The Value of Less Work

worklifebalanceChris Napier

Businesses across Sweden are moving to a six hour workday with the aim of improving productivity and worker happiness, acknowledging the scientific evidence that these factors are closely related.

It seems a million miles away from the dominant philosophy in the UK, where forty hours a week plus overtime on close to minimum wage is seen by many as the only way to get by, let alone thrive. Continue reading

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“MAN UP!” – Masculinity in modern society

bitch

Horse

So there I was, about a week into my binge of Western films sat in my lounge with my cowboy hat on, beef jerky at my side, a can of beer in my hand (I don’t like whisky) and chowing down on the cream of the crop starring the man of men (before men started to hit the gym and carrying machine guns with one hand) Mr Clint Eastwood.

I decided to check out some of Mr Eastwood’s more unfamiliar back catalogue and stuck on ‘High Plains Drifter’. All the stereotypical events seemed to run their course smoothly as a lone stranger (Mr Eastwood himself) trots into a small town and enters the saloon for some refreshments, some less than savoury residents take offence to this and proceed to harrass the stranger who predictably ends up shooting them in a stylish and “Fuck yeah!” way without batting an eyelid. Enter the pretty female character, obviously set up as the love interest……….actually no as after a brief exchange of harsh words from the lady the stranger then drags her into a barn and rapes her! Yes, rapes her! The hero, the good guy, the protagonist of the whole film within 10 minutes of the opening credits had committed one of the most heinous crimes known to the human race.

This was no “playing hard to get’ fumble either, this was full on rape with kicking, screaming and all the rest further cemented by the fact the lady in question tried to shoot him for it later in the film while in tears. To add insult to injury the scene was shot to make it look as if the young lady was starting to enjoy it halfway through!

Awkward

Some may say it’s not the worst thing that has ever appeared on screen these days but this was made in 1973 at time where the western genre was still held highly in regard with the good guys always being good guys through and through. I came to the end of what was undoubtedly a great film but also a very awkward watch due to the fact that I was unsure of who exactly to root for as there seemed to be absolutely no reason for the rape or no resolution or turn of character at the end. The Stranger went out exactly the same way he came in, a rapist.

clint

Clint Eastwood has been an icon of masculinity for decades

Having both starred in AND directed the film too there is no doubt that Mr Eastwood was fully in charge of all the decisions made on the film and the rape scene was a definite choice. Having known his work and how he likes to be controversial it struck me as a bold move by Eastwood to show a more realistic side of the old west as gunfighters and strangers, although having the power to help a town with baddies, probably wouldn’t be all morals and manners and rape was a very common thing back then. It also served to change the mindset of the viewer who could have so easily gone into ‘Western’ autopilot and taken the glamorisation of people killing each other as something cool but throw in a horrible scene like that and it brings in the questionable character of someone who can kill so easily.

The other side of the coin is that it perhaps reinforced the age old and quite frankly disgusting notion that all women are objects who simply cannot resist a powerful man and that they are all secretly ‘begging for it’ and all it takes is a little persuasion then they’ll love it once it gets going.

This is unfortunately still quite a common train of thought in this day and age by men and one can simply put it down to being a prick but there are environmental factors at work too with masculine conditioning STILL happening in this day and age.

Bullshit

I learned long ago that being macho was a lot of shite. It’s simply nothing more than insecurity for little boys who are scared of being called gay by their arsehole pals and would in fact go so far as to commit horrible crimes (such as rape) in order not to lose face. Not to sound snobby but these people are more often than not the type of neddy runt that everybody hates. A meth head padawan with a malnutrition frame and shaved baldy head who will not even think twice about taps aff at the slightest fart of sunshine through the clouds and he type of clown that everybody knows would square go his own shadow if his ‘crew’ were around but wouldn’t utter a peep if on his own.

Of course this is generalising, macho bullshit exists everywhere. The corporate world is full of the power ego super freak who see woman as nothing more than just another thing to be dominated over or conquered like some sort of business takeover deal that see’s employee’s wages cut or even fired. Also, the regular guy with 2.4 children in the suburban house who meets his neighbours with a smile at church every Sunday is beating the shit out his wife because she questioned his choice of tie and he couldn’t be seen to lose face over that so he taught her a lesson.

