Having been a Peloton botherer for 6 months and an Internet user for 30 years you’d think I’d be all over the Peloton socials. Nope – it’s something I’m only getting to grips with now.
There’s very little direct interaction within the Peloton app, on the bike, the web or mobile. It’s not like online gaming, there’s no side-channel of banter. That’s a good thing, actually.
Peloton has been cunning here, they have a strong presence on most traditional social media platforms, as do most of the instructors. They’ve outsourced their social media and by doing so they’ve ducked responsibility, but also added a layer of abstraction. If you want to take social media relationships back to the bike, you can. But it’s your call. That’s handy, because the people on the socials, they aren’t necessarily the people you might expect…
Before I actually set foot in a commercial gym I had kind of assumed it’d be just like a more grown up version of the after school sports club: full of people like me. That worried me, because I was really, really annoying at school.
The reality was different. Yes, some of the after school sports club were there, but so were some of the maths club. This is because it doesn’t matter whether you were the captain of the sportsball team or the captain of acid comedowns, if you spend your adult life just changing the chair you sit in, at some point that’s going to become a problem. We’re apes, we need to move a bit.
Commercial gyms have done really well in positioning themselves as the answer; but gyms aren’t the only answer at all. Peloton has many advantages. One of those is your ability to be anonymous. How much you interact with the platform is entirely down to you. If you want you can pick a random username, lock your account and nobody ever need know you have a subscription, let alone who you are.
It doesn’t matter what your past or even what your present is. Remember in my last article I mentioned one of the instructors, Christine D’Ercole?
Remember that girl with the black lipstick and her half-shaved head, covered in safety pins buying cigarettes at the 7-11 at age 15? Yeah, that was me.
And here I am. Everything I went through was worth it and taught me to be true to myself.
Whether or not you were that kid too, you saw us. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the marching band geeks( I was also that geek), the theatre geeks (and I was this geek too), the goths, the skaters, the metal heads, the nerds (@therealbrianhicks ), there was a lot of overlap, wasn’t there?
Whatever you were into and whatever music spoke to you, we were all 15 at some point. And at some point, you got on this bike. And tomorrow we ride together!
Peloton is a great place to leave your preconceptions behind. You might be a sports geek; you might be a world class athlete; you might be an ultra-runner in training. There again, you might also be a grandparent who just wants to be able to play half an hour of football with the grandchildren. Or you might be the arty kid with the blue-black hair, or the singer in a really famous rock band…
You might also think that Peloton is all muesli, protein shakes, my body is a temple and smashed avocado salads.
Yes, you can do that if you want. But there’s a lot us there who have another outlook. See, if you’re spending every night you can Bezzed out on the dancefloor of Europe’s most disreputable nightclubs, you can demolish as many doughnuts and cans of Red Stripe as you like.
But it’s kind of hard to Monday when you haven’t slept since Thursday night.
Some people seem to be able to maintain that lifestyle. For us mere mortals, however – especially as we get older – having the odd weekend off slowly morphs into only going out on the odd weekend. That’s when it starts to become obvious, what you do to one side of the equation you must also do to the other. You can’t just lush your way through life without unwanted side-effects.
You need to find the balance.
Of course you can go some way toward that by ordering a starter instead of a main, refusing dessert and only drinking one glass of wine, but I’d rather eat my own earwax.
No, I’m more for wrecking it for an hour on the Peloton, taking the mental and physical health benefits that brings and not worrying for one second about ordering the Wellington, the Sticky Toffee Pudding and making a palpable dent in the wine cellar.
#pelo4wine is one of the most popular hashtags in the Peloton system. There are a lot of people who are not there for all the free courgette and Gojira berry smoothies.
I do not advise using Gojira in a smoothie. The results are quite heavy…
#pelo4wine is a philosophy that you’ll find repeated across Peloton in subtly different ways. We are people who are prepared to put the effort in so that we don’t have to compromise the good things in life any more than is strictly necessary.
I’m happy with that. My philosophy has always been about balance and since I like to be quite far out one way I have to go quite far the other way too. Peloton facilitates that very well and so far, after 5 months of pretty heavy use, I can’t fault it. The bike is spot on, the classes are great, the philosophy is laudable.
Ask me in another 5 months and I might have changed my opinion. For now, though, that’s all I have to say.
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
Four months, 67 hours, 2,000km and 55,000kcal after my first article, how am I finding Peloton? Well, the stats are a good hint.
Let’s cover the boring material stuff first;
The bike hasn’t missed a beat.
The pedals aren’t that annoying, actually.
I do want to get a better sound option, but that’s because music has become a big part of the experience.
I have used the wired Ethernet port, but that might just be my Wi-Fi.
That’s it for the bike. It’s a simple machine, built solidly. Most of the moving parts are either standard cycling components or common industrial ones, so it should be easy to fix if I ever did break it.
The tablet is basic, but works fine. There have been a few glitches. I have had to reboot it maybe 3 times since I’ve had it – pretty good for consumer tech. There have been a few quirks, but the updates are frequent and they’re usually fixed quickly.
This isn’t really the point though, is it?
We Ride As One
One of the key concepts that I missed is that it’s “One Peloton”. If you’re happy to ride (or do any of the other classes) side-by-side with others, regardless of their sex, religion, race or any other factor, you’re welcome in Peloton.
The result is that the people who turn out to train with everyone from everywhere are the people you’d expect to want to train with everyone from everywhere. You’re not going to feel like anyone is sneering at you, especially not the instructors.
It doesn’t matter if you’re smashing out 300W averages or if just getting to the end of a ride is a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’re fully fit or recovering from an injury, or an illness or if you have a disability. None of the things that might make people nervous about going to a gym or a fitness class matter. You clip in, you ride.
Live Classes and That Leaderboard
You can get misled by the advertising. Yes, there is a leaderboard, both for live rides and recorded classes. You can filter it by age, sex, hashtags, just your friends, etc. if that helps, or you can just dismiss it. At the start of many of the rides the instructors tell you “the leaderboard is on your right, if it helps you, use it, if not, get rid of it”.
It’s not a competition unless you want to make it one.
That might be why I haven’t found live classes as useful as I thought I would. The flip side of that is that I’ve found the recorded classes way more useful. There’s always a constant supply, and the “here now” function of the leaderboard means that if you want to compete, you can.
What might be a key factor for many is the social aspect of live rides. You can sign up for a live ride in advance, which is a powerful psychological tool for helping you onto the bike. I’ve also heard of people using hashtags and creating social groups. If you commit to ride with a bunch of other people, again you’re more likely to clip in than if it’s just you.
I’ve always been a lone wolf cyclist however, which is possibly why my biases toward the classes are the way they are.
