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100 Books in 2017 - January

My one resolution for 2017 was to read 100 books. Here’s what I read in January, plus a few quick thoughts.

1 – What’s Left – Nick Cohen

Witty, powerful and comprehensive look at everything wrong with the modern Left: The instinctive anti-Americanism that blinds us to the evildoings of far more oppressive states, the lie that the politics of the far Left are fundamentally more moral than those of the far Right. Uncomfortable but important reading.

2 – The Last Days of Jack Sparks – Jason Arnopp

Essentially a ‘found footage’ novel about a Louis Theroux/Jon Ronson-esque protagonist who sets out to expose the lies at the heart of the supernatural/psychic industry, with horrifying results. The Exorcist for the Twitter age. Great fun with an amusing asshole for a main character.

3 – The Fight – Norman Mailer

Beautifully evocative record of the famous Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. A classic of the ‘new journalism’ era, and just like Capote and Hunter Thomson, Mailer inserts himself into the narrative as a background character, poking his head in now and then to muse about life, the universe, the concept of greatness.

4 – Life Moves Pretty Fast – Hadley Freeman

Part eighties movie guide, part biography, part feminist tract. Super funny and insightful. What did we know about making movies in the eighties that we’ve forgotten in the interim? Partly its economics, partly its shifting social mores. A quick and breezy read with some big ideas behind it.

5 – Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits – James Wong

Farcical futuristic kidnap romp, set in a sort of libertarian dystopia world where capitalism has gone full balls mental and life is cheap.

6 – The Big Nowhere – James Ellroy

If you’ve seen or read LA Confidential, this is part of that sequence of books (‘the LA Quartet’), centred on the Hollywood communist witch hunts of the fifties. Huge, sprawling pitch-perfect evocation of a crazy time full of booze, bullets and total bastards.

7 – Into The Woods – John Yorke

(Not the fairy tale musical one) A veteran screenwriter breaks down what makes stories work. You might be familiar with the idea of the monomyth, popularized by Joseph Campbell, the idea that all stories follow essentially the same rules. This is a good primer on that geared specifically toward writers for film and tv, with in-depth case studies on classic scripst like Raiders of the Lost Ark.

8 – Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

This was a cheat, I’d read it before and was in the middle of a re-read before Christmas, so I finished it and counted it. (Two books per week is hard). Anyway, obviously this is a staggering work of genius so painfully brilliant it makes me want to chop my hands off. 


San Antonio Meltdown

(This is a non fitness post, a rejected story for the travel magazine I write for. The thing about getting sent places to write about them is there's an expectation that what you write is gonna make the reader want to visit the place. That should be all the set up you need to see why this won't see print)

I hated San Antonio, but it really wasn’t the place’s fault. A drink set me off, a drink at what purported to be a ‘British’ bar, though the place was clearly conflicted, draped and plastered with as many shamrocks and Irish tricolours as union flags. I was there with English friends who had just arrived from Austin and we made a big joke of it. How we’re probably all the same to them. They just file us under ‘alcoholics from some damp European island.’

I’d landed late and met up with my London friends that afternoon, so ours had been catch up beers, the fast forward bonding beers you have on the first day of a holiday. We’d wandered from the hotel pool to the river that meanders through downtown san Antonio. Plastic beer palaces dressed up like the Alamo and raucous Mexican restaurants lined the winding riverside. Mariachi bands pumped out La Cucarraha to sunburnt idiots. We sat and ordered pitchers of margaritas, nachos gloopy with radioactive cheese and steaming enchiladas washed down with ice-cold beer. Then we staggered on, which is where we found the British bar.

…And a drink on the menu called a Black and Tan. In brief; ‘The black and tans’ was the nickname of the Royal Irish Constabulary Force, who were a military unit sent into Ireland by then secretary for defence Winston Churchill in 1919 in an effort to quell the Irish uprising. They were a violent bunch of assholes, let’s leave it at that. And with the heat and the jet lag and the afternoon beers in my belly, I had a brief but total sense of humour failure. I announced that the place made my skin crawl, stood up and grandly demanded that we leave.

