Monthly Archives: December 2015

Fat vs Fit – What’s the skinny?

This year I turned 30 and two things happened – I became the fittest I’ve ever been and by co-incidence also the fattest.

Up until now I thought that obese fit people were either mythical creatures or sumo wrestlers, but it turns out I’m IT. On the fitness side, this year I worked with the fitness DVD set “Insanity”. I didn’t complete the program as set, but worked with the DVDs 1-3x per week for 6 months, leaving me in the best shape of my life! To be sure, I had my vitals checked, and my heart rate is in the “athlete” range for my age, and my lean mass is the highest it’s ever been.

IMG_3687 fattest & fittest

Changing room reference photo. I was trying to decide about buying my first set of 38inch waist jeans, since I’d grown out of my 36’s.

On the fatness side, my weight peaked at around the same time – over 13stone, with a BMI of 30 and 38% body fat, making me obese for my height (5ft 5.5”). What does that say about my health as a fat fittie? Although I’ve always been known for taking on physical challenges, such as my fixed year bike year (2012), cycling 130miles in one day on a single speed bike (2013), becoming obese made me wonder – am I healthy?

Well first of all, I’m proud to have proved that it’s possible to be both fit and fat. So much pressure is put on people from the media to be skinny, that health and fitness seem to come as secondary goals, and many people’s idea of their ideal weight unrealistic. I’d advise anyone to prioritise health and fitness over being stick thin.

When I first joined a gym in my early 20s, I remember overhearing fitness instructors trying to talk countless newly-joined women into adding some strength training into their regime, but they were only interested in weight loss.

We’re programmed to think that if we don’t feel good in our bodies, or like what we see in the mirror, that the problem is body fat. Many people yo-yo diet, not knowing that they could be upping their body fat percentage by doing so, and wondering why they seem so flabby even if they are lighter than ever.

This society is definitely more pre-occupied with appearances than with health. Ask anyone if they’d like to get fit and they’ll likely respond with “Yes, I really must lose some weight”, looking sheepishly down at their midriff. But in any case, if appearance is the name of the game, fitter people have better toned figures, whether they are fat or thin.

So, I’m fat and fit, but can I be healthy? Well my heart-rate and blood pressure are excellent. Not only that, but my visceral fat (fat stored around the organs – associated with health dangers) is low. I neither drink nor smoke, and whilst I eat lots, including too much fat and sugar, my diet is low in processed foods and includes enough fruit and veg.

So what’s the problem?

Well, whilst I may be healthier than a skinny alcoholic, layabout or junk food junkie, I still go through my life carrying over two stone of extra weight, which as the years go on will take their toll on my joints. There’s risk of cancer (no-one is sure exactly why) and I could get Type 2 diabetes by wearing out my pancreas which has to process all the extra food I eat every day to stay fat. We could also say that I could likely cycle further, run faster and do more push ups if I were thinner. So all in all, it’s better to be fit and slim.

But for now, standing proudly at 13stone, I’d say it’s better to be fat and fit than to be crash dieter or weight obsessive. I can’t remember the last time I met someone who wasn’t trying to lose weight. But being fat hasn’t so far affected my ability to keep fit, feel great, and “let’s be perfectly splendid about this”, look great!

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Setting “The Daffodils” to music – Poem Setting 2

My second poem choice is likely close to everybody’s heart. I was named for daffodils and my mother had an ancient pocket sized Wordsworth collection in which The Daffodils appeared first. As a child, this made me think the poem was written for me. Of course I later found out that Wordsworth had died a long time ago, so this was proved unlikely, but in any case, I felt compelled to set it to music.

I’ve chosen traditional form, essentially turning The Daffodils into a folksong using basic diatonic chords – a total contrast to my first Duffy setting which was linear and chromatic. In this case, I wanted the simplest possible approach to bring forward Wordsworth’s basic human sentiment and support his regular stanzas. I’d always had an overcomplicated approach to the poem, but really all that’s being said is “I saw some amazing flowers when I was out walking and sometimes when I’m lounging around at home, I think about them and it makes me happy”. For the first time I suddenly saw Wordsworth as a sublime-junkie, throwing himself into the landscape at Glencoyne Bay and responding with the poetic equivalent of “Woah”.

So, whilst I kept to a song form (V, Ch, V, Ch, V, V, Ch) only 4 chords (I, IV, V, vi in Ab major) and a similar melody for each verse, what seemed important was to honour the sentiment of each line in the small details of the vocal melody. This included altering the melody slightly according to “what each line wanted”, whilst keeping the same overall melodic arc for each verse and keeping the two main hooks intact.

I was surprised how much detailed attention needed paying to how each line was sung in terms of tone, volume, expression and energy. More than with any other song I’ve recorded, singing a line perfectly in tune, but with slightly the wrong tone, made it sound plain wrong – the meaning of the words didn’t come across at all. If I sang “fluttering and dancing in the breeze” without enough bounce and brightness, I may as well have sung “swaying in a bored way near some trees”. It drove me nuts! But, it felt like a real accomplishment in the end.

Hope you enjoy this setting. What should I set next?

Kimwei x

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Design 2 – My Dream Small Van (Part Time)

The 2nd in my series of Dream Tiny Home designs – A small van for part-time living.

This is what I’ve chosen for my current lifestyle – a vehicle I can sleep in at a moment’s notice and live in comfortably for a few days at a stretch without any planning, but that isn’t suitable for full time living.