Some of the Peloton imagery is still rather stereotypical for the health and fitness industry. To me it comes across a bit like those car adverts; you know the ones that don’t tell you about the product but do imply that if you buy one you’ll suddenly start attending posh dinners at swanky hotels with lots of people who appear to have stepped straight off the front page of “Good Looking & Loaded” magazine.
For some people I’m sure that advertising works, but if it doesn’t connect with you, it can have entirely the reverse effect. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I was worried at the start, turns out that Peloton is pretty much the most accessible and least scary fitness thing I’ve ever signed up to.
It’s Not Just Spinning
Yoga, Pilates, Barre, floor cardio, running, strength, meditation; Peloton offers a lot of different classes, all with the same ethos.
For me the driving force is the bike, but cycling has been a constant in my life since I was 3. I do use the other classes, but I kind of view them as the bonus section. That said, if you are a person who likes floor classes, then taking the bike out of the equation the maths of a Peloton subscription still work. For me, without the bike, I’m not so sure it would.
If you’re already a cyclist with a turbo trainer or other home setup, you can hook your own bike up to Peloton (Google will tell you how). You don’t get all the features of the bike, but if you want to add some variety over Zwift, that might be another reason to take a look at Peloton.
Echelon & The Competition
This is starting to sound like an advert, so it’s a good time to mention that Peloton is not the only player in this market. When my partner and I looked at it over summer 2020, we thought it was best for us. Really, I’ve become a huge fan of the model and I can only speak from experience – which means Peloton.
I know Echelon are offering a similar model of operation; bike, spin & other classes. It might have a similar ethos; the classes might be as good. If you were thinking about Peloton it’d be silly not to devote some time looking into Echelon.
Similarly, if you’re a already a cyclist and you weren’t previously aware of Zwift, you should look into that and the other, similar platforms.
Another option for cyclists is Sufferfest. Appealing name, I know, but it gets good reports.
Don’t get too hung up on the idea of cycling however, Peloton isn’t really a cycle training system – it’s a gym replacement based around spin training.
You’d think that Peloton would have scoured all the best gyms and personal trainers, trying to tempt away the top instructors.
Certainly there is that, Christine D’Ercole, for instance, is a global track cycling champion. What might surprise you, however, is that you’ll also find her over at IMDB. That’s her on the left, in Dead Poet’s Society.
The Peloton instructors are a mix, some directly from the fitness industry but many from the world of entertainment – dancers and other physical performers that rely on their fitness.
Unlike a local gym instructor, the Peloton team don’t have to keep grinding out class after class. They can take time to really think about the music, what they’re going to say and do, how they’re going to put together a show that will not just help you achieve your fitness goals but keep you entertained whilst doing it.
Sure, if you want a pure fitness instructor experience you can find that, and maybe those classes might be very slightly more effective. You can certainly follow a climbs track or HIIT or Power Zones or pure Tabata if you want.
Or you can take a music ride or a live DJ ride or a themed ride…
This is what surprised me, because, considering my history, I’d rather assumed that I’d be HIITing myself into a gibbering wreck 5 times a week.
That’s not what’s happened. Music has always been a big part of my life – and Peloton has quite a range, from Jamaican Dancehall to Blues, from 1980s to EDM. I don’t need a plan when I clip in, I know there’s always going to be something; that is if I don’t fancy embracing the express route to oblivion via the medium of Tabata.
Or, of course, there’s always the option of a Metal class with Kendall Toole, which qualifies as both a music ride and an express route to oblivion.
That, of course, is why I want to install a proper sound system; because if you want it to be, Peloton is a form of entertainment.
But Does It, You Know, Work?
It’s difficult to say whether something works or not if you’re not sure what you were trying to achieve.
I know a lot of people are interested in their weight, but I’ve never bothered to weigh myself so I can’t tell you. I do now need a belt for a lot of trousers that in October I didn’t – and that I haven’t exactly been dieting between then and now.
Am I fitter? Definitely and Peloton is very good at supplying metrics for that. Here’s the output from a bunch of 30 minute rides from October to now. It’s exactly the curve you’d expect.
Am I stronger? Very noticeably. What’s more it’s useful strength, as I said in my article on staying healthy during COVID, “there’s no point having iron biceps if you’re all wobbly in the middle”. Mixing up pure strength training with cardio and something like Yoga makes a big difference.
None of these are the real question though. It’s easy to look at yourself and think you’d be happier if you lost a few kilogrammes, or you were a size smaller, or if you knocked 10 seconds off your best time. Perhaps, but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes achieving those goals doesn’t make you happy and sometimes you can be happy without achieving those goals.
Someone at Peloton has been reading their text books, because the entire system is littered with behaviour change techniques to promote a healthier lifestyle. We can be cynical, of course, and say that this is just good business; the healthier your lifestyle the more you’re likely to (continue to) consume their products. We can go further, some supposedly reputable corporations in the gambling industry have been caught using algorithms that identify their most vulnerable customers and actively encourage them to gamble more.
We are right to be wary of behaviour change techniques, but everything I’ve seen in Peloton appears straightforward: it’s giving you the tools to better achieve your own fitness and lifestyle goals.
All of which leaves us with a relatively simple conclusion: mechanically it works. By that I mean that I’m stronger, fitter, I have better posture and I prefer the way I look now. I also don’t resent putting the hours in. It’s tough, but it’s not a slog – in fact a lot of the time it’s the reverse, I actually look forward to getting on the bike.
Am I happier? And if so, can I attribute that to Peloton? That’s a really difficult question for someone with a scientific outlook. None of us are immune to our environment and living on the Coronacoaster can throw us all over the place. I can say that life seems easier now than it did in October, and with restrictions being tighter, Peloton has to be a strong candidate for why.
All things considered then, giving the matter all due consideration, I think the answer is yes; it, you know, works.
Next time I’ll talk more about the socials and Peloton culture.
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
A few weeks into the first COVID-19 lockdown my friend shared this.
We all laughed, because even back then we knew that a lot of truth was being said in jest.
Now it’s a new year, and with COVID-19 vaccinations being rolled out there is a new hope that 2021 won’t be quite as miserable as 2020. With that new mood of optimism a lot of people are looking to make changes to their lifestyle – but right now COVID-19 is no less of a problem.
Ten years ago I moved from a city back to a rural area. I went from having a university gym next door to where I worked and a shop literally across the road to the nearest gym and the nearest large supermarket being a 20 minute drive away.
I had to find a way to make that work – and the upshot is that COVID-19 hasn’t changed those aspects of my life a whole lot. I figured now might be a good time to share some of the things I’ve learnt.
