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Friday, 25 February 2011

Weight loss, Triathlons and such...

For the last couple of years I have been on a weight loss program with the loss of  up to seventy pounds (32 kilos) which included a change of eating habits. This would include a smaller breakfast and supper, along with cutting down on sugar intake, cakes, biscuits, ice cream and (worse of all) chocolate, and eating more fresh fruit and yogurt, along with replacing hard cheddar cheese with low-fat cottage cheese, in addition to taking a snack of double toasted cheese sandwich and an apple to work every day.
But all this alone would not be enough. After all, as a domestic window cleaner, it would be considered rude to refuse an offer of a biscuit or two, as keeping good relations with the customer is a necessity for the health of the business. But I did ask them to cut down with the sugar.
Along with the dieting, exercise is the key to weight loss, as strenuous activity burn calories. Excess of these calories being the cause of that unsightly roll of fat bulging from the waist. So a set of floor exercises were prescribed for me by the nurse who is monitoring me on a monthly basis. These floor exercises, such as sit-ups which workout the waistline, I do before breakfast at home.
In addition to the floor exercises, I visit the gym at Coral Reef Water World in my hometown of Bracknell once or twice a week. Here I concentrate on the elliptical cross-trainer, which has the advantage of exercising the whole body, including the arms, shoulders and chest, as well as the waist and legs.

Over a course of a year I gradually built workout intensity from the basic 20 minutes on low resistance to the present 50 minute workout (including the final five minute cool-down) which burns up to 1,130 calories in a single session. This approximates to roughly half of a full day's calorie intake. The exercise can be tedious, I think being at the same spot all the time is the cause of it. One remedy is setting the wall-fixed TV to Magic Radio, a channel delivering near non-stop music appropriate to my age range. Who could ever think of the idea of music while you work(out). To you, Coral Reef management, I could give you a hug for being so thoughtful...!
Then there is the running. No, not on the treadmill - those horrible, noisy, supermarket checkout belts, but out in the open country. Running through the woods early on a Saturday morning while listening to the birds sing was quite exhilarating. But for this workout I needed strong motivation. It is much easier to come home from work and crash out on the sofa than it was rubbing my legs with Deep Heat in preparation for a run. Therefore having a running partner calling weekly at my home, and having a slap-up meal afterward created the ideal atmosphere for such a workout. Like on the elliptical, we started with a short mile-and -a-half, which at the end of I slumped on the armchair gasping for air and soaking half a dozen bath towels with sweat. This developed into an hour's run (distance uncertain) with little more than slight shortage of breath.
Running. There is nothing new about this exercise. Back in 1968, at age 16, I was running the 880 yards (800 metres) in the summer, and splashing through mud at cross-country fixtures in the winter. After temporal retirement, in 1983 I began to train and run the Bracknell half-marathon. This was done to raise sponsored funds to save a hospital radio station from insolvency and to keep the station on an even keel until the hospital itself was re-developed, including the introduction of modern in-patient entertainment technology.
It was during the 1985 event that I met a fellow runner who introduced to me the idea of Triathlon, an American sport of swimming, cycling and running in that order, all in one race. So I joined a club, Reading based Thames Valley Triathletes, at that time the UK's largest triathlon club with well over a hundred members. After investing in a brand new racing bicycle along with crash hat (compulsory), the Tri-suit, a one piece outfit compatible for all three disciplines, along with a new pair of running shoes, I began to compete in Triathlons around the country.

About to complete the run at the Winchester Triathlon in 1987 and just began the cycle section of the Farnham Triathlon in the same year. In both events I wore the tri-suit, which was compatible for swimming, cycling and running without the need to change at the transitions.

Triathlon was, and is, an expensive pastime. For venues further away from home necessitated the need for an overnight stay at a hotel. This was due to the early morning start of the race, at times as early as 7.00 AM, as on a Sunday morning the roads are generally free of traffic. Winchester, Swanage, Bournemouth, Romford, East Grinstead and Eastbourne were places where I had to spend the night at a hotel. This was not needed for Wokingham, Reading, Hampton Court or Farnham. I guess this was the consequence of not having a drivers licence, one of a minority who never mastered the steering wheel. So I see it as a toss up which was more expensive, train travel at weekends or owning and driving a car 24/7 all year around.
As for cycling, long distance burn-ups to the coast from Bracknell, roughly 60 miles (97 km) coincided with my Triathlon days when not competing, and for some years afterwards. Of the three, this was my strongest discipline, at one event at Arborfield, I came second or third in this discipline, out of a field of more than a hundred. It was both swimming and running which had set me further back in the overall position. But that's what's exciting about triathlons. It's a multi-discipline sport.
Would I have another go at the sport in the future? Well, as I'm now nearing 60 years of age, how would my body take it? Then expense is another factor, but it's unlikely these days that I'll be booking hotels. Perhaps with a second hand racer, a new crash hat and (if they still exist) a new tri-suit...
There is always an event not far from home. Who knows, it would certainly do my weight loss a lot of good.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Jerusalem - Peace to you

