Stretches for Writers

And other desk workers, too.

Stretching in the outdoors

Stretch, 2, 3, 4 by E. G. Cosh

Nearly 15 years of sitting hunched over a laptop gave me a bunch of long term companions I wanted rid of.  Aches in the lumbar region, spasms in the shoulders and upper arms, tendonitis in my wrists. Slowly, over the period of about a year, I’ve figured out a programme of stretches that I do that seem to alleviate most of the pain. Have I missed any good ones?

Neck and shoulder tension is pretty chronic in desk workers— this video goes over some stretches you can do (sitting down, about 3 minutes). The stretches I found most useful start at the 2 minute mark. There are others here, but I haven’t tried them.
Time taken: two minutes.  Do: twice a day, while waiting for your tea or coffee to brew.

You might not feel the tension in your triceps, but trust me, it’s there, and it’s probably causing referred pain further down towards your hands. This is an easy stretch you can do every hour or two during the day to make sure you stay loose. Bonus points if you can look as excited as the guy in the video :)
Time taken: one minute.  Do: every time you open Twitter/FB

Lower back issues are sometimes the result of hip tightness. These stretches require a mat, but are totes awesome. You can add the pigeon if you’re feeling brave, too.
Time taken: six minutes. Do: when you get up, and before you go to bed.

For wrist and forearm pain relief, try these four stretches.
Time taken: four minutes. Do: every time you get up from your desk.

Do I need a disclaimer? Enjoy it, but don’t overdo it. I found the most important thing is to keep doing these regularly. A couple of months of this and you’ll feel like a different person. Possibly one that can hold their head at a natural angle for the first time in a while.

Writing Cafes in Saigon

Requirements for a good writing coffee shop:
1. Great coffee.
2. A cozy atmosphere. Or maybe a fresh one? The kind of relaxing vibe where I don’t feel stressed or hurried.
3. Pretty things for my wandering mind.
4. Less than five minutes from home.

These entirely subjective criteria, and an even less objective evaluation leads me to a little list:
My top three (ish) writing cafes in Ho Chi Minh City (in no particular order and verified by no-one).

1. La Rotonde (77B Ham Nghi, 2nd Floor, D1)
A deliciously light and bright space that overlooks a busy intersection and street market. The Vietnamese coffee is smooth and silky, there is an excellent lunch buffet every day, and a special vegan option for those with eating requirements.


La Rotonde

2. 14 Thon That Dam, D1
This place is wonderfully different. Faded old Saigon meets the exuberance of young Ho Chi Minh City. A French colonial structure opposite the imposing National Bank, you enter through a grubby alley stuffed with motorbikes and climb a stairwell straight out of an Irvine Welsh novel. Don’t be put off: each floor holds little jewels of hope and modernity.

The first cafe you come to is Banksy’s. An ode to the British graffiti artist, decorated with intricate tiling and bold typography, it’s a design-lover’s dream. The americanos are tasty, there are plenty of art and design books for you to peruse and you can often watch young couples having their wedding photos taken here.

Alternatively, you can turn left in front of Banksy’s and follow the chalkboard pointing to Things. Cross a walkway between buildings and enter through a flapping yellow shutter. Adorably covered in Charlie Chaplin portraits and wall murals. It’s so relaxed, one of the seating areas is a double bed. This is a cafe to lounge in as long as you wish. I cannot vouch for the coffee, but it’s a beautiful place for your mind to drift.


Things Cafe

Up one floor is Dan Tran’s vintage shop. Find unique clothes, bags and shoes in this delightful space and get the added bonus of saying, ‘Where did I get this? A little retro shop in Saigon, dahling’ every time you wear your purchase out.


Dan Tran’s Vintage Shop

Across the landing is the Other Person Cafe. A maid cafe where staff cosplay manga characters and frilly maids with pink hair. They address you as master/mistress. Maid cafes are wildly popular in Japan, and starting to catch on here in Vietnam. If you’ve never been to one, imagine walking into a cartoon where you take coffee in a giant cat bus, or sit at a table that’s built like an enormous cake. Weird and dissociating? Yes. But something you should definitely try.