Firstly, Accept Yourself
I really, really don’t want to sound like a self-help book, but it’s important for me to say this before I go any further. I’m a swinging from the chandeliers type of person. Being active is a strong, defining characteristic of my personality. Some day I won’t be able to swing from chandeliers any more, but I do not plan on going gently into that particular good night (to paraphrase Dylan Thomas).
There are strong pressures in our society telling you that you have to be slim and fit, driving you towards the health and fitness industry. But you may not be a swinging from chandeliers type of person. You may not have the same motivations as me.
There is nothing wrong with this.
Humans have evolved to operate within a pretty wide tolerance. A lot of the “slim & fit” pressure is just the health and fitness industry trying to drum up business. If that’s the only reason that you’re unhappy with your body or your level of fitness then accept the commercial reality and accept the fact that you just don’t conform to that model.
Also remember to act proportionately. If you’re not happy, but really you’re just a bit miffed that you can’t walk up the local hill without getting out of breath then going on a crash diet and joining a gym is probably not the best course of action. Try, for a start, taking a walk up that hill as part of your regular routine. You’ll soon find it gets a lot easier.
The key is to understand who you are and what your true, underlying motivations are.
Do Not Yo-Yo Diet
If you were entirely happy with your lifestyle and your body before the first lockdown, but you’re not now, then maybe a strict diet regime could work for you. The problem for most of us is that we follow the programme for a while, we lose weight, then we let old habits creep in and before we know it we’re wanting to go back on a strict diet.
The result is our weight, our body image and dieting are constantly in our minds. We’re either enjoying ourselves, knowing we’re going to have to go back on a diet at some point, or we’re grumbling about being on a diet and not being able to enjoy ourselves.
It’s a recipe for bad mental health, as well as bad physical health.
Make Small, Permanent Changes
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Sometimes that’s not true, but in this case it is perhaps the single most effective piece of advice I can give.
The process is simple, whether in diet or fitness; make a small change, consolidate it. Make another small change, consolidate that. It’s a process that we’re used to already, because we’re constantly changing and adapting as the world around us changes. We’re just adding a few conscious threads to that mechanism.
Every change we make and consolidate takes us another step forward. If we keep taking steps then we keep making progress.
You Are Not “On a Diet”
I don’t like bananas. You could say I’m on a no-banana diet.
Your diet is just the food you eat. If it’s not delivering what you need then you change it. It’s still your diet.
One of the most effective things I’ve ever done was to go through the existing food I was eating, count the calories and work out what I needed to change. It turned out that I didn’t need actually need to change too much.
Learn To Cook
This is a big one. If you can’t cook, then start learning. You don’t have to start big, there are plenty of very easy and healthy recipes you can make. The key is that if you’re not preparing your own food then you’re dependent on the pre-prepared food sector to provide you with suitable products – and it’s not a one size fits all situation.
There are loads of resources out there on how to learn to cook and how to make simple meals. Personally, I find Nat’s what I Reckon rather amusing (he does employ Australian strength swearing, mind).
Your Portion Size is Too Large
I’ll make a bet with you. If you do go through your meals, count up the calories and think about what you’re putting on the plate, there will be a lot of occasions where you can simply cook and serve less and still get all the calories and nutrients you need.
Literally overfeeding yourself is a very common problem. Food packaging often doesn’t help and a lot of recipe books have strange ideas about what will feed one person.
Also, if you’re using a calorie counter like MyFitnessPal, don’t assume that the default servings are what you’re actually eating. One of the key rules of looking at any data is not to make any assumptions. I found, for instance, that I was serving way too much breakfast cereal.
A cunning psychological trick is to use smaller plates. For some reason we like to have full plates, but our brains don’t understand the relationship properly. A 23cm plate is 77% of the width of a 30cm plate, but you can only put 59% of the food on it. What’s more, if you look back in history, you find that dinner plates were smaller. The large plates we tend to use today are a very much a modern thing.
You Don’t Have to Eat Rabbit Food
Our food culture in the UK is improving, but it’s still a little toxic. The meat and two veg concept is still rather strong within us. Go to any building site in the country and you’ll find a portion of the people there complaining that they’re “on a diet” and having to eat “rabbit food”.
The meat isn’t the problem. OK, let me put that differently, eating meat isn’t the problem. It’s the quantity of poor quality, often heavily processed meat, the quantity of carbs that accompany it and the tendency to count tomato sauce as “two veg”.
Britain is fortunate enough to have some very good meat. If you want to eat meat, take advantage of that. Reduce the amount of cheap, processed meat you eat. Substitute vegetarian options, fish or seafood. When you do eat meat, invest in it, make it worthwhile. Buy good meat from a proper butcher or farm shop and enjoy it.
The same principle applies to other foods. For instance, I eat a lot of curry. There are thousands of recipes out there that don’t suffer at all for not being cooked in a pint of clarified butter and served with a double dose of carbohydrates. A similar thing is true of pizza. It doesn’t have to be soaked in olive oil and buried under a mountain of cheese. You can buy frozen pizza dough and then top it however you like. In fact, I’d argue that if you use good quality (preferably local) ingredients you can make a pizza at home that’s not only healthier but considerably tastier than any pre-prepared pizza you could buy.
Improve your ingredients, make better food and you will feel better for it.
Simple Changes Can Make Big Differences
One meal I analysed was 1500 calories per portion. I changed the sauce from being based on double cream to being milk and cornflour based and replaced the garlic bread with a healthier version. It actually made the dish taste better – oh, and it knocked out 600 calories, making it an everyday dish, not just a weekend treat.
I rather suspect the truth of the matter is that very few people need to “go on a diet”. What most people need to do is get control of their snacks, fizzy drinks and high sugar foods, regulate their portion sizes and make a few basic changes to some recipes and how often they eat some meals.
You don’t need to do all of it as one big batch either. You can keep chipping away at this, making small improvements, as long as you want. It’s an ongoing process, even for me, as I cook new recipes or find different products and integrate them into my diet.
There’s Calories in Booze
I know, it’s unfair.
Broadly speaking beer has a lot more calories than wine and spirits have less than either (but that does depend a lot on mixers).
There’s another problem with the sauce, as chef Tom Kerridge puts it “You pop out for a quiet pint and before you know it you’ve had 12 and you’re ordering chicken jalfrezi and double naan bread.”
You don’t need me to tell you this, though. I’m only doing it to remind you:
If you’re worried you might be drinking too much you almost certainly are.
Drink wine and spirits over beer and cider.
Like with meat, reduce quantity, increase quality and enjoy the experience.
Don’t Get Obsessed by Your Weight
There are two points I’d like to make here.
Firstly, you don’t care about your weight. How heavy you are doesn’t mean anything. How agile you are, how capable you are to do what you want to do, how susceptible you are to certain health complaints, how you look, these things can be important. Your actual weight, not so much.