A bigger fully self-sufficient van is useful for weeks on end in nature or an urban life in which the van essentially acts as a full time home. You can stand up in it and it has enough room for a wood burner.

View From Rear Seat

Interior of my last big van, with mini woodburner.

Unfortunately it’s also easy to spot and invite hassle, on account of the chimney, long and difficult to park. Having such a low MPG, it could be prohibitively expensive to drive.

Alternatively, a moderate sized van can sleep two, may not have enough room for standing or for a burner, but will be as economical to run as a large car. It’s a better choice for a lifestyle in which long distances are covered, and cooking/sleeping in the vehicle fill the gaps between using indoor spaces. The money saved on fuel can be spent on the occasional cheap accommodation, or using coffee shops for office space.

The nightmare comes when you need a live-in vehicle that you can also drive long distances…I haven’t found a solution for that problem yet.

IMG_3519 Yellow Van

My current setup – quite similar to my ideal design but with less storage space


So, I’m currently running: a short wheelbase VW Transporter. It’s a squeeze. I’m continually pairing down my possessions. My pet gripes with this lifestyle are that it’s not possible to set up my studio speakers in a van so small, and I have to store most of my instruments in a friend’s cupboard. It’s too cramped a space to act as a useful practice room, so I’m sad to say I’ve practiced less since having a small van.

My dream small van represents how I’d upgrade my current van. To summarise, I’d double the cupboard space and buy more sports bags and packing cubes.

Van Top viewOver time I’ve come to love the simplicity of my current van furniture – one bed and one kitchen cupboard set. I wouldn’t do much to change it. At first I was frustrated with a few things but soon discovered they were symptoms of having a small van not design flaws in the furniture

  • IMG_2569The bed is too low to fit boxes underneath, but if it were higher I couldn’t sit up in bed.
  • The bed is too short (5ft), but I’ve got used to it now and lengthening it would only eat into the living space.
  • There’s no bike rack, so I have to take my bike out of the van and lock to a lamppost literally every time I want to use the back space. But actually, a rack would cost £200 and then it would keep costing by decreasing the van’s MPG, so I won’t bother.

Other things that you may have to deal with in a small-van:

  • No heating: The gas stove can be used in short bursts but that’s it really. Fortunately such a small space warms quickly, but having no wood burner can result in damp just from breathing – air your van regularly.
  • Limited kitchen: I currently have no running water and no fridge, but re-fill water bottles whenever docking. If I started spending more days in my van I’d upgrade, but currently it’s better to have more cupboard space than to have a fridge sitting empty half the time. Most foods except meat keep ok in the kitchen cupboard and I don’t mind eating tinned food for when needed.
  • No toilet: This hasn’t been a problem so far. In urban areas toilets are often available, especially when docking in a driveway. I’ve also a funnel and some piss-bottles (emptied when facilities appear). In nature, a trowel enables bears to shit in the woods.
  • Low headroom: Bad weather during a trip can mean being shut in a tight space with no room even to stand up for days on end. Solutions are to buy a bigger van, just deal with it, or go to cafes. In an ideal world I’d get a pop-top – currently out of my budget at £3.5k

Having accepted all this, until recently I still found my van too small for all the stuff I needed to carry to make my life function. I pared down hugely, but was still stuck. Then I discovered the key – It’s not about how many cupboards you’ve got, but about what’s going on IN the cupboards.

Van Side ViewCupboards with stuff chucked straight in don’t work – once filled to only ½ their capacity, everything starts to fall out whenever you open a cupboard after a rocky drive. Boxes are better, but you lose a lot of space around the box since it needs to be smaller than the cupboard opening in order to get it in and out. Stuffing cloth bags in can provide more space, but it’s hard to see what’s in them.

Recently I’ve solved these problems using packing cubes – mini nylon suitcases with transparent tops so you can see what’s in them. Sounds pretty basic, but moving over to using a combination of sports bags and packing cubes has doubled the storage capacity of my van – yes that means I can keep twice as much stuff in the same space! To give you an idea, the majority of my clothes fit into 3 medium sized packing cubes, but I estimate that at least 50 cubes of the same size would fit under the bed.

When I first got my van, I started collecting rectangular nylon sports bags because plastic boxes were too tall to fit under the bed. I’d previously thought that boxes were best, but sports bags showed distinct superiority: they could be folded away if empty or squashed into a smaller space if only half full.

Whenever I stay somewhere even for just a night, it’s easy to take most of my possessions inside since all the bags have convenient handles and shoulder straps. Valuables come inside even if I only stay somewhere for an evening, but I never pack and I never unpack.

The main improvement I could make on my current van is to add another set of cupboards to the right of the bed that reach up to the ceiling, and a small set of cupboards to the left of the bed, high up (as shown in both drawings). With my new packing cube system, I don’t even need that extra space  – it would just be for “visitor” luggage.


The Dream Yurt was 113 sqft (10.5 sq metere) and was about the right size for a modest living space. Designing a a small van will ultimately be a compromise – trading off features against each other because with less than 4 sq meters (43 sq ft) of floorspace, there simply isn’t enough room for everything. Rather have a short bed or a folding bed? Rather have a full kitchen or more cupboards for luggage?  I’d rather be able to ride my bike than give it up for the sake of more space, so I’ve gone for packing my van to the brim and packing smart. This system really shines when I’m working. It’s wonderful being able to pull my portable amp out, strap it to my bike and go for a day’s busking, or to go to a country house with one bag and set up to shoot a” target=”_blank”>music video like this one.




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