A St.Valentine’s day message

My nephew is getting married in September. His fiancee is a lovely lady, and I’ve no doubt they’ll be very happy together. His Mum and Dad are of course overjoyed that they’re finally making it official, as they’ve been together for several years.

As their wedding is being planned in all its painstaking detail, it reminds me of my own wedding. It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and a good test of our relationship. Looking back, a lot of the stress was caused by a lack of appreciation of what we both wanted out of the event. It was only as the planning ensued, that we really understood what was important to us.

Looking back, a lot of the stress was caused by a lack of appreciation of what we both wanted the event to be. It was only as the planning ensued that we really understood what was important to us. Then of course there was the realisation that our special day wouldn’t be quite as perfect as we’d originally envisioned. Why, because of the compromises we had to make for one reason or another.

Then there were both our families. It is naive to think that your big day is solely about you. Both our families were super supportive, but we became experts at walking on eggshells at times. The fact that great Aunt Bettie just had to be invited, despite the fact that she lived in Australia, was unable to travel, and you hadn’t met her in 30 years. Throw in the issues with the reception seating plan, with Joe still refusing to speak to his half sister, and whether to put your aunt Mary and her second husband anywhere near her first.

Looking back on things, it was a fun day. People enjoyed themselves, despite the caterers nearly dropping the cake on the floor, and my cousin destroying the garden fence of a garden across the road from the church, after they left the hand break off their car!

In the here and now, we can laugh at all things that didn’t go according to plan. At the end of the day, none of that stuff matters. Here we are 13 years later happier than we ever were. We’ve mellowed and come to appreciate exactly why we both made that leap of faith. And if I want a reminder of why I’m so happy we met, I just need to look at pictures like this.

The new Mrs Online Chameleon

A first world problem waiting to be solved

How many times have you had to stop mid stride to bend down and retie your shoelaces? The inconvenience of having to find somewhere with a suitable obstacle to place your foot, to prevent you having to bend down too far. And it always seems to happen when you’re in a hurry or have your hands full.

If only there was a way to prevent it happening. Surely you just need to take more care tying them. A rushed job is a bad job. Quality control every knot, and a day free of shoelace hassle is instantaneously yours.

Click on the image to open in a new tab.

If only that were true. According to scientists, a recent study concluded that no matter what you do, there is no silver bullet. The BBC’s website demonstrates various methods of tying shoelaces. Who knew there were so many, and none of them the perfect solution. There’s the:

  • Reef knot
  • Granny knot
  • Berluti knot
  • Surgeon knot
  • Quick knot

So it’s time to get those grey cells working and come up with a foolproof knot that always stays tied. Just ensure it is as easy to untie as it is to tie, so double knots don’t count.

My own (unscientific) research has unearthed another solution. Based on a lifetime of buying footwear, I’ve concluded it’s down to the quality of the laces. I’m amazed at how often I buy a £60+ pair of shoes, with thin synthetic laces that look like they’d disintegrate the first time they’re exposed to daylight. In the same way as you can buy an electric kettle with less than a meter of electric cord, it just doesn’t make sense.

So just what am I?

One of the side issues of the UK’s Brexit deal, is that EU citizens living in the UK will no longer be entitled to stay unless they are granted “settled status”. This is a new category of status that’s different to indefinite leave to remain. It is open to all EU residents who’ve lived in the UK for five years or more.

Applying is an easy process except it’s currently only available to users of Android devices. Oh and it costs £65 per adult. The Home Office insists that the starting position for applications, is that the applicant has the right to remain. But past Home Office and Government IT projects weren’t exactly without controversy.

However for me there’s a get out clause. Settled status won’t apply to Irish citizens because of a 1920s agreement that predates the EU.

I was born in Ireland, and despite having lived in the UK for over 50 years, I still hold an Irish passport. Yet here I am able to vote in UK elections. What’s more, that won’t change even if Brexit happens. My Austrian wife on the other hand, won’t have those rights after Brexit. She’ll have to apply for settled status or Irish citizenship.

This raised the question of identity. Just what am I? Cut me, and my blood is Irish. My maternal grandfather would probably disown me if I said otherwise. Yet I’ve a mix of Irish and English culture in me. I don’t speak more than a few words of Gaelic. I was educated in London. As a result I’ve learnt about Irish history from an English perspective. I’ve read unbiased work to fill in the gaps to see things from the other side, but I still don’t feel I know as much about Irish history as I should do.

I ask myself if I’m really English. I don’t think I am. So does that make me Irish? Well yes, but with an English slant. Personally I identify more as a Londoner than English. Actually I see myself as a south west Londoner. Well No. I’m a south west Londoner who enjoys his work, watching football, drinking the odd beer or two, and spending time with my family.

Does that make me Irish? Well, yes and no. I’ll never be anything other than Irish. I’ll maintain that passport as long as I’m able to. But who I really am is so much more than a legal piece of paper. I’m a citizen of the world.

