Out with the old

Ahh, that weird Limbo time between Xmas and New Year.. Perfect for catching up on things. Like blog posts.

In my last post, I mentioned my expectations of a pay hike.

Yes.

That was fun.

It started promisingly enough, with a global email stating that, because it’d been a pretty successful year all round, the base salary was going up by an inflation-beating five percent. So that was nice. Then our team leader – an idiot I’ve mentioned before with great similarity to the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert – let us know he’d be having a review with each of us about what specifically was happening with our individual salaries.

So my turn comes and I get called to the office; he tells me what my current salary is and what it’ll be with the five percent increase. (For reference, that other job offer I had was a little more than a 50% increase.) And that, I’m told, is what I’m getting. No budget for anything else.

PHB tells me this with a very nervous manner, like he’s expecting an explosion of rage or something. Instead, I just give a nod and say, perfectly calmly, that I would therefore be leaving in the New Year – as I had promised in my review. No point getting angry about it, PHB doesn’t make these decisions, and frankly I’ve stopped caring.

So I go back to work, and when I have a free moment with some privacy, I snag the comm unit, switch to a private channel and hail our team leader. Who has quite a lot of clout in our dept. and I get on with well – we train together quite often. And I give him a friendly heads-up that, having just had the salary review, he’ll be losing me next year.

A quite telling silence ensued, followed by “I told them you’d say that. They didn’t believe me”.

My imminent departure would fix that, I pointed out. He agreed, but asked if I could give him a couple days to see if he could sort something out. I said sure, no problem – I wouldn’t be starting to look for a new place until the New Year anyway.

I switch back to the public channel, just in time to hear him chasing for PHB to let him know if the Big Boss is around. He wasn’t, as it happened, he had the day off.

Next day, Big Boss is back in. Late in the morning, he asks me to come in for a quick chat in my next break. So, yet another trip to the office..

He starts out with an apology – I was, he says, never supposed to be told I was on the ‘standard’ five percent, that was a screw-up that was entirely his fault. He dropped the ball and didn’t pass on the message to the PHB.

This, I’m pretty certain, is complete BS, but I don’t see any point in calling him on it.

He goes on to agree that I’m long past due a raise, having only had inflation-matching increments over the last few years which showed no indication of how much progress I’ve made, how valuable I am to them, how much they appreciate the extra work I put in in my free time, etc. etc.

All very true.

So what I was *meant* to be told, he says, was that I am in fact getting a pay rise: A whole 30%!

Okay..

It *does* come with a caveat, though: I have to agree to switch from a one- to a three-month notice period.

Uh-huh.

So I say I’ll think about it over lunch. I *did* consider telling them to stick it, since I’m pretty sure I could find a new place in January and be out by the end of February, which this little ploy would scupper.

But whilst that would have a certain amount of satisfaction.. it would actually be rather inconvenient. Because on further thought, any of the places I’d like to move to – and I’m in the fortunate position of being able to be choosy – would require relocating. Moving job means moving home. Which isn’t something that’s fun to do with a short deadline.

I’m also thinking of going for a post in a different part of Europe. And I have pets, who’d need a bunch of paperwork etc. to be sorted. And so on. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that having more time to play with would actually be very helpful. And having a few months of higher pay before making the move would also ease things.

This is why I try not to make snap decisions: The instinctive answer is so typically the wrong one.

So I went back after lunch and agreed.

You’ll note that nowhere in the above was any mention made of “I’ll take the raise and stay put.” This was the final straw: I’m leaving. This place just isn’t nice to work at any more, and having to go to these ridiculous lengths just to get my salary dragged up to what’s still relatively low, and still not close to even matching what I was offered elsewhere.. No. Screw them, I’m not playing these games.

And I know why they’re doing it: They think they’re being clever and shrewd, keeping their outgoings low. But that’s because they’re idiots who don’t understand the people they’re managing: We spies are a highly-skilled, highly-trained lot. They think a kid fresh out of college can be given a few weeks of field training and he’s then as good as someone with years of experience.

And he’s not.

They don’t realize that they have a team of people who they can’t replace. And they don’t realize that you don’t get stupid people in the spy business. We’re all smart enough to know what their game is, we’re all smart enough to know we’re worth more than we’re getting and that there’s plenty of places that would be delighted to throw money at us.

There’s only one guy with more experience than me on my team. He’s talking about leaving because he’s got a new kid and money’s too tight for him to stay with being underpaid. I’m staying quiet on the subject, but I’ll be gone by midyear, with any luck. And even the less-experienced team guys are making unhappy mutterings – this time next year, they’ll be lucky if our team leader has more than one man in his team.