Mockingbird Cafe

Balcony – Mockingbird Cafe

Make it to the top of the building, and Mockingbird rewards you with a breezy balcony and views of the water

3. Velo de Piste Cafe (10 Pasteur, D1)
You can’t miss the bicycles hanging outside and the huge moustaches gratified on the walls around. Open 24 hours for those in constant need of mountain biking magazines. Go after dark and be charmed by the fairy lights and friendly service. Try the passion fruit juice for instant refreshment.

Velo de Piste

24 Hour Coffee at the Velo

You can find other great recommendations for Ho Chi Minh cafes at Nomadic Notes and The Hungry Suitcase.

Lessons on happiness


Watching Richard Linklater’s ‘Before…’ trilogy recently has been stirring up my emotional residue into a thick porridge of ideas. It is wondrous in conceit and execution. By turns a naive, funny, frightening, but ultimately hopeful view of a relationship stretched across many years.

One conversation I’m snuggling up with particularly often in the days since watching occurs in the middle film, ‘Before Sunset’. Celine and Jesse are discussing whether your disposition can change.

Jesse says, ‘I read this study that followed people who had won the lottery, and people who had become paraplegics. The study shows as soon as people got used to their new situation they were more or less the same. If they were basically optimistic jovial person, they’re now an optimistic jovial person in a wheelchair. If they’re a petty miserable asshole, they’re now a petty miserable asshole with a new Cadillac, a house and a boat.’

There are two glorious lessons in this:

- Go after whatever you want, don’t let fear of failing stop you. You’ll recover.

- And ultimately, whatever you chase won’t make you happier, so pick something where the chase fills you with joy.

Happiness is in doing.

The Joy and Pain of Pratchett

I was raised by Sir Terry Pratchett.


Not in the literal way of ever having met him. Just in the way that I have read him for so long, his perspective on life has shaped my own.

Somebody leant me The Colour of Magic when I was eleven years old. It was silly and funny and I fell in love with the innocence of Twoflower and the way that his passion and interest seemed to shape the world around him. Look around, the book seemed to say, there is beauty everywhere.

Twenty-three years later, I am still in love with Pratchett’s Discworld and his deeply funny, deeply felt stories of the wonder and power of being human, whatever shape you come in.

At World Fantasy Con, Pratchett and his assistant Rob are talking about his new book, Raising Steam. Pratchett’s PCA seems to be progressing cruelly. His vision is impaired—his hands bang into the microphone repeatedly, eliciting a grimace each time. Frustration? Embarrassment? Even from my second row position it’s difficult to tell. Rob reads a section of the book for us which seems as funny and vital as ever. There are more details of the book and his struggles in this recent Telegraph interview.

Rob does all the heavy lifting of the appearance. He dangles morsels of information about upcoming TV and film projects, but the third member of the panel (Mike?) won’t allow him to give away much. Rob shares anecdotes about the writing and media development processes, pausing frequently to leave Pratchett space to contribute. Sometimes he does. Often, he doesn’t respond, or seems about to speak but decides against it. When he does land upon a small anecdote to tell, a thousand people in the audience hold their breath. We hang on his words like they are a rope dropped into the dark well of our lives, guiding the way up and out.

The joy of reading Pratchett, is that he knows the world is a slick smiling conman built from the lies we tell ourselves and each other, that pile up into a lie so heavy that no-one can move it alone. He knows we all struggle to see, let alone change our own realities. Pratchett twitches back the curtain and shows us how ridiculous it is—shows us the greasy machinery of prejudice and ignorance behind the scenes and inside our own minds. We don’t feel stupid for believing the lies. We’re all in it together, he says.

But we are left thinking that we’ll spot it next time. Next time someone tries to trick you with your own fear, with ignorance or vanity or shame, you’ll see it for the silliness it really is. You won’t feel angry or afraid or any other emotion that provides fertile soil for lies to grow. You’ll remember his stories and you’ll laugh. The lies will shrivel. Leaving space for a breath, for a lifetime.

That is his gift to us: a brief respite. A moment’s freedom for us to figure out what we want our own truths to be.