These less than savoury gender roles are often ingrained at a young age by equally clueless parents and often it can be the threat of violence that drives the ignorance message home. Equally are the Christian mentalists who indoctrinate their young into the hate spouting pseudo moral warriors they are while ignoring the rest of their ‘good book’ as they call it and just go out their way to make life difficult for everyone. I understand my views maybe be somewhat harsh and if I have offended anyone then fuck you!

Poofs

So what are men supposed to do these days? is it wrong to look up to gun toting retro idols such as Clint Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger? Is it wrong to chase the image of the buff dude a la Van Damme for yourself? Of course not, it’s fantasy and liking a stereotypically masculine image does not make you a prick, it’s your actions that define you

There is no getting away from the fact that generally (and I use the term loosely here as there are far more gender identities out there than just male and female these days) men and women are different. Equal but different and that should be celebrated. Of course androgyny and any other form of gender identity should also be celebrated too if that is what you are drawn towards, let’s be clear about that as taking the best of both worlds seems like a pretty intelligent way to go.

It’s also rather humorous that with the macho struggle for masculine validation within image it is ironic that the male gay scene often far outdoes it’s straight counterpart yet is usually the main source for insult. Aside from the sport of bodybuilding where else is the male form so wholeheartedly celebrated with facial hair, style, physique all more often than not looking infinitely more masculine and developed than their hetro brothers. In that respect, the bullshit insults of ‘wee bufty’ don’t really stand up to much and really are just a bunch of fat straight guys trying to make themselves feel better by making shit up to call one another because you know, complimenting another man makes you a total bender!

Expectations

It’s sad that even in this day and age the male rubbish meter is still quite high. What man in their life hasn’t heard the terms “just deal with it” or “fucking man up”. House husbands are not a rare thing but they are STILL looked down apon as lazy or work shy by both men AND women as if the standard stereotype of the male breadwinner is still in full effect and the simultaneous message of that is ‘women are crap at providing’.

depession

Depression sufferers are often told to “Man up!”

It hits those suffering from mental issue hardest though. Depression is a terrible, terrible affliction that shows no outward signs but eats away at your confidence like a horrible cancer. Some days you know you just have to get on with it but can’t and you dare not tell anyone for fear of being branded weak or worse if you have a family that you will be accused of letting them down and your reasons labelled as excuses by those who simply don’t understand that illness goes beyond a bandage or a stookie. Confidence is everything in this world, it enables us to do may wonderful things with the utmost creative drive but take that away by conditioning to conform to something that either doesn’t quite fit or harbours unrealistic expectations and we as humans will naturally try to compensate for it, often in the worst ways possible.

Being the dinosaur that I am I’ll still watch my westerns, I’ll still quote the entire script from Commando with my pals, I’ll never wear skinny jeans, carry a man bag or wear eyeliner, I’ll still buy horrible clothes that look like they’re from a trucker’s suitcase in the 70’s and I’ll never be particularly PC either and you know what, that’s ok! Why? Because I’ll also never say it’s not ok to do any of those things, I’ll always support everyone’s right to be who they are and I’ll happily drink in a rock bar, a gay club or anywhere else that there’s no idiots. Admittedly I’m a bit of a grubby old wizard that grew up watching He-Man and Rambo but I like to think of myself as slightly more enlightened than my fellow grunts of that generation.

Of course it works both ways and there are those out there that see even my kind as some sort of obsolete relic and I have actually been questioned, nay accused about my relatively old school attitude by snydey hipsters posing as spokespeople for the gender identity crew sometimes simply for the way I dress which pissed me off more that the genuine people out there were being misrepresented by these conformist wanks.

I think if we all just stepped back and stopped expecting things of each other due to accident of birth or otherwise then the world would be a slightly better place!

“Opinions are like assholes…….everybody has one!”
– Clint Eastwood

SHADOW OF THE MARS BAR – Scotland’s relationship with sugar, alcohol & the media

irn-bru & tablet
Alan Stares

Responsible media & misinformation

It’s no secret that the London media love to continually and annoyingly push the deep fried Mars Bar as a Scottish diet staple when in fact it barely registers beyond the small shop that made it famous in the mid 90’s with the majority of the population having never even seen one let alone tried the filthy thing, yet walk down any street in the country and it’s hard to deny that there is at the very least a partial but very real problem with obesity and poor health in Scotland.

In an age where we are literally swamped with information about health and diet the problem of being overweight and the ever growing issue with diabetes remains, but why is that?  The general feeling seems to be split into opinions of A) People don’t care B) People are too stupid to read about it and educate themselves or C) They have been confused by misinformation and not given all the facts.