We decamped to The Alamo, the real one, where the pivotal Tex-Mex battle happened in 1836. It was a scorching day and a stroll through a cool building where an insane massacre happened was just the ticket. We saw Davey Crockett’s raccoon hat and the original Bowie knife used by Bowie himself (not that one). We ran our hands along thick stone walls where unimaginable carnage went down a couple of hundred years ago and found it all eerily calming. And so, having given our livers a brief head start on metabolizing the alcohol, we moved on to our final stop of the day, a basketball game.

If you go to America - anywhere in America - go and see a sport - any sport. You don’t have to understand it. Certainly, if the sport is baseball and you’re not the dude from A Beautiful Mind, understanding it won’t be an option. But that doesn’t matter because it’s all about the spectacle. They just do it right; the pageantry, the theatre, the hyper-capitalism. These things are America in a microcosm and it is fascinating.

The stadium was encircled by concentric shopping levels selling hot dogs and big foam hands and beers and t-shirts and endless overpriced crap. A never-ending circle, a Bataan march of consumption which we strolled through goggle eyed, arms around each other so as not to get lost in the mob.

The San Antonio spurs are really good by the way. They'd had an unbroken run of 42 wins at home and would actually be the best team of all time if the Golden State Warriors, tonight’s visiting team, didn't happen to be on their own era defining run.

Even from our nosebleed-section seats, the languid grace of the athletes was remarkable. Occasionally one of them would crash into a fan sitting courtside and it seemed to be universally accepted as an honour when it happened.

Every square inch of free time was filled with either advertising or blaring 80’s rock music. In between quarters they wheeled out one mad distraction after another; cheerleaders, fans shooting hoops from a couch, someone in a fox suit doing backflips. There were endless timeouts, half of which are apparently purely for commercials; literally if the natural flow of the game doesn’t allow enough ads they call a timeout because god forbid someone hasn’t urged you to buy Viagra or insurance enough already today. The MC constantly admonished us to make some noise and raise the roof and have a great time, a constant word salad of inane catchphrases that we ended up getting sucked into.

And then just when it couldn't get any more insane, the mascot, the backflipping fox, appeared with a machine gun and started firing T-shirts into the crowd. In my disoriented, over stimulated, dehydrated state, a fox firing a machine gun into a crowd of cheering people, in this country, in this demented place, where cops are gunning down citizens and kids are spraying bullets across the school yards and a racist psychopath is looking for all the world like he’s going to become the next fucking president, it was all a bit much. The whole thing took on the quality of a horrifying fever dream and I just started laughing like a lunatic.

With thirty seconds to go, the losing team realized they couldn’t get enough points to win so they just dropped the ball, let the clock run out and wandered off. Which could probably be a metaphor for something, something profound about a certain kind of American pragmatism. But I was too busy thinking about the machine gun.


My First Novel Out Now

Aside from the whole fitness palaver, I write stuff. I'm very excited about my first novel, which is available here -

If you buy a copy I promise to send you one virtual high five. Also, it's pretty good so there's that too.


This is Your Brain on Brexit

I'm voting to Remain in the EU, but this isn't a post about why you should do that. It's about how we argue.

But first, here is why I'm voting remain.

1- I hate literally everyone on the Leave campaign.

2- I have a general affinity for airy fairy ideas of togetherness and cooperation and free travel across europe. I also have a bias against what I perceive as the "little England" mentality and all this "take our country back" rhetoric.

3- I find the economic argument pretty compelling, because I value the opinion of people who study this shit for a living more than I value my own.

I've listed those points in order of most to least compelling (for me), so the first reason is the biggest motivating factor and the third reason is the least.

In other words, the least rational arguments - the ones least grounded in statistics and studies and expert opinions, the ones that confirm my bias - are the most compelling.

We all know we're irrational creatures, but what's really irrational is that we only believe it about everyone else, not about ourselves.

Think about it, you cite a statistic to support your view on Brexit, your friend provides a counter argument with his own statistic to back it up, do you conclude that he's right? No, you say "yeah but you can prove anything with stats".

