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17 December 2015

Seriously considering naming my school Upon Westminster Bridge. Although, maybe not. The idea came from the song Ė see below, and it does have that English feel to it. But the problem is like buying new shoes when you are insecure. YOU may like them, in the shoppe, but you know you will never wear them if ONE other person does not like them. Incidentally, I have bought five pairs of shoes in 2015 and given four pairs away new because I haven't worn them, for that very reason. The fifth pair is at home awaiting the same fate while I wear the three pairs I have got already, one pair of which is three years old, another pair being close to 15 years old.
So the name of the school is not as easy as you would think, not when I have to register it. Calling it the Chris School in Almaty was just a joke really, and the name stuck but was never intended to be permanent. If anybody has any ideas please let me know.
Those of us connected with Kazakhstan will know about the economic situation. When I came to Almaty nearly a decade ago, the price of one dollar was about 118 Tenge. So earning close to 200,000 Tenge as I did was not far off $2,000 a month. Now I earn double that amount in Tenge, but its value in real terms is less than what I was getting all those years ago. So in some ways it's time for a rethink of the options. Certainly not planning to leave, but there could and should be more profitable things to do.
As to what, well, many of you will know that I applied for a job with the professional cycling team which is funded by Kazakhstan, Astana Pro Team. The idea was mine, I was not applying for an advertised vacancy, and the proposal was to work for them in a media capacity. The team seems to have the Russian speaking side of PR very well covered, but I don't see much on the English side, and it was my idea to cover this for them. It helps indeed that I know the languages that they work with, all five of them, and have some TV experience, but it has been two months now and I think even eternal optimists will forgive me a spot of pessimism. In Kazakhstan, no reply usually means 'no', although of course, they have not said 'on yer bike!' yet either.
Maybe they are testing me to see how proactive I am, as of course they will need me to be precisely this in the job, and maybe I should be more 'aggressive' in selling myself. But no, I have done my bit in my own way, and until any such time they were to refuse my application, I still consider it a possibility for periods of the coming year.
For anybody who may wonder what the attraction of working in professional cycling is, this may put them straight
The story of my love for professional cycling goes back to my early teens when I lived in France for a short period with a very nice family whom I would love to get back in touch with. Ha ha, they are not on Facebook, and neither am I any more, which still makes me smile every time I think of it.
Well, back in 1987 as I think it was, the idea of missing the Tour de France was unthinkable for any self-respecting French family, certainly not with the late and great Laurent Fignon wearing the yellow jersey. So the fact that I didn't want to go was not going to sway them, and they dragged me along to Limoges to watch the cyclists arrive. It was hell, thousands of people trampling round and jostling for space by the barriers, people pushing and shouting. All in good humour, but it was amazing how seriously people took it. I mean, for me, it was just blokes on bikes, and as a Brit, I knew very little about it.
But then the cavalcade came round and I lightened up when I managed to get a sticky bug which some girl threw from a car, along with a box of matches which I gave to my grandma (ironic as she never smoked in her life) and she kept until she passed away a few years ago.
So I have already admitted to an interest in the event, although I was not really bothered about the sport, and wanted to go. But then they came Ė two leaders shot up the hill so fast I could hardly see them. I had to watch for more, it seemed unreal. Then about a hundred bikes shot past and round a sharp corner.
That night I asked to watch it on TV to see if I could see myself, but also secretly, although I did not want to admit it, because the race had gripped me and I just had to see if it was all real. Then I had a long talk about it with the father of the family, who was touched that I was prepared to show such an interest in something he still thought I was not interested in.
But I was, and as they say about cycling, the people who like it tend to REALLY like it. And those who REALLY like it would really really love a job in it.
I still play the dombra, although I don't really feel I am getting much better. I have the best teacher in the world, a good quality instrument and I like what I do. But no real talent. I do my best, and I will keep playing, but there are people who've been playing half the time I have who are so much better. All Kazakhs, yes, but surely culture can only take a person's talent so far? I know that in general Italians are better drivers than most other people, even if they become over-confident and reckless as a result. And I know that infant Mongolians can ride horses without needing lessons at all. Same thing about Swiss kids, they can ski almost before they can walk. But what is it about being English that means that I can't learn the dombra any better than a local person when I have the best tuition available?
Leaving Facebook has been amazing, and I do not plan to go back, maybe not ever, but there was something I needed it for yesterday. I have been watching some of this guy's videos recently on YouTube
as he is one of the highly enlightened souls who can see the oh so obvious truth about the likes of Russell Brand, and I have been suitably moved by his contribution to the well-being of African children. So much so that I have decided to sponsor a child. But what I wanted Facebook for, was to try to set up a small group of local people who would be prepared to make a group sponsorship contribution. I imagine that with 10 people the cost per person would be about a quid a month. So, in the absence of that slimy, insidious and utterly annoying collection of pixels called FB, is there anybody locally (Almaty) who would like to contribute to a child sponsoring scheme?
The plan is for ME to pay all the amount from my account every month and for people to donate anything towards it. If they wish to see proof that payments are being made, they can and I will show them.

