earlier post, one of my main responsibilities with the wedding is the budget, as maths is one of my strong points. (I can add two numbers together and get the correct result almost every time!) However, Neety and I have recently encountered some financial issues, which has led to our savings being depleted, leaving us with less in place for the wedding than we had hoped we would have at this point.

For a little while, therefore, I've been worrying about the financial implications of the day, and consequentially I've been focusing a little less on the details of the ceremony than I would have liked. But do you know what? Today, after arriving back from a week's holiday, Neety said something that really made me smile, and made me realise that we'll be fine, whatever happens. It happened while a very whiny girl was on a Don't tell the Bride: Greatest Moments, (Don't tell the Bride is a BBC production which has been a common fixture in our "So Bad it's Good" TV selection since before we got engaged), and Neety happened to state quite simply; "She wants a wedding. Not a marriage." I looked over to her, smiling, and she continued. "Whereas I want a marriage. No matter what else happens, I want a marriage." 

And so do I. And I know it may sound corny, but in a way, that lifted the burden from my shoulders a little. I don't mean for a second that I won't keep trying to save as much money as possible to make our day as special as we can. But it's not the be-all and end-all. Certain aspects of the day have been dealt with and paid for, and there's lots more to go. But you know what? We'll do what we can, and what we can't, we'll do without. Because at the end of the day, it's just one day. One very special day, I grant you, but it's the special day that starts the rest of our lives together. And that's the most special part of all.

Don't get me wrong, if any of you have any wonderful budget-saving or money-raising ideas, then please do let us know. And it will be the greatest day of my life. But I need to worry about the money slightly less, and help arrange the details slightly more.

I don't know if any of you readers are planning your own weddings. But if you are? Take my advice. Whatever your budget is, then work with it - don't let it work against you. Because as long as you have the partner that you want to spend the rest of your life with, everything else is optional. (Even clothes, although I personally wouldn't recommend a naked wedding!)

Next time .... I don't know, because I'm not the regular writer of this blog. So I'm going to take a shot in the dark and suggest that the next post will be a witty, funny and from-the-heart piece by my beautiful Bride-to-Be.

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Wide Bride Strikes Back

        It’s that time again, readers. I’ve put on my sweatpants, poured myself a cold glass of orange squash and pulled up my legwarmers. I’m all ready to get warmed up and jiggle about in front of my lounge windows so I can fit into a nice white dress. Thank goodness this isn’t a video blog.

        Since the workouts I covered in last week’s blog were mostly aerobic, I decided to seek out something different. My search took me to the local discount video store, a veritable fitness vid treasure trove.

(Under £5 online/HMV)

        Yes, I know. Just hear me out.
Although the title of this DVD contains the words ‘pussycat’ and ‘dolls’, like so many merchandised DVDs, the glitzy gyrating girl-posse are barely featured. Instead, the workouts are helmed by Robin Antin, choreographer and the brains behind the PCD outfit.
Since this DVD came out relatively early in the group’s career (I understand there is now a sequel), the routines cover two songs: ‘Don’t Cha’ and ‘Buttons’. In a nutshell, these could be re-titled “Up-Tempo Boastful Lead Single” and “Gritty Bhangra-Styled Gyrate-o-fest”. The workouts, or ‘routines’ are broken down into a practice and performance run of each song, with a bonus ‘Burlesque’ section in the middle.
The first routine covers ‘Up-Temp’… sorry, ‘Don’t Cha’. Robin takes you through the moves one step at a time, stopping to recap the whole routine whenever you learn a new move. The collection of moves spans familiar dance/aerobics standards such as the lunge and box steps, and before you know it you’ve built up a fluid eight-bar dance routine. Both routines are tough yet rewarding, and your heart is constantly pumping. My face is flushing too, and not just because I’m hot – as you’d expect from a group named ‘Pussycat Dolls’, some of the moves are quite sultry!
For the Burlesque section in the middle, you’ll need a feather boa, a scarf, or a tie. All of the moves in this section involve flinging your prop around (please, I'll make the jokes) so if you’re pushed for space, take a moment to move all breakable trinkets out of the way. This section took a little more skill as well as a dollop of sauciness - if you’re easily embarrassed or have voyeuristic neighbours, perhaps skip this.
GOOD: It’s fun, and it gets you moving in ways you probably hadn’t encountered before. As it’s dance-based, you need a fair amount of co-ordination and flexibility, but because the routine is short and repeated so often, you’ll pick most of it up.
BAD: At one point, Robin suggests you wear high heels during your workout – I didn’t, simply because it seemed very dangerous! The moves get progressively trickier, requiring more agility and stamina so you might end up only using parts of the video.
UGLY: If you really can’t stand the Pussycat Dolls, you should know better than to buy this video (even though they’re barely in it).
THE LOWDOWN: It’s a good workout to have in your collection, simply because it provides a nice change from aerobics. The burlesque moves are fun and flirty, and the routines are easy to pick up. However, since the routines are so short (for example, the ‘Don’t Cha’ routine is one chorus long) you may get bored. Keep it on your shelf, but buy something else to go with it too.