With the appearance of places like Wholefoods and other such hipsterishly overpriced but generally well meaning health venues it’s obvious that we’re not completely in the dark about nutrition in our wee country so I am of the opinion that it is overwhelmingly ‘C’ (with perhaps a sprinkle of ‘A’ straight from the apathy spice rack) but why are we so misinformed?

burd magazines

Injecting crap into young minds since forever

The culprits mainly seem to be trashy magazines (which are sadly mostly aimed at women) and out of date macho bullshit mindesets that still plague many parts of the country in the brains of the more knuckle draggy male population that think that not caring or ignorance is the same as some idiotic level of toughness. The magazines earn their blame by promoting body guilt by featuring airbrushed airheads as the standard of beauty that all women should be living up to and the latest unachievable diet ‘fad’ which will supposedly get them there while on the next page giving a calorific recipe for fudge cake all wrapped up in a guilt laden message of “You’re not good enough and will never look pretty!”. These fads are on the whole unrealistic, usually tempting the reader with some Google-able facts to lure them in but never really giving them the one important variable in the mix – the timescale. The body works in months while the mind works in days and yes some magazines just flat out lie that anything can be achieved in a week which only sets up for failure, disappointment and binging which can dangerously lead to eating disorders. The continuing demonisation of fat within the media too without the common sense to realise that not all fats are the same (with some being absolutely essential for bodily functions and hormone production) has led to almost everything being marketed as 0% fat and the preposterous notion that ALL fat makes you fat. It doesn’t, sugar and taking in more calories than your body needs make you fat.

To combat this one must understand what is going on in the body when we indulge.and we’ve all been there. Most of us enjoy a night out on the tiles with copious amounts of booze and fun (I’m partial to bourbon & coke and a fine cigar myself) and then woken up the next day craving that horribly expensive pizza, Irn-Bru or piece of lovely cake.

And you know what? That’s absolutely fine! It’s good to blow off some steam once in a while but unfortunately It’s become a weekly ritual that is embedded in Scottish culture but what is actually happening inside us that makes this particular area of our lifestyles turn into something more sinister when the illnesses start to surface and the weight starts to pack on?

First we need to understand the mechanics of it all within our own bodies.

Energy, alcohol & acetate

The human body is a machine and all machines need energy to function and the body derives that energy from breaking down one of the three macronutrients found in our food.

These familiar names are Carbohydrates, fats & protein.

The body can break down and use any one of these macronutrients for energy but there is a pecking order in which of them will be used first depending on availability. The body will always use carbohydrates first if they are available. Carbohydrates are easily broken down into glucose which can act as fuel for the brain and muscles in the form of glycogen. If carbohydrates are absent the body will use fat as it’s next sources if fuel, breaking it downs by way of  ‘ketosis’ and the body uses the resulting ketones as fuel (as seen in low carb diets like Atkins). If both carbohydrates and fat are missing from the diet the body will quite happily use protein but usually in the form of cannibalisation of muscle tissue and internal organs broken down into amino acids, a feature seen in many anorexics who sadly suffer from organ failure after starvation. Most people do well most of the time but the croc comes when we indulge in our beloved grog.

Alcohol

booze

The oldest love/hate relationship known to humans

When we drink, the alcohol is processed by the liver and a by product of this process is a chemical called acetate and if acetate is present the body will use this chemical for energy before any of the other macronutrients, and what does the body do when it has an excess of energy? It stores it as fat. So when you have a few beers you are essentially turning off the fat burning switch in your body and that tasty cheeseburger or kebab that you wolf down when you get the beer munchies will be met at the door and politely told it is not needed at this time and ordered to proceed in an orderly fashion to your hips or belly (providing of course there is a caloric surplus in the system, which after a long day of job induced sedentary sitting, a good few beers and junk food, isn’t hard to achieve!)

Add to this the fact that alcohol already has more calories per gram (7) than carbohydrates(4) or protein(4) and second to only to fat (9) and you are in for some trouble. To pile on more headache the habit of sugary mixers like coke and the all important chips and cheese at the end of the night can more often than not push the caloric limit well up to double or even triple what’s required for the day with the acetate happily ushering all those calories to participate in the wobbly bits theatre of your waist and this will continue as long as acetate is present in the body which can occasionally last up to 2 days depending on the amount of alcohol consumed.