15 December 2015

So I finally deleted my Facebook account. Why? Well, FB doesn't really seem to serve any indispensable purpose. It is more about quantity of friends than quality of friendship. What is the point of checking five times a day for things to share, to then log on another five times a day to see who likes them, as if it matters? There is some good stuff on there, yes, but overall it was becoming a grand waste of time. Not just the time you spend on there but the time you spend thinking about logging on, etc.
So I gave people chance to get my contact details if they really do want to stay in touch Ė and let's face it, out of 400 friends only about 10 asked for my email address... There is no judgement, but if people really want to keep in touch, they can, in other ways. Perhaps not quite as easy, but that's the point precisely, if people only stay in contact with you when it is easy, then they can't see you as that important, can they? And most Facebook contact is shared with countless other people, which is pretty impersonal.
Anyway, this video says it all, and I love the guy's facial expressions.
The only disadvantage of closing my account has been not being able to tell everybody how good it feels not to have an account any more :D And it feels very very good.
I wanted to delete my account completely, but it seemed that deactivating it was the only available option. This is OK, but in essence it does not really change anything in terms of logging on etc as you can access your account any time you want, and nothing has changed. However, I changed my password to something completely immemorable, and did not keep a copy. I can get access if I really need it, but it will be difficult. So if the need ever arises, and I mean 'need', I can use my account again. But this step means I won't just sign in on a whim and get distracted by posts about veganism or how Jeremy Corbyn has come to save us all, etc.
I did the same with Linkedin, although I did not deactivate, I just blocked myself from accessing. Although in truth, I access Linkedin once a year, as it is even more boring than Facebook. I have no VK, Myspace, Weibo, Twitter, Instagram nor Whatsapp.
Like I said once, real friends don't need FB. You may think you have 350 friends, but your brain can't cope with so many personal relationships, and don't kid yourself that any more than 25 of them care about you. You probably have five real friends on FB and I would be willing to bet that all of those five can AND DO get in touch with you in other ways, and are more than prepared to make the minimal extra effort to do so.
I will therefore lose 'touch' with hundreds of people, but isn't this a good thing, if those people can only be bothered with me if they can click LIKE on something I post, most of the time not even something of my own? And anyway, most of the 400 people on my list never clicked LIKE even once on anything I ever posted. Most of them probably 'unfollowed' me years ago. I did the same with most of my friends.
Concerns about privacy? Well, to a degree, but even if this was not the case, I would have quit this week anyway. I have decided to devote more time to more meaningful pursuits. And even if I don't, it does mean that I won't plan my day round being able to count my likes and see which photos with captions I can share that day :D Win win!
At the moment, the plan is to come up with a decent name for my school for a few reasons. Firstly, to get a full website for the service to replace the FB page that they actually let me keep open, provided I nominated another editor, which I did. The second reason is to register the business which is the plan for the new year. If you have any ideas for names please let me know.
I thought about calling it Upon Westminster Bridge, which is very English and the name of a song by Half Man Half Biscuit. The HMHB page on Facebook was the reason I did not deactivate my account a year or so ago, because I enjoyed the banter and contributions, but later on I came to realise that it was simply not important.
Inkeeping with the HMHB theme for school names, maybe Shit School Bad Tattoo?
He who would IELTS take?
I can share things here. I know only two or three people will read them, but I quite enjoy maintaining this website, even if there is no LIKE icon to click. And remember, if there is no LIKE icon, you can't be disappointed when nobody clicks it ;)
Another project is to design my own language. I know this is a futile pursuit in terms of communication, but there are many such conlangers (people who have created their own language Ė conlangs) and it does seem quite a fun thing to do. After all, didn't Tolkein do the same thing a few times, even if he never produced a complete working language? I will start with the alphabet, and I have decided that my language will read from top to bottom, like ancient Mongolian, and there will be 21 letters. What they are, and what sound they will take is not decided, but they will be swirly ones. So far I have created two words, SHLAA, which means good, and SHLAB, which means bad. I think from this, there will be an emphasis on endings of adjectives to change the meaning. Adjectives will end in long vowels or diphthongs, and shortening them and adding a hard consonant sound to the end will make the meaning negative.