World Fantasy Con Brighton: Food & Drink

If you’re coming to lovely Brighton for World Fantasy 2013, take a few moments to step outside the hotel and enjoy some of our delicious food and coffee. Nothing is very far away in Brighton, you can walk across the whole downtown area in half an hour, and if you haven’t got time to walk, the cabs are easy to spot with their unique livery: white with turquoise bonnets.

Avoid chains and going to most places on Preston Road or Western Road (the two main streets leading leading back from the sea front  to the right and left of the hotel respectively. Instead, stroll down to the Lanes (10 min walk from the Con hotel) or the North Laines (20 mins) and you’re pretty much guaranteed wonderful experience whatever independent place you stumble into. That said, it doesn’t hurt to have a place in mind if you’re short of time, so below are my recommendations.

Taylor St: a three minute walk from the station towards the seafront. Excellent coffee from obsessive Australians. The food is good if you can get a seat too.
Small Batch Coffe: My favourite coffee in Brighton, they roast their own beans and also supply a lot of other coffee shops locally. Don’t miss their coffee truck at the station when you arrive.

If you’ve only got a few minutes to grab a coffee or food, then The New Club is super close to the Con hotel. Turn right out of the venue, walk for 3 mins. It’s on the corner of Preston Street. I haven’t tried it yet and Trip Advisor has mixed reviews, but it’s close if you’re in a hurry.

Dumb Waiter: A crazy little cafe. Kind of disorganised but great food and a Brighton institution. 9-6, Sun 10-4.
Seven Bees: Officially the best breakfast in Brighton, 9-3.
Mad Hatter: Good, cheap cafe. Milkshakes, falafel, burgers and sandwiches. 9-6, Sun 11-5.
For fabulous bread, pastries and cakes, try either of the Real Patisserie locations. Western Road open 7.30-6 every day, Trafalgar St. 7-5.30, closed on Sundays.

Iydea – home-cooked vegetarian cafe. Eat in or takeaway. Tucked in the North Laines it’s the best food you’ll get for under a fiver. 9.30-9pm, Sun closes at 5.30.
The Chilli Pickle: You’ll need to get there early or book if you want dinner, but it’s usually a bit quieter at lunch time. The best Indian food I’ve had in England. Bar none. Open 12-3 and 6-10.30.
Mange Tout: Excellent french bistro for any time of day. 10-6 on Thursday, Fri & Sat 10-10 and Sun 10-5.

If you want something fancier than the lunch places above, there are two excellent fine dining vegetarian restaurants in Brighton:
Food for Friends: Everything on the menu is wonderful (12-10pm). Terre a Terre: (11-11pm) Food divine and diverse, booking is essential at peak times.
There’s excellent seafood at English’s, 12-10pm, or sit down fish and chips at the Regency, 8am-11pm – not too pricey. Or for fast food that’s open late, Grubbs Burgers is a Brighton institution, 12-12.

Some quirky and distinctly English pubs worth checking out are The Quadrant: surprisingly chilled for it’s central position, real ale and whiskeys. The Lion & Lobster: multiple cozy rooms and decent pub food from 5pm til 2am, and The Robin Hood: a not-for-profit pub with great beer and handmade pizza. Also, The Cricketers – An old school English pub, with all the horse brass and flock wallpaper you could possibly need.

If you head across to Kemptown (east of the Lanes) there are more great restaurants and pubs, and a plethora of gay bars to choose from. A couple to mention are the Camelford Arms and Marine Tavern. Both gay pubs with nice atmosphere and good beer, rather than pounding music.

The WFC site also has some recommendations and covers afternoon tea particularly well (scroll down to the end of the page).

Poetic discoveries

Two wonderful discoveries.

First, I’m reading Carol Ann Duffy’s collection, Rapture. It is gorgeous, lyrical and rich as butter. Read reviews at the Guardian and The Rumpus, or just go ahead and buy it now. You won’t regret it.

Second, the poemhunter website, a repository of thousands of wonderful poems has a ‘random poem’ function. I have set this link to be my browser homepage. Every time I open my browser, I have the wonderful gift of a new poem to read.

You can use this link to do the same: RandomPoem