It’s a shame, because even a year ago, this was a team I really enjoyed working with. I wouldn’t have even considered leaving. That all changed, and it was basically “death from above” – morons were put in charge and in dozens of tiny little ways, they made it clear that they don’t understand or appreciate us: They think we’re expensive grunts they have to put up with. They don’t seem capable of grasping that we can and will leave, and their entire department dies when we do.

Pity.

But I no longer care. I’m looking around, and as soon as I find a good place to go, I go.

In the meantime, I’ve started the next level of my training. And I’m truly amazed at how fast my body reacts to the demands that get placed on it. Less than a fortnight into the new regime, and I’m already seeing noticeable changes in my body, in terms of both muscle and posture/bearing. It’s truly amazing how the human body can adapt so fast. Especially since I’ve been battling off a cold and working around all the Xmas stuff the entire time.

So, new training regime, new workplace to find, and a bit more money to play with.. the next year promises to be an interesting one!

The end

So, here we are in the run up to Christmas and the year’s end. And I’ve been too busy to write about what’s been going on. Sorry about that.

The thing is, our salary review happens calendar-yearly. And here at the end of the year, I now have the confidence to go into the end-of-year appraisal and state that I’m worth considerably more than I’m being paid.

And when I say “more”, I mean I’m being paid barely half what I should be.

I was pretty sure of myself before the meeting, but I figured that a little extra ammo couldn’t hurt. And the spy trade is a competitive one: I get emails from HR types all the time. So I figured I’d give up a little free time, and went along to an interview with one of my department’s rivals.

To say I aced it would probably be an understatement: Nothing boosts your self-confidence like finding that what you consider commonplace is in fact cutting-edge, industry-leading stuff. Well, unless walking into an interview unprepared and walking out with a job offer for nearly double your current salary counts.

So, when I went through my appraisal in my current workplace, and as usual got “satisfactory to excellent” across the board, I was already in a strong position to state that my salary needed updating. When I handed over the printout of the job offer which confirmed that if they weren’t willing to up my pay, other people were, that reinforced my position substantially further. And when I explained that I simply couldn’t afford to stay with my current joke of a salary, and would be leaving next year if it didn’t get sorted, I was able to do so with the confidence that comes from both of us being fully aware that I could easily find a better-paying place to move to.

So I still don’t know the exact outcome: I don’t have an actual amount yet. But I have a gaurantee from the Big Boss that my salary “will be taken care of” and the knowledge that if it isn’t, I’ll have no problem going elsewhere. So one way or another, I’ll have no further money worries next year.

Considering how badly the year started, this brings it to a pretty good end: I started the year, courtesy of work-related injuries, being hard-up for cash and barely capable of climbing out of bed in the morning. Thanks to the training I’ve been doing over the last few months, fuelled by the diet changes, I’m probably more physically-capable than I ever have been; and thanks to my negotiating skills in the meeting room, I’ll be doing pretty well financially from now on.

All in all, then, life is going well right now.

On the subject of diet and exercise, I acheived my goal of having a waist no larger than my hip measurement; somehow this didn’t feel like any kind of triumph, for some reason. But it’s meant I’ve switched my dietary goals from fat-burn to muscle-fuel, which if nothing else leaves me feeling substantially better when I wake up in the mornings. Since my training goes up to the next level as of the new year, that’s probably a good thing.

I’ll probably need the raise just to pay for all the protein shakes and coconut water I’ll be burning through! I have to average more than 4000 calories a day on my current regime, it’s not easy.

So, in summary: it’s all good.. but rather busy!

Too low

You know, when I started this blog, the point of it really wasn’t intended to be anything much to do with diet and exercise. But work is rather quiet at the moment, so..

My weight has remained static the last two weeks. This is mildly annoying.

However, more importantly, come Friday I felt more exhausted and lacking energy than I have in a long time. It felt like just lifting my arms was a chore, actually throwing punches was a real challenge. And on Saturday, after waking up feeling like crap, I went for a run and by the time I had come back & finished my shower, I felt genuinely ill.

Why do I think that was?

Well, possibly the fact that I was 1500 calories down on Friday had something to do with it.

I said before that I’d have no difficulty cutting calories if that were needed. I wasn’t even trying on Friday, that’s just how it panned out. But Wednesday was a very challenging day, then I had to work hard Thursday too, and by having such a lo-cal day on Friday, I’d basically burnt myself out – I had no reserves left.

And that’s what’s really annoying about the fact that my weight hasn’t changed. How can I be running so low on calories that I feel ill, yet not change weight?

Well, for one thing, I may have added a little more muscle.

And then I started thinking about that a little harder.

My muscle tone has dramatically improved in recent months due to all the workouts I do. However, I haven’t gotten all that much bigger. Which is odd, since the exercises I do should result in quite a bit of muscle-building. But my weight’s stayed fairly static, until the recent diet changes dropped a few pounds.

