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Healthy Living and the Staycation

October 2010

By Quentin Clarke, London

Summer’s buzzword was the "staycation". It was every public figure’s duty to display frugality, patriotism and environmental concern by holidaying in the UK - no matter that we had the coldest August in 17 years and a fourth disappointing summer. So in the name of research, I joined my friends Matt and Isla for a weekend of the good life in a Sussex farmhouse.

Matt took me to a nearby river for "wild swimming" , this summer’s exercise fad. It was bracing. A BBC TV series recently celebrated Roger Deakin’s book Waterlog, exulting wild swimming’s benefits not just as exercise but for the circulation and spirit. There’s no need to decamp from London – Hampstead Heath’s ponds have offered wild swimming for decades. Meanwhile outdoor public swimming pools such as London Fields Lido seem as popular as in their 1930s heyday.

One "staycation" highlight was enjoying fresh produce from the garden. As well as picking peaches from the greenhouse, we collected poppy seeds to make bread. Home-baking is having another unexpected revival. I’ve been getting fat on my own bread while Isla has been selling cakes on the weekends at her local Women’s Institute stall.

On the subject of cookery, you simply aren’t a celebrity chef these days without your own iPhone app (pioneered by Jamie Oliver as reported in December’s blog). Nigella Lawson launched her Quick Collection (or Nigellapp), while supermarket Waitrose is fronted by Queen of home cooking Delia Smith and King of restaurant cooking Heston Blumenthal.

If growing your own food isn’t self-sufficient enough, increasing numbers are rearing animals. Omlet sells equipment for rearing animals, usually hens, and runs courses in how to look after them – sales of its plastic Eglus have doubled to 16,000 in the last year. City dwellers shorter on space can rear quail and I’ve even heard of people breeding rabbits for the dinner table – not for the faint-hearted.

Another holiday activity we enjoyed was cycling, which Londoners continue to take up in droves. Not only did the cycling super-highways materialize, now there’s Barclays Cycle Hire, a hugely popular central London public bike rental scheme. Once registered, you can cycle for 30 minutes for free and drop the bike at a station at your destination. Property located near the new bike stations is said to be rocketing in value.

Inevitably our destination was the pub, where after years of government campaigning, people may be getting the message about drinking. The last year saw a 6% decline in alcohol consumption and low alcohol (well, 4%) lines of premium lagers such as Stella Artois and Beck's are increasingly visible.

The trend away from the gym continues, with chains such as David Lloyd and Fitness First reporting vast losses. Boot Camps such as British Military Fitness go from strength to strength but much more my style is Go Ape!, a nationwide chain of adventure playgrounds for adults. Hooked into a safety harness, you navigate a treetop obstacle course of rope ladders, pulleys and zipslides. Can there really be a way of getting fit and having fun at the same time? At £25 per visit it’ll probably remain an occasional treat rather than regular fitness option for me.

Health & Fitness
London

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