Well, I was right. The weekend away was what I needed to perk myself up after last week's moodiness. I feel so much better now after some time alone with myself, doing exactly what I want to do, when I want to do it. There were a couple of separate incidents that told me how much I've changed over the past couple of years, so apologies in advance, this will be long (although I have pictures to brighten it up a little!). This is what happens when I have three days of thinking without getting near a computer...
On Friday I said that I wouldn't be using today's weight as it always gets thrown off a bit when I go away for the weekend. Roughly translated that means that every time I've been away since I started this, I've stood on the scale the next morning and it's been up. Water, usually, but up all the same. This morning I nearly died of shock. The scale was actually lower than it was on Friday. Only half a pound or so, but still lower. Interesting. But I know why, it's simply because I didn't use a holiday as an excuse for eating and drinking to excess. Far from it. I was far more saintly than I'd been intending, more by accident than design, and much against my better judgment. I relaxed my normal rules, but I didn't go mad with the relaxation. I listened to my body's needs, and we came to a perfect understanding.
Before I left the house I shoved some fruit in my bag. Satsumas and minneolas, together with a bag of dried apricots and a bag of dried berries. And several bars of Green and Blacks chocolate. The main rationale was that the fresh fruit wouldn't survive the weekend, and that the dried fruit would be better than crisps for nibbles on the journey. Wise, wise move. Also before leaving at 1am on Saturday morning I had my normal breakfast. I was a bit undecided about how to structure my meals, whether to go to sleep when I got in on Friday night and eat my evening meal before leaving, or whether to treat it as Saturday breakfast. I was hungry when I got in, so I took the breakfast option. Between 1am and arriving in Spain at about 10am CET I sustained myself with a couple of snacks. One of the chocolate bars, one of the minneolas and a bit of dried fruit. I didn't get a croissant or muffin when I got a coffee at the airport, and I didn't get crisps for the flight. I landed, got the hire car and set off. The plan was to get up to the Costa Brava and drive round the coast road to Perpignan. I had been considering a second breakfast of churros and chocolate, but quickly realised that service station food in Spain is every bit as bad as service station food in England, and that there wasn't going to be a decent churreria on the motorway. So I nibbled on the fruit.
I eventually made it to Roses, a resort on Cap de Creus at the northern end of the Costa Brava and had lunch at about 2pm. I just hadn't been that hungry before, and hadn't found anywhere that looked nice enough to be worthy of a stop until that stage. The fruit had kept me going without any problems. I found a restaurant, and in a moment of adventure picked the only meaty looking thing that didn't come with chips, even though I wasn't entirely sure what it did come with. It turned out to be a sausage with garlicky beans, and was actually pretty nice. Then onwards to Perpignan.
The match was due to kick off at 7pm, and I wanted to get there at about 4, in time for a drink and a waffle in town before wandering up to the ground. Roses didn't look that far away from Perpignan. Except, it was. 4.30 came and went and I was still in Spain, shooting through towns and villages I'd have loved to have the time to stop in. At 5.30, having probably broken more than one French speed limit (I have no idea what they are, but I wasn't dawdling by this stage) I get to Perpignan to realise that my carefully printed and labelled map of the town centre is sitting on my desk at work. I found a car park (any car park would do!) and dumped the car in it, before setting off on foot to find the hotel and walk up to the ground quickly. Thankfully I vaguely remembered Perpignan from 2002, so found where I needed to be, but no time for that relaxed vin rouge and waffle or crepe stop.
Meanwhile, the other Wigan fans have been on a pub crawl since about 10am. Suffice it to say, that having been driving (or sitting on a plane waiting to re-start driving) for the majority of the past 16 hours, I'm rather more sober than they are. Completely, in other words. I got to the ground, and was disappointed. Last time I was there I was sure they served red wine, and crepes, and churros. This time it was beer and burgers, with a complicated double queuing system where you had to queue to buy vouchers which you then queued to exchange for food and drink. I couldn't be bothered with that for food and drink that wasn't on the list of stuff I'd been craving, so sat down, tried to recover from the dash across town, and pulled out from my bag... you guessed it. Fruit. And water. And Green and Blacks. I would have killed for a waffle, but I didn't want a burger, so I didn't eat one. Simple as that.
Look how sober I look (although you may be able to detect by this stage that I've been awake and travelling for 18 hours and counting, the scary thing being that I wasn't even relying on coffee so I have no idea how I was still awake). Also, some un-used tips for taking photos that make you look skinny. Don't wear horizontal stripes (rugby players can wear them because they're meant to look big and scary, however, it's not a good look for fans). Don't wear shirts made of material that actually reflect the camera flash. Don't wear shirts that are about four sizes too big because you've not got round to buying a new one and you bought this at your heaviest). To be fair, I still look much thinner than I used to, but believe me, I've looked better.