When I was 20 years old in 1973 I became interested in the Bible, and discovered the wealth of knowledge and wisdom found within its pages. Although back then I disliked religion, the more I read the Bible, the less I saw it as a missal - a Catholic book on how to conduct your religious life at home and at church. Gradually I became aware that the Old Testament was centered around the nation of Israel, its land and one particular location - Jerusalem.
This knowledge began to satisfy my academic hunger I felt after leaving school. In my schooldays I was taught the importance of the school shirt and tie, British stoicism, discipline and in the playground, tough masculinity. Along with all this, during one of our religious education lessons I was told by the master to draw the Temple on top of the mountain. Although I never heard of the word "Temple" let alone knowing what it was, I correctly assumed it was a building of some kind. I certainly knew what a mountain looked like, having seen pictures of them as a child. So I outlined on the page Mont Blanc, slightly levelled the summit and upon it stuck a crude rectangle. It received no comment from the master.

Part of Jerusalem Old City taken from the Citadel. I took this in the year 2000.

By reading the Old Testament, I began to find out that the city of Jerusalem stood out from all the other settlements in Israel. The original settlement, no larger than Trafalgar Square in London, wasn't even built by the Israelites, but by a clan of the Canaanites then known as the Jebusites. Long after the land of Canaan was conquered by the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua, and the land was re-named Israel, Jerusalem remained a Jebusite settlement for the next several hundred years.
It wasn't until roughly 1,000 BC when King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites, did the city became the national capital. Since then, Jerusalem has always been the capital of Israel even to this day.

View of the city from Mount of Olives. I took this pic in 1993 when the Dome of the Rock was being refurbished.

The idea that Jerusalem was earmarked for speciality began much earlier than the takeover by King David. A thousand years earlier, around 2,000 BC Abraham, the founding patriarch of Israel, met Melchizedek, a mysterious King of Salem (meaning "King of Peace"), whose life history we know nothing about, and not even considered to be a Jebusite, despite it was they who built the city in the first place. Just north of the city rose Mt Ophel, the site Abraham was to offer his son Isaac before God himself intervened. King Solomon, the son of King David, later built the Jewish Temple on that site, and as with Abraham, that spot has always been the exact location of the sacrificial altar.

Jews praying at the Wailing Wall, June 1994.

Whenever the Israelites were in their homeland, since King David, Jerusalem had always been the capital of Israel. When the Babylonians razed Jerusalem to the ground in 586 BC, the land of Israel became Babylonian territory with the City of Babylon as capital. Then afterwards so many empires came and went, and Jerusalem remained a provincial town within each empire. No Gentile nation or empire had ever made Jerusalem its capital during the approximately 2,530 years of the non-existence of Israel as a nation. It was only in 1980 that the status of capital city switched to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, only 32 years after Israel became a sovereign nation once again in 1948, and oddly enough, against the wishes of the United Nations

The Mount of Olives provides a backdrop for the Kidron Valley, east of the Old City.

I visited Jerusalem for the first time in 1976 as a lone backpacker. After arriving from Lod Airport late in the night, I managed to book a room at Ron Hotel at Jaffa Road. The next day I walked down to the walled Old City and entered through Jaffa Gate. I quickly realised that Temple Mount, where King Solomon built his Temple in 950 BC, did not resemble Mont Blanc at all! Instead it was a hill with its summit levelled to form a wide rectangular platform, the Al-Haram Al-Sharif, now occupied by the shining Dome of the Rock, a magnificent Islam mosque covering the very rock where Abraham offered his son Isaac as a sacrifice some four thousand years earlier.
During that time I made friends with a itinerant trinket salesman, who lived in a district of Silwan, at the Kidron Valley, and he invited me to stay at his family home. Together we explored Jericho, Hebron and swam in the Dead Sea. But to cap it all, we were invited to a neighbour's wedding reception just across the road. Here a live sheep had its throat slashed at the front yard, in front of us all, and skinned while still alive. Food was served at a large central pan or dish, around we all sat in a circle and helped ourselves from the dish, buffet style. Coffee was so thick that one can almost stand a spoon in it. The monetary currency in 1976 was the Israeli Pound, a remnant of the British Mandate which ended in 1948.
When I returned in 1993, there was some modernisations, including a security barrier at the access to the Wailing Wall. The monetary currency had changed to the Shekel. I stayed at a tiny backpackers hostel right in the heart of the Old City.