(Less than £5 online/

I like musical theatre (big surprise), so I was delighted to find this DVD. In case you’re not familiar with the concept of Fame, a group of rag-tag misfits get a scholarship to a performing arts school and go on to achieve varying amounts of success. So how would this translate into a fitness video? Well, you’d assume there’d be a lot of dancing.
You’d be right: there are a LOT of dancers. If they’re not gyrating behind daft-named instructor K9 (no, not this one), they’re loitering dead-eyed in the background, like awkwardly posed shop mannequins. It’s a bit off-putting.
I’m going to be honest: I spent no more than ten minutes on this video. The warm up was comprehensive, until it got to the point where I had to lower myself to the ground to stretch – I knew there and then that it wasn’t going to happen without an accident occurring.
The next sections followed the same mould as the Pussycat Dolls’ videos: putting together a routine, and then performing it. Unlike PCD however, suddenly I was launched into moves with barely any explanation. They were too quick and too close together, and to make any sense of them I’d have had to pause the DVD and rewind it every five seconds. I struggled on for about five minutes, but after repeatedly kicking myself in the shin and swearing, I had to give up.
GOOD: It boasts an impressive repertoire of moves, including a stretching and ballet section I spotted in the intro that might have been good if I’d managed to get there.
BAD: Definitely not for anyone who isn’t already a very competent dancer, to the point where injury might occur.
UGLY: It was kind of a waste of money for me. Routines went by too quickly, and I just couldn't co-ordinate myself quickly enough. Admittedly, the amount of quizzical and annoyed expressions I pulled probably qualified as a facial muscles workout.
THE LOWDOWN: I can’t state enough – NOT A BEGINNER’S DVD. If you want to buy it and keep it back then feel free, but believe me when I say you need to be a very competent and flexible dancer to feel the benefit of this video.

(Under £3 online/

“Bellydancing?” I said to myself when I found this DVD. “Heh, my belly already dances when I run, thanks very much. I’ll give this a miss.”
“Go on,” said another voice in my head. “Give it a go. What have you got to lose – except about three stone?”
Once I’d finished creeping out the other people in the store by talking to myself in silly voices, I bit the bullet and bought the DVD.
At home, the doubt crept in again. With a name like The Goddess Workout and led by a woman called Dolphina, I was afraid it would be new-agey and fluffy, more about chakras than cardio. As the DVD started up, I was somewhat relieved to see it was set in a quiet studio with no backup dancers.
As we started warming up, I discovered muscles that I didn’t even know I had. Dolphina told me to clear my mind and make the workout an extension of ‘me time’. Fluffy as that sounded, I found that the more relaxed I was the easier it was to do the moves. I have limited movement in one of my hips, but she explained that a lot of people are naturally lop-sided and thus may find it easier to flex one side than the other.
Unless you’d tried it before, you wouldn’t think that bellydancing could work up a sweat and get your heart racing, but it really did. The workout loosened up my normally stiff back and hips, making the afternoon walk I went on later that day a lot easier. It was also a lot of fun! I hadn’t yet encountered a workout that I enjoyed so much. I kept going for 35 minutes, which seemed to go past in a heartbeat.
GOOD: Really fun, moves are easy and well explained. Dolphina (probably a pseudonym) is a pleasant instructor and puts together easy routines. You’ll feel the benefit of this workout.
BAD: Much like the Pussycat Dolls workout, you’ll know it’s not your sort of thing just by looking at the cover…but then, look how wrong my judgment of it was!
UGLY: I honestly can’t think of anything to put here.
THE LOWDOWN: If you’re looking for something different in a workout, try this. It works out the whole body as well as being relaxing at times. 

I feel I should point out that after a fortnight of trying these workouts at least once a day teamed with sensible eating, I've lost a surprising 9lbs. After the next Wide Bride installment, I'll be doing a roundup of my healthy eating plan as well as a guide to putting together a realistic workout regime. If you've found a fitness video you want me to try, leave it in the comments below - no challenge too ridiculous!  

