Saturday, 31 January 2015

Rule 1 of the Gym Changing Room: Dangle

January is the time of year when many of you will have joined a gym for the first time, determined to get in shape in time for strolling along the beach front this summer.

I know this because exactly one year ago I joined a gym and started to work out. I have learnt from personal experience that it is possible to transform how you look within a year. I'm delighted to say that I look like a new man, as you can see from the photo. Yes, in case you are wondering, that is definitely all me. Oh yes it is!

The other thing I have learnt is how to behave in men's gym changing rooms. There are things you do and things you don't do. I offer this helpful advice to all you newcomers to the world of gyms.

The first thing to understand is that the people you share the changing room with are not your friends. They are your rivals. You are in a competition as soon as you step into the changing room. You must never forget this.

There are two distinct phases to be aware of. I think of them as pre-workout and apres-workout.

When you arrive pre-workout the focus is on life outside the gym. It is important to establish how busy you are. So make sure you arrive in a suit and tie and march in confidently. Even if you don't work in a suit and tie, keep one in your car. Change into your suit and tie in your car in the carpark, march into the changing room and then change out of them again. This will establish you as a dominant male right from the word go.

You can enhance this by striding in whilst on the phone. Obviously there doesn't need to be anyone at the other end of your call. As you bash the door open, bark into your phone something like "...and I want it done YESTERDAY. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" Then switch you phone off, sigh and smile whilst shaking your head sadly. Try to catch someone's eye and say "difficult to get good staff these days". Thus you have announced yourself to the changing room and everyone knows - a MAN has arrived.

Change slowly. MAN is not in a hury. MAN does not have to rush home to put children to bed. Besides it is important that you stretch and flex as you change. People need to know that you are pushing yourself to the limit. So look for the opportunity to say something like "damn, I shouldn't have run that 10k this morning". This will intimidate other lesser men around you who have not been out for a long run before coming to the gym. Well done!

Make sure you have an injury. Ideally this should be a leg or ankle injury. But it can be a wrist problem as well. Basically it should be an injury that you tape up. Do this carefully and deliberately so that everyone in the changing room can see your technique (you can practice this at home). The message you are sending is "Guys, I don't just exercise in the gym, I am out there doing a MAN'S sport where you get injured".

Then put in your headphones and turn your music on. But not in that order. Turn the music on first. Make sure it is hard driving music with a thumping baseline. It only needs to be on for a few seconds but they will get the message - you train HARD and by the sound of things you CLUB hard too. YOU ARE A PLAYER! (Once your headphones are in feel free to change the music back to a nice classical piece or perhaps a smooth Burt Bacharach number).

After all that you are ready to go and jump about a bit in the gym. Apparently that's important. But what's even more important is the apres-workout.

Makes sure you slam your way through that changing room door as if you are going to take it off its hinges. Because you are PUMPED after that fierce workout (even if like me you've only done 15 minutes walking on the treadmill whilst watching TV). If heads don't jerk up sharply as you barge in your are not putting the right level of effort into your entry. Practice at home but not when your wife is home or you will get in trouble.

Then peel your t-shirt off. You t-shirt must be at least one size smaller than your actual size so that it is difficult to peel off. This gives the impression that your muscles have expanded and are threatening to rip your t-shirt apart like the hulk. (Note: if you have a fat sticking out belly, don't do the tight t-shirt thing. Wear a loose t-shirt. I have a few of them that I can lend to you if required).

At this point you need to bring out your protein shake. Now I will be totally honest with you here. I don't know what a protein shake is. Or why you need to drink them all the time. But MEN do this. So you must do it too. However I have discovered that if you hold a water bottle and shake it and it makes some sort of clanking noise then everyone assumes its a protein shake. So simply fill your bottle with water, drop a (clean) stone into it and shake hard. Or you can try another drink such as  hot chocolate with marshmellow and perhaps some extra cream on top. But make sure you walk around the changing room shaking your container so that everyone thinks that you are drinking a protein shake.

Finally, go and have a shower. Now this is where you need to make a hard decision. You can't fake this and everyone knows that this is the big test. You come out of the shower. Where do yo dry yourself? This depends purely on your, ahem..errr.."equipment".

If you are "modest" then I advise you to dry in the shower cubicle. Lower your profile. Come out from the shower, get dressed and shuffle off to your car without too much fanfare.