Likewise with media. What is the definition of biased media? The kind that disagrees with your own bias.

The debates around Brexit here and gun control in the US have really pushed this stuff to the forefront for me.

The other night I posted something on social media similar to reason number one, that I was largely voting remain because I hate everyone on the leave campaign. Friends then chimed in agreeing with me and we all had a good laugh. Then another friend private messaged me saying, "the comments on your post are hilariously champagne socialist and anti democratic"

I responded, "yeah, well, I'm not looking for intelligent discourse, I'm looking for cheap 'likes'"

In my defence, my post was about the people fronting the leave campaign , not voters. But the point is, I really wasn't posting it in the hopes of changing anyone's mind, I posted it to laugh at other people's expense.

Which sounds fine until you realise how much of the Remain campaign has been essentially the same thing. Whether it's some journalist lambasting the leave voters as racists and bigots, or people on Facebook posting right-on memes to watch the 'likes' rack up.

The thing is, even if you really believe they're all bigots, it is worse than useless to formulate your argument in this way. In fact it actively hurts your case. Research suggests that when you argue with someone they're likely to become more deeply entrenched in their beliefs. They'll also probably think you're an arsehole.

So what should you do? As hard as it is to swallow, you need to listen, absorb, and then make your counter argument in a drastically less confrontational way. You need to show you've actually been listening. Ban the words "yeah, but" from your vocabulary and try to understand, not just the surface point but the emotion that's driving it.

I was in Texas recently, and I had a lot of conversations about guns. And while the pro-gun Texans didn't change my mind, I realised that if I'd grown up like them I'd probably share a lot of their opinions and concerns. More importantly, I realised people aren't monsters and lunatics just because they hold different views. Are those Texans any different to Leave voters with concerns about immigration, people who I might blithely dismiss as a racist just because I'm personally pro-immigration?

It sounds so simple and so obvious but I think it's huge, I think it's what is going to save us.

Simply acknowledging that it's possible - in fact, likely - that you are just as biased as anybody else, should make you realise the need for empathy, and the folly of dismissing someone else's lived experience.

When the referendum is over and we all go back to worrying about Trump, I hope I can remember that lesson.

(I'm still voting Remain btw)


Spice Up Your Sets And Reps

If variety is the spice of life, then the average gym-goers menu is a pretty bland affair. If you've been on a diet of "Three Sets of Ten" for years then it's most definitely time to add some masala powder to that recipe. Changing your reps will spark new progress and give your brain a break from the same old same old.

Here are three great options.

Five by Five - A classic set and rep scheme to add a mix of size and strength for the intermediate trainee. Pick a big exercise to do first in your workout, ideally a squat or deadlift for the lower body, a bench press or chin up for the upper body. In fact, pairing the bench press and chin up for five alternating sets of five heavy reps is a fantastic upper body workout in itself.

Twenty rep breathing sets - These are a little more advanced and gruelling, and best reserved for the squat. After a few warm up sets, pick a weight that you know is normally tough for ten to twelve reps... And then do twenty. How? By taking tests between reps when it starts getting tough, WITHOUT re-racking the bar. Keep the bar on your back, take a few deep breaths, then do a few more reps until you hit twenty. Do this right and you won't need more than one set, trust us.

7/3/7/3 - This one is a little more fancy, and takes advantage of something called post-tetanic facilitation, which is a fancy way of saying that moderate weights feel a lot lighter after you've lifted a heavy weight, meaning you can get more reps.

Here's how to use it. After a few warm up sets, pick a weight you think you can only manage seven good reps on. Then rest two minutes before upping the weight to something that will be heavy for just three reps. Then rest and repeat that process, this time with HEAVIER weights on each set. If you've got the weights right, you should be able to lift 3-5% more on both the seven and three rep sets, as if by magic.

Try one of these techniques out for 4-5 weeks and we bet you'll see some great progress. As ever if you have any questions just drop us an email or chat to one of us at the studio.