Please note: Again, I didn't do all of these in one afternoon, and you shouldn't either. You should also consult your doctor before trying out any strenuous activity, changing your diet, or attempting homemade liposuction with a Henry hoover, a steak knife and a binbag. If they say yes to that, for the love of Aisha, change doctors.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Decisions, Decisions?

I’m not good at making decisions.

This information will probably come as no surprise to most of you who know me, and it certainly doesn’t come as a surprise to Neety. Yes, in case you hadn’t realised, this is the second contribution to this blog from the worlds luckiest man – Neety’s future husband, Brawny!

Anyway, now that I’ve introduced myself, let us go back to my previous statement. I’m not good at making decisions. When asked my opinion on something, or what my preference would be, my most commonly used phrases are “I don’t know,” “I don’t mind,” and “What do you think?”

I appreciate that this can be annoying and frustrating in equal measures, especially when planning a wedding. And I think that my beautiful blushing bride-to-be is an absolute saint to be putting up with me. Because not only am I indecisive, but I keep not being able to come up with ideas – and I know that Neety is worried that I’m not ever going to give an opinion for the wedding, or just agree with her with she makes a suggestion, but the fact is that she and I get on so well that everything she suggests, I like.

And, while I may have creative ideas when it comes to writing, performing or any of the other things I like to do on a daily basis, for some reason I seem to be lacking in ideas when it comes to a wedding. Because I just can’t think of the things that need to be done.

I know there are invitations to be sent out, I know there is food to be decided upon, I know there’s a guest list to plan, a cake to choose, suits to pick, a dress to.. well actually, I won’t have anything to do with the dress, but you get the idea. I know there are also nine million other things that I can’t even think of but will be currently occupying corners of Neety’s brain.  

The only things I have had any ideas about so far are music for signing the register (for which I am composing my own), cake toppers (which was just an extension of Neety’s idea anyway), and some vague ideas for suits.

So I’m making a pact. With her, and with you, loyal LADYBRIDE readers. If I do or do not like something, I’ll say so. If I have an idea, no matter how silly I may think it is, I’ll say so. And if I want suggestions or advice, I’ll ask Neety, but I might also ask you guys, if you don’t mind.

And whether it’s a sensible question (like “What colour should my suit be?”) or a silly one (“Do you think it’d be a good idea to have giant life-sized cake replicas of the bride and groom as the wedding cake?) I know that you guys will help give me some kind of answer. Or at least a funny comment.

And with that, I’m gone. Neety’s next post will be along shortly, I’m sure, and I promise next time I’m here that I’ll write about something more.. well… substantial. But bye for now. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Wide Bride Ventures Forth

        Good morning. It’s 10AM, freezing bloody cold in my flat, and I’m ready to review some workout videos.

        I’ve got all my equipment ready:

·         Nearby water bottle
·         Remote control, in case I need to pause
·         Clothing: headband, trainers, loose cotton top, jogging bottoms
·         Decent sports bra (Wonderbra no less: makes boobs look like doughballs but I did the jump test and they didn’t move)
·         Mobile phone in case I crack a hip and have to call Brawny

        Let’s recap my rules, shall we?

  1. No Davina McCall. Sorry, I really can’t face the prospect of exercise AND listening to her screeching.
  2. Check out the user reviews – HMV, IMDB, Amazon, whatever.
  3. Nothing too advanced. I’m only a beginner.

(Under £10 online)

Remember this video? You might want to give it a quick watch because these Lycra-wearing lovelies (and the token bloke) are the hosts of this workout. Don’t be put off by their appearance: you can have the body of Gisele Bundchen and you will still look daft while doing lunges in neon legwarmers.
We start off with a section called ‘Heat’. Unlike most fitness DVDs where the warm-up has to be selected, ‘Heat’ starts us off with some gentle rhythmic exercises. Our host Deanne Berry is quite charming, and thankfully she doesn’t love the sound of her own voice as most video instructors do. Within a few minutes, I am bouncing away. The music isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but it fits the routines very well.
And then something odd happens. I’m instructed to squat right down as far as I can, and flex my pelvis towards the camera. I hit the pause button and close my blinds before obliging; thanking God above that Brawny is at work and praying my parents don’t inexplicably drop by for a visit. As in the Eric Prydz video above, we are treated to a brief glimpse or two of leotard-clad pulsating fanny, but I don’t break my concentration. As cringe-worthy as the experience is, I can actually feel it working.
We’re on to a neat little salsa break in the middle, which helps to loosen me off a bit, and then straight back into gyrating and lunging to Benny Benassi. Sadly it's getting too much for me and I don’t last much longer. At the point of stopping, I’ve done 25 minutes.
GOOD: It’s fun and un-patronising. The routines are catchy, and although they’re repeated once or twice you don’t get bored by them. The mixture of aerobics, salsa and stretching keep the routines from becoming monotonous, and at times it even feels like dancing rather than exercise.
BAD: It seems to go on forever, meaning that I had to stop after 25 mins. Some of the moves were a bit hard to grasp first time.
UGLY: Pulsating. Lycra. Groins. I'm sorry, it's churlish, but I'm a little put off.
THE LOWDOWN: Great fun, as long as you like to dance and have pretty good co-ordination. Not good for beginners, as you may hurt yourself trying to keep up with some of the more complex steps. Ideally recommended for people who enjoy the clubbing atmosphere.