Weight is just a relative measure of where you once were and where you are now and – my second point – it’s not even that accurate. When I was a proper gym-bunny I used to see people weigh themselves both before and after a gym session. One day I tried it, I was about 1.5Kg (3lbs) lighter when I came out. Almost all of that change was water that I’d lost in sweat, only a few grammes was fat burnt. Our weight can fluctuate naturally over a sufficient range to make it very difficult to measure fat loss this way.
Having said this, weight is a convenient measure, but to eliminate the natural fluctuations we need to look not at the value day-to-day, but the trend over several weeks. In the example below it’s clear that overall weight is dropping, but if you were to focus too much on the day-to-day you’d be putting yourself on rather an emotional roller-coaster.
Fitness Doesn’t Mean Gym
It’s an often repeated trope, “get to a gym” or “I need to go to a gym”. You don’t. Nobody does.
This is particularly true now, with schemes like Couch to 5K and apps such as Strava and MapMyFitness. You need no equipment and no (paid) subscription for these, you can just get out and walk, jog or run, track your progress and see how you’re improving.
If running isn’t your thing, then Strava and MapMyFitness both cover cycling, and cycling is a particularly good way of improving your fitness.
Don’t be afraid of local cycling clubs and running clubs. They’re not all full of super-fit Lycra clad loonies, most of them organise activities for people of all abilities – or will at least be happy to direct you to a club that does. Remember, this is their hobby, they want people to get involved. If you’re looking to get into cycling, I did a “Let’s Ride” a few years ago – then sponsored by Sky. I was impressed. There were some limited events still being run in the lower tiered areas, so hopefully they’ll return relatively soon.
Similarly you’ll find that the range of local sports clubs is far greater than you might have thought – often organised around municipal leisure centres, which are far cheaper than private gyms.
Clubs are great because they provide a social element – and I don’t mean drinks at the tennis club. You turn up to train with other people and that makes it easier to motivate yourself.
Obviously, at the moment, this option is rather limited, but remember it for when we do get back to a more normal life. In the meantime, make use of the social programmes, the clubs etc. on the likes of Strava. Being in it with other people really does make a big difference.
Whatever you take up, realise that you’re not going to be very good at it to start with. It only takes a few runs, a few rides, a few games however before you feel you’re getting into the swing of things. Never, ever give something up after the first session. Give it at least 5 if not 10 before you decide it’s not for you.
Lastly in this section, fitness magazines will tell you, at length, why this form of exercise is better than that. They need to sell magazines, so they have to fill them with something. When it comes down to it though, some exercise is better then no exercise. Even lawn bowls is better than sitting in front of the telly. Do something.
Your Personal Best Doesn’t Matter
It seems that, at some point in our society, we decided that if you had a hobby then you had to be good at it. This is plainly ridiculous. The only thing that matters about a hobby is that you enjoy it; well, I mean, unless you’re a terrible violinist in a shared house, but I’m sure you get my point.
Whatever activities you choose, it’s entirely up to you whether to pay any attention to anyone else’s performance or even to your own. It doesn’t really matter if you beat your personal best, or if someone else beats your time. What actually matters is that you went and did the activity. Your performance is always secondary to that.
Or, to put it another way, don’t spoil a pleasant summer evening run by wearing a GPS watch. Just get out, run and enjoy the sunshine.
You Do Not Need a Lycra Licence
I get self-conscious wearing Lycra. I suspect most people do, because Lycra barely qualifies as clothing. In our society, particularly in the UK, we’re a bit funny about wandering around naked – and Lycra comes uncomfortably close to that.
Thankfully you don’t have to. I rarely venture outside in just Lycra. The above photo was part of an organised event and it was the uniform and – if I’m honest – I wasn’t terribly happy about it.
I often ride in cargo style shorts and a normal t-shirt. If I’m going on a long ride, I’ll put cycling shorts under my normal shorts. I run in general purpose sports shorts and a lightweight polo shirt.
Don’t get hung up on having all the gear or looking the part. If you do take up cycling, running or any similar activity, don’t let the industry and the magazines influence you too much. Yes, a £5000 bike will allow you to go further and faster than a £300 bike, but really not that much – and what does it matter anyway? What matters is that you are fitter than you were yesterday.
Be Careful of Home Equipment
I’m a huge fan of Peloton, a system that allows you to stream fitness classes directly to a spin bike in your home. It is expensive, however. There’s another system, Echelon, which seems to be cheaper. If you’re already a cyclist, there’s Zwift – although that is more limited.
Before Peloton however, I had a string of home exercise equipment. The cheap stuff is mostly fine at just getting you moving. The problem is that as you get stronger and fitter, the equipment becomes less suitable.
I’ve broken or just plain worn out a string of treadmills, exercise bikes and cross trainers. However, I’m not really the intended market. If you’re starting from somewhere near zero then these home gym machines will probably work just fine for you. Don’t expect them to stay with you long-term however, if you’re successful then you’re likely to outgrow them. I explain more in The Peloton Diaries: Doing the Maths.
The other common problem with home equipment is motivation. It’s a running joke about how quickly this stuff becomes no more than a clothes horse.
If you can, give it its own space, with its own (smart) telly. There are plenty of fitness classes on YouTube.
One alternative that really worked for me is to assign a TV series to workouts. The idea is that you’re not allowed to watch it unless you’re exercising. Sure, some days you just phone it in, but the point is that doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Establishing a routine is also important, especially in the early days. Exercise can’t be something you try to fit into spare time. It has to be something you plan, something you will move other things for, if you need to. Sure, people think you’re crazy if you’re late to Zoom drinks because it clashes with your workout time, but it’s important to set that precedent.
If You’re Stronger, You Can Burn Calories Faster
I’ve talked a lot about fitness, but what about strength? Being strong definitely makes my life easier, particularly core strength, because your core gets used in almost everything you do. There’s no point having iron biceps if you’re all wobbly in the middle.
Strength exercises also burn calories and, unsurprisingly, the stronger you are the faster you burn them. You also burn more calories in other places too – scrubbing the scrambled egg off the pan it seems to have got welded to, that’ll burn more calories. There’s another side effect as well, building and maintaining stronger, larger muscle also burns calories.
Personally, I do very little with weights. I find I don’t need to – I don’t have much use in my life for the kind of strength that gives. I don’t tend to need to dead-lift an engine block much, as long as I can wave a car battery about, I’m fine. So most of my work is core and bodyweight based.
Don’t underestimate Yoga. It might look like glorified contortionism, but getting into and maintaining the poses builds strength not just in the big power muscles, but also in the smaller control muscles. You need both if you want to be able to use your strength as well as look strong.