Sugar, insulin resistance and the zone

irn-bru & tablet

High sugar junk food

The increase in refined sugar in our diets over the last 70 years and the Scottish love of our beloved Irn-Bru, toffee or tablet has led to a parallel increase in diabetes, tooth decay and even followers of the Price-Pottinger expeditions and research blame cancer and modern disease such as chronic inflammation on the white stuff, but how exactly does our body cope with sugar once it is in our system?

When we eat sugar or foods that can be converted into sugar, the body responds by producing insulin. Insulin is an anabolic hormone used for storage, growth and to keep blood sugar levels where they should be. The trouble is that insulin is indiscriminately anabolic- great for muscle growth by shufting nutrients and energy into the muscles but also tremendous at taking excess energy and storing it in fat cells. It’s worth noting at this point that the body responds to refined sugar (glucose) and fruit sugar (fructose) in pretty much the same way in regard to insulin response.

Our blood sugar levels are usually in one of three states – Hypoglycaemic, where the amount of sugar in the blood is low (mornings etc) and hyperglycaemic, where the amount of blood sugar is far too high and the third is in between in an area I like to call ‘The Zone’. This is where you want your blood sugar levels to be all day so that you have a steady supply of energy for your daily activities without any excess spill or crashes but for the population raised on fizzy drinks and sweeties this is not what happens at all.

The Zone

Sugar spikes and crashes through the day

The average person will get up in the morning in a hypoglycaemic state having not had any food for 8 hours due to sleep. They will then immediately indulge in a bowl of sugar coated cereal which is carbohydrates on more carbohydrates with a mug of sugary tea (more carbohydrates) and a glass of orange juice (sugar water with vitamins). With no protein or fats to curb the absorption of sugar the result is a massive spike in blood glucose shooting way past ‘The Zone’ margin and high up into acute hyperglycaemia. The body of course is having absolutely none of this nonsense and sends out the insulin heavies to round up the rowdy sugar crowd. The insulin then shuttles the sugar into fat cells & muscles where is is burned up extremely quickly and the result is the all too familiar sugar crash where usually mid morning you feel tired, sluggish and kinna hungry again.

So what does anyone do in this situation who’s been brought up not to eat their lunch too early? Have a cup of tea (with sugar) and a biscuit, doughnut or crisps (all carbohydrates) which of course starts the entire dance all over again and this continues up until maybe dinner time when the person has a balanced meal with some protein and some fats which help curb sugar spikes and keep them in The Zone. Unfortunately by that time the body is not only more than likely in a caloric surplus but has spent pretty much all day in ‘storage mode’ due to the almost constant high levels of insulin present resulting from the continuous sugar intake.

Insulin resistance

The hard part comes when the body starts to suffer from what’s knows as insulin resistance. This is where the body, due to the constant and massive presence of insulin in the bloodstream starts to be come accustomed to it as if it is the norm and cells don’t open up as readily as they once did when insulin comes a knockin’ with it’s load, so what happens? The body starts to produce MORE insulin which is MORE anabolic reactions happening and this will continue until one day the blood stream will be so saturated with sugar that the cells just won’t open and with no-where to go the entire body will be in a dangerous state of hyperglycaemia. This state can remain undetected without tests and can be a major contributor to the now all too familiar and ever increasing diet based Type 2 diabetes.

Boring life?

So should everyone is Scotland give up their favourite single malt, beer, tattie scone or Sunday bottle of ginger?

Of course not ( I sure as hell aren’t! )

Food is one of life’s great pleasures and occasional indulgence can be a powerful mood lifter but as a society in Scotland and indeed the rest of the UK we’re generally lacking in the ability to make it past a week without some sort of unhealthy binge and in some cases these binges even occur mid week. This is mainly due to the fact of how our horribly unequal, unsatisfying and slave like work patterns are…..although that’s a story for another time!

Some sensible scraps of knowledge in the back of one’s mind can go a long way to helping everyone avoid a plethora of heath issues and these mostly revolve around getting the most out of what we put in our mouths (Ooh matron!) by eating the most nutrient dense food we can find like broccoli, fresh fruit lean protein like chicken breast and good fats like olive oil while avoiding the bad stuff like vegetable oil, daily sweets and fizzy drinks. Have an apple mid morning along with a few nuts to curb that fructose spike instead of a bag of crisps or biscuit. Have a bottle of water instead of a bottle of coke as chronic dehydration can cause hunger and cravings too and try for other weekend activities other than the pub for not only a happier liver but to encourage the one place you absolutely 100% want to get fat…….

Your wallet!!!