(Under £5 online/price varies at Weight Watchers meetings)

Seeing as though I’m following the plan, I thought I might as well see what the WW ladies have to offer. Compared to the bouncy fun of Pump it Up, this one is a little gentler: ideal for beginners like me.
The DVD is structured very cleverly. You can choose how long your workout is, from five minutes to forty, and it will automatically tack on a warm-up and cool-down session at the start and end, so there’d be no chance of me accidentally snapping a hamstring. I’ve picked a twenty minute workout, since that’s roughly how long I lasted into Pump it Up.
The difference between this workout and the last one is bluntly obvious. As it’s designed to go alongside the Weight Watchers plan, it’s all about introducing gentle physical movement into your weekly or daily routine. It focuses more on aerobics than dance, and the moves are carefully explained by the hosts, who are a group of girls also following the plan: in a way, it’s quite refreshing to see that some of the girls are progressing in their weight loss challenges rather than being un-naturally bronzed, tanned and toned.
Just as I feel I’m getting a little bored of the routines, we go on to a Boxercise-style section that gets my heart pumping and my body moving from top to bottom. With Pump It Up’s dance-based steps I often felt like I was working out my legs more than my upper body, and subsequently worried that I’d end up looking like I’d accidentally swapped lower bodies with Popeye.
I make it all the way through the workout this time – though my water bottle is as dry as a camel’s rear end.
GOOD: It’s gentler, so it would suit anyone looking to kick-start a weekly exercise routine. Workouts are based on varied styles of exercise including dance, aerobics, boxercise and even Pilates.
BAD: Sometimes you can feel a bit like you’re not working hard enough, thus causing morons like me to overdo it. I got lucky, but if you’re impatient you’ll either end up going mad or switching it off.
UGLY: Can’t really think of anything – although like I said, if used to a much faster-paced workout, this isn’t really the DVD for you.
THE LOWDOWN: Great for beginners, people with limited stamina or movement, or people following a calorie-controlled diet such as WW, Lighter Life or Slimming World. Not so great for those looking for an energising, sweaty workout.

(Under £4 online)