Remember, Small Steps
I’ve talked about a few different topics. Hopefully I’ve given you some ideas.
If you take nothing else away from this, remember that huge attempts to completely change a lifestyle only work if they’re backed up by huge determination. If you’re not sure about that then the best way to approach it is to make a series of small changes.
If you do feel you have that huge motivation that then go for it, write yourself a new diet, sign yourself up for a fitness programme and have at it. It’s tough, but if you’re motivated enough it will work.
If you’re not quite feeling it at that level then start out small. You make a small change, you get used to it, you make it part of normal. Then you make another small change and then that becomes normal. You just have to make sure that you’re always moving forward.
All are simple changes, small changes that anyone can make. Small changes that you can make. If you want to you can make the first change today. It really is all about you and what you want to achieve.
A Final Note…
I’m very conscious that I’m not a medical professional, dietician or trainer and that some of the above is somewhat different to some of the professional messaging that we receive.
I think the medical profession may, unwittingly, have been responsible for the phenomenon of yo-yo dieting. If you feel you’re too fat and you go to the doctors, they’re likely to want you to lose weight, so they will prescribe a diet and exercise regime to fix your immediate problem. It’s almost like giving you a course of pills for that nasty rash…
You complete the course, just like you would the pills, then go back to doing what you did before, because you’re fixed.
The medical profession isn’t stupid, of course they’re telling you that you need to make permanent changes to your lifestyle and they always did tell you this, but that message doesn’t seem to land with us as well as the idea that you get fat, you diet, repeat.
That messaging problem may be influenced by the health and fitness industry. There’s a galloping stampede of people and businesses pushing the latest diets and exercise regimes at you. There’s a lot of money in getting you signed up to the programme, then when you get bored of that, signed up to the next one.
There’s no money in you making small, permanent changes to your lifestyle.
When I lived in a city, the industry was on my doorstep. It was easier for me to consume from them than it was to beat out my own path. When I moved back to a rural area that reversed and it became abundantly apparent that I didn’t need to consume or subscribe to much at all. With any interaction with other people now being a risk, that’s significant.
I’m coming to terms with the idea that I’m a Peloton owner, but has my new toy been worth the money? Initial impressions are certainly good.
The First Ride
Climbing aboard for the first time, the bike suggests some beginner classes. In fact there’s a whole 6 week beginner programme you can take, if you want. I thought it worth starting with a beginner class just to make sure I wasn’t missing something vital. As a cyclist however, the advanced beginner would have been a perfectly adequate place to start. If you’re not a cyclist or haven’t ridden for a while, the beginner classes may be very useful.
The instructors are unforgivingly outgoing and positive. If you want drill sergeant style instruction, I don’t think you’ll find it on Peloton. They are all very encouraging and very welcoming, it can be a little irritating at times but it does make the whole thing much more accessible :- for many people the idea of going to a spin class is quite threatening, it has a reputation as a bit of a headbanger activity. Peloton busts that myth, you find your level. Nobody is going to judge you if this is your 200th beginner ride.
Every class has bands of cadence and bands of resistance, “increase by 3!” says the instructor, but that could be 40 to 43 or 55 to 58, depending on where your level is. The bands themselves are wide, the difference between 40 and 58 resistance is a lot – approximately double the power output. The upshot is that you can steadily work up each range. If you can get through a beginner class at the top of the difficulty, then you’ll be right in the middle of an Advanced Beginner and the same moving into the standard classes.
After One Week
OK, I love it, but that’s not surprising; it’s my new toy. I am slightly concerned that I may have joined a cult however. The instructors leave you in no doubt, no doubt at all that you’ve definitely “got this” without ever revealing what “this” is. Do I need to attain a higher level to find out?
The incessant positivity is a little saccharine to an overly sarcastic Brit like me, but I’d rather they erred that way than the other; “Work your butt off and you might die slightly less soon” is not effective motivation for most people.
One thing that does work is the high-five system. It’s actually quite encouraging to know that there are other people out there with you.
There really are classes for every variety of spin you could want to do. I’ve picked up a few. I’m not sure about the strength based stuff yet, I might give that a swerve for a few weeks, until I’m confident I have the core strength.
At the moment, to me at least, it seems as if there aren’t enough live classes. I don’t know; right now I don’t feel comfortable enough with the system to join one. That’s the target for next Wednesday.
I’m finding the scenic rides really useful at the moment. I can do a 20 minute or 30 minute class and still want more, but I don’t really know where my level is at, so I don’t want to join another class and then flake out half way through. A scenic ride is perfect because you’re in control. You can even replace the music with your own, if you want. I recommend DevilDriver(I do not recommend DevilDriver).
Is it doing any good, though? Yes, definitely. I can see from the numbers that I am fitter than I was 10 days ago, sure. I can also feel it in what I do; every morning I take a short walk to the local Baptist Chapel, not out of any religious devotion, it’s just that it’s up a hill and I like to make sure that I’ve done something active before I open the office. That hill doesn’t even register any more. I don’t even notice that it’s a hill.
What rather surprised me, though, was the improvement in core strength. Yesterday I was cutting a mortice slot in some studwork in a really tricky place. I was in a really awkward position, but unlike when I started this project a few weeks ago, I wasn’t looking for things to brace myself against, I just seemed a lot more stable and in control.
Is it worth the outlay? Will the subscription prove worthwhile? Right now I feel very positive. I’ll update in a couple of months and we’ll see…
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
I did something perhaps a bit surprising for a rural outdoorsy type last month: my partner and I ordered a Peloton.
Naturally Peloton make it very easy to sign up. There was a 3 week lead time for delivery, which was a little disappointing, but understandable in the current climate. One surprising thing is that we needed to activate the account directly from the bike, so we were on trial accounts until it arrived.
If you want to save a few quid, don’t buy the official Peloton heart monitor, shoes or other accessories. You can get perfectly adequate equipment cheaper elsewhere.
If you’re new to the whole scene, so called “clipless” pedals are very popular with cyclists. The pedals themselves have a kind of sprung clamp which locks onto a “cleat” on the shoe. So you need special cycling shoes that you can screw the cleats into.
With the shoes, make sure that you buy a pair that have the 3 bolts arranged in a triangle. Lots of shoes have this system or are compatible with this and more. You’ll need to get (Look) Delta cleats, not SPD or any other system. The cleats themselves should cost no more than £10.
For cyclists you’ll be pleased to hear that the pedals on the bike are standard, so if you want to swap them for SPDs or something, you can (although you might want to check the warranty conditions).
The same is true of the seat; it’s the standard dual rail clamp, so if you want to change it for your favourite Selle Italia bum wedge, you can.