After the game, bed was more appealing than food. I'd still have given vital organs for a waffle, but my two options seemed to be a proper meal at a restaurant or a takeaway kebab/pizza. Neither appealed, so just one more bit of fruit and I collapsed, asleep. I didn't even have a quick glass of wine before bed. Just water. So much for all the food I was going to treat myself to. However, there were a few things that should have been on the list. Baguette. Croissant. President butter. All three satisfied at breakfast. You can't beat the French for those refined carbs for breakfast, together with the classic black coffee.
After a quick wander round Perpignan on Sunday morning, back to Spain I went. I was booked on a winery tour just south of Barcelona at 1pm on Sunday, and other than a quick stop at the services and for petrol I didn't have time for much of a detour. Or for food that wasn't service station rubbish, so when I got to the winery at about 12.45 I think you can guess what I ate. You may be wondering how much fruit I packed, and to be fair, so am I recounting this tale! I went on the tour (which was fab), and got to the tasting room at the end. This is where the whole thing gets scary. I didn't drink FREE wine. I love the Torres reds, but for some reason the wine we got to taste was a white. I'm not a big fan of white, so I had a couple of sips and left it. I don't drink Guinness either, but I managed to down a pint at the Guinness brewery in Dublin, so you'd have thought I'd have made more of an effort. Here though, I just left it on the table. I had a couple of breadsticks with the couple of sips I had, and went on my way again.
I'd have drunk the stuff in here though, red wine is a completely different proposition...
When I left, I started looking for somewhere for lunch, but nowhere took my fancy. Nowhere was quite what I was looking for, and I wasn't that hungry. In the end it got to 3, and then 4, and I decided to have an early evening meal instead, eating a bit later on the basis that I had a long night of travelling ahead. Eventually, I got to Sitges and decided I really had to force myself to eat. I still couldn't find anything that really appealed and called my name, but settled for a tortilla overlooking the sea, watching the sun drop to the west. Hardly a big, gourmet meal, but still more substantial than anything I'd eaten all day (breakfast, fruit and breadsticks). I just wasn't hungry for what was available, but knew that the food at the airport would be even less appealing than the options available there (and certainly wouldn't have that view).
I headed back to the airport, to find that the flight was delayed (thanks, Ryanair! I was hoping for 3 hours sleep when I got back, but your delays took half of that away from me. Still, at least the flight was cheap...), and that the food at the airport was even less appealing than I'd imagined. Some Spanish airports have nice food. At Madrid there's a tapas bar I love (terminal 2 from memory, if you're passing through), and I always have a nibble of something from the Canarian produce shop at Las Palmas. La Palma does nice fresh pizzas, from memory. But at Reus it was run by the same company that runs those service stations I'd been declining all weekend. I started to be glad I'd at least eaten something. I did get a bag of crisps, as by the time the plane even boarded it was getting on for 11pm and the fruit was long gone, but only because the crisps were the least bad option there. More water (the joy of a driving holiday, no need to get tempted by too much alcohol, as it's just not an option!). On the drive home I had a little chocolate (more Green and Blacks, and a Dairy Milk) as I played my get home with chocolate game. It basically involves a small piece every 10 minutes to stave off tiredness and keep the energy levels up just enough to make it to the next chunk. A bar lasts about an hour, which isn't too bad (and I wasn't exactly high enough on calories for the day to dissuade myself from this plan). I find it works as well as caffeine, and is far more enjoyable. The shocking thing was though that I didn't enjoy the Dairy Milk. I've not had any since I discovered Green and Blacks 70% bars, and it just tasted... artificial. I never thought I'd see the day I ate Dairy Milk and didn't like it. (Particularly not with it also being the day I turned down free wine).
I worked out a couple of theories for my bizarrely restrained eating. All interesting in different ways.
First, I wasn't as hungry because I didn't exercise. Those two days of "planned rest" showed up just how many extra calories I usually burn, and I adjusted automatically, almost unconsciously to deal with it. This would be a good thing, if true. It may also be because I have a cold and was eating menthol sweets, even though they were sugar free, maybe they filled me up a little? (This could explain the fact that today I'm still not that hungry, and I exercised this morning).
Second, craving certain foods is a good thing. As long as you crave stuff that you can't get at home, that has to be cooked in a very specific way. Croissants in England just aren't the real, French, deal, for example. By setting off with a clear vision in my head of what I wanted to eat, I passed up lots of other things that just weren't it. I didn't drink white wine or beer because it wasn't red wine. I didn't eat burgers because I was still hopeful that I'd come across somewhere selling waffles, and wanted to save myself for it (I didn't, but I'd have kicked myself if I'd come across somewhere after eating a burger). I didn't eat steak and chips because I was hoping for tapas, or something else nice (I was a little hazier here about what I did want, but knew what I didn't want). Craving McDonalds isn't good (not that I ever have) because you can satisfy that craving too easily. But craving a little bit of something special, well, it helps you to remember what sort of things you do and don't want to give into, and if you only find it rarely you don't need to worry about indulging when you do.