So if I’d expect the amount and type of exercise I’m doing to burn fat & build muscle; and it’s doing neither, there are two possibilities: I’m eating more and exercising less than I think; or I’m way too low on resources so my body’s in starve mode, unable to build up and unwilling to burn off.

Well, I’m one of the fittest people in my workout group; I do ~7 hours of moderate-to-high exercise a week; and last week I was down by over 5k calories. So I tend to think that no matter how sloppy my estimates may be, they can’t be so far out that I should even consider eating less and exercising more.

So that puts me back to where I was when I first started this whole diet-changing nonsense – Eating too damn little.

So this week, I’m experimenting with boosting my diet. I’m sticking with avoiding sugar; I’m sticking with going for wholemeal versions where possible. But I’m adding cream to my breakfast, eggs to my dinner, and I’m going to have quite a few more protein shakes than I usually do. Because building & maintaining muscle takes a fair amount of protein and energy; and last week I didn’t get enough of either. I was way below the calorie intake I would have needed just to maintain, so there’s no way I could have enough to spare to build muscle.

We’ll see how things go with a lower-carb but higher-fat-and-protein intake.

In particular, I’m thinking I might want to go back to trying to keep my calorie intake higher rather than lower: Low calorie intake might work for people who’re just dieting to lose weight, but I think it’s doing me damage because I’m working my body so hard. It’s not unreasonable to think that I may burn fat faster if I eat significantly more.

We shall see! If nothing else, I’m going to eat enough that I don’t feel tired or ill. Visceral fat may be bad, and I do want to get rid of it, but it’s not bad enough that I’m going to damage myself starving to make it go away.

Screw that.

Not the man I was

So, two weeks into the whole “new diet” thing…

So far so good. I’ve lost a few pounds & I’ve lost a few inches from my waist. That annoying visceral fat is on the way out. Switching out white bread, white rice, chocolate, and sugary cereal in favour of wholemeal bread, brown rice, couscous and fruit has done what I’d hoped it would: Aid fat burning, and give me more energy when I exercise. I’ve had a few mornings of feeling rubbish, but otherwise no problems.

I caved in and picked up a couple of “Men’s Health” magazines – first time I’ve ever bothered with them. I have no use for a lot of what they talk about – bodybuilding, fashion, sex, expensive watches, etc. – but they have had a few useful exercise tips & food ideas that made them worth the price.

For instance, there was a bunch of exercises to do on a flight of stairs that only takes a few minutes and gives a good all-over body workout. I’ve added them to the start & finish of my weekend runs, since there’s a set of stairs just up the path from me that’s ideal.

Hopping up a flight of 26 stairs can get you some slightly odd looks, but it’s a fairly quiet path.

It’s also a surprisingly good workout – I’ve become a big fan of asymmetric training.

It’s natural enough that one side of your body tends to be stronger than the other – right-handed people have stronger right arms, etc. Courtesy of the broken bones I’ve picked up in my spy work, this has been somewhat exaggerated in my case, throwing my posture a little off-center. Symmetrical training – the traditional dumbell-lifting, for example – would only exaggerate this: You’d do more of the lifting with your stronger arm. Doing the asymmetrical equivalent, lifting a kettlebell one-handed and alternating sides, you start to fix the problem because you work the stronger and weaker sides equally hard, so you start to come back into line.

The downside of this, of course, is that you build muscle. Not a downside in itself, but it does make it harder to track fat burn if your weight is going up due to muscle growth at the same time. First week I dropped a couple kilos, second week my weight stayed static but my waist still shrank. I guess I just need to track multiple numbers and interpret the result, rather than going with the simpler “Numbers go down?” logic.

The problem is, I average an hour of intensive exercise a day. This is what happens, apparently, when you find some exercises that you enjoy enough to stick with them & get good at. It appears that I’m a somewhat atypical male, since I’m not trying to bodybuild. I appreciate the extra strength & stamina, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like looking like someone who doesn’t spend his whole life slumped in front of the TV, but I’m not out to build muscle: There’s no pumping-iron, hit-the-gym, no-pain-no-gain stuff in any of my workouts.

One of the magazines had the results of a readers’ questionnaire. Naturally, I compared myself to their answers.

Less than one in three spends as much time exercising as I do. Nearly one in four exercises by lifting weights, for the purpose of building muscle. Only one in ten would be happy running 15K or more.

The only weights I use are kettlebells, and they’re for alignment and fitness, not bodybuilding. And my weekend run is ~12K, I’d be perfectly comfortable doing a 15K.

I was genuinely surprised that so few others would be okay with a run. But if your whole goal is to get big and all your exercise is weight-lifting, then I guess it makes sense. But I don’t see the point: If all your workouts give you is the ability to lift heavy stuff, you’re not getting very much benefit out of it. My workouts are making me fitter, healthier, better-aligned, better-balanced, better co-ordinated, more flexible, AND stronger.