They call you about 1/2 hour ahead of delivery to sort out the fine detail. There’s a range of options, from dumping it at your door through to carrying to to the correct room and setting it up.
The bike comes pretty much assembled; if you’re even a basic Ikea warrior, you shouldn’t be afraid of assembling it yourself. Be aware of the adjustable feet, however. Mine took a bit of wrestling to move initially.
Do be aware that the bike is very heavy. Unless you’re Hafþór Björnsson I’d recommend at least getting it to the right level. It does have wheels on the front, so once the bubble-wrap is removed it’s a lot easier to shuffle around.
If you are going to self-assemble, look out for the small black screws for the tablet (display); mine were taped to a reddish piece of packaging around the mount (on the bike). I nearly threw them away by accident. There’s also a Velcro strap that, depending on the height you set the handlebars, you may want to use to make absolutely sure that the monitor cable doesn’t rub on the flywheel.
The last physical thing to mention is to check that the existing nuts and bolts are tight. For me, one of the ones in the handlebars was loose.
The tablet is very obviously Android based. Booting it, connecting to WiFi, updating the software and activating the account were straightforward.
Obviously the device will be streaming video, and that takes quite a lot of WiFi bandwidth. On the standard bike there’s a wired Ethernet port, so if you have problems with the WiFi you can plug a cable between it and your router. Apparently this is not there on the Bike+, so you might want to consider this if you’re choosing between the two.
The height of the handlebars and both the height and the horizontal position of the saddle are easily adjustable, with handy guides so if there are more people using the bike settings can be easily remembered and adjusted.
The saddle angle is adjustable, but it’s a bit more tricky and not the kind of thing you would want to do for every ride. The saddle itself is perfectly OK for me, but I’m a male lifelong cyclist with buns of steel. Saddles are such a personal thing; I could easily understand some people wanting to replace it.
One of the advantages of SPD pedal system over Look Delta is that it’s much easier to make dual platform pedals, ones that can be used with out without cleats. Unfortunately you can’t do that with the Peloton pedals, you have to clip in, even for a quick, casual ride. I suspect this will annoy me, in time, and that I’ll change the pedals to dual platform SPDs.
Hopping aboard, the first and most obvious thing is that the mechanism is super-smooth and remarkably quiet. You can wind it up to over 500 Watts and it’s still barely more than a whisper.
As someone who’s used plenty of spin bikes in commercial gyms, the flywheel feels a little light. However, the resistance mechanism is very silky and that goes a long way to compensate.,
The tablet boots quickly, but it does get a bit cranky if, say, you attempt an artistic dismount, fail to unclip properly and, in the process of faceplanting into a nearby aspidistra, manage to tear the cable out of the wall socket. If you plan to turn it off at the mains when it’s not in use, you may want to turn it on a minute or two before you plan to use it.
Having backed the tension adjusters on the pedals off a few notches I could look more at the tablet. It works well, its layout is intuitive to any user of smart devices. There’s a live, very clear measurement of cadence (how fast you’re spinning the pedals), resistance and a calculation of output power. If you want, you can fire up the “Just Ride” option and work with it simply as a training bike.
Bluetooth audio is an option, the standard bike has an aux out (3.5mm jack) and you can even cast the video to an external screen. I was surprised how good the onboard audio is though, it’s quite good enough for the purpose. We will see, in a few months, if I still think that, however. My finger’s already twitching over the SuperFi web site. There’s no need to cast the screen (for regular use), the onboard is plenty good enough. Of course, you could run non-spin classes cast from the bike itself, but wouldn’t you just use your phone/tablet for that?
My (Garmin) Heart monitor connects easily and works flawlessly. It doesn’t complain if I don’t hook a heart monitor up, which is good because the things annoy me. I only use one to get a baseline every so often.
So far I’m impressed. It’s definitely the best piece of home gym equipment I’ve ever owned – but there again it’s also the most expensive. Will it live up to the price-tag? I’ll let you know in the next update!
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
It will not surprise you to learn, then, that I absolutely have not placed an order for a Peloton bike and I definitely do not have a Peloton subscription. I would also like to point out that the parrot is not dead, it’s resting. Beautiful plumage, the Norwegian Blue.
What on Earth possessed me to get on board this particular train then?
When I was a kid I cycled everywhere. Fitness just happened whilst I was seeing how many of my mates I could jump over. But as I got older my life got bigger and the all beer and pizza diet started to take its toll.
To cut a long story short I joined the gym at the university where I worked – and I loved it. But, it was right on campus and it was incredibly good value.
Then I moved to back the country and the nearest gym was not only a 20 minute drive away, I caught the manager sucking a lemon before he told me the price. It wasn’t very good, either. The economics, both of money and time, switched. It became far more effective to have a home gym.
The problem is that home CV equipment just isn’t made for people like me. I’m a serial killer of exercise bikes, cross trainers and especially treadmills. In order to keep the price down, they have to make economies. I understand that. Actually, if it gets people who would otherwise do nothing up and active, I support that.
Sadly, as you move up the price band, they add features instead of making the machines stronger and more durable – and that really pisses me off.
The only piece of equipment that’s survived is my turbo trainer and I hate it.
Yes, I know, you can get scenic ride apps, you can ride with other people on Zwift and yes, I know, it doesn’t have to be a race. There are even blog articles on how to set up your bike and a turbo trainer to use with the Peloton app.
I was pretty determined to make it work for a while, but cycling magazines explain my problem in a nutshell, “A turbo trainer is a great way,” they say, “to get through the winter”.
That’s not what I’m trying to achieve; you see I was never a cyclist. I didn’t obsess about the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia when I was a kid, I read about people crossing the Sahara, or riding through Nepal. I wasn’t really interested in racing bikes, I wanted to use a bike to do mad things and have crazy adventures.
You do not have crazy adventures on a turbo trainer. Well, not if it’s mounted on a flat surface, anyway.
The advantage of a spin bike is that it’s a very simple piece of equipment. This means it’s possible to build something of professional gym kind of quality at a price that’s accessible to the home market. Something that I really, really hope I’m not going to break.
When I say “accessible”, the up-front cost of Peloton is still a little eye-watering. It’s the main reason why I had initially discounted the idea. The economics of it only work if you think about it long term.
There used to be a dedicated spin gym only a few miles away. They charged £6 a class. At first that sounds cheap, but if you do 4 classes a week that’s £104 a month. A Peloton subscription is £20 a month, but you have to find somewhere in the region of £2000 in set-up costs (or take a finance option). Working on that 4 class basis, that means you break even in about 2 years.
The cheapest local gym subscription I could find was £63 a month for a limited, “off peak” deal. If we equate the restrictions on that account with those of Peloton, then the break even point is 4 years. I know a lot of people who are paying £100+ a month for gym subscriptions they use at most twice a week.