Third, I'm old. It's the same theory with both food and drink, but drink shows it off better. Other Wigan fans went for the party. They were drinking all day, and carried on for most of the night. The people in the room next to mine at the hotel got in at 4.30am. They weren't drinking anything special, they just had an excuse to do it. Some of them were drinking to get drunk, or because that's what you do when you're on holiday. Me, I prefer a drink I can savour. Something that tastes nice rather than something that makes me get tipsy and lose my inhibitions. A nice bottle of red wine I can sit down with and taste the flavours in. Not cheap vodka from duty free on the way out there. I finally have very little interest in drinking to get drunk. The times I do get drunk it's more because I lose count when I've got good company, not just because I'm drinking for the sake of it. Pass me my cardigan and slippers.
But there is pay off. As well as the rather unusual downward scale movement (and maybe that's not genuine, so I'm not counting it yet), I had clothes issues over the weekend. I only took hand luggage (mainly filled with fruit...), and only had one pair of jeans, with spare tops and underwear in the bag. When going away for the weekend with only one pair of jeans, it's sensible to make sure they fit first. Which is something I failed to do. I realise that this may not be something that gains me a lot of sympathy, but it's harder than you'd think to get through a weekend when you're constantly hanging onto your jeans to prevent them going downwards quicker than a skier at the winter olympics. I got them in November, and was oh so pleased to get into Gap "slim boot cut" jeans in a US10/UK14
. Now, not only can I take them off without unbuttoning them, but they seem to like that idea and want to do it of their own accord. Whenever I attempt to walk (or, god forbid, run). I don't think the look I should be aiming for is the crotch at mid thigh level look, but they seemed to want to try it. I may need to go shopping again soon for new jeans. I was also wearing a coat of my sister's (one she brought over from Spain and left here last weekend). I put it on and thought it was baggy. Must be a 14 or 16, I thought, to have so much room in it. Erm, no. It was a 12. And the trousers of the new Zara suit I got a couple of weeks ago come off without unbuttoning either. They didn't do that last week. This whole shrinkage thing is getting out of control.
More pay off. I remember once I flew to Gran Can on a plane with the call bell in the arm of the seat. All the way there, for five long hours, someone's bell was going off. They put it more politely, but the announcement was to the effect that they couldn't stop it because some fatty was pressing the button with their lardy thighs. I was sitting there hoping and praying it wasn't me, trying to avoid thigh-button contact as far as possible, but with nowhere to move to to get away from it. This weekend, not only did I sit in an exit seat both ways (gotta love that pick your own seat policy, us singles get a great choice of the spare seat on a prime row with a couple on it), with the tray in the arms, but I rattled round in it. At one point, to see if I could, I managed to put my arms down by the side of my legs, one on either side, inside the arms of the seat. It was tight, but I did it. Because there wasn't a seat back pocket I put my litre bottle of water by the side of me on the seat, as my arse wasn't using that space. And for the first time in forever, because I was sitting next to someone relatively thin on the way back, I managed an entire flight without either of us spilling over into the other's space. I've always either been the spiller or, more recently, the spillee, and it was nice to find out how flying should feel without being pressed against someone else's arm flesh.
Back to today, I got in at 4.10am. I went to sleep until my alarm went off at 6am. Call me nuts if you want (I have been all day), but I got up and I went to the gym. As far as I'm concerned the extra hour or so of sleep wouldn't be enough extra to make a difference. 2 hours, 3 hours, it's still not enough. I'd still be flagging by the end of the day. But at least having 2 hours and a run, the run got my body moving and woke me up physically and mentally. I think it was far more useful than the extra hour in bed. And anyway, I only gave myself 2 planned rest days, not 3, and I could imagine what state I'd be in if I tried to exercise after work.
Last night I stood on a Spanish beach, with the Med lapping against the shore a couple of metres away, watching the sun set. This morning I was at the gym just after 7am, and I ran 8km on the treadmill. I wouldn't have it any other way. No matter how much I moan and whinge, I wouldn't swap my life for anyone else's. I feel unbelievably lucky to live in a time and place where I can eat breakfast at home, lunch on a Spanish costa and have an evening out in France (and then do it all in reverse, and make it back to work via the gym on Monday morning). It's not just the availability of cheapish flights though, it's the fact that I take advantage of them that makes the whole thing work. I'm not scared of a weekend driving round foreign parts on my own, I'm prepared to just go for it, and this weekend has made me remember just how much I like being that person. Me. Sometimes I wonder why people say I'm amazing when I just do what comes naturally to me. But then I look at my life, and maybe it's true. I'm not scared to go chasing round Catalonia (or Berlin for that matter) in search of my dreams, and I wouldn't change me for the world.
(PS, in case you're wondering why it wasn't quite perfect. We lost)