Over the last few days, FWB has been complaining about just how fast and how significant the changes in response to my diet & exercise have been: She went to playfully swat my rump and her hand just bounced off: If I tense my glutes, they go like rock; and my arms and legs are absolutely solid. Judging by the amount of advice in the magazines for getting a butt like granite, this is something a lot of weightlifters want but less achieve. I didn’t even try, it just turned up.

I’ve also noticed in the combat training that the bodybuilding types can’t throw a decent punch: They try and use all that muscle they’ve built, and all it does is slow them down. The most important thing when it comes to punching is speed, not strength: The faster you hit, the harder you hit. When I’m paired with one of the big guys, their punches don’t move me at all; my punches knock them back hard. They also get tired long before I do: They just haven’t built the type of muscle that can do lots of quick moves. Trying to punch above their own heads, in particular, just kills them.

So for the moment, my goals remain as they were: Burn off the visceral fat; boost core strength; get fitter. It’s going well so far: Fat is melting; my back is stronger and less prone to pain; and I’m finding it easier and easier to do full-on sprints in my runs.

I’m thinking I may well enlist in the serious body-combat stuff earlier than I’d expected, considering how well everything else is going.

The thing that puzzles me is: I’m having fun and eating like a horse in order to get thinner and fitter. Why do people make such a meal out of losing weight??

Oh, sugar

Previously, I blogged about how I discovered I wasn’t eating enough. I subsequently modified my diet to increase my intake, in sensible ways.

The most helpful part was adding more structure to my week. If you leave work at 5pm and head home and that’s it, five days a week, then there’s no real reason to plan a certain meal for a certain day. Adding more physical training to my weekdays meant that I had logical reasons to eat certain meals on certain days: high-energy lunch pre-training; high-protein dinner after, etc. etc.

So I switched from getting home in the evening and picking something randomly out of a cupboard to having the week’s meals planned in advance, and made a bunch of other changes, and duly boosted my diet and felt massively better for it: More energy, less aches and pains, all good.

This did have a downside, however. All the spy training I had already been doing had had a noticeable effect on my physique, and fuelled by the new diet, I was now doing more. So I got noticeably leaner. Which was fine. Except I still had a bit of a bulge around the middle.

This was something I’d largely ignored: It wasn’t much, it wasn’t enough to wobble or get a grip on; I had a firm stomach, just one that was slightly prominent. But this didn’t go away as I did more exercise. And eventually I decided I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

The problem is, most fat sits right under the skin – subcutaneous fat. It spreads evenly around your body, it wobbles around, and is what we generally think of when we think of somebody who’s “fat”. But there’s another type of fat – literally, a whole different class. This doesn’t sit harmlessly under the skin, it wraps itself around your vital organs: heart, liver, kidneys, the lot. It puts you at risk of liver failure, heart attack, diabetes…

And the worst part is, it can be invisible, and even when you have enough for it to be noticed, because it’s a very firm type of fat, people assume it’s muscle or something and ignore it. It’s just a firm bulge around the belly.

The simple test for it is to compare waist & hip sizes – if your waist is bigger than your hips, it’s visceral. And I here was I with 34 inch hips, and a 40-inch waist. And maybe I shouldn’t be bothered by a measurement of six inches, but… Sigh. Visceral fat. The worst type of fat there is. The type I appear to have. Fuck it…

I’m not too worried about liver failure – I don’t drink, nor eat enough crap to tax my liver all that hard. But I do an hour of intensive exercise a day, so I work my heart hard enough to be concerned. And there’s a history of diabetes in my family.

Clearly, this had to go. It wasn’t a bit of harmless flab that did nothing but put a slight dent in my ego. It was actually putting my health at risk.

The good thing about visceral fat is, your body preferentially burns it: It’s the first thing to go when you start to lose weight. Your body wants to get rid of it, so it’s the easiest type of fat to lose.

The bad thing is, all the advice I read about getting rid of it simply recommended intense exercise – “Don’t just walk more, you need to run!” “Get the heart rate up!” “Exercise hard enough to pant for half an hour” etc.

Great. Except see above. I can’t physically fit more intensive exercise into my week. So why wasn’t the damn stuff going away?

Well, the obvious answer would be “Because it’s being added to as fast as it’s being broken down.”

Fat formation isn’t a simple “one size fits all” thing – your metabolism and your genetics determines a lot about what fat you lay down and in what circumstances. But sugar being turned into fat is pretty consistent, and I do have a sweet tooth. Looking at my typical intake for anything that would cause a jump in my blood sugars, it wasn’t hard to find plenty of candidates – sugar, white bread, white rice, cereal…

On a daily basis, my body gets floods of sugar which it gets rid of by turning it into fat. If the amount of fat laid down equals the amount of fat burned off, then it makes sense that even with all the exercise I get, the stubborn mass at belt-level wouldn’t go away.