TAA Ė happy TAB Ė sad

Yes, they will do, I already have four words :D
I know not all adjectives have immediate opposites, and some adjectives won't fit this mould, words like UPPER, but it seems to work for many of them. I will also base the sounding on Kazakh and Mongolian which use vowel harmony, and I think the grammar will be more like English, without different verb endings for I, you, he, she etc. But no cases and NO articles!!!! Just in case somebody ever asks me to teach them :)
TAA very much for reading :D

February 6 2014

Offering the same excuses for pixeline inaction holds very little water, I admit. Yes, I have been very busy with other writing, managing now to make almost a living out of it. Yes also that the primary motivator when starting this blogge was really the self-satisfaction of seeing my work in a context that may permit me to believe that other people were reading it and appreciating it, to some or other degree. This factor was largely rendered redundant with the increase in other projects which in essence see me write dozens of things which then reach far wider audiences. If you like the idea of people reading your stuff, you inevitably devote more time to writing things that several thousand people will definitely read, rather than something that four or five people may read.
But excuses aside, the increase in activity has meant that I can generally turn stuff out faster, which means that a daily blogge here may not take more than ten or so minutes to finish. So strictly speaking, yes, I should be writing more. Itís also the only place where I get to write about myself endlessly without losing any business :)
Not that I am proud of the personal trait at all! I can mitigate it but wonít bother, certainly not since recently I learned that I am actually capable of sustaining a conversation without gravitating back to the subject of yours truly, and that doing so has the twin rewards of firstly making people more interested to know you, and secondly actually makes the conversation more interesting for me too. Yes, I knew all this before. Like I said, there can be the tendency to gravitate to certain leitmotifs, and itís quite easy to end up focusing on a subject without even realising it.
As part of my journalism course I was recently required to compose a personal profile based on a face-to-face interview with somebody who would be considered to be of interest. It was tempting to do this with one of the celebs I know personally, but ultimately the idea of a training course is not to practise chatting to your friends. So I thought about a few possibilities and settled on two people I thought I would like to meet.
One is a Kazakh chess player who in spite of her young age has already attained the status of grandmaster and has beaten big names in the chess world such as Anatoliy Karpov, he of the epic struggles with Garry Kasparov in I think the 1980s. This is still in the pipeline and I hope to run a feature about her soon here
My Destination
The basic idea of My Destination is to promote Kazakhstan to the English speaking world. I know some of my articles read like Iím singing the national anthem, but I honestly donít think there are many people better placed to do this particular job than me. Certainly not at the prices I am prepared to work for. Although my interview was originally intended to be an assignment, and was submitted to my tutor, the sub-incentive was to get a feature on our website with a focus not just on travel options or places to eat out, but on a person of local interest who would help us paint a rosy picture of the country.
So the choice was Aygerim Dauletbekova, who I have to say is one of the nicest people Iíve ever met, and the interview was so easy to do because she is so easy to get on with. The course outlined how hard it can be to do an effective interview, so add to that doing one in your seventh language with a supermodel, and you can be forgiven for being a little unnerved. But it went well, and I was prouder to see it on the site than anything else Iíve ever had published there.
I have other ideas now. I want to run a series of features called People of Kazakhstan in which we promote the country by showcasing achievement. After all, itís the people who make acountry, even if from a tourism point of view there is more value in putting the focus on things to do etc.
Coming back to the profile, my tutor made some really insightful comments which will help me write the coming ones a bit better. But he accepted that the slant was not just the person and that the sub-angle was really the country itself. Itís interesting training to be a journalist and finding out all the things which may be obvious but only when they are pointed out to you. To be honest, Iíve always written as Iíve seen fit, and itís been nice to hear that people rate my work. But one does not simply walk into Mordor and write to the standard of Fleet Streetís finest without some awareness raising first.
I donít even read the papers, never have. So when you produce a news story which begins with the name of the protagonist, it seems perfectly logical. But then you learn that itís bad journalism to put names in the standfirst (the introduction) unless the person is of such significance as to merit the article really being about them. I suppose a personal profile always would be, but a local news story of some woman who saves a drowning dog would not really say exactly who she was until into the second paragraph.
