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First blog post

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Welcome

September 5th 2016

This is my first blog posting, for the adventure (I hope ) that will be the ‘Lentil Lady’ experience.

My intention is to lose weight by only eating lentils. This is clearly insane, and just how insane will become clearer in the days and weeks ahead.

Why oh why?

I have been trying to lose weight for a long time now, because I am unhealthily overweight (BMI 32) and could stand to lose – maybe a quarter of my current body weight? But, like a lot of people, I find losing weight for a couple of weeks very easy, and then it all comes back on again. I go through times in my life when I put a lot of weight on: when I’m under stress and distracted, usually. Then I find it difficult to take the weight back off again. In fact, my weight is rock-solid stable a lot of the time – too high – but very stable. 

My problem, I think, is that although I know how to diet and what I should be eating, I find it very, very difficult to be consistent. And I like food. And my better half is a great cook. I also like wine, quite a lot: one of life’s great pleasures.

Then

Then I read about the magician Penn Jillette losing a lot of weight by ‘only eating potatoes’. I believe he also ate vegetable stew. I had a light-bulb moment, on the train from York to Doncaster.

The point of such a repetitive diet, is to take the fun out of food. To only use food as fuel and to stop using it as a treat, a form of self-expression or a constant celebration.

It should also be possible to consistently eat the same number of calories. Rather than eating new things all the time and assuming I know how much I’m eating, so much easier to eat same-old, same-old and know exactly what I’m getting.

I believe people who eat repetitively also eat less out of boredom – understandably.

Lentils

I like lentils. I have always joked that if I could only eat one food, it would be lentils. Now’s the time to call  my own bluff. Additionally lentils can be cooked in numerous ways, including as dahl, for a breakfast food, or eaten cooked but cold in a salad. Lentils are a mix of carbohydrate, fibre and protein. They aren’t a complete food, but they’re pretty close.

What’s the plan?

The plan is to cook and eat a calorie-counted lentil dish, for each meal (three meals a day). Alongside that, to only drink water, or hot drinks,
not sodas or beer, or wine. Then keep that up until – I’m not quite sure when. My better half thinks I’ll last a fortnight. It’s my birthday around then, and I haven’t thought about what the ‘rule’ should be for such occasions.

Penn kept it up until he’d lost 100 pounds. I don’t have that much to lose, thankfully. I guess the first couple of weeks are a testing ground to see whether it works at all, with an encouraging amount of weight loss and with no unwanted side effects. Then the hard work of sticking to it, really starts.

 

Under Western Eyes

Over the last couple of days I read Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad. I read it many years ago and remembered it as a story of a young man, thrust among Russian Revolutionaries, who are living in exile in Geneva; he despises these people and their aims and only sticks around because he has a massive crush on a young lady – who is not particularly caught up in their schemes. I remembered it chiefly as a novel about disillusionment, with the twist of the unrequited romance to give it an added piquancy. My conception of Conrad is that he writes novels in which the chief protaganoist is not so much an ‘anti-hero’ as is often claimed as a ‘non-hero’ or ‘accidental’ or ‘incidental’ character. I remembered Under Western Eyes as being like that in that the young man at the centre of the story (Razumov) was lost, bewildered and scathing of the activities of those around him.

My memory of the book was imperfect, but not completely inaccurate. The story is told by an English languages professor, who knows some of the people concerned socially, or through his tutoring work, in Geneva. The title, then means something like ‘this story has been filtered through a foreigner’s sensibilities’ or ‘I might have got this wrong’. As such it also fits with my understanding of Conrad’s work: that he tells ‘pub stories’. That is ‘true’ stories, that he might have heard from a bloke in a pub wherein the names have been changed ‘to protect the innocent’. They are only fantastic tales, because the world is a fantastic place. In the ‘weird’ sense. Not in the ‘wonderful’ sense.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I didn’t find the frame-effect (the English man is providentially given Razumov’s diary) at all implausible. This is because, apart from some preliminaries apologising for how ill-equipped he is, as a foreigner, to tell the tale, the reader is then immediately plunged into Razumov’s perspective on events from his diary. Razumov believes he has been shang-haied by history, seemingly; press-ganged into being involved in ways that he cannot comprehend; he is an innocent by-stander who has been swept up in the current of politics, like a twig on a river in spate. Across the whole novel, the order of presentation of the facts of the matter and their consequences, is very simple, but has a tremendous emotional impact. The reader knows considerably more than any of the actors in the drama, right from the start. The whole piece then is simply a working out of who knows what, and when, to maximum dramatic effect.