But if you are "substantial" then (and I have see this with my own eyes) stride out of the shower stark naked and dripping wet. Take your time. When you reach your locker, place one leg proudly up on the bench in front of you and DANGLE. Yes, my friend, DANGLE  and let your rivals know that they are in the presence of A MAN!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Coat of Arms: Tell Your Story

On 17th January, 2015 we were granted a Coat of Arms by the College of Arms in the City of London.

Creating a coat of arms has been a fascinating and thought provoking process, in our case under the skilled guidance of the Windsor Herald, a post that has existed since 1364 and is currently occupied by William Hunt.

Historically, coats of arms were used by medieval knights to identify the wearer in battle and tournaments, so that you didn't bash someone on your own side over the head! Today I look at a coat of arms as a way of telling your story. Hundreds of years in the future one of your descendants might wonder who you were and what you and your family stood for. The challenge that I and my brother, Roland, faced was to come up with a heraldic design that tells our family's story and that is what I feel we have achieved.

I will explain the various elements to you, but first and most significant is the fact that it was granted today, the 17th January. Today is our elder brother, Jim Stanfield's birthday. If you know me at all you know that our big brother died way too early in 2012 after a short illness. But he is still our guide and inspiration and we wanted to anchor this coat of arms to his birthday so that forever more if anyone wonders what the roots of it are, it will lead straight back to the great man himself.

At the heart of our Arms is a Griffin. A griffin has the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. My brother and I and also our father are leos, born in July/August hence the lion. Our father was Nigerian and even though the eagle is not the official national bird of Nigeria, it is closely connected with the country - even the football team are the Super Eagles. So a griffin captures us well.

In our case we have a Sinister Griffin i.e. it faces left instead of right. It is very unusual for the central beast on a coat of arms to be sinister, because if it was on a shield and you were riding into battle your fearsome beast would be facing the wrong way and look like it was trying to escape! However, we don't actually plan to carry shields into battle (perhaps the occasional meeting...). We chose a sinister griffin because both my brother and I are left-handed.

Above the helm is a stag. The stag represents Richmond upon Thames. Richmond is know for stags and deer in Richmond Park. We are a Richmond family. Our great grandparents moved here over a hundred years ago. Our grandparents grew up here. Our mother grew up here. We grew up here. Our children are growing up here. Five generations in the same borough and no plans to move! We love the borough and wherever any of us travel in the world we always find our way back here.

The stag is holding a lightening bolt and has its hoof on a ball. The lightening bolt represents me and my career in technology and my fascination with science. The ball is a cricket ball and represents Roland's lifelong passion for cricket.

On one side of the griffin is a oak branch with acorns. Acorns are used to signify learning. Education is a theme that runs through our family, starting with our mother who was a teacher for over 30 years in the UK, Uganda and Nigeria. Literally hundreds of students have sat in her classrooms and she taught in a teacher training institute for many years so her impact is being felt by generations of students.

There are five leaves on the branch. They represent the five brothers and sisters, Liz, Jay (Jim), Sue, Tom (me) and Rol. We are a tight unit and always will be, even though Jay is no longer with us.

On the other side of the griffin is a branch from the Okha tree. My father was born in a tiny village deep in the countryside in Nigeria called Uokha. This means "near the Okha tree" so this branch represents him and his roots. Actually I wasn't sure what an Okha tree looked like so I contacted Kew Gardens and asked them. The librarians at Kew did an excellent job in researching the question and sent me diagrams and explanations which I forwarded to the College of Arms to produce the design.

We have chosen the colours carefully too. Red and white is for England. Green and white is for Nigeria. Black, gold and green is for Jamaica because co-incidentally both Roland and I married British women with Jamaican origins, so Jamaica has become very much part of our family.

We wrestled for months, literally, with the motto before settling on Tua Fabula which is Latin for Your Story.

It is really hard to sum up ones philosophy of life in three or four words. try it! I ended up going back to a parable that I occasionally bore my children with (just to watch them roll their eyes!). It says "until lions have their own storytellers, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter".

If you don't tell your story, someone else will and they will tell it from their perspective. But Tua Fabula goes deeper than that. We want to encourage our family to live lives full of stories worth telling. Don't be boring. Never do what you are "supposed" to do. Go out there, explore the world and everything it has to offer. Live, love, laugh and be fabulous. Fill your lives with stories and then tell Your Story.

Tua Fabula