I donít really have any aspirations to be a staff journalist, and even if I did there are no English language journalists working in this country for one single publication (that I know of). The competition I have may come from broadsheet reporters but their remit is essentially different than mine, and I donít think they would be prepared to turn out copy for My Destination for the payment I receive. For this reason, I basically have total control over the content of the output for the people I work for, and am virtually guaranteed to sell everything I write. Quite an enviable situation for a writer.
Away from the PC, I am refreshed and surprised to remain fully motivated with my muscle building programme, in spite of not really having built all that much muscle. Maybe I have, but the change is gradual, and I donít often bump into people I have not seen for a year or so. Another limiting factor is the amount of body fat I have. This is not to say I am fat, but the percentage I have is more than a fitness model should have, and for this reason it obscures muscle definition.
Informed bodybuilders recognise two main processes in their programme, bulking and shedding, the latter sometimes known as cutting. Thereís no mystery about them, bulking is building muscle and shedding is losing fat. But the paradox is, they are almost impossible to achieve at the same time, simply because they require two highly contrasting body states.
Bulking requires you to take in high amounts of calories and convert them to muscle. Shedding requires you to be in a calorific deficit so you can lose body fat. Itís essentially difficult for a non-beginner to achieve both these aims at the same time, so well-planned programmes incorporate periods of bulking and cutting over a long period. They say that 10% body fat is the maximum you should be before you even need to think about bulking, although it depends on the aim of course.
I would ideally be looking to lose 5% myself, but Iíve fallen into the trap. The fear that all men have of losing the muscle theyíve gained during bulking.
Top trainers understand that non-training would result in loss of muscle, but they would also remind lifters that where body fat reduces, the guy actually looks bigger because of the enhanced definition. And itís also possible to continue weights during a cutting programme for maintenance reasons. I guess this would seem like the answer then. But as I said, Iíve fallen into the trap.
Another common mistake people make is thinking that it is load which stimulates muscle gains. To a degree it does, and to get the fast twitch muscle fibres going you need to work with heavy weight, sometimes. But the modern approach to bodybuilding, as opposed to strength building, is to move away from simple lifting and onto a more scientific approach known as hypertrophy. This is radically different from basic weight lifting in that it is not the amount you lift that makes the difference, but the way you lift.
The key approach is known as TUT, time under tension. The strongest guy in the gym is not always the most impressive body builder, and some of the fitness models you see around the place often train with comparatively light weights. This is because they adopt the TUT approach, and centre their sessions around keeping the muscle under constant tension.
Take barbell curls. Where somebody can curl 55 kilos, as I can, with the basic technique, this often involves the muscle relaxing at the high and low ends of the movement, especially when the bar is at its lowest point and supported by the extended arm in a vertical position. Try it, you can probably hold it for several minutes. This is because the muscle is not under tension. If you then hold the same weight but keep the bicep under tension, maybe at an angle of 160 degrees, you can probably hold the new lower position for about ten seconds.
The theory, and practice, of time under tension is to complete the set without releasing the contraction in the muscle. This means that you can lift a lot less, but will gain a lot more. I remember dropping my weights on some sets by 75% to achieve this time under tension, and by the end of the set the pain is considerable. On other sets, I have yet to adopt the new approach because I liftnot inconsiderable weight and do not wish to deprive my vanity of the satisfaction.
They say, when youíre in the gym, lift like a bodybuilder and not like a weightlifter. Train your muscles, not your ego. And at the end of the day, nobody cares how much you can lift. But there are plenty of people who may be impressed with how good you look.
Or may not, I know itís not everybodyís cup of tea, but Iíve always wanted a fitness model physique, and after about three years working towards one, what gains I have made constitute an important step towards an ambition that at my age, I donít have a million years left to achieve.
If anybody is interested in building muscle, I would recommend the Hypertrophy Max programme, or failing that, some of the amazing insights and motivation posted online by the co-creator, Vince Del Monte, from whom I have probably learned enough to become a personal trainer myself.
Not that I want to.

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