So, ironically, after boosting my intake to make up calories, it appeared I needed to reduce it again. Except, the whole reason I boosted it was because it needed to be boosted – I felt ten years younger when I started eating more. So just cutting calories wasn’t the way. No, the trick is to cut down on the “spikes” of sugar: Don’t throw the calories in as a flood that your body stores as fat as quick as it can; allow them to go in slowly at a rate it can handle.

So, not so much an elimination as a substitution diet appeared to be called for: Swap white bread for wholemeal; white rice for brown; a chocolate bar for an apple; a hot chocolate for a protein shake..

It seemed to make sense. But I wasn’t going to throw out perfectly good food just for the hell of it, so I postponed starting this diet for a week so I could eat all the stuff I already had. However, out of curiosity, I did cut my calories – no big deal, I just stopped doing the “Hey, I’m down on calories, better grab a snack” thing.

The results of this were quite illuminating. For starters, just by not trying to eat extra, I ended the week with over a three thousand calorie defict. My belt was noticeably looser around my waist, and the scales told me I had lost a pound or so. So my metabolism is amenable to the idea of burning off fat, at least – having never tried it before, I wasn’t sure how easy it might be.

But more importantly, the mornings after I had done an evening workout, I felt like absolute shit. I felt like somebody had taken a hangover, mixed it with a head cold, added a junk food binge, and thrown it straight at me.

This, sadly, was predictable and I had in fact been wondering if it would happen.

Another of the problems with visceral fat is, since it wraps itself around your liver, all the blood that’s on its way to the liver to be cleaned up passes right through it. And many of the toxins the liver removes are fat-soluble. So visceral fat tends to accumulate a whole bunch of nastiness in itself.

People often get confused about the body and toxins. They go on detox diets and feel like crap for the first week or so, and get told “It’s the toxins coming out”. This is bullshit: Why on earth would the body have a system for getting rid of toxins, but only use it when you aren’t eating any??

You feel like crap when you do a detox diet because of all the stuff you’re NOT doing: You get tired because you cut out the stimulants; you get achy because you’re making less pain-killing adrenaline as your stress levels go down; etc. etc.

However, when you start breaking down fat, any toxins that are in that fat obviously get released at the same time. This is unavoidable. It’s a bit of a pain, too, because it means your sign that your approach is working is that you feel like hell: Toxin overload!

Now, because of the amount of training I’m doing, I could very easily go silly with weight loss: If, say, I swapped out meals for protein shakes and deliberately cut my intake as low as I could, I could easily end every day with a three thousand calorie deficit – enough to lose a pount a day.

I wouldn’t even consider that, but switching to a healthier eating plan comes with an inherent dip in calories: I’m likely to end every day down by a thousand calories without even trying. So my biggest concern wasn’t to burn off the nasty fat as fast as possible: It was to do it at a sensibly slow pace so the corresponding toxin release didn’t completely screw me over.

So today, it starts. I’ve switched out my morning routine: Instead of a sugary 850 cal start to the day, I’ve had a high-fibre 500 cal beginning. Lunch exchanges white bread for brown and chocolate for fruit; dinner will replace naan bread with spiced brown rice. I’m hoping that the slow-release calories from the brown bread will help fuel the evening workout.

I’m not setting any specific rate – no “I will loose X pounds by date Y”, just playing it by ear – I want this fat to go away, but at a slow enough rate I can cope with the side-effects and without having to then completely change my diet again once it’s gone to avoid a persistent calorie deficit.

It’s new territory for me – I’ve never tried before to change my weight. I’ve just let my body get on with it, whatever “it” happened to be. But the changes since I started training have been impressively fast, and had a major impact on my overall health & well-being as well. And it’s kinda nice to look at yourself in the mirror, decide that there’s something you don’t approve of, and decide to do something about it. Not the wishy-washy “I’d love to lose weight” that so many people try and get by on: A simple, definite “This is going to change.” decision, followed by the changes to make it happen.

After so many years of thinking that “This is my build, this is how fit I am, this is how my body is”, it’s.. I don’t know if “empowering” is the right word. But it feels good to stop passively accepting that “This is how it is” and say instead “This is how it’s going to be.”

I look forward to seeing where it takes me.

Save yourself, mammal!

It’s quite remarkable how much your job is affected by co-workers, higher-ups, and even colleagues in other countries who you never actually see.

For instance, when I started out as a spy, I was on a small team in a small department and everyone was sound & good at what they did. No worries. We had one “floating” member who we occasionally had to interact with who was a bit of a pill, but he was tolerable. Things were pretty good.