Ah, Mr M. We meet again.
For those of you that remember the enthusiastic fitness guru from GMTV in 1990s, you’ll be familiar with the concept of Mr Motivator’s exercise routines. If you’re not (or if the sight of a moustachioed man in neon leotards caused your brain to reboot itself), Mr M is a happy-clappy chappie known for his interesting sportswear and penchant for making ladies say “UUUUGH”.
Like Move More, the DVD cleverly tacks a gentle stepping and stretching-based warm up and cool down section onto the end of each workout. Unlike Move More, where you pick a workout based on how long you wish to exercise for, Mr M gets you to pick the body part you want to zone in on. You basically pile up your workouts in a manner similar to an online shopping cart, and then press ‘Start’. It reminds me of a video game, and this probably excites me a little more than it should. I pick the ‘Tums’ section, the ‘Legs’ section, and then a bizarre collection of words called ‘Pyramid: The Daily Dozen’.
Each workout opens with a lovely sweeping shot of a Caribbean beach, Cliffside or poolside, with Mr M and his swimsuit and sarong-clad lovelies bouncing happily about in the midst of the sumptuous sea and sand. Already I was feeling like flinging on my bikini – despite the fact that it was minus four and raining, plus I’m about four stone too heavy for a bikini just yet. Mr M’s enthusiasm is infectious: looking at the user reviews on informs me that he’s still a popular favourite with women young and old, more so in fact than most other celebrity fitness “gurus”. Mr M doesn’t explain the moves, quite often simply calling out names like “Grapevine!” that dancers will be familiar with, but thankfully he doesn’t rush ahead, giving you time to catch up if needs be. There’s a fun and funky Soca Calypso section that I recall doing with my Mum: if you don’t get a workout from the dance routine, you’ll get one from the inevitable laughter as you attempt some of the moves. The girls (and guys – there’s more than one token one!) in the background seem to be doing the same thing!
After each focused workout, I really do feel like that part of me has been thoroughly put through the works – there is a satisfying ache of accomplishment in my stomach muscles. Once we get onto the ‘Pyramid’ section, I realise that the pyramid symbolises different levels of exercise. You can join in wherever you like, especially if the moves get a little too much. If you go though the whole workout, it acts as cardio training, which would be the gym equivalent of blasting your way through all of the equipment in five-minute blocks.
I manage to get all the way through the workout, and I have fun while doing so. With the five-minute stretch and ten-minute warm-up, I’ve easily done half an hour.
GOOD: Very much like Mr M himself, the workouts are bright, colourful and bubbly. Easy to follow and quite gentle, the workouts suit all. A lot of the reviewers rate it as good fun for kids and adults to do together, as it conveys a “exercise can be fun” message – and certainly this exercise is.
BAD: A minor thing – on one of the beach workouts, the microphone picks up the sea breeze a bit too much and Mr M can’t be heard very well. It’s quickly rectified, though.
UGLY: Can’t really think of anything, unless of course you find Mr Motivator annoying. In which case, you wouldn’t buy the DVD anyway!
THE LOWDOWN: As much as I hate this phrase, Mr M’s BLT is a ‘good all-rounder’. If you’re a fan of the Zumba craze, this is a fun DVD to pop on and have a (very close) girlfriend come over for a workout and a giggle. If you’re not into dancing, the Pyramid and dedicated body zone workouts are more than enough to keep your exercise routine both focused and varied.

Got a fitness vid you’d like to see me try? Leave your suggestion in the comments box or on our Facebook page. If I can find it, I'll try it.

Please note: I did not actually attempt all of these videos in one afternoon, and you probably shouldn't either, unless you're Chuck Norris (which you're not). You should also consult your doctor before trying out any strenuous activity, changing your diet, or chopping off a limb in order to shift a few lbs. Odds are he'll say no to the last one: if he doesn't, change doctors immediately.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Caution: Wide Bride

For those of you that don’t know, Brawny and I met on the set of an independent film that he had written, starred in and directed, nearly seven years ago. The film was called Norwich and Saggers.

We were visiting our friends Chris and Laura (our Usher and Bridesmaid, respectively) last weekend and somehow we got to talking about Norwich and Saggers. The DVD was found and we began to watch. Small talk ensued:

“You were barely in the film,” said Brawny to me.

Chris and Laura looked at me. “You were in this film?!”

“Yeah,” I said. “I was the Receptionist.”

And sure enough, about twenty minutes in a girl who looked like she might have once been me appeared on screen. “You look really different!” said Chris.

As we tried to figure out if I’d ever been roofied and had my face stolen a la Face/Off, a full-body shot of my past self came on the screen. “That’s it!” I cried. “The reason I look different there is because I’m now about four stone heavier!

No sooner had I said it, my heart sank. But it was true: seven years ago I’d been a student who had been visiting the College gym weekly as well as practicing Karate. On screen I was the thinnest and fittest I had ever been: in front of the screen, I was the biggest.

Since we’re not only leading up to my wedding but also to my best friend Liz’s wedding, I decided enough was enough: I was going to slim down. I've had enough of looking back at my photos and going "Er. Wow. Ouch."

I’m a fairly sensible eater: I don’t eat takeaway every week (we can’t afford it for a start), I don’t eat chocolate and cake every day and there are no such thing as microwave meals in our house. My only problem is quantity. A short while back, I tried Weight Watchers and found it worked well for me, and so I decided to give it another go.

But eating well isn’t the only way to get trim. I need to do a bit of exercise daily to keep my weight loss on the boost.

Brawny and I sat down to discuss our action plan. Although we live near a lot of beaches and parks, our primary method of transport is a motorbike and it’s a little difficult to keep good humour when you have to lug around 12lbs of leather jacket and a 5lb bike helmet each. Going shopping in bike gear is bad enough. So we decided that we’d try and do a walk once a week, and supplement it with other exercise.

The other day I was tidying the lounge and went to put a DVD away. As I slotted it into place I noticed a DVD with a bright pink spine bearing the phrase “PUMP IT UP!!!!!” It could only be an exercise DVD. Maybe I aught to give these another try.