There’s another thing to consider; will other members of your household use it? If you’re prepared to stump up £40 a month you can load them all up. As I’m married to an even bigger spin-bunny than me, it turns out to be a very attractive option.
Now, I have an admission to make. I’ve been writing this article like it it’s my journey. In many ways it is, or it’s my half of the journey, but it wasn’t me that pushed to sign up to Peloton, it was my partner. In fact, I was pretty heavily against it – until I started looking at the longer term economics. For us it just made sense, we never really used much in the gym that we can’t in some way replace with the Peloton bike and other classes from the Peloton App.
Your economics may be different. If you’re a circuits person, or more heavily oriented towards weight and strength training then the comparison will be more difficult and the numbers might not work for you.
It seems like the numbers work for us and a first glance at the app looks promising. Will it work out? You’ll have to wait ’til the next update!
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
COVID-19 has changed the game completely though. For us accustomed remote workers the results have been positive; in many ways it’s making our lives a lot easier. Over the past few months, however, we’ve been watching, and trying politely to advise, the rest of the world as they catch up with many of the social aspects.
By and large, with the occasional nudge, it seems that everyone has now learnt the core lessons. I’ll talk about them at another time, for now I want to talk about something that doesn’t seem to have made it into culture yet: the etiquette about muting in a meeting.
Background noise happens. It’s a fact of life. Whether it’s the builders next door or your partner on another call or a small Yorkshire terrier inexplicably named Fenrir, it happens. What’s more, for a variety of reasons, sometimes background noise can get amplified to unpleasant levels and broadcast to the entire meeting.
Two things we need to establish:
Being on mute is not a sign that you’re not contributing, or not intending to contribute. It’s a sign that you’ve learnt the shortcut key that your system uses and that you respect the other people in the meeting. It’s very rare that you need to speak instantly and without warning. Get used to CRTL+D – talk – CTRL+D (if you use Google). It just basic politeness.
It’s not rude to mute other people if you’re getting background noise from them. Most systems allow this. If you’re using one where only the meeting organiser can mute other people, then it’s part of the organiser’s job. Obviously, if it’s convenient, point it out and ask the person to mute themselves, but if Tracy is talking and Geoff’s geese suddenly get spooked, then mute Geoff. Believe me, you do not need unsolicited contributions from geese in any meeting.
There are a couple of ancillary points. In the above case Geoff might have no idea how loud the geese are, because he may be using really good noise cancelling headphones. That algorithm might be entirely different to the one used for the meeting, which might think that geese are really important contributors who need to be put front and centre. Background noise doesn’t mean that anyone’s doing anything wrong or that they’re being inconsiderate. It’s not a conflict situation, don’t treat it like one.
Finally, please invest in (at least) basic equipment. Laptop mics are awful, not in the least because of how far they are away from your mouth. What’s more, if you so much as look at your keyboard whilst using a laptop mic, the whole world will know about it. A good, basic headset is a huge improvement over a laptop mic.
The headset I use is one of these. There are a lot of similar headsets on the market at a similar price. If I worked in a noisier environment I might have paid for the advantage of active noise cancellation, but for me it’s not necessary.
If we bake these things into business culture now, if we make them protocol, it will make our lives just that little bit easier and our workplaces just that little bit more productive.
I’m working on some longer stuff, because one thing that #blacklivesmatter has made me realise is that there are a lot of assumptions being made about racism and there’s a lot of bollocks being talked.
In the meantime, a few bullet points:
We still have institutions here in the UK that treat people differently according to their race.
We still have tropes and stereotypes in our society that disadvantage people of colour.
We still have an embarrassing number of actual, conscious racists (and weird conspiracy theorists).
A majority group can easily overlook the problems it causes a minority.
For you, personally, not being racist is a good start. If we are to end racism however that is not enough.
You can do more simply by looking within yourself to see if you have unconscious biases. I’ve been an active campaigner against racism for about 25 years and I still find the odd little quirk in me.
You can do more by listening to minority groups when they try to explain ways in which our society discriminates against them.
You can do more by reading, watching documentaries, etc. “Natives” by Akala is a good start. In recent years many good resources have been produced when it comes to the experience of black people in the UK.
Accessible resources about other forms of racism are more difficult. For instance, I learnt about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre when I was stood in Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar). A lot of what I’ve learnt about other forms of racism comes either from visiting other countries or from talking directly to people in the UK. I’m currently trying to collate some resources on this.
You can do more against racism by taking action. These days taking action against racism is not so much facing down neo-Nazis in the street. You can still do that if you want, you can also attend protests, #blacklivesmatter shows us how effective that can be. Fighting against racism is so much more than that, though.
The simplest action you can take is to be overtly against racism. Talk about it, make being against racism normal. The key point to understand and the most difficult to communicate is that conscious racism is really only the tip of the iceberg. A lot of the values, systems, traditions, institutions of our society were formed between 1555 and 1833, when England (latterly Britain) was involved in the slave trade and inherently a white supremacist society. Serious attempts to end racism only started in the 1970s. We’ve made good progress in eliminating active, conscious racism but we still have a very long way to go before we can say that we’ve ended racism.
The ship of state does not turn quickly and one person can only push so hard on the rudder. Some people can push harder than others, of course, but the more hands we have pushing the faster the ship will turn.
It’s a long journey, we know that, but we will get there.
It all went rather wrong in the early 2000s when we realised that the the last Sunday in October had two hours that both claimed to be 1am.
In the mid 1990s the company I was working for made an intelligent GPS radio modem. It was a neat little device that you could put in a car and it could do some basic processing, even run a small touch screen, and could communicate remotely with a central server.
We think nothing whatsoever of this today – the smartphone that most of carry all the time is way more capable than anything we were dreaming of then. In the 1990s however the idea that you could communicate with a vehicle and that it could tell you where it was, that was pretty cool.
Government organisations, in particular, were keen on us. There were other solutions on the market that were cheaper to buy, but we had the lowest running costs. Sending data across the airwaves was expensive and we spent a lot of time and effort to make sure that it was done as usefully and efficiently as possible.
For various reasons, some of which were historic, the Product Manager decided that it should operate in local time (including daylight savings time). Unfortunately it was also local time that got send back to the server. To make matters worse, to save on over-air costs, we cut the data right back to just the time. We didn’t include timezone or daylight savings information.
That might sound stupid now, but back then the primary business requirement was very much operational: customers wanted to know where their fleet was at that moment. Historical reporting was distinctly secondary.
My first job at the company was to change that, to develop a historical reporting function. That’s when we started to notice problems.