Late last year was when it all began to spiral slowly downwards. In a “life imitates fiction” sequence, my workspace emulated Jurassic Park and the dinosaurs took over.

It’s a simple truth that you can’t be a spy unless you’re pretty up with technology. How often during the last few years have you heard reports about crimes or terrorism being organized via Facebook and Twitter? The internet has revolutionized communication, and communication is pretty much what a spy is interested in: hearing what others say without being overheard yourself is pretty much the job in a nutshell.

So dinosaurs are a problem. And dinosaurs in charge are a big problem.

Why? Well, look at it like this: You’re on an important case. You have a good lead, but you have to act fast. You tell you boss you need to bug somebody’s car so you can track where they go and hear what they say.

They tell you to put your request in writing.

You say “WTF, time’s of the essence, JFDI!”

They come back with “I can’t authorize a team to tail a vehicle and stay within broadcast range without a written request and approval from higher-up, we don’t have the headcount”

You bang your head against a wall for a while, then calmly explain that they appear to be living thirty years in the past – all you need approval for is a cheapy smartphone with built-in GPS and the all-clear to shove it down their back seat wired into the car battery.

An all-too-familiar glazed look comes over their face and you give up, go to Tesco, buy a fricken’ phone yourself, plug it into the lead’s car, find out what you need to know, report it.

And of course, they then say “See, you got what you needed without needing a team to tail anyone! Remember this in future.”

Yep. That’s seriously the kind of thing that happens when dinosaurs rule the Earth. And this isn’t a one-off isolated kind of incident. This is a ten-times-a-day kind of frustration. And that’s just the first dinosaur.

The other dinosaur, who’s both less of a problem because he’s further removed, and more of a problem because he’s higher up, was one of those decisions you look at and think “WTF were they thinking, putting HIM in charge??”

This guy is not just a dinosaur who’s decades out of date. He’s also a non-spy with zero field experience. A kind of sideways-transfer plus promotion got him where he is today, which is several rungs higher than me. And this guy is a major, and I mean major, headache.

Because not only is this guy utterly clueless, but he’s also convinced he knows everything about everything and doesn’t need to ask or listen.

So when you’ve been tailing a lead for a month and finally, you see him have a brief chat in a shady bar and you think “That’s it! That’s the guy!” and you call it in and get ready to follow the new lead.. you get interrupted.

“What proof do you have that that’s the guy? Did you see something? Hear something? We don’t know who he is, he might be nobody.”

And you can’t explain to this guy about gut feelings, body language, experience, all the little things that let you distinguish between “harmless chat” and “meaningful contact” because he’s never been in the field and has no context. He wants facts and figures, and nothing else. So you get ordered to stay put and watch the guy you know is the one you want vanish from sight, because you can’t document instinct. And then you get ordered to follow the pizza guy for a week because the idiot once saw a spy movie where the bad guy sent messages inside pizza boxes…

Rrrrrgh!!!!!

And then The Pill strikes up a friendship with the dinosaur (I guess it’s comforting to meet other people as incompetent as you are) and so becomes way worse because now he’s being sheltered from higher-up.

And then your mentor gets reassigned so the last filter between you and the dinosaurs is gone. And that’s when you start to think seriously about switching departments.

And then on the days when they really piss you off, you think that maybe instead you’ll make it your business to put the dinosaurs back where they should be: Firmly extinct.

Leaving would be easy, but feels like quitting. I’m actually quite tempted by the idea of putting the dinosaurs out of my misery. And the nice thing about incompetence in the modern age is, it leaves a wonderful papertrail. So I’ve started to keep track of it, and we’ll see: Either I’ll end up using it to put them out of business, or I’ll go somewhere else and stop caring.

Either is an option, neither will cause me to shed many tears.. but the thing is, this time last year, I enjoyed every aspect of my job. I wouldn’t even have considered moving to anywhere. And now, by putting some seemingly-harmless clueless old duffers into a few seemingly-harmless positions, I’ve wound up plotting to either jump ship or start killing careers.

Neither of which are really what I want to do.

And that sucks.

(Reference)

The anti-diet

It says something about today’s world where you mention that you’re following a diet plan and everyone’s response is “But you don’t need to lose weight!”

Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys, but in the traditional meaning of the word, “a diet” just means a specific eating regime. It’s not intrinsically a weight-loss exercise.

Sigh.

It all began so innocently. Spy training is never-ending, and it’s hard work. I wanted to make sure I was eating enough on my intensive days. And FWB recommended this app you can put on your phone, it’s got a really extensive food database coupled with a barcode scanner; so you can scan all your meals or ingredients and track your intake really easily. It also has just about every imaginable exercise, so you can track how much energy you’re burning. All very simple & easy.