Todoist: Focus on tasks based on your location

My Todoist workflow

It’s the start of a new year, and I’ve taken a few days leave. So what better time to evaluate my Todoist workflows. Todoist is my go to productivity tool. It keeps me productive, by reminding me of exactly what I should be doing at a particular part of the day.

However one of the issues I had with the way I’d set it up, was my need to perform tasks relating to both work and home life. The real problem though is that life is never as neat and tidy as you may want. For example, if I need to arrange a plumber to come and fix a dripping tap at home, I have to do this during office hours.

So how do I focus on work or home tasks in Todoist without making it a cluttered mess?

The key for me is the use of labels and filters. All my tasks use a label called “home” or “work”, and have a due date. Using these I’ve setup filters to focus to tasks due to be performed today, but also focusing on each label. This allows me to focus on work tasks when at work, and home tasks when at home. However I can also use the default “Today” view if I need to view all tasks side by side. Handy for calling that plumber.

Guildford: Improving the shopping experience

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how to regenerate the UK high street shopping experience. Several large retailers have gone under in the last year alone, leaving gaps in streets up and down the country. Throw in our love for online shopping, and the foot fall in our shopping locations has decreased dramatically in recent.

How do you solve this? The general consensus is to offer what we the consumer want. This includes making shopping more of a social experience. For example, having a good mixture of cafes and restaurants, as well as more non-retail businesses like cinemas. But it also means retailers offering what their customers want.

Yesterday my wife and I went shopping in Guildford, Surrey. We don’t normally head down that way, but we fancied going somewhere different. It’s a lovely historic market town about 30 miles south of London, with atmospheric alley ways full of independent retailers as well as your well known high street brands. There’s even a Norman castle a few minutes walk away.

Whilst walking around we found some interesting items. Some we bought. Others weren’t for sale. Try these for size…

Will they park as neatly as this when they’re ground up?

It’s not uncommon these days for shopping malls to offer transportation for the younger population when out with their parents, but these cars stood out. For a start, they were bigger than normal, and they had a handy shopping bag at the rear. But what made them stand out for me, was the parking bays. Cute.

But cats are more intelligent than dogs!

Elsewhere we found this sign outside a shop. According to the PDSA charity, there are almost nine million dogs in the UK. Guildford is one of those places where there’s more than average. It has something to do with its rural location with stunning scenery, and a plethora of well marked walking routes. So it makes sense to welcome our canine friends with their owners.

Guildford was a pleasant shopping experience. OK a lot of this has to do with its location and wealthy demographic, but it also seems to have started to react to buck the general trend. That is the answer to any problem. The only constant is change. In business, if you don’t change, you’ll eventually go under.

Down and out? Not likely!

They say, “Start as you mean to go on.” So how about getting out on New Year’s Day and go for a run? Well I’m a runner, and I’ve an aim to achieve. Having recovered from a serious injury last year, I’m aiming to run a 10km race in May and hopefully a half marathon by the autumn. So hey, let’s get going.

At the moment it not about speed particularly, just building the distance and stamina. For the last few months high impact exercising was a no-no. Something to do with a higher than average risk of issues later on in life. But I’ve been participating in regular spinning classes to keep fit, as well as doing some weights. It’s really helped, as I feel as strong as I have for a long time.

So how did I do? See for yourself.

Run - 1 Jan 2019
An “air the cobwebs” run

OK it’s not a earth shattering time, but at around six minutes per kilometer it’s a respectable base to build from. I’ll get faster. Last year saw my best 10km time of 56 minutes, and I’ve my eye on a sub-55 minute finish this year.

It’s nowhere near my best 10km time, but that was almost 30 years ago! Come on, give a oldie a break.

Thanks 2018, but I won’t miss you

As today is the start of another year, it is customary to look back at the previous twelve months. It is supposed to help you focus on what went well, and what you should do to change things that didn’t go so well. That is what new year resolutions are normally about right? Putting things right.

In my case, 2018 was a pretty poor year. Back in March, I fell heavily whilst out running and fractured my pelvis. Whilst I was still on crutches, my Mother was admitted to hospital with a bladder infection. Whilst she did recover from that, the whole episode was the start of a downward spiral that resulted in her death in June.

Among all this drama, I caught shingles, probably as a result of the stress I was under. It took me a couple of months to fully recover, only to come down with thrombosis. Having initially put my shortness of breath down to some sort of summer allergy, it was only when I was unable to walk more than a few hundred yards without sitting down that I sought medical help. To cut a long story short, I was admitted to hospital for six days with a clot in both lungs and one in my left leg. All of this was probably a result of the pelvis injury.

Elsewhere my beloved AFC Wimbledon were having a frustrating time. Having just survived relegation to League Two in May, the manager had a clear out of the old guard in the summer. The trouble was, how do you replace players of the same quality with one of the lowest budgets in the league? In our case, you don’t. Watching us play was a fairly soul destroying experience at times. It was never going to end well, and it didn’t.

There were positives in 2018, it is just they fade into insignificance when compared to the above. So forgive me if I don’t look back for too long at the last year. After all, it is not as if anything I could have done would have prevented that stuff from happening.