So I hit the ‘net to find a few good exercise videos, and shortly found out that typing “I want to lose weight by sitting on my ass for six months” into Google is not going to get you any results (or at least any coherent ones). My three rules were as follows:

1.   No Davina McCall I'm sorry, I hate her
2.    Read the reviews first
3.    Nothing too advanced

After ruling out several, I found ten workouts that I thought I might try out. And because I’m so nice (and willing to humiliate myself for ol’ Uncle Internet), I’ll be reviewing them just for you.

I'll start my reviews in a fresh post, so to finish up now I’d like to share with you a few things I found while I was looking for a fitness vid, which fall under the subtitle ‘Is This Really a Thing?’ So go ahead and enjoy, and remember kiddies: laughing burns calories!

  • The Lion”. I think this is more ‘Exorcise’ than ‘Exercise’. In fact, here she is again. Please don’t try this at home. You'll hyperventilate and die, or unleash Cthulu. 

^ user: kenny706, accessed 20/1/12
^ user: EmmyLuvsU08, accessed 20/1/12
^ user: tigertje67, accessed 20/1/12 
^ user: mathilda2046accessed 20/1/12 
^ user: memeregimeaccessed 20/1/12
^ user: satisfyinglife, (2vids) accessed 20/1/12
^ user: BBC, accessed 20/1/12

LADYBRIDE accepts no responsibility for user/site content other than the videos shown above.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

You've Got Male

OK, so this is my first attempt at writing for LADYBRIDE, and before we start, I would like to apologise for not being a lady. I am Brawny, the lucky groom who gets to marry the regular author of this blog, Neety. I would also like to apologise for the title of this blog post. I tried to think of a pun, and sadly, what I came up with would have been rejected by the Sun. So I know it’s bad. Anyway, let’s get on, shall we?

This time a year ago, I knew nothing about weddings, and I still don’t know very much, although I do know that there’s an awful lot to do, it costs a lot of money, and large chunks of it are to do with making sure clothes, flowers, centrepieces and other items all match.

Now first of all, colours that match is something I’ve never understood. For example, my favourite colours are green and red, and I would quite happily wear a green t-shirt with an open red shirt over it. However, according to my ever-reliable bride-to-be, these two colours are don’t go together particularly well. Personally I don’t see why, and that’s a brilliant metaphor for this whole wedding malarkey.

I don’t understand colours. I don’t understand flowers. I certainly don’t understand dresses. I’m not the most decisive person in the world even when I know what I’m talking about, so in this situation I am incredibly useless.

Luckily, as a man, there is very little of the wedding preparation that I have to take the lead in organising, as Neety is quite happy to take the first steps of organisation, with me by her side, saying “Yes”, “No”, or, most commonly, “I don’t know”, to a selection of questions to do with colour schemes, dresses, flowers, or other things that I don’t understand.

Don’t get me wrong, when we are looking at a venue (for example), I can look at it practically, at the size, at the location, see if I like it or not etc., but as Neety has discovered to her peril, if she asks “Can you think of any other venues to look at?”, then she is greeted with a blank stare and a silence only punctuated by the word “ummmmm…” So far, this hasn’t caused her to snap and start throwing things at my head, for which I am eternally grateful, and thank her from the bottom of my heart about.

So what am I in charge of? A few things. I’m planning the honeymoon (at my request), but that won’t appear on this blog at all, as I am planning on keeping the destination secret until the day. I’ve started making decisions about my suit (I want a top hat, tails and a cane. Probably pointy tails, but I don’t know what those are officially called!), and most importantly, I am the moneyman. Yes, I have to do the budget.

Now I find budgeting for anything quite an easy process, (The budgeting part is easy. Sticking to the budget? Now that’s an entirely separate kettle of fish,) but so far for the wedding, I’m faced with a couple of problems. Firstly, I have no idea what is a sensible cost for anything (although I have noticed the trend that as soon as you write the word “wedding” in front of anything, the price increases by at least 50%), and secondly, I don’t know what the budget we will have in the first place, as we haven’t yet planned our savings or discussed money with our parents.

I apologise, this blog appears to have rambled on quite a bit, and I’m not sure that I made any kind of point or entertainment whatsoever. I’ll try and do better next time, I promise.

In the meantime, I can’t emphasise how excited I am at the prospect of Neety being my wife in sixteen months and fifteen days time. Not that I’m counting or anything. ;)

Groom out.