When British Summer Time switches back to Greenwich Mean Time we say that “the clocks go back”, we get to 2am and then we put the clocks back to 1am. Our intelligent radio modems faithfully did this, when they got to 2am they reset the clock to 1am. The result was that, in our database, we had two sets of records both claiming to be between 1am and 2am and it could be impossible to tell which was which.
If you’re a business this is a pretty irritating, but it’s something you can live with. When your customers are The Police and they need to know for evidential purposes where a vehicle was at any given time, this is a serious problem.
It was an easy enough software fix, to make the device always send the base time, not daylight savings time. Rolling those updates out and dealing with the potential data problems caused by the switch was far from trivial.
Hot on the heels of that problem, we then sold a system to a country that had multiple timezones.
Fortunately we predicted the problem this time. We locked ourselves in a room and went through every scenario we could think of, every way of working it and the conclusion we came to was that the date and time should always be sent and always stored in UTC. That way you know the data is always valid, it’s an absolute, there’s no question.
The situation has changed a little now because data storage and communication is much, much cheaper. There’s no reason for us not to send all the qualifying data. Back then however every single bit mattered.
As a systems integrator however I still run into problems with times quite a lot. Customers often tell me that this system works in UTC whereas some other system works in local time. They’re usually wrong, under the covers most systems either fully qualify the date and time or use UTC and convert for display. It’s not always the case though and APIs are not always explicit about it either.
My advice is simple: never store or transmit (internally) an unqualified time that is not UTC. If you’re using local time always make sure that it is qualified with the timezone information (including any applicable daylight savings). Never let the base time get separated from its qualifying data. This is still an easy mistake to make when writing to a database or transmitting via an API. If, for some reason, you cannot transmit or store the qualifying information, convert to UTC.
In the .NET Framework CLR there are 2 DateTime types that you should be aware of: DateTime and DateTimeOffset. Microsoft have produced some guidance on when to use which, (but basically use DateTimeOffset if you have the qualifying data, use DateTime for UTC).
It’s just common sense; December is a cold, wet, dark and miserable time of year in Northern Europe. That’s why just about every religion that’s taken hold here has put a big party some time around the Winter Solstice.
Christmas is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to brighten up an otherwise miserable time of year. How then did we end up with this version of Christmas? The one where it’s a significant cause of stress? Where it’s become a big list of expectations and obligations? You must do this, do that, buy this, invite these people, visit those people, decorate your house so, buy presents, presents and more presents, send cards to the entire world and not go postal on the Salvation Army band when they turn Gaudete into a funeral dirge.
In 2009 I got so hacked off with the entire affair that I decided to celebrate by going on holiday – to a Muslim country. It was worth it, I came back with an entirely different attitude.
I took step back and began to ignore the billboards and the adverts and all the noise and listen to the language of Christmas: the stories; the songs and carols; the messages people send. It’s not about presents, it’s not about wrestling 9 other people by the games counter in Hamleys to try to get your hands on the last UK stock of this year’s must-have toy. There are literally no mentions of buying a new sofa to try to impress your relatives. For Christians it has specific religious significance. For the rest of us the messages of Christmas are of peace, of goodwill, of hope.
These are universal, whether you’re a Christian or not.
That’s what I learnt in Egypt a decade ago, where our hosts apologised constantly for not really understanding Christmas, but in fact embodied its true meaning far better than we do the UK.
This wasn’t the reason I wanted to write this article however: it was consumerism. It was a suggested on a business programme I was watched not so long back that the average life of a Christmas present is two weeks. After that they get no significant use and ultimately end up as landfill waste. At first that seems ridiculous, I still have plenty of presents from years back that I still use and indeed treasure. However when I think about the amount of relatively low value presents I’ve received as tokens of people’s affection then the two week figure starts looking frighteningly plausible.
I didn’t know that in 2010, but I did know that my friends and I were getting an awful lot of crap we neither needed nor wanted. It was all given with the best of intentions of course, but most of it was disappearing shortly after Christmas to never be seen again. Consequently I came up with a plan: if I didn’t know a present that someone really wanted then I’d try to buy them something consumable. Wine, beer, theatre tickets, restaurant vouchers, hampers, etc. Things that they would definitely use and that would leave a very small footprint behind, if any at all. I’ve done that every year since.
Aside from not wasting money on crap that will get thrown away there’s another reason. In Europe we’ve made big efforts to reduce the amount of energy we waste and the amount of greenhouse gasses we produce. In counting this however what we’ve failed to do is to account for the carbon footprint of the goods we import. Almost all cheap Christmas good are imported from other countries, countries where in many cases the energy and manufacturing systems have a much larger carbon footprint than ours in Europe.
Even if you put the environmental argument aside, if you’re buying cheap presents from a global online marketplace or a major chain store then the money is just disappearing out of your local economy and even out of the country.
You’re basically just giving Jeff Bezos your hard-earned cash.
What can we take away from this?
Buy from local small businesses. Not only does this improve your carbon footprint, it helps people in your community – and not just the business owners. You give the shop-keeper a £10 note, that gets paid to staff who use it in a restaurant that then uses it to pay a local farmer who then buys feed – the money stays local, benefiting people in your community. Buy something from Amazon and it’s gone.
Buy consumables for presents. Things people like to eat, drink; supplies for their hobbies; experiences you know they’ll enjoy.
OK, if you have kids I know this is difficult, but try not to be a Dursley. You know your kids, try to buy small numbers of high quality goods that you know they’ll really enjoy for a long time. Ignore the hubbub about this year’s must have toy. Most of that noise is created by the industry itself and most of those toys are rubbish. Remember that magazines, newspapers and web sites rely on advertising money. If the toy’s manufacturer is promoting it the media is going to be right behind it, even if they all know it’s rubbish. They’ll tell you that it’s the best thing ever, that everyone wants it and that you’re a bad parent if you don’t buy it. In the words of a band I rather like, Ignore the Machine.
Remember also that the experience of seeing your children thrilled and happy doesn’t always have to be met by a physical thing. If you have a special trip, holiday or experience planned, you can announce it at Christmas. With many items you can either make a kind of fake ticket or put the actual tickets in a fancy envelope and use that as a present.
Peace, Hope and Goodwill. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand the true meaning of Christmas. By far the greatest gift you can give is happiness. A big part of that is freedom; freedom from conflict, be that personal, regional or international. Freedom from the fear of conflict and war. Freedom from oppression and the fear of oppression. Goodwill is the key to all of that. You can give people peace by being kind and considerate towards them, showing them that they don’t have to worry about conflict and oppression. You can give people hope by showing that you care about them, that you care about their future and the future of the planet.
…and, as Bill and Ted so wisely put it, Party On Dudes and Be Excellent to each other.