The book is obviously a political one (so many of Conrad’s are), and there were certain passages that made my hair stand on end, because they seemed so pertinent to parts of the world today. There are discussions of how impossible it is to trust anyone in an autocratic government whose only purpose is to preserve itself, that could be read as a warning for anyone choosing to travel to certain parts of the world today; and a template for the current Russian government, even though the book was written a hundred years ago (1911); and touched on events in the 1870s or thereabouts.

The framing device, of having the story told by someone foreign to the group concerned, and using written material, had the effect of making the main characters somewhat mysterious. Although we sympathise with Razumov based on his own account of himself in his diary, once our narrator meets him, he is clearly a difficult, stubborn, awkward young man, who frightens more sensitive people. The Russian Revolutionaries, are clearly considered as no better than con artists, by the Englishman. When the heroine’s mother loses her mind over the loss of her son, Haldin, the Englishman finds this regrettable over-emotionality and when the heroine devotes herself to the poor and needy of her mother country, the narrator thinks this is a terrible waste of a rather nice young woman. This does not have the effect of making the narrator seem an idiot; it does not force the reader to take sides – which is due to Conrad’s skill as a story-teller. Throughout the narrator emphasises how foreign the Russians are: but we are allowed to believe both sides of the story.

The only part of the text that I found hardest to follow was the speech and language of the would-be Russian Revolutionaries. Razumov is always very careful what he says to them. But the response from the people he is surrounded by seems to be very long-winded and I found it hard to grasp what they were really trying to say to him. Even when they are speaking to the Englishman narrator and discussing the difference between Russian autocratic government and English freedoms, they make claims that the English ‘have paid too high a price’ for our rights, that either, went over my head, or goes to show that they didn’t know what they were talking about. It was hard to tell whether people were very sincere, but mistaken; or insincere and putting on a strange sort of act. That, possibly, was the point.

There were two minor aspects that caught my eye, and gave me great pleasure in the book, as a text, as a piece of writing. I kept feeling that many of the people and situations were familiar to me: that in fact Conrad was deliberately thieving from great Russian literature. His main character is a student who (spoilers?) in the end feels obliged to blurt out his crime (familiar?). The student encounters drunken sleigh-drivers and self-indulgent so-called anarchists. Some of the characters indulge in martyrdom to squalor. There is a strong sense of being trapped, of futility. The great man who will lead the revolution is also a guru or prophet figure. These seem like tropes from everything we know about Russia from literature.

The other little thing that made me smile, is Conrad showing great faith in the power of language. The two young people are fascinated by each other because they have been recommended to one another by a mutual acquaintance: her brother, his fellow student. This man – Haldin – spoke or wrote admiringly of each, to the other, and the recommendation – because of the character of Haldin himself – has a profound effect on both of them. They are doomed to be interested in one another, simply because of his words. Which saves a lot of messing around, having to create opportunities for them to meet and form an impression of each other, for Conrad. Why spend 350 pages dodging around one another, when you can just decide to fall in love based on a casual sentence, uttered by someone else?

I enjoyed re-visiting this book. It is a work of classic fiction that is not only a pleasure to read but is remarkably easy to read with an insanely well-structured story in well-evoked settings. Oh boy can Conrad write!

Learning to use Word Press

I can now clearly see that I have no clue how to use Word Press. I am also a little depressed that there is no wordcount for this page – that I can see. Presumably there is one and it is cunningly hidden somewhere.

I wonder what all the buttons do? I wonder what it means to be a slug. Or an Excerpt?

I do not know what it means to Publish. Well. I can guess. I think I am going to have to use this blog site as a rehearsal space before creating content that I want the rest of the world to be aware of.

I need a better blog name as well. Something with pepper or ginger in it, I expect.

I need to read up about how to use Word Press.

As well as read several hundred other books, that I need to read.

I am getting slightly over-whelmed.