Evening relaxation at a backpackers hostel in Jerusalem Old City, 1993.

In 1994 I found myself staying at the same hostel in Jerusalem when I realised that the Arab Old City was crowded with Jews, each identically dressed in white shirt and black trousers, heading for the Wailing Wall. I followed them and stationed myself at a parapet on the opposite side, giving me a magnificent view. Literally thousands of Jews crammed the Wall, all in prayer. It was a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and I had to move out of the way when a TV cameraman right behind me was hit by a stone thrown at him by an Orthodox Jew, for breaking the Sabbath.
Later that evening, well after the Sabbath had ended, the whole of Jaffa Street was crammed with Israelis protesting  to the Government against their giving consent for the Palestinians setting up their headquarters in East Jerusalem, just north of the City wall.
The protest was centered at the Ron Hotel, which housed Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his Cabinet who was having a conference there. As the Cabinet was negotiating the treaty, I stood directly outside the hotel, the very one I stayed in 18 years earlier. All around me were TV cameras, Palestinian flags were held up and set aflame for all to see. Within a couple of metres from where I was standing was a large placard held up high, showing Rabin and Yasser Arafat posing in an unnatural way. This too was also set ablaze, as I felt squeezed in by the crowd. After what could have been a couple of hours, I wended my way through the crowd to walk back into the deserted Old City street to the hostel.
Walking through Jerusalem on the Sabbath was an experience in itself. All the main roads were literally deserted of traffic - not a car, taxi, bus, truck or anything that moves could be seen anywhere. Every shop closed, not a pedestrian in sight, the whole city in still silence. Only after sundown would the city become alive again.
Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Even if there is unrest elsewhere, I'm always safe in Jerusalem, a holy city for all three monotheistic religions. Here no one dares attack anyone or anything, lest retaliation would mean damage to a holy building such as a church, mosque or synagogue.
Jerusalem, I place I love so much - yet many scholars believe that this will be the epicentre of the future Battle of Armageddon, the war which not only end all other wars, but bring the whole of mankind to extinction - unless there is divine intervention that will save Israel and the rest of mankind from total wipe-out.
And such intervention will come, as Jesus Christ returns to take up the throne of his father David in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

A Stone Bible - a Revelation at Coral Reef!

Just a couple of weeks ago hoteliers Mr and Mrs Bull lost their Court case when they refused to offer a room with double bed for two Gay men to spend the night. Such activity flew in the face of the couple's Christian conviction based on their knowledge of the Bible on this matter. The Bulls had to fork out compensation to the offended would-be guests, such a payment could have threatened to put their hotel business into jeopardy. A victory for the two men against discrimination - a defeat for Christian beliefs held by the hosts. After all, although this is supposed to be a "Christian Country" the Christian faith has little or no relevance, unlike in countries such as Saudi Arabia where the two men would have been executed for breaching the Islamic faith.
After all, not that I have anything against Gay men. But rather than bring the hoteliers to court, why didn't they move on to another hotel? I believe that at an area such as Cornwall, a Gay-friendly hotel might not have been too difficult to find.
Then only last night I was browsing Twitter and came across a link to Richard Dawkins giving a lecture to an audience at the Sydney Opera House. He was debunking the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, and accusing more than 40% of all Americans for believing this story as historical. As Sam Harris quoted in his book, Letter To A Christian Nation,
"Indeed, I am painfully aware that (the USA) now a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant."
These three atheists: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens had all written books ridiculing the Christian faith in the name of Science. To them, Jesus Christ is no longer the Messiah. He had been replaced by a new messiah - Charles Darwin.
So now we live in an age of growing unbelief  against one of the three monotheistic religions - the Christian faith (the other two being Judaism and Islam) and this seem to reflect in the favouritism for the Palestinians in the Middle East crisis against Israel. The BBC's Middle East correspondent, Orla Gearing, certainly left us with no doubt whose side she was on. While Israel was struggling to establish a stable nation since 1948, when it gained its own sovereignty after the withdrawal of the British Mandate, the likes of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was committed to "push Israel into the Sea" particularly under the radical leadership of the late Yasser Arafat, who held no other concessions, despite his so called "Peace Plans" in order to temporarily disguise his real intention - which was to gain control of Israeli territory until that nation was vulnerable enough for an all-out attack.
Gearing portrayed the Palestinians as the victim of Israeli aggression, attempting us to sympathise for the Palestinians.
And yet while all this was going on, standing quietly just outside the town of Hebron is the massive stone wall of a building sitting over the underground Cave of Machpelah.
I like to call this structure, The Stone Bible because if ever there was tangible proof of the veracity of the Bible, I think I would place this near the top if not at the top.