So I figured I’d use it to check things out. And I got a bit of a shock.

Had you asked me to guess, I would have estimated that I got a few too many calories; far too much sugar; a bit too much fat; rather a lot of sodium; and about the right amount of fibre and protein. I get a lot of exercise, but I do have a little bit of excess padding around my abs that never seems inclined to go away.

Mondays are my most energetic days, so I make sure to eat extra. I pretty much splurge because I’m exercising, then behave a bit better on other days. So I tend to have cereal for breakfast (It’s quick), then a full english breakfast for lunch (bacon, fried eggs & suasages, bread & butter, etc.) and chilli for dinner along with a big glass of milk and naan bread to ease the burn.

So I began tracking with my Monday routine. Guess what?

I was missing every single trackable type of nutrition. Not enough protein, not enough carbs, not enough fat.. not even enough sodium! It appeared that, far from overdoing it on Monday, my greedy intake of fried food was actually giving me the vitally-needed boost to get through the day.

This surprised me. So I decided to track myself through a typical week. This surprised me even more.

By the end of the week, the numbers were pretty plain: Even allowing for all the inaccuracies that could be present, the margin for error just wasn’t big enough to cover it. My dietary intake was insufficient.

To the tune, on average, of a thousand calories a day.

I wasn’t eating enough of a single thing. Despite snacking on crisps and cookies, I got nowhere near enough salt or sugar. Despite the meat-heavy diet on exercise days, I got nowhere near enough protein. Even on my laziest days, I didn’t make my minimum targets.

This was clearly why my body was so reluctant to shed the few remaining pounds of fat stores. Unaware of the sheer volume of food available in modern life, it could go only by what it saw passing through my digestive tract, and what it saw wasn’t enough. As far as my body was concerned, I’m a hunter-gatherer who’s having little luck with hunting. My body thought I was starving.

Modern society, and particularly the media, has us so conditioned to believe we’re all over-eating and need to cut down that it had simply never occurred to me that I had the opposite problem.

Despite conventional wisdom being “If you eat less you’ll lose weight”, it just isn’t that simple – biology rarely is. If you consistently eat far too little, your body goes on the defensive – it does everything it can to get you through what it assumes is a lean time; slowing your metabolism, increasing your need for sleep, making you feel tired and lacking energy. And it does everything it possibly can to avoid drawing on your precious fat reserves – they’re all you’ve got. Or so your body believes.

FWB is a fairly typical modern woman – she’s trying to lose weight. Her daily goal is 1600 calories. She actually has the same problem I do – she has difficultly reaching her target, courtesy of her gym membership and the guilt most women feel when they actually eat something containing calories. The average man my size and age needs around a thousand calories more – 2500 or so. A big fried breakfast has around a thousand calories in it.

All that is by way of giving you perspective so you can understand the problem I’m facing when I discover that, courtesy of the intensity of my training, I typically need to eat four thousand calories a day just to maintain my current bodyweight.

And to help you understand why it was that I was missing this goal by a thousand or so on a daily basis.

Clearly, this just wasn’t sustainable. It was time for a rethink.

First thing I needed to do was get an idea of just what was involved in eating enough. So when FWB wanted to go shopping, I offered to drive her into town. Because there’s this american-style diner that does american-sized portions.

So having had a continental breakfast, as is my wont on weekends, I then had a huge lunch of chicken wings, BBQ ribs, and doughballs dripping with garlic butter. We left groaning happily at how full we were.

An hour or so later, I managed to find room for a cream tea, with a nice big scone, some strawberry jam, and a hefty dollop of clotted cream. I was absolutely stuffed at this point.

I still hadn’t hit my calorie needs for the day though. So we went to the cinema and I picked up a big bag of popcorn, and with the sugar they gave me, I just managed to end the day over quota.

I don’t eat like that at Christmas time, FFS. That was probably the first time I’d gone to bed without a calorie deficiency in years.

It was a strange feeling. I’m so used to going to bed with an unhappy tummy that’s muttering about how it could murder a bowl of cornflakes that I just accepted it as normal. It was a novel experience for me to go to bed with a happy tum that felt comfortably full.

The next morning, I had another continental start; and then went for my usual weekend run: An hour-long blast along the coast. Normally, I do this in the morning and am then done for the day – I’m exhausted.

This time, with the previous day’s reserves and breakfast still supplying me with a boost, I got home after my seven-mile journey and although my muscles were letting me know that it was about time I took a break.. my body was telling me a very different story from usual. Normally, I would be shattered and aching at this point. Instead, I was pleasantly tired, but for the first time in I don’t know how long, my body wasn’t saying “For god’s sake, stop!” but instead “Yeah, I can handle this!”

This really was a revelation. My understanding of what “normal” should be was apparently very wrong.