So I’ll raise a glass to 2019, and wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Bereavement and Christmas

Yesterday was the six month anniversary of my Mother’s death. She was 98, and had been ill for a few months. Even before the end game, she’d been gradually going downhill.

Last Christmas was a particularly difficult time. The whole family came around to our house for Christmas Day lunch, but halfway through the meal, Mum just slumped in her chair and didn’t move. She eventually recovered, but it was clear something was wrong.

I didn’t realise it was the six month anniversary until my sister texted me mid morning. She’d had “a moment” and reached out.

At first I chastised myself for not realising the significance of the day. Why hadn’t I at least made a mental note of it? Was it a sub-conscious defence mechanism to protect myself from the emotion of that period?

Unlike my sister who retired a couple of years ago, I’m still working. When my sister texted me, I was sat at my desk trying to deal with an issue that had landed on my lap. It required a lot of thought. So I made a note to ring my sister when I could talk.

When we spoke my sister asked, “Did you ever howl with tears?” I had to admit I hadn’t. Neither had she as it turned out. We’d both shed tears at specific points. I remember walking past a sweet shop whilst on holiday in September and seeing fudge being made. Mum loved fudge, and it set me off.

Part of the reason for the lack of extreme grief, is that both my sister and me saw it coming. Last Christmas was major sign, and it had been coming for a few years. It sounds callous to say this, but there were times when we wanted it to be over. There’s nothing worse than seeing the quality of life slip away from a proud and dignified lady.

The whole episode has made us both think very hard about about our own lives, and what we want should we ever reach the same situation. The two of us have talked about living wills, and even euthanasia. Of course it is easy to think clearly when its a hypothetical scenario. If you’re stuck in a situation like this, would I think differently than I do now? Big questions that are not to taken lightly.

At the end of the call, I added a reminder to ring my sister on the first anniversary of our Mother’s death. We’re in regular contact with each other, and occasionally visit each other’s homes even though we’re geographically separated.

It’s important to have that support network for when times are difficult. We may not be able to solve a problem, but just having someone else to talk to and say, “I’m feeling the same way”, can make a big difference.

This Christmas will be the first time for over 50 years where my family we won’t be together. We discussed this, but both wanted space. My sister particularly wanted a quiet Christmas Day to reflect on what had happened. We’ll meet up on the 28th and share a low key lunch together. Maybe next Christmas will be different.

The secret to wedded bliss

As we reach the season of  goodwill / bah humbug / wondering if we’ve still a functioning government, it is time to show some gratitude to my fellow colleagues.

And what better way to do so, than to feed them.

My initial thought was to ask my dearly beloved to bake us some goodies. She enjoys baking. It gives her the excuse to do something useful apart from moaning about me, and it gives me an excuse to disappear off to my study / a football match / the pub. That’s how we’ve stayed together for 15 years!

The trouble is her propensity to not follow any recipe and make things up as she goes along. She freely admits this doesn’t always bode well for quality, but we’ve survived all these years by acknowledging each other’s strengths. I may know how to add more consistency into her baking, weighing ingredients and having some idea of what she’s going to add to the mix would be a good start, but she enjoys the thrill of wondering if her latest creation will be either be, well, “meeahhhh” or“damn that’s good”.

Roll the clock forward an hour, and I decided not to use my stock “I told you so” response when the latest bake (by her own admission) didn’t pass muster. She wondered what to do with it, and I offered some suggestions. Unfortunately none of them met approval, but they did illicit one further thought from her. I’d never thought of using a cake in that way before!

So as my fellow Mimecasters are purveyors of quality, I brought in some other shop bought treats for them to savour. They may not have the same creativity as Nagham’s baking, but you’ll have fun searching in the tin for your favourite.

BTW we do love each other really. See the photo for proof, and it was all her own work. Honest! 😊

Wikipedia is just fine the way it is thanks

According to Livewire, Wikipedia is a among the top 10 websites for number of hits worldwide. In fact it is consistently in the top 10, battling with tech giants like Google, Yahoo, YouTube, and various social media platforms.

Yet Wikipedia is unlike any of the other websites in the top 10.

For a start it doesn’t have a similar business model. It sole reason for existing is to provide a free resource for any internet user. Content is freely available, and can be edited by anyone, provided they stick to a few guidelines. In essence it rigidly maintains the ethos that the internet should be free to use, and open to all. It doesn’t rely on advertising, with all its operating costs covered by voluntary donations.

Admittedly Wikipedia isn’t perfect, but what is? With anyone able to edit a page, mistakes and falsehoods do creep in occasionally. Many a young aspiring journalist has fallen into the trap of accepting everything on it as gospel. But considering the sheer volume of data, it’s astonishing that the level of accuracy is so high. In fact that’s the very reason why it’s the go to online resource.

So the next time you Google something and see the first result is a Wikipedia page, take a moment to consider what it takes to run the service. Oh and if you can, give a little to maintain this wonderful resource in the way it was intended.