Courtesy of

I visited this building in 1976 along with an Arab friend I made while backpacking Israel. I recall several Jews milling about, at the entrance, a couple of them dressed in garb which would strike familiarity with the Pharisees at the time of Christ.
The building was constructed by Herod the Great between the years 31 to 4 BC. It began as a roofless structure, open to the sky before it was roofed over later in its history. It served as a synagogue, a Christian church and a mosque. It sits over an underground tunnel with its main entrance sealed by the foundation brickwork of the outer wall of the structure. Inside the building, a small upper entrance through the tunnel ceiling is also sealed off and covered by a canopy.

Diagram of underground tunnel and the double caves of Machpelah. To study this illustration fully, I recommend turning the zoom level to 150% or higher.

The Jews considered these caves as a holy site as early as 1,000 BC which is about the time of King David. Rumours say that the original caves were sealed long before then. The Cave(s) of Machpelah was purchased with the field they were under by Abraham from the Hittites, to bury his wife Sarah who just recently died. Afterwards, Abraham himself died, and was buried in the cave next to his wife.
Their son, Isaac married Rebekah and had two sons: Jacob and Esau. At their deaths, both Isaac and Rebekah were buried in the same cave as Abraham and Sarah.
Jacob was renamed "Israel" by God himself, and he had two wives: Leah and Rachel, both sisters.  Leah was the mother of six sons, including Judah (from which the term Jew comes from) the ancestor of King David and of Jesus Christ himself. Leah died before Jacob and was buried in the cave. Rachel, who died still young, had her own tomb, away from the cave, close to Bethlehem.
Finally Jacob (that is, Israel) died and was buried by his son Joseph and his eleven brothers at the same cave, making six people in all. It was quite possible that Joseph, along with the other sons of Israel, had the tomb sealed permanently.
The underground corridor leading to the cave entrance was either built or dug sometime later, but it seem to predate the structure above it, hence its construction must have taken place during Old Testament times. Ancient pottery was found as well as human bones by archaeologists in the cave itself, which may have indicated some offering ritual.

 Cenotaph of Abraham, courtesy of

Cenotaphs of Rebekah and Isaac, courtesy of

The Arab friend who took me inside in 1976 mistook the cenotaphs for the tombs of the patriarchs themselves and the interior of the building as the actual caves. So I came back out misled, and basically forgotten - until many years later on a normal Saturday morning in 2010 while relaxing at a sauna at Coral Reef Water World, close to where I live.
In here walked in one bather who after a short while singled me out for a chat. He told me that he was Jewish and he had been to his homeland. I responded with my stories of my time in Israel, including a visit to the mosque sitting over the Cave of Machpelah, along with my interest and understanding of the Bible.
He explained to me that the proper name for Israel is Eretz Yisrael, "Eretz" meaning "land of" and as my own experience can testify, this is how it's known over there. He then explained to me that I should work out each letter of the second word which were an initial of the name of each character - six of them were buried in the Cave of Machpelah. Here was the result:
For me this was an astonishing revelation. Elohim, of course, is one of the titles of God, and therefore not buried with the others in the cave! But the other six were, and these are the Patriarchs, or founding fathers (and mothers) of the nation of Israel. Although the building is now used as a mosque, in reality it has no connection with the Arabs at all, even less the Palestinians. This should be a testimony and a warning for every King, President and other national leaders of  the world and their Governments.
What I find amazing about this structure is that not only is the outer wall well preserved, but is full functioning after well over 2,000 years. It was very likely that Jesus was familiar with it. It remained intact when in AD 70 General Titus invaded the land of Judea and razed Jerusalem to the ground, including the Temple which Herod the Great also embellished. The structure was the sole witness and testimony that the land on which it stood belonged to the Jews. And that was especially during the next 1,878 years after AD 70 when nearly all the Jews were dispersed around the globe. It was as if it was built with such foreknowledge in mind.
No other country has such a testimony of such a scale. There are no tombs of the English founding fathers anywhere in England, likewise none in Italy, none anywhere else in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas or Australasia.
Yet the Bible says much about God being in the midst of his people Israel, as seen in the unscrambled code above. Now if the "Stone Bible" makes such tangible evidence to the truthfulness of the Scriptures, then perhaps the record of Divine Creation, the Noachian Deluge, Abraham and his family, King David  - all acknowledged as historical by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and all held firmly by the early church - then perhaps there is good reason for us to accept the historicity of the Bible as well.
Richard Dawkins is trying to destroy Christianity in this country and the Western world.
Let's see him try to demolish that thick Herodian wall in Hebron!