The next day, Monday, my heaviest day. I made a big effort to boost my intake – I added a protein milkshake and a pint of coconut water to my exercise routine, had a bigger breakfast, etc.

A few weeks ago, Monday evening saw me phoning FWB and asking her to defrost a meal for me, because I was so hungry post-workout that if I didn’t have food available when I got back, I was liable to eat the cat.

This time? I was really looking forward to my chilli, but that was it. Instead of having a snarling demon clawing at my belly and growling “Feed me! I want something’s flesh!” I was just pleasantly hungry and looking forward to my hot & tasty meal.

Weird. Truly weird. Completely unprecedented in my experience.

So the evidence was pretty conclusive: Spy training and my habitual diet are not a good match. As a result, I’ve had to sit down and start planning my week’s food in advance. Instead of coming home and wondering what I feel like eating when I get here, I’ve got every day mapped out in advance in the hopes that with some forethought and effort, I can actually meet my dietary requirements.

Hand on heart, I can’t say that I would have done this just on the strength of the numbers: I really don’t enjoy eating the sheer quantity I’m having to try and shovel down on a daily basis.

But the difference in how I feel after a workout, the difference in how I feel when I wake up.. that’s significant. So, much as it pains me, I’m logging my diet and exercise in a diary and trying to make all the numbers match up.

It’s not easy.

But hopefully, it’s worth it.

I’ll end it here: I have to go grab a bowl of cereal before bed or I’ll miss my calorie quota again. And no, I’m really not kidding. I’ve only eaten 3500 calories so far today, which isn’t enough.

Sigh.

Getting started

So, you may be wondering, how does one wind up being a secret agent?

Well, unsurprisingly, the Powers That Be take the view of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”

Let’s face it, you’re not much of a secret agency if you’re in the phone book.

So I never did apply to spy. I’d basically become disenchanted with my old career (something completely non-secret) – I’d quit without any clear idea of what to do next. So I bounced around doing odd jobs, travelling, living off reserves, and giving my C.V. (or resumée if you prefer) the occasional brushing-up just in case anyone saw it and realised what an invaluable asset I would be.

To my stunned surprise, somebody actually did. Completely out of the blue, I got a phonecall. Details were sketchy, but I was told to expect to hear from somebody..

I duly heard from somebody shortly afterwards. A few pertinent questions later and they made up their minds that I was at least “of interest”. I was given a time and a place to meet. It was quite a long way off, in a farm in the middle of nowhere.

No alarm bells ringing at all. No sir.

Still, I had nothing better to do. Off I went.

The interview went well, and ultimately I was offered the job. It seemed like it had potential, so I went with it.

How’s it going so far?

Well: in the last year, I’ve picked up more scars and broken bones than I’d managed in my entire life beforehand. I’ve been hit with more fines for traffic offences, too. I’ve been to some very interesting places, and discovered that although one of the perks of the job really is that you get to dance the night away with pretty girls, it’s nowhere near as frequent as the movies would have you believe.

I also appear to have become somewhat more remarkable to look at.

This might be down to the scars.

But I recently visited my aging mother and went along on an excursion with the walking group she belongs to. A year ago, the question I overheard her being asked would have been “Who’s that young man with you? Tall, isn’t he?” – that at least is what I was used to.

This time, though, the question was “Who’s that gorgeous young man you brought? Big, isn’t he? You wouldn’t want to get into an argument with him.”

I blush to pass along such a quote, being as you’ll have noticed a very modest man, but such were her words.

I’m not used to being looked at as big and scary. It’s impressive what The Company training apparently does to you. I’ve certainly started bulking up – in fact, I’ve had to start taking nutrition so seriously that I’ve started cooking again. And installed an app on my phone to track all the dietary numbers. Barcode recognition FTW.

And this is just on the foundation training – the actual, proper unarmed combat stuff isn’t likely to begin until next year. I’ll have to be careful I don’t get accused of eating babies if trends continue.

On the less-physical side of things, I’ve gotten to play with some very cool gadgets. And it’s amazing, some of the things you learn on the job.

For one thing, aloe vera lotion and sudocrem are very good things to keep around if you’re prone to getting cut, bruised, and burned.

Sigh…

The truth

I’m not a spy.

Of course, if I were a spy, I would deny it.

But in this case, the denial is because it’s not true, not because it is.

But since this is an anonymous blog, and I’d be a bit too identifiable if I put my actual job into posts, at the same time I was thinking about what name to give myself, I was wondering about how to handle my day job. And suddenly it struck me: Secret agent! The more I thought about it, the more apt a metaphor it seemed for my actual job.

And everything else just flowed from there.

So despite the theme, and the continual references I expect to be writing, my actual job isn’t being a spy. Any more than my name is Bond. James Bond.

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